Wisdom from Above

Meditation on James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Pastor Karen Crawford

Sept. 19, 2021 Worship in the Chapel

Link to live streamed service, with message: https://fb.watch/87sobBAa_7/


     Did you see the story on the front page of The Beacon yesterday? A man named Jon Kissner started a new volunteer group in Coshocton.  One Flower Bed at a Time helps elderly residents or those with health issues with yardwork they can no longer do for themselves. He got the idea when he saw people on Facebook complaining about their neighbors not cleaning up their yards. “I said we need to help people in those situations, and then the light bulb came on about starting a group.”

     One Flower Bed at a Time has 30 members already. They have done work around a number of houses, including Pam Clark’s. Pam has had double hip replacements and has trouble getting around. Here’s what her flower bed looked like before the crew started work.

Here’s the crew hard at work. 

And here’s what her yard looked like after they were finished.

Here is Pam with some of the members of One Flower Bed at a Time.

      Pam saw Jon’s group on Facebook and asked him about it. She was ready to pay for their help!  “But he said that is not what we are about,” she said “They are neighbors helping neighbors. I even offered to feed them, but they wouldn’t take that either.”

     Jon’s comment about people complaining about their neighbors’ yards on Facebook, and his response, “We need to help people in those situations,” made me think of today’s reading in James.  We can be like the people on FB and other social networks who complain about things without doing anything about it, or we can seek “wisdom from above” —and reap a harvest of righteousness—and sow peace.

     The passage starts with a question, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” If you raise your hand his question, he responds, “show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” This word translated “gentleness” is also translated “humility” or “considerateness.”

      While we don’t know for sure, the epistle of James may have been written by a brother of Jesus.

After Jesus ascended into heaven, James is chosen to be the leader of the church in Jerusalem. When Paul and Barnabas come before the apostles and elders in Jerusalem in Acts 15 to defend their unorthodox mission to the Gentiles, the Church is in a real crisis! For the first Christians are Jewish followers of Christ, and they aren’t sure that the message of the gospel is for everyone. Or, if they agree with expanding the mission to the world, many think that Gentiles should become Jews, first—learning and following all the rules of the faith—the dietary and purity laws and circumcision, among other requirements.

      James is a peacemaker. He passionately speaks up for the truth and fights for the unity and growth of the Church. He is the one who intervenes in the crisis in the Early Church in Acts and finds a peaceful way for the mission to continue and grow. Theologian, speaker and writer Barbara Brown Taylor says, “When Paul’s ministry continued to provoke believers in Jerusalem, James was among those who came up with a way for Paul to demonstrate his regard for Torah (Acts 21:17-26).”

       Barbara, writing more than a decade before the pandemic, says , “If the preacher of today’s passage faces warring church factions, James faces more. … He is sick and tired of hearing what people think about faith in God.  He is unimpressed by wisdom and understanding, at least the kind that people use to pound one another.  The only wisdom that interests James is the wisdom from above, which has nothing to do with good ideas and everything to do with living good lives.”

   This begs the question, “How we can tell the difference between earthly wisdom and wisdom from above?” Sounding something like the apostle Paul writing about love in 1 Cor. 13 (Love is patient, love is kind, not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude), James tells us in verse 17 how we can recognize wisdom from above: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.”

     Where do the disputes and conflicts come from, according to James? Not from something outside of us.  “Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?” James asks. “You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder.  And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.”

     That phrase, “so you commit murder,” catches my attention. This is no mere quarrel in the congregation. The disputes and conflicts in the Church of James’ time stir violence. This is a big problem for the church and its witness to the wider community!

      As for blaming the devil or anyone else for our sins, James says, “No way.”  The devil has no power over those Christ has claimed as his own! That battle has already been won!  “Resist the devil,”  James writes, “and he will flee from you.”

      So, you ask now, “how do we get this wisdom from above?”

     I think of Solomon. As a teenager, he ascends the throne to rule as king after the death of his father, David. He has a vision of God on the throne, asking him for whatever he wants. Solomon, speaking humbly, in right relationship with the Lord, asks God not for riches but for wisdom so that he may rule God’s people well. The Lord was pleased with Solomon’s request.

    So, if we follow Solomon’s example, we seek divine wisdom in prayer when we have a personal relationship with God, when we humble ourselves before God—and we ask for wisdom so that we might accomplish God’s will for us.

    You know, friends, looking around this room, I see so many gifted people! Remember, God’s gifts to us never run out.  The more we use God’s gifts, the more God gives to us to serve Him more.

     Now, I want to point out that our lectionary reading today skips a number of verses. I encourage you to read the entire chapter, when you get a chance. The missing verses emphasize our making a choice—is it friendship with the world or the Lord? We can’t have both. The congregation in James’ time is struggling with the same temptations with which we struggle—and James is pretty upset about their choices.

 “Adulterers!” he says. “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

Brothers and sisters, the epistle reading—as does the entire wisdom book of James—challenges us to show our faith by living good lives, with God’s help. We need God’s help! Our Creator longs to give wisdom to all who ask, to all who want to serve and know the Lord more.

Last night, as I was putting finishing touches on my message—Jim shared a new photo with me of our two granddaughters.  I was surprised to see that they are wearing the dresses made by a kind friend in Florida years ago—and now they fit perfectly.

Shirley made these dresses along with many other dresses for young girls in Africa in need of clothing. Shirley, like many other Christians whom I know, is someone who possesses wisdom from above; she is “peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits.” She is humble and has no idea what a blessing she is to SO many people! And she loves the Lord.

My friend, Shirley.

 Today, we have a choice to be like the world and complain about everything without doing anything about it. Or we can commit to being a friend to God and look for ways to make our community a better place and grow the Kingdom of God, one loving act at a time.

     And may we reap a harvest of righteousness, sown in peace.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, we draw near to you now, with the promise that you will draw near to us. We want to be your friend and not the friend of the world so that we lose ourselves, our integrity, our faith. We love you and praise you for all you have done in our lives—and the good lives you have planned for each of us. Lord, we need your wisdom from above. Fill us with this gift so that we, too, may “peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits.” Stir us to use all of your gifts to us for your glory and for building up your Kingdom. May we never grow weary of doing good. In the name of our Triune God, we pray with thanksgiving. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Minnie, a toy poodle.

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