May 15th, 2016

Confirmation Sunday

James 3:13-18


Visiting other churches

Well, it looks like you made it! I forgot to tell you Wednesday night that the Board of Elders unanimously approved all of you for membership at Corinth Reformed Church. Of course. I’ve been doing Confirmation classes for 29 years, and you are my favorite Confirmation class! You may have heard that I tell every class the same thing, but I can prove it. You are the only Confirmation class for whom I have had “flash cards.” I have each one of you in a picture with your name on the back to help me learn your names and pray for you.

One of my favorite parts about Confirmation is visiting other churches. It’s especially appropriate on Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrate the birthday of the church, and how all the people heard the message in their own language. In different languages and styles, people all over the world today are celebrating what it means to be part of Jesus’ church. We asked you during this year to visit a different church. The Body of Christ is so much larger than the worship service you attend on Sundays, or even the church you are joining today.

I wondered how we could celebrate this larger church family today, and decided maybe we could bring a little of them into our service. About half of you visited Catholic or Lutheran churches, and you know that much of what they do in the service is written out. We call those liturgical churches, and a good bit of our actual Confirmation service will be liturgical.

Others visited predominantly or mostly African American churches. What you noticed was that the sermon in that tradition is not a monologue. There’s constant participation and even dialogue between the preacher and the people. People talk back during the sermon.

I wondered if we could bring a little of that experience back here. Turn to your neighbor and say, “Neighbor, I don’t want to be stupid.”

Worshipers in black churches don’t need to be prompted. They know what to say when the pastor makes a point. You, however, need help.

When I begin a sentence with, “Some people think….” I want you to respond, “That’s stupid!” Let’s try it. Some people think Pastor Bob is boring.

When I begin a sentence with, “God’s wisdom says….”  you respond, “Amen!” or “Hallelujah!” or “Preach it, brother!” Let’s try that one too. God’s wisdom says it’s not about Pastor Bob. God’s wisdom says you should pay attention to the Holy Spirit. God’s wisdom says if God can speak through a donkey, he can speak through Pastor Bob.

Let me be clear. We’re not making fun of how other people worship. We’re celebrating it and learning from the body of Christ. Some people think the only way to worship is how they do it. God’s wisdom says we can learn from Christians who worship differently. God’s wisdom says your job on a Sunday is as important as mine. God’s wisdom says, listen! God’s wisdom says, show me you’re paying attention!

Wisdom and its opposite

In today’s Scripture text, James asks his readers, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” (13) He seems to be asking his readers to ask that question for two reasons. First, are you wise? Second, are you listening to the right people? Some people think you should just naively accept what you hear. Some people think if you read it on your iPhone, it must be true. Some people think if a pastor says it, it must be true. God’s wisdom says, a preacher is only a man. God’s wisdom says we need to ask, “Who is wise and understanding?”

So how can we tell? God’s wisdom says those who are wise and understanding will “prove it by a good life – actions with the humility of wisdom.”

What is wisdom? Here’s my definition: Wisdom is learning from those who tried it first.

Wisdom is found in many areas. If you’re good at playing soccer or riding a horse or playing the cello or fishing, you learned that skill from someone who tried it first. That’s wisdom. William wouldn’t pick up his cello and start with, “I’m going to tune this to the key of Bledsoe and put my fingers where I feel like putting them.” God’s wisdom learns from the success of those who tried it first.

God’s wisdom also learns from the mistakes of those who tried it first. That’s why I shared with you this year the story of Sybreia, who grew up right across the street from the church. She’s experienced almost all of the worst nightmares of parents – drugs, teen pregnancy, years in prison. She told us she’s in prison with women who are there because they killed somebody texting while driving. She wrote her story for you so you could learn about all the mistakes she made. She tried it first and it didn’t work. You don’t have to repeat what she did.

Again, wisdom is learning from those who tried it first. Wisdom comes in lots of different areas about many different subjects. The kind of wisdom James is talking about, though, is not wisdom from Confucius or Stephen Curry or Rachael Ray.

James is talking about “wisdom that comes from heaven” (17). God’s wisdom says you have to look up to find true wisdom. Some people think you can just look around.

James says that if you don’t have wisdom from heaven, you have something else. Now you know that the Bible wasn’t originally written in English, it was written in Greek. Most of the time those who translated it into English did a good job, but sometimes they didn’t. I don’t like the way the New International Version translated the beginning of verse 15. James is talking about the opposite of wisdom, and the text says, “Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven. It sounds like James is saying there is “wisdom” from heaven and “wisdom” from the earth. But in the original text, James never actually calls the opposite of wisdom “wisdom.” He doesn’t give it a name.

Verse 15 actually says, “This is not the wisdom that comes from heaven, but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” This wisdom-opposite doesn’t come down from heaven. Some people think what looks popular and fun and new must be what I need. God’s wisdom says, “Watch out!” God’s wisdom says, “It might be from hell!”

So let’s give this devilish opposite-of-wisdom a different name. Let’s call it “stupidity.” God’s wisdom says, “I don’t want to be stupid.” Stupidity is the opposite of wisdom. Stupidity makes its own mistakes because it won’t learn from those who tried it first.

Some people think

James writes about stupidity (the opposite of wisdom) in verses 14-16. He tells you some of what that looks like.

