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Sermon based on James 5:7-10
Perhaps some of us here in worship today might feel like patience is not one of our greatest virtues. Our Scripture lesson from James captures our attention with its first words: “Be patient.” These verses summarize all of James’ teaching. James encouraged us to be busy doing the good things he had taught, and in doing them not only would we be faithful and stand firm, but we would also be focused upon Christ. By focusing upon Christ people would not argue or grumble James believed. Following these instructions would allow people to effectively and patiently await Christ’s return. The definition of “patience” for James was not just passive acceptance of the circumstances. Patience meant living responsibly while waiting for change.
This idea was illustrated with methods used by farmers. Farmers cannot hurry a harvest. Anyone who has done any form of farming or gardening realizes that success is often dependent upon the fickle fates of weather. Such factors like those require patience. If we approach farming or gardening in a lackadaisical manner, chances are the harvest will not be as plentiful. We must prepare the soil as we begin to plant the crop. While patiently waiting, we weed, protect young plants from insects, fertilize the soil and prepare for the eventual harvest. James expected people to remain committed to their faith, to serve God, act responsibly and be good citizens. This proved to be a challenge because those early followers of Christ like us today, were generally impatient people. Waiting for change and in the case of the return of Christ is not an easy task. While Advent is the church season in which we wait for Christ to return to earth in all majesty and glory we do so with impatient tendencies. This morning I would like to propose some ways we can use the time of Advent more constructively, how we might become more patient in an impatient world.
First, we anticipate the future coming of Christ as a gift that needs to be shared. As we think of a gift to be shared I recall reading recently about a mother living in New Mexico who had been packing two lunches for school ever since her son asked her for an extra one. The extra lunch was for a young boy who only brought a fruit cup to eat for lunch at school. The mother initially thought her son simply wanted more food for himself. Preparing two lunches for school was beginning to become a bit of a financial strain upon this single mother. When she asked her son if he was that hungry the truth of why he wanted another lunch prepared was revealed. He shared with his mother the story of his classmate who only brought a fruit cup to school each day. With a grateful heart the mother continued preparing this second lunch. That young boy who was receiving this lunch courtesy of his friend eventually shared this news with his mother. While she was appreciative, she was also embarrassed and went to talk to the school principal. The principal called the mother who had been packing this extra lunch into the office and shared that the mother who before had only been able to pack a fruit cup for her child had recently gotten a new job and that she wanted to pay this mother back. The mother refused to accept any compensation having shared that just a few years ago she was in a similar situation and was happy to pay it forward and share this small gift that provided not only nourishment but hope to her son’s classmate. In a like-minded way, we must begin sharing the gift of Jesus Christ with others. One of the best ways we can do this is by inviting friends and family to church. We have a wonderful opportunity next week to invite someone to experience our Lovefeast service during worship.
Our second step is that we are called upon to help others. Author Philip Yancey once noted that toward the end of his life, Albert Einstein removed the portraits of two scientists, Isaac Newton and James Maxwell from his wall. He replaced those with portraits of Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer. Einstein explained that it was time to replace the image of success with the image of service. Yancey once wrote the following about Christianity: Christian faith is basically about love and being loved and reconciliation. These things are so important, they’re foundational and they can transform individuals families.
As James implied, we are farmers planting seeds in the hope of a harvest. God expects us to be busy planting seeds through our words and actions. The late Ralph Waldo Emerson once said the following: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Making a difference and living well as followers of Christ involves helping others.
We come to our third point of how to use the Advent season more constructively. We can strive to promote the Kingdom of God more effectively in our world. I remember these words from a wise old sea captain who once said: “The person who rows the boat usually doesn’t have time to rock it.” In relationship to how those words relate to our lesson from the book of James, he was always concerned about people rocking the boat and complaining when it came to God’s Kingdom. James encouraged people to help others and that one of the greatest ways this could be accomplished was simply to not grumble and argue with each other. Grumble was a word those early followers of Christ would be very familiar with because it was something that they did very well in fact! Their ancestors grumbled when God was leading them to the Promised Land. They grumbled when the food didn’t come fast enough, when it wasn’t what they wanted, when they were thirsty, when it was taking too long to get there. This grumbling continued among those early followers about a variety of different things related to their faith. James hoped that people could avoid grumbling as they waited for Christ’s return because he knew that grumbling would cause people to lose their focus upon their faith. James offered a stern warning telling us that God is the judge standing at the door. God may open the door any minute and walk in and God does not want to discover his children grumbling against Him or each other concerning anything.
As we speak of grumbling, I share a poem found in William J. Bennett’s book, The Moral Compass that talks about a certain family we at times with our impatient tendencies might be in fellowship with unknowingly.
There’s a family nobody likes to meet,
They live, it is said, on Complaining Street,
In the city of Never-Are-Satisfied,
The river of Discontent beside.
They growl at that and they growl at this,
Whatever comes there is something amiss;
And whether their station be high or humble,
They are known by the name of Grumble.
The weather is always too hot or cold,
Summer and winter alike they scold;
Nothing goes right with the folks you meet
Down on that gloomy Complaining Street.
They growl at the rain and growl at the sun,
In fact, their growling is never done.
And if everything pleased them, there isn’t a doubt
They’d growl that they’d nothing to grumble about!
But the queerest thing is that not one of the same
Can be brought to acknowledge his family name,
For never a Grumbler will own that he
Is connected with it all, you see.
And the worst things is that if anyone stays
Among them too long he will learn their ways,
And before he dreams of the terrible jumble
He’s adopted into the family of Grumble.
To avoid joining this family, the poem concludes with simple advice:
So if we are wisest to keep our feet
From wandering into Complaining Street;
And never to growl, whatever we do,
Lest we be mistaken for Grumblers, too.
Let us learn to walk with a smile and song,
No matter if things do sometimes go wrong,
And then, be our station high or humble,
We’ll never belong to the family of Grumble!
Perhaps there is a revolving membership into this Grumble family. Following James’ advice can serve us well to avoid the Grumble family that’s for sure!
I believe these words from James have given us great instructions to follow not just during the Advent season but every season of our lives. As we await Christ’s return, let us strive for more patience in an impatient world by loving and serving God and helping others this day and always!
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
December 11, 2016 sermon