Monday, July 23, 2012

James 3:13-18

"Seeding Peace"
MasterPiece Church
22 July 2012

We’ve had a lot of tragic news this week. What was your first reaction when you heard about the shooting in the Colorado theater where 12 people were killed and 58 wounded?

(People spoke up from their seats and shared their reactions)

I know that my first reaction was a anger and rage -- mixed with a sense of déjà vu all over again. My second response was -- Wow -- this is so relevant to what James is saying here in chapter 3 when he talks about peacemaking.

"Those who make peace
sow the seeds of justice
by their peaceful acts."

~ James 3:18 (CEB)

These are the words which end chapter 3 in the book of James – a proverb which summarizes everything that James has said up to this point.

Last week I started some of the seeds for my fall garden. These are Italian violet cauliflowers. And this is a West India Burr Gherkin cucumber. I’ve also got some tomatoes started. And I actually started the Autumn Beauty red sunflowers in the ground outside. They haven’t come up yet but I’m told that they can survive the heat.

Whether all of these will survive -- I’m uncertain. But I am certain of one thing -- that the sunflower seeds will not produce carrots. And the cauliflower seeds will not produce a grapefruit crop.

Obviously the type of harvest is tied to the type of seed. As James rhetorically asks in verse 12 – “...Can a fig tree produce olives? Can a grapevine produce figs?” ~ (CEB)

The fruit will always be of the same nature as the seed and the plant. And this is the point that James is making here in the second half of chapter 3.

Remember he is talking specifically about teachers in the church – although EVERYTHING he says here is totally applicable to the rest of us. But he is thinking primarily about those who are teaching -- James 3:1
“My brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers, because we know that we teachers will be judged more strictly.”
And in a nutshell, James is saying that there were two kinds of teachers – or we might say for the sake of application – two kinds of leaders – two leadership styles.

Now, of course, there are many many styles of leadership – but really it can all be boiled down to two. And James is begging the question – which are you?

You realize, of course, that even if you’re not formally a teacher or a leader in the church – you are a teacher and you are a leader in some realm – home, neighborhood, work, school, extended family, etc. Titles are relatively unimportant.

You have influence somewhere. So all of this is extremely relevant to you. And James is begging the question of you teachers and leaders – which of these two types of a leader are you? Which of the two types of seed are you sowing?

The first kind of leader is the CLEVERLY WISE. And "clever," as I am using it here is not necessarily a good thing.

Webster’s dictionary defines cleverness -- and I think it’s a good definition -- “Mentally quick and resourceful but often lacking in depth or soundness.”

And when I say that one type of leader is cleverly wise, I’m using the word “WISE” somewhat tongue in cheek – as it is here in James 3.
James 3:14-15 (CEB) -- “However, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. Instead, it is from the earth, natural and demonic.”
James does not mince his words – words aimed at leaders and teachers who are driven by ambition – jealousy to outdo some other leader – braggarts who don’t mind telling you how they have accomplished all they’ve done.

The late Dr David Hubbard, who was actually one of my teachers, was a wonderful man who lived his message. As president of Fuller Seminary he peacefully steered the school through some tumultuous times. President Hubbard once said when talking about this passage: “Cleverness was spending its energies not to nurture students but to increase the status of the teacher.”

These are the same teachers and leaders that have the big mouths in the first half of the chapter – They are the fast talkers – the people of persuasive words and arguments.

These are the people who love a fight. They can rally the troops for a battle – a rivalry. Their approach to leadership is to find an enemy and rally the troops for a fight.

There is almost always a harsh zeal and a rigidity to their leadership. They like chaos so that they can play the role of the organizing hero – the Bible answer man.

I don’t know, what other adjectives might we throw in here? sectarian? divisive? (from the floor -- “corrosive”) factus? chip on the shoulder – point-to-prove types of people?

James 3:16 (CEB) –
“Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and everything that is evil.”
Disorder and evil.

If you’re gardening with these kinds of seeds you’re going to end up with these kinds of plants – a bunch of annoying puncture thorns and nasty thistles.

If you plant seeds of jealous competition, personal ambition -- you’ll end up with an ugly bumper crop of disorder and evil -- even if your cause is somewhat good or noble.

For what you plant is what you reap. And that’s what teaching is -- that’s what leadership is -- the sowing -- the planting of seeds.

You can’t make things grow. You can’t make them happen. But you are planting the seeds.

When you start a Bible study group or when you teach kids in Sunday School -- when you help out with our reading club or conversational English club.

