First Sunday in Kingdom Time
Let me begin today with a question. How many people here have family members in other cities; in other countries? There is a word for a people who have been scattered to many different places. The word is Diaspora. It means a people that have been dispersed from their homeland.
On the one hand, the people of a Diaspora live at a disadvantage. They are treated like strangers, aliens. Everywhere they go they start behind others who were there before them.
This is the season of Kingdom Time. During these seven weeks we will be guided by the letter from James, the brother of Jesus. After Jesus was crucified, James kept the movement alive in Jerusalem. It was dangerous – but he was committed to the faith and to his people. Life was hard for the people in Jerusalem –but it was also hard for his people who had been scattered to many different nations. The letter is addressed to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations, to the people of the Diaspora.
Life was hard and James began the letter by tying to help the people face their difficulties, to help them face adversity. He told them that adversity could make them stronger. And he told them that because they suffered as a people in Diaspora, God selected them to be his own – and God offered them something very special, a place in his Kingdom that would give them great peace. He said God would bind them together in unity, although they were separated. He said that in that unity there would be a purpose, his purpose, that they would accomplish for him. And therefore he would protect them and make them grow in numbers.
The Letter from James begins by saying that Adversity makes you strong.“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
How do you respond to trouble? When someone is threatened with deportation, separating them from your family, does it make your family stronger and more unified – or does the pressure tear your family apart?
When someone gets sick, does your family grow stronger to get them well, or does the pressure make you feel isolated, depressed and alone?
When you lose your job, do you become depressed or do you sit down with your family and friends and work out a way to survive?
When you find yourself arguing and fighting with your family or friends, do you give up on each other or do you work harder to work out your differences?
When the violence in the neighborhood reaches up and touches you or someone you love, do you retreat, stay by yourself and stay alone –or do you join with other people to stop the violence?
James tells us we should welcome adversity because it can make us stronger. That sounds good, but how do we make it happen. James writes that “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”
So James tells those who are facing adversity should first ask God for the wisdom to confront their problems. That is not usually what we do. When we have a problem, we ask someone for help. We ask everybody but God. But James says go first to the Lord in prayer and in studying and discussing the Word of God, the Bible, which is the story of the people of God, the people in Diaspora.
James also says that God will give you the wisdom if you come to him with faith that he can help, believing that He is a God of justice, a God that protects and has a purpose for his people, for you. Jesus told the story of a farmer that planted seeds. Some seeds grew and others did not. The seeds that grew were planted in good soil, the soil of faith. He says those who have faith will be able to understand the story of the people of God and gain wisdom from it, wisdom that will really help you with the troubles you face. What is this wisdom you can get from God?
After James counsels you to first seek wisdom from God he makes the statement that “God doesn’t tempt you.” Why? James wants you to know that the adversity you face doesn’t come from God. Instead, the troubles we face in life come from man’s selfish desires – from greed and racism and power seeking.
This government has tried to say that the undocumented are criminals who broke the law to come here to steal jobs. Based on that lie, they passed the law that is separating so many people. The truth is that U.S. policies destroyed millions of jobs in Mexico and Latin America. Then U.S. companies offered to hire millions of people looking for work to feed their families – at low wages. They took their taxes. They got rich off of them. Then when they became to many in number, they decided to drive down their numbers by deportation. That is the truth. These troubles our families face don’t come from God, they come from the racism and greed of men.
They say that the violence in our communities is the fault of the people who live here. God just made bad people. The truth is different. 20 million people in this country buy drugs illegally, for cash. Those billions of dollars create an economy, a big part of the economy of the Americas. But there are no laws, no courts to settle disputes, to regulate that economy. So that economy –the production, sale and distribution of drugs in this billion dollar economy- is regulated by the gun, by violence. That economy with its built in violence is like a fountain that scoops up young men without jobs and points them towards bloodshed. No matter what we do, the fountain keeps on pumping out the bloodshed. That is the truth. The violence does not come from God. It comes from the selfish greed and racism of man.
And what about the fights we have with our own families – children with their parents, husbands with their wives? Do they come from God? James says these problems come from our own selfish desires. They come when we accept the selfishness of man around us.
James tells us these things because he doesn’t want us to seek relief from the same source from which our problem comes. You don’t fire with fire. You fight fire with water. You don’t fight racism with racism – you fight racism with unity. You don’t fight violence with violence – you fight violence with transformation. And you don’t fight anger and jealousy with anger and jealousy – you fight them with forgiveness and love.
Finally James tells us that ”Every good thing comes from above.” He tells us that when we turn to God and his word, in sincere and complete belief, we will find the good relief from our troubles we need. Then James says, ”We are born again through the Word of Truth.” Everybody has an opinion – and every opinion reflects somebody’s self interest – or – what they have been convinced their self-interest is. When you stand humbly before God and ask for Wisdom you are opening your eyes to see things as God sees them. Selfishness and self-interest don’t get in the way. And when you stand on the truth you are born again – you are born into a world that is ruled by God. That is what we call living here and now in the Kingdom of God.
What I want you to know is that you can really experience living in the reign of God. When you go first to God, and acknowledge that he is your creator, and your judge, and your redeemer, then you can really step into God’s time. You CAN go to that place of the Spirit. In God’s time, he sees both the beginning and the middle and the end of things all at once. He is the Alpha and the Omega. In him is both the beginning and the end and in him there is no death and no sin, no greed or selfishness, no jealousy and no hatred.
And when you step into God’s time, your heart is opened and made strong. You feel his love. You feel he has chosen you, the people of the Diaspora, for a purpose, to bring his justice and light into the darkness of the world. And that strength in your heart, that faith in the future of your people, brings about the unity that will protect you, the love that binds together your families when the world would tear them apart, that raises up our young people together to make the world God asks us to make.
Next week we will read the Word from James when he tells us that we have to put the wisdom that comes from God into practice, that words without deeds mean nothing. That is why our church. Our community of faith has to do more than gather once a week to pray, hear the word and celebrate communion. Our community of faith is our ministries, ministries that defend our families, that demand health care for the uninsured, that challenge the roots of violence and that offer our next generation a future of righteousness.
We will put our minds to organizing the Kingdom of God in our lives. What we do will be based on these principles: We welcome adversity –because in facing adversity we become stronger and closer to God. When we face adversity, we will turn first to God – and the never-ending story of the people of God – for Wisdom without doubts, with faith. We will go to God for Wisdom and not to the selfishness of man, because God has the truth we need. And living in God’s truth will open the door to the power of his Kingdom and the purpose he has given us; a purpose we will dedicate ourselves to in the lives we live and the ministries we are challenged to pursue.
Amen? Amen? Amen!
The Holy Scriptures for the First Sunday in Kingdom Time
Matthew 13:1-9 The Parable of the Sower
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
James 1: 2-12 To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Trials and Temptations
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
James 1: 13-18
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.