Live Wisely

Wouldn’t it be great to stand before the throne of God and have the holy angels ask, “What’s the smartest thing you ever said or did?’ and respond, “I lived wisely.”  In today’s second reading from James 3:13-18, Jesus’ half-brother James shares with us how to, “Live Wisely”.  September 23, 2018.

 

What’s the smartest thing Jesus ever said?  That’s a tough one. Impossible to answer. Every word from his lips, every phrase, every syllable is a golden nugget from God, our loving God, our dear Savior.  There are folks who lump Jesus in with famous philosophers. Their go-to response to the smartest thing he ever said is often, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).  But that betrays a lack of understanding of who he is and what he came to earth to do.  Take that into account, and you may not be able to pinpoint a direct quotation from Jesus as his smartest or best because all his words are precious, but you will likely come up with a summary like this, “Love from God inspires love for God and others.”  Why is that a big deal? Because I want to get along with God and others in this world and the next, and surely you do, too. What is life now and forever without relationships? That would be called hell. You can claim to be a loner. You can say you like your private time.  Fine! But God did not design human beings to be like Tom Hanks in Cast Away.  He wants us to enjoy connections, relationships, and all of that starts with him.

Jesus’ half-brother, James, learned that firsthand, and in his Spirit-fired letter he seconds the motion, “Love from God does indeed inspire love for God and others.”  In today’s second reading from the third chapter of his letter he puts it this way, Live Wisely.

He wiped sweat from this brow with the rolled-up sleeve of his robe.  The hike up the hill wasn’t easy. Abraham was well into his middle years, but he knew the climb was important because from there he and his nephew did a three-sixty, surveying the land to figure out who should get what.  Living close to each other, each with thousands of sheep and goats and cattle, put pressure on the land and water resources. They would have to part company. So, Abraham said, “I’m older. I’ve been around the block. I’m the one the Lord called to move to this land, so I get dibs on the territory I want, no, make that the territory I need because the surviving and thriving of my family and descendants count the most in God’s scheme of saving sinners by sending his Son as the Savior.”  Is that what happened? No! Abraham deferred and let Lot have first pick. He wasn’t being a wimp. He was being kind, considerate, generous, and humble. He trusted that God would take care of him and bless him.

Whether it’s Grandma’s cinnamon rolls with the most frosting in the middle or a choice of seats for a concert or game, have I always deferred?  Have I been too quick to choose or grab the best and leave others with leftovers? “God, have mercy on me a sinner! Oh, wait! You have, Lord? Jesus came to pay even for my me-first-ness and empowers me to be more like Abraham?”  God be praised! That kindness and humility of Jesus for me inspires my kindness and humility to others so I can relate to them better. That’s what it means to live wisely.  Verse thirteen: Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

The servants with the big palm fans backed out and bowed under Joseph’s stern gaze.  The air wasn’t moving. You could hear a pin drop. “Now we’re going to get it. Sure, Joseph has taken care of us.  He has given us land and allowed us the freedom to raise our families. For seventeen years we have lived in peace, but now Dad is dead.  What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” … But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:15,19-20).  Joseph forgave them just as God had forgiven him.

“I can’t let that go.  You hurt me too deeply.  Your caustic comments stung like a bee and stuck in my heart, and I’m not going to let the wound heal.”  One sure way to push family and friends away and end up all alone is to harbor a grudge. “God have mercy on me, a sinner!  Oh, wait! You have, Lord? Jesus did something about my cutting and hurtful words, my envy and selfish ambition? He erased those black marks from the page of God’s ledger with my name on it and empowers me to be more like Joseph?”  God be praised! That forgiveness from Jesus inspires my forgiveness to others so I can relate to them better. That’s what it means to live wisely.  Verse fourteen to sixteen: If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

She stared at him as he carried the stuffed chair from one corner of the room to another and noticed the rippling cords in his forearms, his narrow hips, broad shoulders, and olive tanned skin.  That’s when she knew she wanted him. One day she saw an opportunity and asked him to pour her a glass of wine. As he stepped near his boss’ wife, she made her move. “You find me attractive, don’t you?”  Her cougar-like advances caused Joseph to erupt, How can I do such a wicked thing and sin against God” (Genesis 39:9).  He remained pure and fled.

