I want to piggyback on Clover’s excellent sermon from last week about the “taming the tongue;” How we need to be more thoughtful about the things we verbalize. I need to hear that sermon about once a month!
Chapter 4 builds on this theme. It asks you and me to think about the non-verbal internal motivations for our actions and, how this affects others with whom we work and worship. James is writing to a faith community filled with wonderful, gifted people, just like you and me.
The language may be a bit harsh – we don’t “murder” one another, just because we want something and can’t have it…. But we do “throw people under the bus,” and we gossip, sometimes the need to control outcomes and press our agendas cause us to say and do things we regret later.
For often times the “cravings” within, the conflicting motivations get expressed externally and that is not often helpful.
We are having a bad week at work – and we can’t express it there so we argue with our spouse. We are having a difficult week with the kids and we scold a friend and they look at us and say: “where did that come from?”
There is unrequited anger over some slight – perceived or otherwise and we go home and kick the dog, or yank the leash a little too tight – you just want a little control over your turmoil…. Of course this never happens to me!
You are distracted – it comes across as disinterest. Things aren’t working out at home and you have a short temper at Session.
We cannot simply box in and isolate our emotions – they come out. This internal “enmity”; the struggle within to be grounded in godly peace or cut loose in devilish dis-ease.
I think of the older brother in the well-known parable The Prodigal Son. Remember him, he is so bitter and jealous about his younger sibling who spent all the inheritance that he can’t even enjoy a party.
James calls you and me to go deep, go inward. This is what he means when he says: “Submit yourself to God.” Yearn to be grounded in the friendship with God because God “yearns jealously” for your spirit to find peace… because God gave it to you as gift.
It shows, when you are peaceful within: you can disagree without being disagreeable. You listen better. You speak your truth and are interested in the truths of others. You don’t take offense.
James encourages you to name your motivation – “Know thyself”, name your demons… and give some slack to others! Don’t judge. For the struggles you yourself are having, well, they are having the same struggles too!
All of us have a lot going on inside; people don’t know the burdens you carry, the memories that shape, the slights that still hurt, the sacrifices made unrecognized, and yes, the very real jealousies I have because some people are better at things than I am.
There is a psychological component to all our dealings. Absolutely… many are still trying work out family issues from long ago, trying to please a parent who never said: “Well done.”
You just never know what is happening “Down where the Spirit meets the bone.”
That phrase: “Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone,” is the title of Lucinda Williams’ recently released album. She named the album in honor of her poet-father Miller William who once penned (and you have heard these words before):
Have compassion on everyone you meet
Even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.
So even though James uses harsh language like “murder.” We know, if we are in touch with that place where the “spirit meets the bone” in us that we have murdered spirits and our spirits have been trampled too. We have diminished the gifts of others and our gifts have gone unrecognized.
A couple of weeks ago, after church, Robyn Hales had the group gathered read aloud the sermon that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached on the Palm Sunday after his and Coretta’s return from India where they met Mohandas Gandhi – the great proponent of non-violence.
This sermon is 13 pages, single space – it must have taken close to 40 minutes to preach – so no more complaining about my 12 minutes sermon this morning! – of course I am no Dr. King (Jealousy… hmmm what would James say?) But I digress!
In his sermon, Dr. King describes Gandhi as one of those people who had achieved “absolute self-discipline.” There was no gulf between the private and the public; the inner and the outer; “there was no gulf in his life between the ‘is’ and the ‘oughts.’”
Gandhi used to say to his people, “I have no secrets. My life is an open book.” This is what James is inviting you and me to consider this morning as we contemplate our lives and our motivations.
I dare say it is an important issue to consider for those who are being installed and ordained today. It is very important for you to cultivate the inner life of prayerful honesty so that you can live the outer life of servant leadership. Let there be no gulf between your “IS” and your “OUGHTS.”
Remember in your dealings with all the issues that come forward – that you are working with others who have discerned call and want to offer their gifts – and it is one of the things that make church different than a business, even though we want to utilize the best practices wherever we can find them – our bottom line is really not the bottom line – our bottom line is the transformation of people’s lives – to get them to experience God. No matter their background, no matter the luggage that they crate around – here they find love, here they are encouraged to participate – and it may get messy, and it may seem chaotic –
But in all that we do we seek to go deep – we seek allow the expression of our life together be an expression of God’s love and not an expression of our lust for power or control. And that is hard to do – hence we have to hold each other accountable to prayer, to ‘carefrontations’ occasionally – so that we move towards this self-discipline of faithful living.
Jesus Christ, I would say, was a man who absolutely had that balance – he knew God, he sought to express the love of God in all things, he sought to be one with God. This complete transparency allowed him to achieve complete transcendence. He was so in tune with his inner life that he offered his life for all and you and I are the beneficiaries of that – we see the bread and the cup on the table – we see what happened when Jesus revealed where his spirit met his bone.
You and I are not called on necessarily to make that sacrifice – but you and I are encouraged to become as transparent as we can become so that you and I also can touch the transcendent – offering your best to God’s greatest glory.