Posts Tagged ‘Epistle of James’


Prayer of faith. Pretty strong words are coming from James. Yet prayer is something that his brother spoke about quite a bit before he was lynched. Brother Jesus spoke out against showy-falsity and being authentic in the mystic aspect of our lives. Why? Because it allows us to break through the world imposed soundtrack of our lives, to the one at our true core…the core fashioned and resonating within the Holy Mystery.

That is James’ first step when someone is suffering, afflicted, ill or troubled even. Take time to centre our very being into our true nature. Yet even James understands there are times when this can be an impossibility, so this spills from his scribes’ quill:

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.[a] 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

-Epistle of James 5:13-20 (English Standard Version)

Notice the words first before we jump into the role of Elders. The words of centering in life regardless of what is thrown at us. In Franciscan Charism it is called “Daily Examin”; not a time of counting the F’up list, but rather honestly looking at your day for times of growth, opportunity, regret, fulfillment, reconciliation and blessing. Truly turning your day into a Psalm, just like James counsels here, to be in contemplation constantly.

Yet he also touches on those moments when we cannot see who we are. When we are lost in the woods, or have veered off the path illuminated by the light, when we are Peter walking on water and look down and fall. Those moments of doubt when the soundtrack of the world sucks us into believing we are only good enough based on bank account, societal ladder labels, power amassing or material goods. Those are the moments when we seek out the Elders. Today the term may be prayer counsellor; mentor; life coach; spiritual director; those people that can see through the B.S. we are drowning in and bring us back to our core.

This is the authentic you. The you others within the Holy Mystery see you as, and when we journey together we see the love that made us, and the intrinsic value within us.

The Epistle of James is a prayer of faith to the early church and the church now. It is the little brother’s reminder that structures, fancy words, worldly power, or money or great shows do not matter. If it is all upon the surface it is for nought. The transformation for integrity and authenticity goes deep to our core, by burning away the muck of our souls to be who we are truly meant to be in community.

It was termed the Epistle of Straw and derided throughout history for that very reason. It is the words like those of Jesus of Nazareth in the original gospel, challenging the status quo. Challenging through a very simple concept, that would be recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (and the text that got me to attend church at 19 years old):

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

-Gospel of Matthew 22:34- 40 (ESV)

And the simple task put before us, was to simply go and do like wise in L-O-V-E (no qualifiers).

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Spiraling downwards becomes easy when you take the first step of living into the false you. Jerusalem circa 62-69 CE when James put these words out was a time of uncertainty, but also a time of exclusion. As religiosity took hold over the Empire, but as noted the Empire was waiting for revenge. It was a time of uncertainty for the mostly unknown sect within the synagogues and what it meant for them.

It is where he begins to tie in the mysterious introductory allusion to Job, to be quite direct about it. As the early gatherers struggle, it becomes an affirmation for them as individuals, but more importantly as a community for it shows the interdependence that James’ elder brother, Jesus of Nazareth taught. The echoing of the Great Commandments, love of God (whose Holy Breath created life); love of self as the image bearer, and love of neighbour who is connected to us within and through the Holy Breath.

Be patient, therefore, brothers,[a] until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

-Epistle of James 5:7-12 (English Standard Version)

It is about creating the world that is the Kingdom. For the gospel was about shattering the oppressive world structures, and building a new world. It is why the Nativity story happens at the darkest time of year, overlaying the ancient holiday of the Winter Solstice.

The connection.

The connection by denying the false self, that one that has been corrupted by the pursuit of the love of money, power, etc… to being the person created to be. Affirming the Holy, and living out the vocation we are designed to embrace. Knowing that the journey of life brings challenges, speed bumps if you will. But it is within the challenges that the choice is laid before us, to exist within the false, or step into the true.

As James’ reminds of the Sermon on the Mount, ancient words that he heard, and that he is now imparting to his followers. The ideal of not being the false show that props up oppressive power, but being the authentic self.

