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    Wisdom from above

    Sermon on James 3 September 20, 2021 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer

    Our second reading today, from the letter of James,

    Continues the author’s description of the relationship 

    Between faith and good works

    Basically saying, that faith without works is a dead sort of faith.


    James’ letter is one that is appropriate at any time,

    It has a pretty general tone,

    And a lot of good practical advice.

    The letter encourages good Christian behaviour,

    And wise living.


    It’s a good letter to read and re-read, 

    if you want help to discern between good and evil.

    It’s a letter that motivates us to make the right choices,

    As individuals, as church, as society, as an electorate.


    James often sounds like what could be called

    “Mother’s advice”,

    Something anyone might remember their mother saying to them:

    Like:

    Be careful who you spend time with.

    Watch your tongue.

    Be kind to others.


    You might say it’s a lot of common-sense, everyday advice,

    Unlike the highfalutin stuff you’d read in the letters 

    of Romans or Ephesians, for example.

    James really wants to drive home that our day-to-day decisions 

    as people of faith matter.

    How we interact with a server at a restaurant, for example.

    How we deal with a salesperson on the telephone.

    How we relate to our Spouse or to someone who cuts us off in traffic.


    In our reading today, James sets up two opposites that he contrasts;

    Firstly, Wisdom from below, and then wisdom from above.

    Where wisdom, for James, is not just a brainy type of knowledge, 

    but a lived-out faith experience.


    James writes:

    V14: If bitter envy and selfish ambition are in your hearts: 

    do not be boastful, and false to the truth!

    V15: Such wisdom is not from above, but is earthly, unspiritual and devilish.

    V16: For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.


    Wisdom from below, bad wisdom, is full of jealousy and selfish ambition, 

    and it results in disorder and conflicts.


    Perhaps you can think of some conflict that you’ve experienced 

    which was the result of jealousy or selfish ambition.

    When I was in my undergrad at McGill, someone I knew from college asked me whether I’d help him with his election campaign. 

    He was running for an elected student position, 

    maybe President of the Faculty Student Association or something. 

    He wanted me to play violin at a few pop-up rallies 

    he was holding around campus, to promote his candidacy. 

    He was a pretty neat fellow, 

    and I thought it would be something interesting to do, 

    as I’d never really gotten involved in student politics at the college and university level.


    So I played some fiddle tunes for a few events where he got up to speak about his candidacy. 


    Needless to say, a week later, right before the student elections, 

    big news burst out via the student newspaper. 

    He had been accused of trying to make a backroom deal with his main opponent, 

    offering him a cushy appointed position 

    in return for the other candidate stepping down. 

    Unfortunately, that conversation had been taped, 

    (his opponent wisely declined) and the evidence was very compelling 

    and so the elections officials took him off the ballot.


    Needless to say, he never reached out to me after that.


    I had quite mixed feelings that week, 

    as I had been unwittingly complicit in promoting someone, 

    who as it turned out, had some pretty questionable morals, 

    And who did something illegal.


    Here was someone who had a lot of ambition, 

    or perhaps selfish ambition, to be a person of power in student politics, who stopped at nothing to get what he wanted. 

    He was jealous of his opponent, 

    and when seeing that he couldn’t win, pulled out some tricks.


    The result was chaos and disorder, 

    and the whole election process was in tumult, 

    and his supporters were put under intense scrutiny. 


    Luckily, I was only very marginally involved 

    so it didn’t have any repercussions for me, 

    but I resolved then never to be involved with an election campaign for a politician again.


    Envy and selfish ambition can be destructive.


    Envy and ambition

    Can lead to 

    -Prioritizing Profits over people.

    Prioritizing short-term over long-term planning,

    Some of which results for example in degradations to our environment and climate.


    Envy and ambition

    Can lead to

    -Unbridled consumerism, where we are encouraged 

    to buy more, more, more, despite the overall cost to our globe.


    We saw an example of this recently with the report on how Facebook knew that

    Instagram was harming the mental health of 1/3 of young girls, 

    but since Instagram was so essential for Facebook’s bottom line, 

    they hid the report.


    Envy and selfish ambition promotes profits over people.


    Marketing and advertising invite us to break the 9th and 10th commandments, 

    to covet our Neighbour’s house 

    Our neighbour’s car, lawn and phone,

    Our neighbours’ number of social media followers.


    Ads promote envy and jealousy,

    Claiming brand-name clothing will make you happy and popular,

    The grass is always greener on the other side, 

    when we are jealous of what others have.

    Ads say: You are special, you are worth it. Go get it.


    But at what cost? of those working in sweatshops in Asia, 

    Or the ghastly rare metal mines for our batteries and smartphones in Central Africa.


    For where there is envy and selfish ambition, 

    there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.


    And this is the problem with wisdom from below, earthly wisdom, 

    societal wisdom, according to James.


    But what is the better way?

    What is the wisdom from above?

    James writes:

    (V13) Be wise and understanding; show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.

    (V17) The Wisdom from above

     is pure, peaceable, 

     gentle, 

     willing to yield,

     full of mercy and good fruits 

     without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.


    James encourages us to be pure and peaceable and gentle.

    This echoes from the Sermon on the Mount,

    Where Jesus says: “blessed are the peacemakers, 

    blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the meek”.

    Live in peace with one another.

    When you have disputes and arguments, 

    try to handle them with mercy and love.

    Be considerate of others.

    Be gentle when confronted with those who annoy you.

    When you pray, be generous with your prayer, 

    by praying for the needs of others, not just your own needs.


    Have an attitude of humility,

    Because God is the source of true wisdom.

    Really, we can’t ever say that we made ourselves wise.

    Humility means acknowledging our accomplishments 

    are due in large part, to other people.

    We stand on the shoulders of mentors, authors, teachers, parents, society, musicians, and comedians.


    As a Preacher, being humble means acknowledging I don’t know it all.

    Humble preaching, means not being too directive and top-down, 

    Using more of a poetic style, in my opinion.

    Because really, I’m just a beggar telling other beggars where to find bread, as Luther once said.

    I’m not a shepherd, but maybe a small sheep-dog.


    Wisdom from above is not just about having good ideas,

    But about living good lives.

    The way of faith is a way of life.

    True Wisdom is good behaviour,

    But it’s more than just about being nice, 

    it’s about consistently striving to live out that which makes you a child of God.


    Does anyone come to mind, who for you is an example of the wisdom from above?

    Have you have encountered someone who one could say: 

    “there goes a wise person, whose Wisdom is Godly?”

    For me, 

    perhaps to contrast with the student politician I told you about earlier, 

    I present my late great-aunt Lydia.

    For me she exemplified what James is getting at when he describes the wisdom from above.

    She was gentle, and patient, and long-suffering,

    With always time to listen to people’s ailments and concerns, 

    ready to pray with them when they needed it.

    One time when I was having a rough go at it, she took time to listen to me and pray for me,

    Her focus was on Jesus, and never her own spiritual gifts.

    Lydia had an intense mystical love for Jesus, 

    and this came out in all her interactions.

    A true role model, a modern-day saint perhaps for those who knew her.

    She wasn’t perfect and had her faults of course,

    But for me she is a lasting memory, and an inspiration for my ministry.


    --

    So people of St. Matthews,

    Demonstrate in your lives a gentleness born of wisdom from above.

    This Wisdom which is pure, peaceable, 

     willing to yield, and full of mercy and good fruits. Amen.

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