4th Sunday After Easter St. James i. 17
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer.
Can YA Hear Me Now
“Wherefore. My beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”
In order for us to interpret correctly what we read in any of the Gospels or Epistles it is important that we understand something about who wrote what we are reading and what was happening around that time in history so we understand the context. Today’s letter from St. James is a good example. While on the surface the message seems pretty simple – listen first then speak why did St. James need to write a letter to say it and who was he writing too?
Let’s take even one more step back and make sure we understand who James was. This has been a source of debate amongst bible scholars for centuries and there are three recognized theories that attempt to answer the question. The Church believes that the brothers and sisters of Jesus really were his brothers and sisters; that after Jesus birth Mary and Joseph consummated their marriage and had other children, and that James was a younger brother of Jesus.
There are no less than five possibilities as to which James was the author of the letter of James, James who was the father of the member of the twelve disciples called Judas; James the son of Alphaeus (Al Fee Us) who was one of the twelve disciples; James who is called James the younger mentioned in chapter 15 in the gospel of Mark; James the brother of John and the son of Zebedee and finally James who is called the brother of Jesus. It would take me more time than I have to go through each one here this morning and explain why one is more or less acceptable than the other. Of these possibilities the tradition accepts that the letter or epistle of James was likely a sermon James the brother of Jesus preached. It was most likely written down by someone else, translated into Greek, added to and decorated a little and then issued to the wider church so that everyone could benefit from it. James the brother of Jesus was the leader of the Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem for thirty years after his brother’s crucifixion. St. Paul said that the task of preaching to the Gentiles had been allocated to him and that the task of taking the good news to the Jews was given to Peter, James and John. So the original audience of the sermon would have been Jews who had converted to Christianity that lived and worshiped in the center of the Jewish Church, Jerusalem. It had to be very hard to be a Jewish Christian in the years following the crucifixion, especially in Jerusalem.
Let’s turn our attention to the subject of the letter. It is directed at the inadequacies, imperfections, sins and mistakes of the members of the Jewish Christian church. James says “let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak”. For some of us our own parents said similar things to us – you have two ears and one mouth, use the ears first or listen first and speak second or if you are talking you are not listening. My father was even clearer about this point as I often heard him say shut up and listen. Of course the sentence that followed was about ‘and if you don’t you will …’ you get the idea. The point is this advice is every bit as true today in the 21st century as it was when James said it in the 1st century. James goes on to say “slow to wrath: for wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God”. Some would argue that there is a place for blazing anger. Such as fighting against the needless killing of thousands of Jews by Hitler, or the killing of innocent people by dictators eager to show world how powerful they are. The world would be a poorer place without those who blazed against the abuses and tyrannies of sin. But too often this is an excuse for petulant and self-centered irritation. We all witnessed the senseless rioting this week in Baltimore where once again a group of agitators worked a crowd of people eager to support a cause into a frenzy that ultimately turned into rioting and looting, destroying the property and lives of people who had nothing what so ever to do with the death of Freddie Gray. We saw this same thing play out in New York last year where an individual who was mentally unstable got so worked up in the issue that he shot and killed a police officer and in Ferguson where many innocent people were shot or injured in the rioting. These are the examples where the “wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” But we also saw examples of the righteousness of God on display for the whole world to see, the mother who was having no part of her 16 year old son participating in the riots wearing a mask and hoodiy. We saw the people stand between the police line and the rioting crowd, hands held in the air saying we have had enough of this violent protesting. The accent of love always has more power than the accent of anger. When anger becomes constant irritability, petulant annoyance or fault finding nagging, it always does more harm than good. To be slow to speak, slow to anger and quick to listen is a good policy for life. And that is what James was telling the early church and what he is telling us today. AMEN
And now unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost; be ascribed all might, majesty, power and domination as is most justly due this day both now and forever; world without end.