What does your no need to be no about?

More importantly, what does your yes need to be yes about to be truly you?


There are many bridges that are built within the Gospel (political life proclamation) of Jesus of Nazareth. The core is to hold to the truth of non-violence, compassion, and the gifts that the season of advent remind us of: faith, joy, hope, peace and the greatest being, love. Without the written gospels to rely upon, leaders of the early gatherings wrote epistles, and taught the stories orally. This is the world of transition that James, younger brother of Jesus wrote in. Add to that, that the lovers of money- the religious oppressors- that would be written about in the canonical gospels later, were the ones now in control of Jerusalem. But let’s be honest, an occupying Empire held at bay is like a rabid animal cornered and there is no way that Rome was going to sit idle for this cheap shot…and John Mark would record the raising of Jerusalem in his gospel, Mark (circa 70 CE).

This is where James’ channels his best elder brother, as the fifth chapter opens.

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten.Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

-Epistle of James 5:1-6 (English Standard Version)

This is not an attack on being wealthy. Or of having more than another. It is a direct salvo against those that make love of money, legacy, esteem, and power as the only ends that matters and no matter what is necessary they will do. Whether it does harm, leads to death or wrecks destruction upon a community or a person. For what matters is themselves and only themselves. The wealthy that has completely supplanted the Great Commandments. The connection of the Holy Breath at creation, and the love that infused us to love ourselves as the image bearers and love our neighbours as ourselves.

It is the warning that there is still a false Empire in control. It is not what is supposed to happen. It is inhumane, but with religious veneer. Like a new paint job to cover black mold within the rental property. It is still there, it has not been treated. The infestation of darkness still grows as no one has treated it.

These are the words that James’ stands upon. For it is not empty words that have built to this bridge. It started with pointing out that believing in anything is not a matter of indoctrination, ideologies, creeds or membership fees. Rather it is seen by how one acts. The means is how the outcome will be judged in the present and the future. If you sell your soul to accomplish the goal, then the goal itself is corrupt.

A hard concept to understand in the 21st century of cut throat win at all means because I have to be right, so that means all other opinions are wrong. It shuts down discussion, debate and dialogue. It changes the game of life from one of opportunity and growth and community into one of harm, battle and independence.

It misses the mark.

In that is the sin that James’ writes and teaches against.

We are in this together. How we get to tomorrow matters. We need to be present today to ensure how we awake tomorrow is in a fashion that we can still look at ourselves in the mirror.

What path are you choosing?


In Islamic mysticism, Jihad is the battle within between good and evil. Ancient Tibetan Buddhists wrote of the angel and demon. The Christianities write and teach of free will from the Original Blessing of eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.. And ancient Indigenous parable speaks of the two wolves at war within, and the one you feed is the one that will emerge as the authentic you. Today we speak of the constant logged on/wired in… the 24/7 to keep up with the “Jones'”, for he/she who dies with the most toys– wins.

A struggle for those under occupation that would sell themselves out to the Empire, to those that would change their belief systems to exist within the Religious stop gap. Brother James’ spoke, wrote and lived from occupation to occupation to rumblings of annihilation. He, as his mother and father before him, and his older brother, and probably many other ancestors…saw the destruction that was to come by pursuing that which was not true to them. The pursuit of power and money. St. Paul would write before James’ that the root of all evil is the love of money. St. Francis of Assisi after would speak out about the need for poverty (simplicity) to become an authentic neighbour.

James brings us these words in chapter 4 (1-12, English Standard Version):

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions[a] are at war within you?[b] You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people![c] Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.[d] The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

Now this passage to has been weaponized and bastardized to do harm. It is easy for the casual reader to see how. It speaks out against being lost to the world. Which is easily taught as abstaining from things of the world. Do you already see the thou shalt not list being broken out? How about an inability to speak out against someone doing wrong, because you are judging? Or pointing out someone may need help because see the previous point. Or challenge authority, as you may be seen as seeking their role, their power…in security can turn this into a passage of control and subservience.

