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A Warning For Us!

Book of James  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  22:12
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As we come to our scripture today, I want to give you a warning. It’s not a comfortable one. We all have our favorite passages to quote for encouragement, to make people feel good, and to lift people up. I’m willing to bet todays passage is not one of them. I’ll confess to you that though I’d planned this as a specific message when I outlines James, having read it I wanted to combine it in a larger context. Because it’s uncomfortable for me as well.
Some might consider this one of those passages that doesn’t really apply to them. I would challenge that, as I believe it applies to all of us here today. I want to ask you to listen deeply to God’s Word to us this morning. I want you to be intentional about thinking about ways that you can heed its warnings and live out God’s love in the context of your daily life in our community and beyond.
As we prepare to hear God’s word, let us pray and ask God to grant us focus and hearts to hear and feel and know and do God’s Word.
Let’s pray:
Most Holy God, on this beautiful morning, we have gathered in this place to hear from your Word. Separated as we are in our vehicles we confess it is easy to get distracted, allowing our minds to wander. Lord, we ask that you would keep our minds attentive to your message today. Bind from us those distractions and give us a heart attuned to your message for us this day. Speak Lord, your servants are listening. We pray these things in the Name of Your Son Jesus, AMEN.
Now, let us hear what the Spirit is saying to the church today:
Our passage for today comes from the Book of James, chapter 5, vs. 1-6.
James 5:1–6 ESV
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.
This is God’s Word to us today. Thanks be to God.
These words are difficult to hear. These words are easy to dismiss as we can always point to people who have more, are richer, wealthier, more selfish…the list goes on.
It’s always easy to take difficult passages for us and apply them to others. Yet, we know the dangers of comparison - we either think or ourselves as better than others or we think of ourselves as less than others which leads to us thinking we should be where they are. Both of these are based in pride and selfishness.
This passage applies to the rich - those that have. I don’t know about you, but I know personally several people who are multi-millionaires. I would definitely call them rich. And by comparison I would definitely say that I’m not. And so it can become easy to dismiss this passage and say it doesn’t apply to me.
But then, this week as I’ve been studying this passage I’ve been thinking about all that I have. I recently bought a home, every month, I “own” a little bit more of it as I pay my mortgage. I have a truck I drive; I have clothes for summer and winter, and for various types of occasions; I have tools in my garage; I have a refrigerator that keeps food that I have bought; and the list goes on. Take a moment to think of all you have. Seriously, think of ALL you have.
As you do this, you will no doubt begin to think of just how much you have. Granted, some will have more and some less. We’re not going to make the error James has already cautioned us against and judge one another, we’re not going to compare, this is a self evaluation.
One of the times in my life when I came face to face with just how much I had was in a Mexican village outside of Cuernavaca. I was on a short term mission trip and we had venture up to this village high in the mountains about a 2 hour drive from the city. In this village of Xicatlacotla (Chee-cot-la-coat-la) the women in our group stayed in our hosts home, and the men stayed in the school house. Our hosts home was small but one of the few with real walls. They had 9 children, they had made arrangements to sleep elsewhere during our stay.
Each day they prepare a modest breakfast for us, lunch, and dinner. We noticed they never ate with us. They served us first. When we were finished, they would eat whatever was left over. That was a conundrum. It would offend them for us not to eat hardily insulting their hospitality, yet to do so meant they wouldn’t have much if anything to eat when we were done.
They had so little in comparison to our group. Yet they willingly gave it all for us to be comfortable and well fed. 30 years later the lessons sticks with me.
James begins our passage:
James 5:1 ESV
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.
And we all want to think “we’re not rich.” He goes on:
James 5:2–3 ESV
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.
And we start to realize that we do have a lot of “stuff”. Especially when we realize that the number of storage facilities in the US has surpassed the number of McDonald’s!
And then he gets to his specific audience:
James 5:4 ESV
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.
In the world of the new testament they did not have big farms with expensive farm equipment. They had farms with lots of mixed free and slave labor. The slaves were owned, but the free labor was often working to pay off a debt. The rich land owners often held back wages from them, clinging to their wealth.
And that is always the temptation for us with our possessions. We always seek the best deal, clinging to what we have. We remember the warning of Paul to Timothy:
1 Timothy 6:9–10 ESV
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
Note it does not say that money is evil, it does not say that money is THE root of all evil. It says, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” And we know this to be true.
Money and the way in which it is handled is the second leading cause of divorce in our country. It’s a taboo topic in so many families to even talk about. Yet the reality money, and even our possession are simply tools we have to navigate this world.
James concludes our passage today with these words:
James 5:5–6 ESV
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.
All of us to some extent have lived on this earth in luxury. We may not think so, but we are sitting here today in our cars, listening on our radios, outside a church that is able to do this. We will drive to our homes and prepare ourselves lunch using food stored in our refrigerators, and perhaps enjoy it in our back yards.
Ron Sider in his book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger states,

Most Christians in the Northern Hemisphere simply do not believe Jesus’ teaching about the deadly danger of possessions. We all know that Jesus warned that possessions are highly dangerous—so dangerous in fact that it is extremely difficult for a rich person to be a Christian at all. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” [Luke 18:24–25].… But we do not believe Jesus. Christians in the United States live in the richest society in the history of the world surrounded by a billion hungry neighbors. Yet … we insist on more and more. If Jesus was so un-American that he considered riches dangerous, then we must ignore or reinterpret his message.

Sider’s book was published in 1977, his words are more true today.
How do we interpret Jesus’ words? How do we interpret James’ words?
The danger of riches is that so often they cause us to ignore God. Has our wealth blinded us to God? Has our desire for security and even excess so significantly dulled our ears that we barely hear God’s voice?
The danger of riches aside from ignoring God is that we ignore our brothers and sisters.
In speaking with many of you I know that these past few months have been challenging. With the physical distancing required by our pandemic other issues have arisen within our national and local dialogue.
We hear phrases like: “Systemic Racism”, “White Privilege” and words like “inequality”, “reparations” and more and it can cause us to feel uncomfortable. Why? Are we afraid these statements are incorrect or are we afraid they are right? Either way, shouldn’t we as Christians be willing to listen and understand? Shouldn’t we of all people be willing to fight injustice, and inequality? I believe we should.
The first part is being willing to be “uncomfortable.” The conversations aren’t comfortable. They aren’t fun. But the work is good, and deep, and loving. The work of listening to our brothers and sisters, and really seeking to understand their fears, their sense of injustice, and their righteous anger.
Many of you have been intentionally engaging your friends and neighbors from different ethnic backgrounds than yours in conversation. Some of these conversations have been really hard and others have been surprisingly easy. Sometimes it’s not knowing where to start.
Personally, I was recommended a book by Debby Irving, that I’d recommend to you. It’s called, Waking Up White, and came out in 2014. It’s been really eye opening for me. I’m only about half way through it and yet it challenges me to really examine how I’ve lived in and experienced our culture, and how different that has been for my sisters and brothers of different ethnicities.
This is changing my understanding of what it means to love my neighbor as myself.
In the Gospel of Luke we read the story of the ruler: He says, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus responds first to remind him of several of the commandments which the ruler professes to have kept since youth. Jesus then says, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
When the ruler hears this, he became very sad for he was extremely rich.
Jesus message in Luke’s Gospel and James message in our passage today challenge us in the same way:
How tightly are you holding on to your possessions?
How tightly are you holding on to your riches?
Has anyone been shortchanged by your having these?
How tightly are you holding on to your viewpoints?
Following Jesus is holding very loosely to the things of this world and seeking first and foremost to follow Jesus.
This is God’s Word to us today.
Thanks be to God.
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