16 Pentecost proper B20
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
James 3:13-4:3; 7-8a Sermon
September 20, 2009
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
187 "Open Now Thy Gates Of Beauty"
572 "Children Of The Heavenly Father"
506 "Let Me Be Thine Forever"
542 "Son Of God Eternal Saviour"
WEEDS IN THE GARDEN OF OUR SOULS
TEXT (vs. 16-18): "For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness."
One of the things I get about every other day by Email, is a little devotional called "Nuggets." They're only a few paragraphs in length, and they deal with a wide variety of topics. I enjoy reading these because it focuses my thoughts upon a particular subject, and how that subject applies to my personal life. I find it is well worth the few minutes it takes to read these little "Nuggets."
Earlier this past week, on Thursday to be exact, I found the devotional to be not only appropriate for myself, but for the text we are considering this morning. This devotion was the contribution of a woman by the name of Joanne Lowe and bears the title, "Are we a stumbling block?" Allow me to share it with you:
The devotion starts with the following Bible verse: "Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling-block or obstacle in your brother's way." (Romans 14:13)
"On August 14, 1980, God humbled me and I admitted that I was a sinner. I repented of my sins and asked God to forgive me. Through faith, Jesus came into my heart to be my personal Saviour. The cleansing atoning blood of Jesus was applied to my soul for the forgiveness of my sins. I was saved but I was a stumbling block to those around me. I was very judgmental. Not only was I a stumbling block, I was also a hypocrite because I had not forgiven the people who had hurt me.
We read in the Bible where Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:3-5).
Yes, I was saved but I still harbored unforgiveness, bitterness and resentment in my heart for those who had hurt me. I really was a hypocrite. However, before you start judging me, search your own heart and see if you are a hypocrite. Have you really forgiven those who have hurt you? Have you forgiven them from your heart or did you just give them lip service when you told them that you had forgiven them? What about it, are you a stumbling block to your family, your friends and to those around you?"
Wow. Those are some rather hard-hitting and pointed words. And as I read them, it caused me to look deep within myself, down into my own soul. And I suppose what really did it for me, was the fact that it wasn't just a general word of encouragement. Joanne Lowe took what she was saying, what she was applying to her own life, and she turned it right around and confronted me with it. She was asking the questions I had to ask myself. Had I really forgiven those who have hurt me throughout my life? Had I really meant the words of forgiveness, or was I saying it just because I was supposed to? In some way, am I a stumbling block to other people?
The first instance that came to mind was something that happened just this past Tuesday. I was on my way home, driving north on South 13th Street, going 25 miles per hour through a school zone, just minding my own business. Then this guy driving a Jeep Liberty heading east on B Street went through the stop sign, and hit me broad-side--or "T-Boned" me, as it is often called.
The accident was his fault without a doubt. His insurance company will have to pay for repairing my car. And I have to admit that I did get a certain amount of satisfaction watching the police officer write him a ticket, and then watching his mangled vehicle being towed while I was able to just drive away. Served him right, I guess.
But I'm still not happy about the whole thing, and I'm not happy with him either. The whole mess of having to deal with insurance and repair and writing a report and filing a claim is both an inconvenience and an irritation. Somehow the satisfaction of seeing him ticketed and basically totaling his vehicle hasn't made this process any easier.
This morning, we are continuing in the general Epistle of James. For the last couple weeks, we have been focusing upon the Christian life. A faith that is true and genuine will show itself in how a Christian lives their life by the various fruits that it bears, which is a good way of saying that a genuine Christian faith will produce visible results.
Two Sundays ago, we began with how a Christian is to regard other people. A Christian needs to see other people in the same way God sees them, as precious individuals for whom Christ died and who he has redeemed. Then last week, we focused upon words, specifically the words we speak, and how that can affect other people. The Christian needs to be mindful just how powerful the tongue is, and that the same tongue is used for cursing and blessing.
Today, we get more into the feelings we have for others. The words we speak and the actions we do are motivated by what's going on inside. Although these subjects dove-tail together very nicely, I think you'd agree that there's still unique facets about each one.
Let's look at the negative feelings first. Verses 13-16 of our text from James 3 reads as follows: "But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such 'wisdom' does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice."
Negative feelings produce negative results. When we harbor bitterness and anger inside of ourselves, it is never productive; in fact it only serves to make us miserable and make others around us miserable too. It has happened to me many times where I've been with people who rant on and on about how miserable they are, and how nothing is going right in their lives. And then in the very next breath, they will begin to talk about other people in the most derogatory terms you could imagine. To hear them speak, you'd think that they have this giant "kick me" sign taped to their back, and that everybody they would meet were carrying out those instructions. And when this happens, they wind up being their own worst enemy, and their negative feelings and emotions began to control their lives. It's really sad.
