17 Pentecost Proper B20
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
James 3:13-4:10 Sermon
September 20, 2015
Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
42 "O Thou Love Unbounded"
370 "My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less"
616 "Forever With The Lord"
511 "Jesus Shall Reign Where E'er The Sun"
WHY DO SOME PEOPLE HAVE TO BE SO MEAN?
TEXT (vs. 16-18): “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
Do you know any mean people? I would imagine that you do, in fact we all do. When I say “mean people,” I am referring to those who don’t seem to have any sense of good in them at all; or if they do, it is buried beneath a very calloused exterior.
I remember seeing a TV sitcom several years ago. I don’t remember which one it was, but I do remember the story line. What happened was that the lady who lived down the street from this sitcom family had died. This was a woman that everybody in the neighborhood despised. She was mean, and cranky, and crabby, and hated everybody.
Since she had no obvious family, this sitcom family made the arrangements for her funeral. There was no pastor, no church affiliation, nothing. It was just this one family trying to do “the right thing.”
When the time for her funeral arrived, only a few showed up. As it is typical for a secular funeral, there was no religious ceremony. Finally the mortician made the announcement, “If anybody wants to share some memories, please come forward.” Nobody came up.
Finally the father of the sitcom family (after being elbowed by his wife) came forward. He tried to stumble through some meaningless pleasantries. Then he finally said, “I can’t think of one nice thing to say about her. She was the meanest and most contemptible person I have ever known.” And then he enumerated some of the bad things she had done. He ended his impromptu speech by saying, “The only nice thing I can say about her today, is that she is lying in her casket, dead. She won’t be spewing any more of her evil venom in the neighborhood.”
And after he was done, then others got up and spoke about what a mean and evil person she was. Nobody could think of one positive thing to say about this woman.
It’s sad, isn’t it? Not one positive thing could be said. She was just plain mean. That’s the way she was throughout her life, and she made no attempts while she was living to change that impression.
I remember spotting a bumper sticker one time that said, “Mean people are the pits.” Well actually there was a more crude adjective attached to the “Mean People” phrase; but I’m going to be polite this morning. “Mean people are the pits” seems to carry pretty much the same thought.
Think about it for a minute. What possible use do we have for mean people in our lives? We don’t like having mean neighbors. We don’t seek out mean people to be our friends. We don’t want to invite mean people to our homes for dinner. We don’t like to be on the same bowling team with mean people. We wouldn’t ask a mean person to watch our house while we were gone. In our youth, we never sought out the school bully who would beat us up every day to come play at our house or to sleep over. Students don’t like, and ultimately will not respond to mean teachers.
Mean people are not the type we like to associate with. They are not uplifting, they make us feel miserable, and they make lousy company. In short, we all like to keep mean people as far away from us as we possibly can. We have absolutely no use for them.
Our text for today, which is our Epistle reading, is recorded by James in the third and fourth chapters, and I am concentrating mainly on the last several verses of chapter three. If we look to the verses just prior to our text for today, we find James addressing two distinct types of wisdom; namely the wisdom that comes down from heaven, as opposed to the wisdom of this world. Allow me to read those verses from chapter 3, verses 13-15: “Who is wise and understanding amongst you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”
So based upon the words James has recorded, there are three things that we need to really need to watch in our lives, namely: Our words, our attitude, and our motivation.
To put it rather bluntly, Christians are not to be mean people, at all. Christians are to demonstrate the wisdom which comes from heaven in all they say and do and believe. There is no room for being mean in anything which comes down from heaven. No room at all.
True wisdom comes not only from our words, but from our entire life. A life that is led by God, a person who is filled with the Holy Spirit will indeed reflect this heavenly wisdom in everything. A Christian’s words and actions will not be mean or selfish, but will be, as our text for today says, “pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”
The second thing to consider is ATTITUDE. The Apostle Paul puts this into perspective in Philippians chapter 2, verses 5-8: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Do we have an attitude that reflects the humble and gentle nature of our Saviour? Does our attitude even come close to that?
Think of this for a moment. Jesus was surrounded by mean people. Even at his earliest moments of earthly life, Jesus was relegated to be born in amongst the animals. King Herod sought his death, and wound up slaughtering numerous baby boys in the process.
Then there were the Jewish leaders who plotted against him, like the Pharisees, the Scribes, the Sadducees, and the whole Sanhedrin. There were those who mocked him, flogged him, and crucified him. Oh yes, Jesus knew how mean people could be.
But Christ’s attitude was anything but mean. He was humble, obedient, and loving; forgiving those who harmed him and persecuted him.
