September 20, 2015 “Willing To Yield”

posted Jul 5, 2016, 3:10 PM by David Hawkins

Scripture Reading: James 3:13—4:3, 7–8a 

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 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. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 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. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.

Sermon: “Sermon: "Willing to Yield” Rev. David Hawkins

I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive when I decided to do a series on the book of James. It has a reputation, especially among reformed types, like Presbyterians, of being a difficult book to wrap your head around. It seems, sometimes, to link salvation and works together in a way that is inconsistent with the rest of the New Testament, certainly inconsistent with what Paul teaches, over, and over, and over again in his letters to his churches.

But, I have to say, as I have gotten to know James a little bit better over the last couple of weeks, he’s starting to grow on me. As I’ve taken the time to research him a little bit, to see where he’s coming from, I’ve come to think that maybe he’s more of a Presbyterian than we’ve given him credit for. Not that he has to be Presbyterian, of course. Some of my best friends are not Presbyterian. But it is nice to think that maybe we have something in common with this book that can seem so strict at times.

There are a couple of interesting things about the Book of James. One is that it very rarely mentions Jesus Christ. This is interesting, because most traditions speculate that the author of the book of James is the brother of Jesus, and yet, James only mentions him twice, once in a very formal way in the introduction, and another time that I’ll talk about later.

The other interesting thing about the book of James is that, unlike the other books of the New Testament, it seems more or less unconcerned with the topic of salvation. In fact, the book never once uses that word. I’m not suggesting that James did not believe in life after death, I’m just saying that maybe the book has gotten a bad rap through the years, that maybe James hasn’t linked the idea of salvation with works as much as we think he has. I wonder if maybe we’ve read stuff into James that he never said. To be sure, he talks a lot about righteousness, and how what we do is a part of that, but I’m not going to get into that today.

But as I’ve really started to dig into James’ book, I’ve started to think that maybe instead of trying to teach them about high-falutin’ ideas like salvation and the end of the world, James is going for a more basis approach -- just trying to get Christians to live more fully into the faith that they proclaim—to more completely live for the poor the hungry, to more completely embrace a life of humility and grace, and service, to more completely live into a faith that is more of a verb than a noun.

In other words, I wonder if James is simply trying to get people to see that being a Christian means more than just saying: I believe in Jesus Christ, and then waiting patiently for God to take us into heaven -- that being a Christian carries with it certain social responsibilities to those around us who don’t have as much as we do.

And if this is the case, then we Presbyterians, who sort of pride ourselves on being a goad to our Christian brothers and sisters to pay more attention to the marginalized and the voiceless among us might find a fellow annoying social justice warrior in the book of James, just waiting to be let out. Because it’s not about works-salvation. It’s about being the Christian Christ calls us to be.

I mentioned that James only mentions Jesus twice in his letter. The second time he mentions Christ is in the beginning of 2, when he lays his agenda right out loud, you might want to look at with me, it’s on page 229 in the New Testament, James 2, verse 1: “My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, "Have a seat here, please," while to the one who is poor you say, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?”

Do you see where he’s coming from? It’s clear what James is all about, and it’s clear who he thinks God is all about. James is calling Christians to pay more attention to the poor, to pay less attention to the rich, to stop worrying about the attractions of the world, and to remember that we are all equal before God.

It’s a fantastically counter-cultural message that obviously Christians in his day needed to hear. It’s probably a message that Christian in every time need to hear, and I myself am a little chagrined that I have been so reluctant to engage the book of James on its own terms. If we can just stop thinking about James in simplistic terms of faith-works and salvation, he’s got some really good stuff for us. Uncomfortable stuff, of course. But good.

I’ve noticed that James also has some thoughts about what the process of becoming a Christian is really like. For him, it’s not like a light switch, where before you were one thing, and now you are something different. To be sure, he recognizes a past and a present and a future, but he sees being a Christian as being more of a journey than a simple transition, and that in that journey, we are required to make decisions, to be a part of what’s happening to us throughout our lifetime. He is quick to recognize that the impetus for these decisions comes from the Holy Spirit, but, he still is convinced that we are playing a part in it.

And on that journey, we commit ourselves to particular courses of action that might not always be comfortable for us. James is convinced that being a Christian never meant that life was going to be easy. I think that sometimes our modern way of thinking about being a Christian is that it is just an event, something that happens to us, once, an important event, to be sure, but then, we go on with our life. Blessed, of course. Anointed of course. Saved, of course, but, still, we’re not really involved in what happening. We live our lives much the same as we always did.

But for James, that’s just not enough. He doesn’t deny that something happens to us, but then he asks: What now? What are you doing with this amazing event? How is it changing the way you live? Are you living into its astounding meaning for your lives? Does it change the way you think about things? Does it make you see the world in a different way?

James is all about asking important questions about what our faith really means to our lives. And today, especially, he asks us, are you willing to yield?

That’s an uncomfortable question for us west Texans.

Are you willing to yield to this invasion of God into your life? Are you willing to yield to the needs of other people? Are you willing to yield in confrontations with those with whom you disagree?

It’s an uncomfortable question for most Americans, I think.

Yielding is not really in our lexicon. Yielding is not how we get things done. We tend to value stubbornness over yielding, am I right? We didn’t yield to the British, did we? We didn’t yield to Santa Ana, did we? I wouldn’t say that yielding is high on our list of virtues. We vote for an uncompromising principle in our politicians, our national and political ethos these days is all about never backing down from a fight, never abandoning a position, never admitting defeat. We look down on those who are willing to yield.

And yet, here is James, in the middle of a list of fairly common characteristics that I think we can all agree are just fine and Christian-y, and he throws this fly in the ointment: let’s see, wisdom from above, check, purity, check, peacefulness, check, gentleness, check, full of mercy and good fruits, check, no partiality, check, no hypocrisy, check, all pretty much non-controversial sorts of things, and then here’s this bit about being willing to yield.

It’s sort of tucked in there, hidden away, but it’s the linchpin for all the rest of his argument about what it means to be a Christian, if you think about it. If you want to make peace, you have to be willing to yield. If you want to be humble, you have to be willing to yield. If you want to receive grace from God, you have to be willing to yield. You can see where he’s going with this.

Now, it’s important to note that James is not saying that you have to yield. James is not suggesting that Christians should be become milquetoast, acquiescent, go-along-with the flow, flip-flopping, fence-sitting, peanut gallery bystanders. That would be a disaster. He’s not saying that every time you come up against something that you disagree with, you have to cave, that every time you meet an obstacle, you give up, that every time someone disagrees with you, you take their side. He’s not saying that, and I’m not saying that.

But he is absolutely saying that a life that displays genuine Christian wisdom and humility is one that is willing to yield. There are times when peace requires compromise, when humility requires submission, when wisdom requires retreat, when grace requires relaxation of the rules.

Being willing to yield doesn’t mean being weak. But it does mean being ready to back down, when the situation calls for it. Is this difficult? Sure it is. This is why James calls it wisdom from above.

Being willing to yield means listening to the small voice of God in our dealings with our friends and with our enemies. How has God dealt with our own debts, and our own failings? Are we willing to yield to God’s authority, and offer that same grace to others?

This is James’ final point. Being willing to yield puts us in a position to recognize what God has done for us, and for others. Being willing to yield gives room for others to yield. Being willing to yield provides a space for peace, and draws us all closer to God.

Now to the Holy One
who is at work within us,
accomplishing far more than we could ever ask or imagine,
now and forever. Amen.