I had a lady that I dealt with some years back that almost drove me completely nuts. She was continually down in the dumps. She would carry on at length about her situation in life, and what this person or that person had said to her or was doing to her. She was continually worried about what people thought of her and what they were saying behind her back. Of course very little of it was true, but she had created these monsters in her own mind.
And so I asked her, "Why are you allowing these people to control your life?" Irrespective of what they had said or done, the very fact that she was allowing all of these things to get inside of her and work on her, she was allowing other people to control her life. So she burdened herself with trying to impress others, and then added all of this worry to the mix. It was eating her alive from the inside out.
She had weeds in the garden of her soul, and those weeds threatened to choke out the fruit of her faith. The wisdom she showed was the wisdom of the world. As our text for today says, "Such 'wisdom' does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil."
If you spend your life looking under rocks for snakes, just think of the good stuff you'll be missing. If you look under enough rocks, I'm sure that you'll find the odd snake or two; but you'll miss out on what's around you and above you. The devil certainly wants you to keep your eyes focused downward, and not upward.
Pride and selfish ambition can do a lot of harm to us. And all these unspiritual and earthly things of the devil can only produce disorder and every evil practice. In our text for today, James asks the question in chapter 4 verse 1: "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?" What we have going on inside of ourselves will be reflected on the outside. If our souls are gardens full of weeds, there won't be any visible fruit, no matter how hard we try.
So maybe it's time we look at the other side of things. Verses 17 and 18 of our text for today says, "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness."
Now doesn't that sound a whole lot better than the alternative? When the garden of our souls is full of weeds, wouldn't it be a lot better to be like James says in our text, "...full of mercy and good fruit?" Doesn't that sound more like the way God wants us to be as Christians?
This morning, maybe it's time that we take some personal inventory. Let's go walking through the garden of our souls. Let's think about those people in our lives that have caused us grief; those people who have tried to make life miserable for us; those people that we just plain and simple do not like. We've all got our own list we carry around with us. And maybe it's time that we do something about it.
In that little devotion by Joanne Lowe that I read at the beginning, she said: "I was saved but I was a stumbling block to those around me. I was very judgmental. Not only was I a stumbling block, I was also a hypocrite because I had not forgiven the people who had hurt me...Yes, I was saved but I still harbored unforgiveness, bitterness and resentment in my heart for those who had hurt me. I really was a hypocrite."
One thing that impressed me about this was the almost refreshing way she was dealing with herself honestly. She wasn't trying to find excuses to continue to despise others, or to find some sort of loophole in the Bible to justify those feelings that the devil had nurtured in her soul. She knew that she couldn't produce the fruits of faith from a garden full of weeds.
In the last two verses of our text for today, James chapter 4 verses 7-8 we read: "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you."
Jesus wants us to come to him in faith. When we carry the burden of ill feelings toward others, when we feel anger or resentment, or when somebody just rubs us the wrong way; whatever the burden may be to our souls, Jesus wants it. He wants to take it from us and remove it completely.
That's what faith in Christ does. That's the way we come near to God, and the way he comes near to us. God promises us that the devil will indeed flee from us when we submit our entire selves, our lives and our souls to Jesus our Saviour.
When the gardens of our souls are full of weeds, consider the alternative Jesus offers. In verses 17 and 18 of our text we read: "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness."
The Christian looks at other people, regardless of who they are or what they've done in a completely new way. We regard others in light of the wisdom that comes down from heaven; and when we do that, then there is no room for hatred and envy and all the other worldly things the devil wants us to focus upon.
If we stop and think about it, there isn't anybody out there that's any better or worse than we are. Even as I think about that guy who banged into my car this week, I have to realize too that accidents will happen, people won't always notice the things they should, and difficulties can develop. And just like that guy who caused the accident, I realize that I've been guilty of the same things too. I guess it happens to all of us.
The Christian can appreciate forgiveness from others, and from God as well. Forgiveness is something that is the benchmark of the Christian, because if we didn't know the forgiving love of Christ in our lives, then we wouldn't be a Christian at all.
Since we have received forgiveness so liberally from God, may we be motivated to share that forgiveness just as liberally with others. And if we allow our negative feelings for others to dominate us, then we need to do some serious weeding in the garden of our souls, and pray that our God will continue to produce a fruitful harvest to his glory and service.