Lectionary: Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37
Let us pray: Lord, bless our hearing of Scripture this morning, so that you can speak to each of us what we need to hear. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
“Who is wise and understanding among you?”
When you think of a wise person, what do you think of?
My first thought is a scholar, someone who’s surrounded by books and knows everything about their chosen subject–or if they don’t, knows who to ask or where to look. But that’s not really the kind of wisdom that James was talking about. He meant more the wisdom of your grandparents and mentors, the ones who understand what you mean and solve your problem with one question that changes how you see it. He meant the wisdom of those people who are overflowing with kindness, who get along with everyone without being doormats.
Then, of course, there’s those who are world-wise–who understand how to the world works and how to get what they want. We use the words ‘wise’ and ‘wisdom’ in all sorts of ways.
James sees different kinds of wisdom as well. There’s the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. The wisdom of the world is concerned with getting your way, all the ways you can trick and cajole and threaten people to get your way. Politicians spring to mind, but we all do this, whether we whine at having to do the dishes in the hopes that eventually someone else will do them or make such a stink that people give in to you just to have some peace or ignore problems until someone else deals with them. There are so many ways we do this, intentionally or not, where we put our own desires above other people’s needs or desires.
The wisdom of God is the opposite. It is concerned with God, with God’s desires. God’s desires for others are for them to be respected and to have lives full of good things, which is why we are called to love one another, to work so that everyone has food and housing and jobs and fellowship. But, too, it is recognizing God’s desires for us: that we love one another, but also that we grow into who God created us to be. That we may be filled with love and joy and peace. And sometimes that looks like cutting things out of our lives, and sometimes that looks like inviting people or practices into our lives.
The wisdom of God springs from seeing the world as it really is: not a place that’s everyone for themselves, a place where selfishness is the only way to go, but as a place that was created by God and is being shaped by God today, a place full of God’s desire for good things for all, a place that is ruled by God. That means that generosity is more important that selfishness, that love is more important than hate and reaching out is more important than striking out.
And, if all of those things are true, then we can act on God’s wisdom and love those around us. As James says: “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.”
Which, I think we can agree, sounds great. I think we’d all like the world to be more like James calls for, full of mercy and good things, people who don’t lie or play favorites or start fights.
I think we can also agree that it isn’t true. That’s not how things are. James knew that too; that’s why he included these instructions, these reminders.
And he was quite certain what caused these problems: “Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.” That is, all the things we want and covet, all the things that we don’t face, come out instead in strange, sideways ways. It’s like when you’ve had a terrible day at work: you don’t yell at your boss. You don’t show them your frustration. Instead you go home and snap at your spouse. Of course you’re not really frustrated with them, but all of the frustration and feelings of not being heard or respected come out.
That’s why James calls us to these behaviors, and to submit ourselves to God: to bring our wants and desires before God, so that God can sift through them all and bless those that are from God, so that we can begin to let go of those that are selfish or not quite right for us.
May we all do that this week: submit ourselves to God, look honestly at ourselves. May God bless that undertaking, that we can continue to let go of what’s unimportant and be freed to love one another.