That is not the point of the words. It is calling out the b.s. of the world. That which corrupts because you are pursuing through love of power, money, stuff, etc. and those become the important things of your soul. It breaks down everyone else that is to be seen in Oneness, and loved as neighbour/self to nothing more than a code, a number and/or a commodity. The political climate loves to use the term tax payer (instead of citizen or person) as it panders to the lowest common denominator within the person and society.

And what drives this fear into the askew? For fear creates false verbosity and hype. It creates a space where group think will sit in. And where immoral behaviours and actions become acceptable norms as “just the way it is.”

The reason, in a very rabbinical style flare Bishop James lays out for us in 4:13-17 (ESV):

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—

14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 

15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

Anxiety. Panic. Fear. of loss, inability to pay bills, to have home, to lose hope…these are what drives the fear that leads to pursuit of love of power, money, etc…and eventually destruction. This is the touchstone for James as he points out it is not about hyping ourselves, but it is about living out the Great Commandment. We cannot fear for tomorrow, for we have no idea if tomorrow is even coming. We need to be present here and now in L-O-V-E.

That is the challenge at this point laid out to the gathering.

That is your question:

What changes if you give up fear for L-O-V-E?

 


“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

A farcical childhood refrain against bullying. Trying to make the destruction words can wreck upon one’s psyche nothing more than water off a ducks back. Another being “I am rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” Mantras. A way to remind ourselves we are more than how others see us. It is a hard discovery, and where one would say the pablum of Brother James’ writings take us next, but not the meat. And for anyone who has ever been emotionally or verbally abused, it does hurt just as much as getting the crap kicked out of you, if not more because overtime it can re-write your inner dialogue from the affirmation of being in the Holy Mystery.

For we enter into the third chapter, and it tackles the destructiveness of the tongue, but goes deeper into vocational understanding of life (Epistles of James 3. English Standard Version).

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 

Sadly, this verse has been used to discourage individuals who should teach from teaching. It is used as a weapon that if you do not fall within the indoctrinated “truth” of the community (regardless of religious/spiritual or secular) that your words do not matter. In fact, we will theologically/academically bully you into silence twisting facts to fit our own narrative of discredit.

This is a statement for those, like James, who are encountering rebuke and troubled waters to persevere. It is about knowing why you are called to be a teacher. That it is within you, not just an occupation, but a vocation. I would say to that it goes beyond teacher. Know who you are and within the community discover who you are meant to be…then live that out. For it is in true authenticity that you may be held to a higher standard, but a higher contentment awaits.

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

This is the reminder that words can structure reality. Just because one has charisma, or is able to create momentum based around quips and twitter policy. True teachers bring authenticity that will stand up to scrutiny. More to the point, true teachers/leaders bring forward ideas that broaden community and reduce harm, not increase it. That is the safety used with these analogies, proper movement and journey.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life,[a] and set on fire by hell.[b] For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,[c] these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Within the early gatherings, as today, there is always the “grass is greener” mentality. We will leave this path, and jump on that one because there is more money, power, esteem, etc. It is the world of glamour over substance; breadth of spiritual growth over depth. It is a world where the false teacher can take hold because they do not force one to confront the shadow self that is holding back growth, they allow them to live in that which should be denied so the Holy Breath can be lived into.

We see this in political movements of hate today. We also see it in religious leadership and how easily they harm the least of these from the Roman Catholic Church to Willow Creek to Hillsong to the Jehovah Witness and the list goes on and on in the spectrum of sexual assault and abuse. The final authority resting with a few, never to be questioned, always to be protected. If you step out you will be shunned. So the words of truth become nothing more than spittle upon the forest fire hate and hunger for power/control and money has created.

It is one being consumed by the shadow. Evil taking hold. Feeding the wrong wolf within self.

Wisdom from Above

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Trust your inner voice.

It will guide you, it is only when we allow the “demonic” voices of oppression that have worked to strip away our Oneness… that is when it wins.

