A lesson from James 1: 17 – 27
Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger….. it seems that this is the opposite right now of so much of what happens in the world today. Every day I get up and pray, make some coffee, then check the headlines and see the results of our ‘slow or never listen,’ react quickly, get angry world. It’s enough to send me back to bed.
It’s odd don’t you think that James writing just after his brother Jesus’ death would see the same problems in that ancient world? I mean, we are talking about 2,000 years ago in a civilization that didn’t have electricity, cars, big business, internet, instagram, or twitter. You sent a letter by handing it to someone who was headed in the general direction you wanted the letter to go and you may never even know if it got there. Nothing was all that quick back then but here is James telling everyone in the new church, ‘slow down and think about it!’
James, writing so long ago, provides us with a form of continuity and connection to our ancient world and through it to God. He starts his letter with a reminder, a bit of a humbling reminder, everything we are, have, see, experience, our entirety is a gift from God. I love Peterson’s interpretation of Jame’s statement of these gifts, “The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light.” His interpretation is consistent with most of the others when he calls God, ‘the Father of light.’ Unlike Star Wars, God has no dark side, God is the light of the universe and James is pointing out, we carry that light.
It is here that James, who we will later hear more about in the coming weeks, reflects on what we must do with that light we have been given, how do we remain faithful to the gift from God. His first opening salvo is this statement about listening and speaking about controlling our outbursts and especially our anger. As we will find out, to James, faith cannot be passive. Someone who simply professes “I am faithful’ has missed the point. Even in the simplest, seemingly passive part of our lives, conversation, we must take action. Yes, for James, faith without action is no faith at all.
His writings are really spirited and full of instructions… listen again to this part about faithful action.. “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. ( and the Word is capitalized here) Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.”
Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger
James wants us to not just hear and respond. I think we have enough of that nonsense in our divisively charged political climate. We have enough of people forgetting the light and going instead with gut level, angry responses. No, James really wants us to not just hear something, and he is talking about more than conversation here isn’t he? James has assumed that we have received the Word. That’s the Word with a capital “W” as in Word of God, in other words, the gospel. Do we come here today, listen to the Word and then like someone who looked in the mirror and two minutes later forget, or do we integrate it into our actions, do we incorporate our faith fully into our lives.
We are seemingly pressured in this world to respond, respond, respond. Everything. I am amazed that my own children expect me to stop whatever I am doing when they send me a text and respond. I have to remind them that sometimes I cannot, like right now, it would be rude to stop my sermon and respond.. “OK, I will pick up the dry cleaning” or “yes, that is a lovely burrito, looks yummy” and then resume my sermon.
James wants our first faithful action to be to slow down from this response driven insane world and integrate our faith into our lives. Quick to listen – really, hear what is being said, texted, instagramed, Facebook, tweeted…. where ever, listening is an active effort. It means reflect, value, research if needed, and for James, reflect on what you heard against the Gospel, against the values from Jesus’ teachings.
Then ‘Slow to speak’ – do you really need to re-tweet that snide comment? Do you really need to respond to that angry statement from someone else? Do you really need to share gossip? Statements about someone else that may hurt them? How does what was said reflect in your mirror against the faithful person you want to be? How does what that person said, did, acted, tweeted stand up against the gift of light God put in you in this world?
Slow to anger – Oh, I wish some of the people in leadership in this country would let their own light shine instead of reacting with anger. I tell you when I get up and read the headlines and see the rhetoric I wonder where God’s light has gone. The anger, the reactionary messages, the failure to listen to each other and most of all the failure to listen to God’s word on how to treat each other, well, I do want to run for the covers.
It’s funny that James must have seen all this too. This battle between who we see in that mirror and who we actually are. James writes about living our faith. He pushes us to be faithful not just in word but really in action and he starts with something so common, listening to one another. He starts there because if we cannot do that, then we need to go back to bed and pull the covers over our heads and dwell in the darkness. He wants us to remember that God brings the light to the world through us.
Be that light. Be quick to listen….. reflect on what you are hearing, filter it through your faith and the gifts you have been given. Before you speak, slow down. Is what you are about to say shining God’s light or throwing away His gift? Slow to anger. When you listen, think, ponder, reflect on the Gospel and then decide if it reflects God’ light that you should become angry. I think you will find yourself with less anger in your life.
2,000 years ago people were just like you and me. They had struggles, they didn’t listen, they forgot the gifts from God. They forgot their faith, they forgot Jesus telling us about loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. Today, we are finding ever more ways to do the same, even faster. Slow down. Make time for your faith. Make time to listen, you just might finally start hearing the Word of God and end up changing what you see in the mirror each day.