Today we continue our series on the New Testament letter we call James. A book of the Bible that we think was originally a sermon written by James the brother of Jesus and then added to by a later author and circulated to a wider audience.
We have heard words from James inviting us to be better listeners who put our words into action. James emphasizes in his sermon to not show partiality especially to those with great wealth or power. James also has provided us instructions about how to resolve our conflicts with one another.
The issue of conflicts within the community continues in today’s reading. Today James is going to offer a contrast between selfishness and humility.
Read James 3:13-4:10
Michael Renninger tells about an experience he had attending a Catholic University in Washington, DC. The teacher, Father Ginyak, asked the students a question in an Intro to New Testament Greek class.
The professor read a Greek text and asked the students to interpret it. No one answered. The professor asked each of the male students if they could translate the text. No one could translate the passage.
Then the professor turned to one more student. He said, “Karen, you can do it. Can you translate the passage for the rest of the class? And Karen did it.
According to Michael Renninger, she had done it again. Karen, the only female in the class, had once again made the male students look foolish and unprepared. Karen was the mother of three small children. She worked full time. And since she wanted to do Youth Ministry, she enrolled as a full time student in theology at the Catholic University.
Her schedule was crazy. And yet, in every class, she was the one who was always prepared, always did all of the reading and all of the homework. And Michael says that all of the other class mates hated her for it.
They did not like her because she was doing what all of the rest of the students were supposed to be doing. They were extremely jealous and envious of her accomplishments.
James asks in our reading who is wise and understanding among you? And then contrasts wisdom that is from God with wisdom that is from outside of God. And wisdom that is not from God presents itself as jealousy and selfish ambition.
So why do we become jealous and selfish? Sociologist Brene Brown says that we develop a mindset of scarcity. We think that we are not good enough so we become jealous of others. We want what they have because we don’t think that what we have is enough.
Brown is not talking about material things when she says we live under a mindset of scarcity. She says that we worry that we are not smart enough. That we are not powerful enough. That we are not perfect enough.
We compare ourselves against others who seem to have more of what we think that we don’t have enough of. So we become jealous.
According to Brown, men and women express their scarcity in different ways. For women driven by a mindset of scarcity, they feel that they must look perfect and be perfect. They fear being judged by others.
Women stereotypically fear that no matter what they achieve that they will be exposed as less than. These are the ways, according to Brown, that women live out a scarcity mindset.
Men also live under a scarcity mindset but we express our fears differently. For men, our scarcity mindset comes out when we fear that we will fail in our work, with our money, with our children.
Men fear being wrong and we believe that showing fear is a sign of weakness. Our worst fear is to be criticized or ridiculed. We become angry and scared and we lash out against others.
According to James, these examples are what it looks like to follow the wisdom of the world. The wisdom that tells us that we are not good enough for whatever reason. The wisdom that tells us that we gotta do it all.
The wisdom that tells us that we have to be perfect and mistake free. The wisdom that tells us that we have to be overachievers.
But, according to James, if that is the wisdom that we are following then we are not following godly wisdom. However, listen to what James says is godly wisdom.
James says that wisdom from God is wisdom that leads to seeking peace among those in conflict with one another. Godly wisdom is gentle and willing to compromise. How many times do we get the message that compromise is weak? According to James, when we seek to compromise we are following godly wisdom.
James says that godly wisdom is full of mercy and shows no partiality or hypocrisy. Getting back at someone for the harm that they have done to you is not wisdom from God. Showing mercy and grace is wisdom from God.
Playing favorites to certain ones is not wisdom from God. Showing no partiality is wisdom from God.
Brene Brown says that the opposite of scarcity is not abundance. Instead, according to her and I think according to James, the opposite of scarcity is wholeness. The wisdom from God says that we are good enough. The wisdom from God says that we don’t have to prove ourselves worthy.
The wisdom from God says that we set our boundaries and are OK with what we can accomplish. The wisdom from God says that we are loved by God. This is what wholeness living looks like.
We can move away from scarcity thinking. We can listen and accept the wisdom of God that reminds us that we are special to God and that is all that matters. We have nothing to prove. We have nothing to covet.
The last sentence we read this morning says that we are invited to humble ourselves before the Lord and we will be exalted.
When we realize we have nothing to covet from others then we don’t have to prove ourselves anymore. We can live a life of humility because there is nothing that we need beyond what we already have in the love of God through Jesus Christ.
God’s wisdom is mercy and love. We have nothing to prove to anyone. AMEN.
-Renninger, Michael, https://asermonforeverysunday.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Michael-Renninger-B43-17th-Sunday-after-Pentecost-9-19-2021.pdf
-Brown, Brene, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Penguin Random House, 2012
-Given: Sept. 19, 2021 in Allison Creek Presbyterian (York, SC)