Where is the Holy Mystery guiding you?

What is your vocation of life?


There are different types of epistles (letters) within the Christian Testament. There are those that came before the Canonical Gospels, so where the early teaching documents; then the ones that came after that became cover sheets if you will for other texts; and showed a structuring church. The later epistles also may or may not be written by those that tradition claims, as a writing style of the time was to use someone’s name if you were a student or admirer. But again that is more of the brain work out, while we continue our time with Brother James and his words while living under the Oppression to Religious Zealotism; and new Empire Oppression and decimation upon the horizon. As noted his letter pre-dates the earliest Canonical Gospel Mark (which is believed to be written by John Mark, whose family owned the Upper Room, as dictated most likely by the Apostle Peter).

We now enter the portion of the letter that proved most historically disastrous for how theologians and preachers looked at James as an Epistle of Straw:

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[a] is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

-Epistle of James 2:14-26 (English Standard Version)

But wait. Replace faith and work, with I don’t know– sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46). It is not about liturgical or fundamental hoops to jump through. For that is what James, and this reflected teaching of Jesus of Nazareth are speaking out against. The falsity and hypocrisy that existed within the Emperor Cults and Religious Oppressors of the time. How they could coat so much of what they did in religious and “holy” language no matter the atrocity or injustice. It really shows James using a Hebrew Bible Prophetic voice at this point in his writing/teaching. The prophetic voice of the Hebrew Bible was not about future, but rather about the change needed here and now to not wind up in desolation.

That is very much this writing. As one travels through burnout or PTSD in human services. It is easy to side with faith. That is, do the self-care, create “professional distance”, etc of all the catch phrases. Yet the works portion is about doing the work, but at the same time acknowledging that one’s belief system has led them to service, and if they continue to live out of and serve out of that conviction it becomes very difficult to bring a person down to a code, or a file, for it is still the person before you. And consciously knowing the choices made at a legal to policy to front line level impact the daily life of the individual. It is a heart burden to bear, but it is necessary or we simply dissolve into cogs within the machine.

The cogs of the machine is what happens when one blindly lives into indoctrination. That is the challenge of the piece of straw that gets into your boot and burrs at you. Like the challenge of seeing one’s faith in the works they do. Or as Francis of Assisi stated “preach the gospel everywhere you go, if you must use words.” For we are serving, caring and loving ourselves and the connective Holy Mystery in the love we live out for another.

It is the deep values question. If one were to look at the life lived, and the actions taken…

What story is written about you?

 

 


As we continue into the words of wisdom put to parchment by James, we enter what later Biblical editors termed chapter 2. The chapter and verse system of course was an outcome of the lectionary system. The lectionary is a reading guide for services that some (not all) churches employ. I enjoy using it when I preached/taught because in a 2 or 3 year cycle dependent on the lectionary over a course of Sundays you would touch upon/read all of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Testament. For a teacher/preacher it forces one out of their comfort zones and into some of the other corners of the written word.

farmin

My son and I walking at Countess Country Museum

But enough technical mumbo-jumbo, the second chapter continues the subversive teaching James’ elder brother, Jesus of Nazareth, had on his earthly travels. For he tackles the concept of “partiality” or within the world of Jerusalem during the revolution, the re-assertion strongly that one’s state in life had to do with blessings from God. That is that if one was rich they were beloved, if they were poor they did something. Much like some of the later canonical gospel stories would write about one with a disability– who sinned to cause this?

 My brothers,[a] show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,”have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 

But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

-Epistle of James 2:1-13 (English Standard Version)

free reign

My son, daughter and their wonder pup walking at Countess Country Museum. No partiality or grief of the world, just kids.

Now, one could easily use this to go on a diatribe about the economic and social stratification of society. Yet there is a stronger message here for the reader. In our world, we still hold to this grief concept. The idea that if we are not the “same” as the other, then we must live in grief. We must constantly be comparing, and as such know that we are “less than”. It is poppy cock. It is the concept that is foisted on individuals and parents of individuals who are differently abled (or super heroes as my son terms him and his friends).

