December 15, 2013 - James 5.1-10

“I Need Patience Now!”

James 5.1-10

December 15, 2013

 

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. 2Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. 3Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. 4Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you. 7Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

I just read this text to you, and I hope you noticed something.  Perhaps you didn’t.  Most people don’t notice it.  Another preacher pointed it out to me and now I want to point it out to you. 

In this text there is a change – a shift.  Notice that James begins this chapter by railing against the rich people of this community.  He is really giving them the business.  And then in verse seven, there is a dramatic shift, almost as if James is bopping along at 45 mph in his truck and throws his truck into reverse and drops the transmission.  Did you catch it?

Let me re-read the first seven verses for you and see if you hear it.

What exactly is going on here?  Who is James talking to?

Well he is talking to his church, which is comprised mostly of poor, oppressed people.  Yes he is railing against the rich – but few rich people are going to read this letter in James’ time.  But please note that the people that do read it get to hear that message.  The rich – that oppress them – are going to be judged.

And we are to be patient.

It is as if James were preaching in his poor little church and has gone over to the window and is preaching out the window to the rich people up on the hill.  And then he turns to his church and says, “Be patient therefore beloved until the coming of the Lord.”  So unless you are a rich guy that oppresses his workers,  then you need not worry so much about verses 1-6, verse 7 is where you come in.

So then your next question is probably, “OK, preacher, I get it, but what does this have to do with Christmas or advent?”

Glad you asked.

During Advent we wait. If you are expecting a baby, you have to wait. If we are expecting God, then we must also wait.

“Why can’t we just have Christmas all year long?” a child asks.

The answer?  We must be patient. We are waiting for God.  We cannot “have” as much of God as we desire; God must come to us in God’s own good time.

The epistle of James was written to a church whose impatience was growing. Christ had promised that he would return, that he would complete the work he had begun. But it had been a number of years since the death and resurrection of Christ. Still, they waited.
     “Be patient,” urged James. Their wait had to be difficult. The world surely mocked them saying, “Where is your savior? If Christ is the redeemer, then why doesn’t the world look more redeemed?”
     I expect that there are some here today who can relate to the impatience of this early congregation. You know what it is to wait for God, and please note that James is not urging them for just any sort of patience. It is patience related to the coming of God.
     Some of you would like a deeper, richer prayer life. You pray, but it just seems as if you are talking to yourself. Why must God be so coy, so evasive? Why not some decisive, undeniable revelation?
     Others of you have tried to read the Bible, but you have been frustrated. You read but it all seems so foreign and strange. Why must God’s word be so difficult to understand? Why doesn’t God show up more often and instill in you the true meaning of the words?
     Or you have prayed for healing of your illness, but God has not given healing. What then? You have faith that God loves you and wants the best for you, but it would be good to see that love demonstrated, here, now.
     James would urge patience. God comes to us, but not on our schedule. God comes to us exactly when God is supposed to come.  There is revelation, but not always when we think we must have it. God is God, sovereign and free, and therefore God is free to show up among us or not to show up. Patience!
     And yet, I have some sympathy with these nameless early Christians upon whom James urges patience. To be impatient with God may be an important step toward a deeper relationship with God. Impatience suggests a “hungering and thirsting for righteousness” that Jesus commended in his Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps there are worse problems in our spiritual lives than impatience – namely, that sort of low level of expectation which believes so little about God that one is never, ever disappointed by God, never frustrated by the seeming tardiness of God.

One’s perception of one’s relationship to God is what prompts anxiety. Even though we may not be consciously aware of it, anxiety arises from the possibility of being rejected and abandoned by God and winding up alone. To realize that our relationship with God is entirely dependent upon God is sometimes to feel fear. Things are not at our bidding or under our control.  Understand this:  God is NEVER going to abandon you.  God is NEVER going to reject you.  God is NEVER going to leave you alone.  God will ALWAYS love you, accept you and be with you.

C. S.  Lewis, my favorite Christian writer, suggests that our great problem is not that we are impatient with God not coming to us now, but rather that we settle for too little of God in the future. We are comfortable and serene in present circumstances because “we are too easily pleased.” In The Weight of Glory, Lewis writes:

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

At least the impatient believer is usually a bold believer, someone who knows enough of God to know that God is love. It is only natural for us to want that love demonstrated, enacted on our puny human schedule. If it’s hard for us to wait for the coming of Christmas during the Sundays of Advent, how much more difficult for us to wait for the cancer to be healed, for the wayward child to come to his senses and come home, for prayer to be answered, for a full and robust spiritual life. At least our impatience shows a burning desire for God, a dissatisfaction with cheap substitutes.

I love what this guy Hans Urs van Balthasar wrote:

We often assume that the function of God is “to protect humanity in this world from suffering and death” and that “the Word entered the world simply to remove anxiety or to preserve people from it.” Can it be that God’s purposes are considerably larger than our fears of suffering and death?[1]

As James reminds the early church, we are impatient for God and God is not only love but also free, free to show up on God’s own good time, free to speak or to remain silent.  Christians are those who can be patient, who can take time for bodily rejuvenation and healing, because we believe that we are not God, that our lives are not our own, and that ultimately the outcome of our lives is not a matter of our actions but God’s grace. Patience is derived from our faith in what God is doing in us and in the world.

Let’s be honest. Most of us get most of what we want when we want it, with the push of a button, with the proffering of a credit card, instantly and without effort. But if what we most want, what we most need is God, the living, true God, then we must be patient. These matters are not in our hands; the schedule is not up to us.  It is up to God.  We should be patient with God.  God knows better than we do, and what God has in store for us is greater than what we would settle for now.

 

[1] Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Christian and Anxiety

 

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