First he talks about “bitter envy” (14). The word “envy” is actually the word “zeal.” Zeal can be good or bad. It just means going “all out.” Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on what you’re going all out for. If your zeal comes from bitterness – that is, you’re angry about what you don’t have and what you can’t do and who hurt you, and your zeal is really about trying to hurt someone back and you’re jealous because they have what you don’t have – James is warning that’s not wisdom.

Some people think, “I just want to be happy.” Some people think more stuff will make them happy. Some people think a new iPhone will make them happy. Some people think having friends that are in the cool crowd will make them happy.

Then James talks about “selfish ambition” (14). This is actually one word in the Greek language, and it’s a word that was rarely used outside the New Testament. About 300 years before the time of Jesus, a guy named Aristotle used this word to describe politicians who seek office by cheating or lying. It’s somebody that’s only in it for himself. I worry a little about your generation because if you tune into politics at all you’re hearing people that want to be president and seek the office by destroying others. That’s not a new idea, but it’s a very bad idea. You hear the phrase, “Be who you are” a lot these days, but that’s a really bad motto if you think it gives you permission to say out loud the hateful things that you’re thinking or speak half the truth if it gets you higher up the ladder.

Some people think life is all about winning, no matter who you hurt. Some people think it’s all about them. Some people think they can do the right thing for the wrong reason and look good. Some people think they can do the wrong thing for the right reason and God will be happy.

Let’s look at another example of stupidity James mentions: “disorder” (16). This is what James says happens when you have bitter envy and selfish ambition. What James is talking about is when a group of people are trying to work together or learn together – like in a classroom or a service project or a church. There always seems to be one or two who don’t want to let it happen – don’t want the teacher to teach. At the beginning of this year I wondered if one or two of you might be like that, and I was pleasantly surprised that wasn’t the case. But you’ve been in groups where someone thinks it’s funny to disrupt the group and turn all the attention on themselves. James says that’s from the devil.

Some people think it’s fun to create problems for someone else. Some people think it’s cool to show disrespect. Some people think if nobody else is learning anything they won’t get too far ahead of me.

Then, just to make sure he didn’t miss anything, James says stupidity is “every evil practice.” James doesn’t want you thinking wisdom from hell amounts to a few sins I can avoid. We teach you the entire Ten Commandments in Confirmation so you can be on the lookout for “every evil practice.”

Some people think they can ignore God’s laws. Some people think they need to try it first to see if anything bad will happen. Some people never learn from those who tried it first.

James does not like stupidity!

God’s wisdom

It’s a good thing James didn’t just focus on stupidity. He wants you to know what wisdom looks like. He already said in verse 13 that wisdom looks like humility. That’s a word that Anna Bolick, Elle Nutting, and Emma Neal – and anyone else who rides horses – knows about. Humility is what a horse has when you ride it – it’s strength under control. It’s not weakness. God’s wisdom puts your strength under the control of Jesus.

James tells us more of what that looks like in verse 17. God’s wisdom says first, “Be pure!” This is first for a reason. Purity is in your heart. Purity is knowing you belong to Jesus Christ. Purity is remembering that you have been baptized into his family, and that water represents cleansing. God’s wisdom says, “Never forget that Jesus washed you.” God’s wisdom says, “Never forget that you belong to him.”

The wisdom from above loves peace, it is gentle, obedient, and kind. It’s good and fair, and real (17). Some people think you can say you love Jesus but mistreat other people. God’s wisdom says how you treat others shows whether your wisdom comes from heaven or hell.

Look how James wraps all this up in verse 18: “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” Do I have any gardeners in this group? Anyone who’s got some plants and seedlings you’ve put in the ground expecting to get some beans or tomatoes or impatiens or begonias? If you plant watermelon seeds, you’re not going to get strawberries. Some people think it doesn’t matter what God says. God’s wisdom says “If you plant peace, you’ll reap a harvest of God’s approval.”

This book

I’ve mentioned an iPhone several times in this message. In many ways this little box represents the worst of our society. Some people use it to lie and cheat and steal. Some people use it to destroy families and buy drugs. Some people use it to waste a lot of precious time. So what’s the right thing to do? Destroy it, right? Get rid of it! Smash it up! No, the problem is not the iPhone. Some people just want to blame something or somebody. God’s wisdom examines my own heart for the sin that lies there.

When I was fifteen years old, my parents gave me a new Bible. You’re going to receive a Bible today as a Confirmation gift. Some people think the Bible is a collection of sayings to pull out when you’re in trouble. Some people thumb through it looking for a verse-of-the-day. The Bible is so much more. It’s a God-inspired collection of stories from and about those who tried it first. You learn from those who failed, and learn from those who succeeded in order their lives around God’s wisdom.

My Dad wrote in the front of the Bible I received, “On your 15th birthday, with our prayers and love, and admonition that this book become your very way of life, and in the spiritual battles you will constantly fight. You will need (this) helmet of salvation and the Sword of the Spirit – which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:10-17).

I’ve spent a lifetime with this book, and I’ve never regretted it. God’s wisdom says “Invest time with this book.” God’s wisdom says this book is “wisdom coming down from heaven.” God’s wisdom says “Learn from those who tried it first.” Amen.

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