It is within these words, once again coming to the simple teaching we are who we are created to be. Within the beautiful diversity of our world the image of Love that is the Holy Mystery is reflected. How our world interdependently connects, cares for one another, and lives is the actualization of the holy breath of the Holy Spirit at creation.

At different points in life, different labels are put upon us to show differences and keep us separated. What is missed, is the core that is the same. The cosmic dust, the spark of life.

It is about creating a life beyond labels. Not just lip service, but actually rooting out the Gremlim-saboteur that breaks you down as “not being good enough” or “never will” to be replaced with the resounding voice within. The true affirmation of who you are, what you can do, and to repeat: WHO YOU ARE as you live out of the greatest gifts we have:

L-O-V-E.


Since religion and spirituality has come into humanity’s history I believe it is safe to say that the holy writings/stories/teachings have been weaponized to the detriment of the followers and for control by the ruling classes. This is where the Marxist concept of it being the opiate of the people came from.

The next step in James’ writings to the early followers in Jerusalem is one of those passages that can be weaponized to remove holistic health from a person. But when taken in context is forcing the hearer/reader into a deeper understanding of who they are:

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

-James 1:19-21 (English Standard Version (ESV)).

The lead in of the writing brought the believer to reflect on the journey of the ancient story of Job. Now it enters into the understanding of emotion. I used the term weaponized, because for a literal black ink on page reading this can be read as “DO NOT ANGER” (or feel, or take things personally, always forgive and forget- the list of ways these words can be used to harm one’s boundaries is boundless). That is not the intent of James’ words. Rather, it is speaking of the root of actions. Taking hearers back to stories shared from the early Apostles of the Sermon on the Mount, the idea that our thoughts create our actions. If the root of our actions are ran through only emotions without contemplation, that is one harm can happen.

It is the epistle acknowledging anger happens. But the caution before it to hear to understand; process to respond. Emotions are going to happen, allow the feeling of the emotion- it may spur you to action, but ensure that your actions are not rooted only in anger (or hate). We have seen in our world currently the rise of populism, and resurgence of nationalism. Sadly they have taken on the guise of the Cross within the Religious Right.

This is the living out of anger, James’ warned about. The living out of anger that ignites extremism (within the right or left or any spectrum)…and that is the path that leads to destruction. The Zealots created war; the Sanhedrin created layered oppression. Neither was healthy for the people under the Empire Occupation. These are the actions out of anger…which leads into the next phase of the teaching to understand what it means to act justly (as the Prophet Micah would counsel).

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

-James 1:22-27

As John the Baptist would be recorded in the Canonical Gospels calling the elected religious a den of vipers; for they knew by rote the religion. They were educated highly within it. They heard, but they chose the path that created the most power for them. So it is James subversively calling the leadership that now controlled Jerusalem out, and reminding his small gathering not to follow suit. Yes they looked like they had achieved power, but it was labels over substance. Catch phrases, twitter policy if you will. What light was there had been hidden under a bushel. For there was many that saw the ends justifying the means even if it meant becoming like Rome to throw Rome off.

James’ is following his elder brother’s lead (Jesus of Nazareth), and his Mum (Mary of Nazareth) and Dad’s (Joseph) in not just hearing the words and using the word’s to make his actions appear holy. Rather he chose to live his actions,and let those actions show his faith and God.

It is a hard example, for it was the concept of “earning” prosperity that many of Paul’s letters rallied against. But it was not about earning anything; it was about practicing what one professed.  It is an example of it being included in the “canon” under Constantine many centuries later that the Church was a very diverse Christianities and not one simple stream.

For the early followers without a written gospel, it was reminding them to hear and live out the Great Commandments, which came from the Shema:

Loving God, Self and neighbour with one’s whole self.