You are planting seeds -- The words you say -- The way you carry yourself -- Your enthusiasm and your genuine love for people.

Those are the seeds that lodge deep into the hearts and the minds of at least some of those around you.

And as you know – bad seed never produces good fruit and good seed never produces bad fruit. We might even say that good seed always produces some good fruit.

Do you remember the story that Jesus told in Mark 4, and which Alex read for us a few minutes ago? Jesus liked to talk about seeds – a lot. In Mark 4 he tells the parable of the sower.

A farmer sows some seeds – some falls on a path and birds come by and gobble it up. Some springs up quickly in shallow soil but gets baked by the sun. And some seed gets choked out by thorny weeds. However, some seed falls in good ground and produces a great harvest.

Now, up until recently I always assumed that the point of that parable is that some of the seed just doesn’t make it because the conditions are not conducive to growth.

How many sermons have you heard asking you to check and to evaluate whether you are fertile -- conducive soil? Whether you are such a person who is going to allow the seeds – the word of God – to take root in your life?

And indeed there is a bit of that in the parable. But that’s not really the point of the story.

The main point of the story is that in spite of the fact that some of the seed falls on bad soil, in spite of the fact that some gets scorched, in spite of the fact that some gets choked out the harvest is not thwarted -- hindered!

The seed, in this case the word of God, is always going to produce some kind of good fruit. That is the nature of God’s kingdom -- the word of God does not return empty handed -- “there is a crop – some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundred times what was sown.” Mark 4:20

Good seed produces good fruit. And this is exactly where James is going with his sermon in the third chapter. There is going to be fruit – so let it be good -- especially if you’re a teacher - a leader.

And so he says that there is a second kind of leader – one who is peacefully wise -- a peacemaker. The second kind of leader is PEACEFULLY WISE.

The translation of James 3:13 that really captures my imagination is the 1996 NLT --
“If you are wise and understand God's ways, live a life of steady goodness so that only good deeds will pour forth.”
The phrase “steady goodness” is a terrific rendering of a Greek phrase that is often translated as something like – “meekness of wisdom” “or wise humility.”

For example, James 3:13 in the CEB is --
“Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom.”
Or here is the Message’s rendering:
“Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here's what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly.”
But “steady goodness” does it for me.

The arrogant are busy, busy, busy -- running all over the place trying to make a name for themselves. But the gentle -- the humble -- are steadily holding the course -- or maybe the door.

They aren’t busy trying to be in charge – they’re quietly doing their jobs – caring for widows and orphans – and others in need. That’s what steady goodness is. That’s what gently wise leadership is. Vs. 13b –
“If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.”
As opposed to the pseudo-wise – those who like to talk about themselves and like to hear themselves talk – the cleverly wise.

Jump down to verse 17 – These are great words that somewhat remind me of 1 Corinthians 13 –and also the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22 Keep those very familiar words in mind and then listen to James: James 3:17 –
"But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” (NLT)
David Hubbard writes about this particular verse –
“These are the attributes we admire and long for. Would not that be a happy list of things to hear said about one of us at a retirement party? They bear a closer look: pure means free from the defilements of jealousy and ambition that stain the lives of the clever; peaceable suggests the ability to maintain composure even under hostile or anger-provoking circumstances; open to reason describes a sensitivity to the other person’s point of view and flexibility to change one’s mind when the evidence indicates; full of mercy and good fruits points to a disposition of love and compassion that reach out to the needs of the struggling; without uncertainty is a way of picturing a loyalty to God that does not waver in commitment; without insincerity indicates a freedom from hypocrisy that pretends to do what it does not, to be what it is not, and to care when it cannot.”
Clever wisdom divides. But the kind of wisdom, described in vs. 17, is what unites. Clever wisdom tries to rile everyone up. But the wisdom described in vs. 17 moves forward through peaceful means.

Jesus says in Matthew 5: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.”

And James, once again in 3:18 "Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts." ~ James 3:18 (CEB)

Peace is a very interesting concept. We think back to the OT Hebrew word Shalom which would have been on the minds of James’ very Jewish audience. And shalom does not merely mean the absence of conflict or pain -- but also the presence of well-being.

Those who in their leadership and teaching style plant seeds of shalom -- well-being -- reconciliation -- right-relationship -- especially between people and God -- health -- enjoyment of life... All of this is packed into that one word -- peace.

If you plant this kind of seed you are a peacemaker and once your seeds sprout -- and eventually they do -- you will end up with a harvest of goodness and justice.

Jesus says: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness...”