Have I always heeded the apostle Peter’s warning about the devil prowling around like a roaring lion?  Have I simply shrugged and accepted as normal the soft-porn splashed in my face in every other commercial instead of taking to heart Jesus’ warning, “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28)?  How does a Christian young man relent and repent when his girlfriend says, “No!”  How does a Christian young woman say, “No!” when he suggests living together before marriage?  What am I to do about my impure thoughts and words? What are you to do with yours? “God have mercy on me, a sinner!  Oh, wait! You have, Lord? Jesus cleanses me from my impurity and empowers me to be more like Joseph?” God be praised!  That cleansing from Jesus inspires my purity so I can relate to others better. That’s what it means to live wisely.  Verse seventeen: The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure.

Jonathan was torn between loyalty to the crown and friendship to David.  He could have pushed himself forward. After all, he was the heir apparent.  But try as he might to calm his father’s jealous and murderous heart – and his peace-making worked for a time – in the end he knew that peace could only occur when God’s peace, the message of a promised Savior, prevailed.  So, Jonathan continued to serve his father in battle but never stopped protecting and eventually warning David to flee. It cost Jonathan his life.

Have I found the path of peace-making in all my relationships, or have I stirred the pot of tension and distrust?  Have I always taken other people’s words and actions in the kindest possible way, or have I assumed the worst? “God have mercy on me, a sinner!  Oh, wait! You have, Lord? Jesus appears in my room each night and makes it a new Easter, announcing, ‘Peace be with you,’ reassuring me that I’m at peace with God even though I don’t deserve it and empowers me to be more like Jonathan?”  God be praised! That peace from Jesus inspires my peace-making so I can relate to others better. That’s what it means to live wisely.  Verse seventeen: The wisdom that comes from heaven is … peace-loving, and verse eighteen: Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

You know the story well.  The religious leader scooted by the wounded man in the ditch, “Gross!”  The worship leader did the same, “I don’t want to get my hands dirty.” But the Samaritan, the one who himself had been avoided by the entitled, the proper, the privileged, is the one who got on his knees, bound up the wounds, hoisted the man onto his donkey, took him to the emergency room, and then paid the hotel bill.

Have I been filled with compassion and mercy and then folded my hands, “Tsk, tsk!  Too bad!” Have I scooted by when I could have done something to help? Have I taken time each quarter to evaluate the percentage of my income that is electronically offered to the Lord and recognized that my offerings not only reflect my thanks to God but also make a difference in the lives of hurting souls here and around the world?  “God have mercy on me, a sinner! Oh, wait! You have, Lord? Jesus has answered our plea, ‘Lord, have mercy,’ with actual mercy and empowers me to be more like the Samaritan?” God be praised! That mercy from Jesus inspires mercy in my heart and hands so I can relate to others better. That’s what it means to live wisely.  Verse seventeen: The wisdom that comes from heaven is … considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit.

The Pharisee’s nose was peculiar.  It pointed in two directions. It jutted up in the air as he prayed and patted himself on the back for being so faithful and pious that all the angels must have been tugging on God’s sleeve, “Lord, look over there at that great guy!”  But at the same time his nose was pointed down so he could sneer in disgust at the lowly tax collector who didn’t come close to meeting pharisaic standards.

Have I tried to make myself look good at the expense of others?  Have I harbored hidden bigotry and shied away from folks because they don’t look like me?  “God have mercy on me, a sinner! Oh, wait! You have, Lord? Jesus has not judged me and condemned me for my partiality and insincere thoughts but has forgiven me all that, too?”  God be praised! That verdict of innocence from Jesus inspires my impartial attitude so I can relate to others better. That’s what it means to live wisely.  Verse seventeen: The wisdom that comes from heaven is … impartial and sincere.

What’s the smartest thing you ever said?  I don’t mean smart as in “smart-aleck” or even smart as in IQ but smart as in words in line with the Savior’s words.  Wouldn’t it be great to stand before the throne of God and have the holy angels ask, “What’s the smartest thing you ever said or did?’ and respond, “I lived wisely.”  Thanks to what Jesus did for you and me, we can, and we will. Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on September 23, 2018