This weekend: Listen to understand. Contemplate your response. Acknowledge and accept your feelings. Be a whole you, just the way you were created to be.

 


James continues to write and lead the gathering of the Way in unique political-religious times in Jerusalem.  Rome is plotting the retaliation, but this small gathering of followers of Jesus of Nazareth exists within the synagogue system with Zealots; Essene (okay they are a bit more secluded by themselves, but you get my point); Pharisees; Sadducee; and other sects within the Judaic tent.

Yet through things like the opening teachings around testing of belief, show the tension within the early movement, and the established religion (much like with any new movement trying to prove its wings). Think about it. This is a movement of Messiahship that was not what was expected. Jesus of Nazareth had been 1 of hundreds of active “Messiahs” at the time of his crucifixion. Choosing his Way, could very easily be seen as a kind of heresy, and more to the point may create some tensions within family units already struggling under occupation and then the new reality in Jerusalem with Rome held at bay.

Interesting enough though, in chapter one, James calls forth the most ancient of tales from the Hebrew Bible, can you see it within these words:

Count it all joy, my brothers,[b] when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass[c] he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.[d] 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

-James 1:2-18 (English Standard Version)

What images or story archetypes are emerging with these words?

No it is not from the Torah (Pentateuch); rather it is from the Wisdom writings. Think of the ancient theatre of Job. Seen as God’s most beloved, he becomes the target of a cosmic wager between the angel tasked with testing- Lucifer- and God. It becomes then Job’s friends that try to convince him to walk away.

Why would James write to bring this story to mind for his gathering?

Testing will happen. There will be those seeing the loss of relationship, or work or material goods and try to convince you to walk away, but like Job you need to see deeper. The cool part about calling forth this story to the hearer though, is that it also has a point where Job rages against God, and God responds.

Think of the solace in that? You can feel disconnected from source, yet easily fight back in. Denial works in releasing that which keeps the Holy Spirit locked away inside you. Step into the light.

That is, know that testing happens in life, as it refines beliefs. It is challenges, and relationships that allow us to grow, understand ourselves, each other and our world.For the biggest challenge in life is stepping into the new day, knowing that you do not know or control the outcome…

but that is okay.

 

 


Historians place the writing of the Epistle of James between 62-69 CE.  What does this context matter for the writing of the brother of Jesus? The leader of the Jerusalem gathering of The Way? As with some of the epistles the writing and circulation pre-dates the actual Canonical Gospels (the four chosen to be in the Christian Testament- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

It falls into a time of revolution in Jerusalem. Who knew? There was a rise up and eviction of Romans from the city as Judea asserted their control for a scant time (70 CE Rome came back hard and fast, the fall was equivalent to Babylon’s invasion, and was written about in the Gospel of Mark for the fall of Jerusalem). It was a shift from Roman Citizen supremacy. Where those who were not citizens, who were among the conquered were seen as little more than cattle, though given the “local” leadership (the inter-mitten corruption of control to keep the masses passive). Since the movement would be expelled around 85 CE, one has to note it was not happy endings during this time. I mean, let’s be real here, the Empire Religious controlled leaders executed Jesus of Nazareth. Now with the revolution, what could be expected?

The stage was set for this little brother to try and keep the message alive. Moving beyond the letter of law to what it truly means to have a living faith. One that is meant to transform the world. The writing also shows someone that had not meant to be apart of a new religious creation, but rather a continuation for the beginning words of his letter he writes to the diaspora:

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

Greetings.

-Epistle of James 1:1 (New International Version)

It is a letter written at a time of revolution. That is change. A time when something new could be birthed, status quo maintained or something completely different.

Hmmm…The life of James’ brother showed the completely different at another point in his journey:

Jesus’ transfiguration.

(as told in the Gospels Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36)

For the change in Jesus is what each person undergoes when they come into resonance with the Holy breath within them. This is what James’ discovered and changed his own being from “stop brother” to… Greetings.

Enter into the greetings of your transfigured life…