That word “righteousness” could just as easily be translated as "justice" or "goodness" – and there are some political -- as well as personal overtones to this word.

If you are a teacher or a leader who is sowing seeds of gentle wisdom -- you’re going to see a crop of goodness, righteousness, justice, and fairness. The poor will be acknowledged and cared for with dignity and without partiality. And this is because the seed of peace that is sown is really the same as the fruit of goodness and justice.

Remember. Seed always produces the same kind of crop – carrot seeds do not produce apples – they produce carrots – always. And seeds of peace always produce goodness.

This is because peace and goodness are really the same thing – in practicality they are indistinguishable. This is my favorite lime. What is it?

Right -- a Mexican Lime. But it is also known as a Key Lime. Some of you know it as a Bartender’s Lime. It’s also called a West Indian Lime. It’s all the same fruit – but with different names used by different people in different contexts.

Likewise peace and goodness and justice – in the fullest sense of each are really the same fruit. So you plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of justice and goodness.

Folks, here’s the point of it all. Whenever we teach or lead we are planting seeds. The question is -- just what kinds of seeds are we planting? This is what James wants us to ask ourselves. Am I planting seeds of clever wisdom – which ultimately produce nasty tasting fruit? Or am I planting seeds of peaceful wisdom -- which ultimately produces in my life and the lives of others the delicious fruit of goodness?

That in a nutshell is what this is all about. I know that this is all sounding a little esoteric this morning because we don’t usually think in these terms – but James is trying to get us to do so -- to think a bit outside the box.

You see, if we are truly followers of Jesus – then it is his seed that has taken hold in us.

Do you want to know what the seed of peace looks like? It looks like Jesus himself – the Prince of Peace --

  • the one who responded to violence by turning the other cheek -- 
  •  the one who told his disciples to shake the dust from their feet rather than fight the secularist who didn’t welcome his message. 
  • The one who voluntarily gave up his life to become a sacrifice of peace – mending the relationship between God and human -- full justice. Rising from the dead to prove that his kind of peace works.

And the apostle James is calling on us to become peacemaking mini-clones of Jesus.

You see, there is no way to really implement good or righteousness apart from the prince of peace working it out -- implanting it in our lives.

We can try to be good -- and we can take some noble stabs at doing the right thing -- and sometimes we get it a little right.


I have this vision that in 25 years I’ll come as a retiree to visit MasterPiece Church – which will be a bit larger larger -- multiple congregations all characterized by the same sense of grace and peace – and the children of those who are children now will be running around along with all the others who have been attracted by your warmth and welcome – some will be in high school -- and they’ll be enthusiastic about following Jesus. Some of the people will be poor – some will be wealthy.

Some will speak Spanish and Chinese some will speak English – some will be refugees from the conflicts in Africa or Syria. Some will have experienced great pain. But they’ll feel at home here.

And I’ll stand on the side of the room looking over the people and I’ll be excited knowing that they and their faith are some of the fruit of the seeds of wisdom that God allowed you and I to plant in 2012.

Not all of us will be around to see the fruit -- but we know that what we’re doing is important -- life critical. We’re involved in the formation of the future -- we’re planting seeds.

Over the years I’ve done a lot of work in an emerging academic field known as leadership studies. I’ve read all the books and even did some research of my own. I have a pretty good handle on what makes for a great leader in the community, classroom, and church. Some of the college and seminary classes I teach are focused on leadership studies.

If I had to summarize the secret to being a great leader or a great teacher (which of course, is James’ concern here) I would say that 90% of healthy leadership is modeling what you want people to do.

That’s the greatest secret to teaching and leading. And if you want people to catch a vision for the marginalized or the weak or the lost or the vulnerable (as James advocates as the measure of genuine religion and faith) you need to daily model that by sowing seeds of goodness and justice.

If the gospel is about helping people discover God’s peace -- we can’t teach that through cleverness or slick-presentations. The only way we can really teach it is if we ourselves are sowing seeds of goodness, justice, and peace.

The fact is, whether you think about it or not, you are planting seeds. The question that James begs is, what kinds of seeds are you putting into the ground through the life that you are modeling?

You may not even be around when the crop is harvested. But the seed that you’re planting will come up true to what you’re putting into the ground. What kind of a gardener are you?

It’s been a painful week with too much disturbing violence, but our call -- even in the midst of it all -- is to be seeding peace.
 "Those who make peace 
sow the seeds of justice 
by their peaceful acts." 
 ~ James 3:18 (CEB)

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