Sermon– Available Powers

by   |  09.28.15  |  Preaching, Sermons

Available Powers

Reading: James 5:13-20

This chapter is James’s anti-money sermon. Only in a rich country do you have to take the time to qualify or justify preaching an anti-money sermon. And you especially don’t like a guest preacher coming into town and railing against your checkbooks. So we preachers justify. “I’m not talking against being rich. Abraham, Job, and Joseph of Arimathea were all godly rich dudes.” You’ve heard the old worn out joke about the preacher who constantly preached about those folks who own two cars. Then one day, he got a second car. And next week he preached about owning two cars … and a boat. So we preachers justify ourselves because we know folks do not like anti-money sermons. None of us like sermons about our pocketbooks.

I know I’m the guest preacher, but James 5 is the chapter that came next in my preaching calendar. I’m preaching through James. Last time I was here, you got James 2. This week, James 5 continues a theme that cycles throughout the book of James: The rich were oppressing the recipients of James’s letter. The rich are the folks that represent unbelief, immaturity, and instability throughout James. The rich are James’s rhetorical foil; his straw man that he sets up just to knock down.

And it is in chapter 5 that we find out why. James 5:1-6. The rich in the community were persecuting Christians. The rich put their primary trust in riches and not in God who gives us all things. James condemns the rich severely due to their injustice (4-6); selfishness in gratifying their own lusts (5); and murder. Do not envy them!!!! Money cannot buy health; Money cannot buy happiness; Money cannot buy a good name; Money cannot buy trust; Money cannot buy respect; Money cannot buy love. Money cannot secure your security. Money cannot protect you. Money cannot buy you God’s favor. And $ is the representative metaphor of all the powers of the natural world that oppose God and oppose God’s people.

The rich were oppressing folks in James’s church. And in the reading today, James’s asks

  • Is there anyone of you in trouble?
  • Is there anyone of you happy?
  • Is there anyone of you sick?
  • Is there anyone finding that your faith is wavering?

The sources of our troubles are manifold. I do not know your stories. But when you are alone at night, what keeps you awake? What are the anxieties that you put on a list? When you pray, what dominates your requests to God? When you open up to your best friend, what is on your heart? What is tearing up your days? Do you have your list?

And here’s the question. When you have your list completed, what resources do you depend on to address your troubles?

In James, there are two possible resources people turn to in order to address their list.

  • Money represents a natural power source.
  • The powers of the world, the structures and supporting beams of society, the pillars of the world, are powers/idols that work against God’s way in the world thus opposing God’s people. Paul’s description of this reality is “principalities and powers.” For James’s, it is money.

Let’s keep these powers in perspective:

  • God is the first cause power, the prime mover, the originator and sustainer of all life. Human laws, rules, traditions, institutions, and other human activities are second cause powers. Such second cause powers as financial structures, commerce, unions, exchange of goods & services, educational or political institutions, and technologies are unable to address the items on your list.
  • For graduate students, those powers press in on them in the form of debt.
  • When second cause powers usurp God’s power, they become corrupt.
  • When we move these powers to first place, the powers will oppress and overcome. We think we can handle and control these powers and use them for our own good, but these powers, left unchecked, dominate the world for their own good. They oppress the poor, the powerless, and the disenfranchised. When these powers usurp God in society, these powers not only hide God, they are at war with God. All these second cause resources complicate our lists; they do not address them.
  • Christ dethroned these powers of injustice and death. God placed them under the footstool of Jesus. In their proper place as second cause powers, they can be used for the glory of God but only if they remain under the footstool.

But there is an alternative power source.

James’ church, they did not have banking systems, armies, computers, and modern advancements. They depended upon God, they trusted in prayer, they trusted in Jesus’ sacrifice. James is all about FAITH and he writes to this community in order to protect this church from the powers of this earth. His answers to the powers and principalities that oppress are: perseverance and fellowship.

James has been giving valuable lessons on how to respond during trials, suffering, and persecution. The mature man and woman of God will respond with a lifestyle that will be pleasing to God. James concludes his sermon with the same theme that he began in chapter 1: perseverance, patience, and endurance. James 5:7-11.

Patience: Until the Lord comes. Our victory may not be evident until then. Then our understanding of how God works will be made complete.

James gives three examples of patience:

  1. The farmer takes care of his equipment. He plows, weeds, and fertilizes. This is active waiting–and he will be ready for the harvest.
  2. The prophets spoke with no response. We now consider them great exemplars for God.
  3. Job endured, unlike many of lesser character who would have lain down and cursed God.

Take out your list. You do not have to endure alone for your dependence is not on the rich or on the powers of the world, but instead, your dependence is on God and one another. When James gives concrete practical advice about how to access the power of God, he roots that advice in prayer, worship, and community. The Scripture reading this morning asks,

  • Is there anyone of you in trouble? Pray (See Elijah vs. 17-18).
  • Is there anyone of you happy? Sing. Don’t forget the Lord during the good times.
  • Is there anyone of you sick? Call the elders–let the family of God support you through troubled times. Rely on each other in all areas of trouble. Confessing and praying with each other is good practice (vs. 19).
  • If any of you wander from the truth, then let us all gather around that person and restore that person gently. What a wonderful display of the forgiveness of God.

I agree–I do not like anti-money sermons, because our trust is in the power of God.