This leads us right into our third point, which is MOTIVATION. Attitude and motivation go hand-in-hand quite well. If we look at our Epistle lesson again, this time moving into James chapter 4, verses 1-3: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights amongst you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 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.”
Mean people have motivation that is born from their own inward evil desires. We might think of an entrepreneur who believes that the only way to climb the ladder of success is to do so upon the backs of others. People become nothing more than an expendable resource. According to this type of person, people can be laid off or made redundant to ensure that their own pockets will be full. This type of person will lie and cheat and stab others in the back to get what they want, which is usually money and power.
The lust for power and wealth has brought some very mean and evil people into the spotlight throughout history. Just think of Adolph Hitler, or Osama Bin Laden, or perhaps Saddam Hussein, or the Ayatollah Khomeini. It’s hard to live with and deal with mean people in our society.
I remember a story that was told to me once. A rather quiet peaceful man was sitting on a park bench one day reading his newspaper.
All of a sudden, the devil himself materialized in front of him and tried to scare him with every trick in the book. All of the animals and birds ran away, but the man remained totally calm and unflustered, and continued reading his newspaper.
Finally the devil was becoming frustrated and shouted at him: “Don’t you know that I am the devil? Don’t you know that you should be scared of me?”
The man looked up from his newspaper and replied, “Why should I be scared of you? I’ve been married to your daughter for the past 43 years!”
Of course that’s a joke, and it’s not intended to be a theologically sound statement. But it does bring up the question: What happens when we encounter mean people in our own families and in our own households? What happens when those mean people are our husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and so on?
So often, I’ve found that people really hadn’t intended to be mean; it was just perceived that way. But other times, those people are genuinely mean. Let’s face it, those mean people we encounter in the world have families of some description, and sometimes those families are ours. And yes, we have to deal with them.
The Apostle Paul gives us some good advice in Ephesians 4, 1-3: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
Of course it won’t be easy. But if we have the attitude that Christ did, then we are on the right track. And we can be certain that he will indeed help us every step of the way when we seek to do his will in our lives.
But what about ourselves? Could we be seen by others as being mean? Now I know that children will refer to their parents as “being mean” if they are grounded or not allowed to do something. I also know that children will complain about a “mean teacher” who assigns too much homework or flunks them on an exam. Kids will think these people are the meanest people on the face of the earth. But I’m not talking about that kind of thing.
Rather, have others seen a genuinely mean person in us at times? Certainly hurt and anger can negatively affect our attitudes. Might that have tainted people’s impression of us? Do we act according to the wisdom of heaven, or the wisdom of this world?
I think we all have. In fact, I remember quite a few years back, someone told me to my face, “You’re mean!” and meant it. Just by something I had done without intending to be mean had been seen by this individual as a mean act by me. And nothing I said could change that opinion. I don’t think of myself as being a mean person, but I guess I can be to some people.
That’s when we look to Jesus. Jesus took all of the abuse and punishment of mean people to save the likes of you and me. When we are guilty of being mean, when we have allowed our words and lives to be governed by the wisdom of the world, when our motivation has been less than God-pleasing, we know we have a Saviour who loves us and forgives us.
So we come to him in faith. Through faith, we accept him as our personal Saviour. The Holy Spirit working in our hearts leads us to him; and what’s more the Holy Spirit gives us the same attitude he had, which is the attitude of humility, peace, love, and forgiveness.
In this life, we’ll always encounter mean people. There will be those who intentionally want to harm us and others, those who want to get ahead so badly that they don’t care how they do it, and those who just plain don’t care.
So what do we do? In the Beatitudes, in Matthew chapter 5, verse 7 Jesus says: “Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.” And the Apostle Paul writes in Romans chapter 12, verse 18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
It’s tough dealing with mean people. When doing so, there’s a quote I like to use that I have repeated quite often: “Just because someone doesn’t act like a Christian to you, doesn’t give you the excuse not to act like a Christian to them.”
You and I might never be called upon to give a eulogy at the funeral of a mean and contemptible old neighbor lady like that sitcom family did. We might never come under the rod of a cruel political dictator. But we will encounter mean people in our lives, just the same. I know that I have, some of which have hurt me very deeply. You've probably had that happen to you as well.
Our attitude must be the same as Christ Jesus, like Paul says. And as verse 18 of our text states, “…the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
Mean people have souls too. These are souls for which Jesus bled and died. The Holy Spirit can work in their lives as well. Who knows what will happen when people see Jesus working in our lives?