Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 93, 96, 34
Esther 3:1 – 4:3
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
How do we control our human nature to live as God desires?
At work, almost everyone can cite at least one instance in which they saw my passion burst forth – energetically, emphatically. I know what I believe in my profession. When I see something different, I do not hesitate to speak up – energetically, emphatically. As Christians we are called to be doers of the word which requires that we follow the teaching of Christ guided by the Holy Spirit to do what God has demanded and equipped us to do.
The New Testament passages in James and Matthew give us specific directions for being doers of the word. That actual statement, “doers of the word,” comes from the James passage. Some define religion as the set of beliefs one holds based on the pew in which one sits on Sunday morning. The way I read the James passage, religion is what happens between noon on Sunday and 9:30 the next Sunday morning. Those who store away the volumes of teaching that comes from the pulpit or Bible study room– leaving it potential energy instead of converting it to kinetic energy – are no more followers of Christ than those who reject him entirely. That teaching, that belief, is worthless. Belief, without behaviors shaped by that belief, is not belief. Jesus said the same thing in Matthew when describing the behavior of the religious leaders. Their behavior glorified themselves in the eyes of man. It did not glorify God or even themselves in the eyes of God.
Both passages give us a reminder that our relationship with God is a private matter, not a public one. We have a 1:1 relationship with God. Every relationship is different. We honor that relationship by living it actively every day. Humbly. Quietly. When we draw attention to our work, we dishonor it; however, the doing of that work will draw attention without us trumpeting it on Twitter or Facebook. James 1:27 describes such a belief/lifestyle: one unstained by the world. That stands out because it is so different. We do not have to make it noticed.
The first verse in today’s James passage connects the testaments. Giving solid practical advice “be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger…” reminds us to get the complete story and to then respond as God would have us. The Esther passage from the Old Testament today sets up the story of the planned genocide of Jews because they remained true to the worship of God rather than following the king’s decree to worship him and his highest ranking official. The official, Haman, was so angry about one person’s, Mordecai, refusal to bow, that he successfully lobbied the king to set forth a decree that all Jews be killed on the selected day and their property raided. The connection to James 1 is striking. A leader, in anger, exercises his authority satisfy his desire for revenge that the decisions ultimately led to his own destruction. James follows the “quick to listen” statement with a reminder that our “anger does not produce God’s righteousness.”
The people Jesus calls hypocrites in Matthew mirror Haman’s behavior. His actions demonstrated his personal (wounded) pride and vanity in his elevated position. The hypocrites actions demonstrated their own personal pride and vanity through the good actions (tithing, praying, etc.) done badly.
The passages also reflect our humanity. We all appreciate that pat on the back when we do something good. Though we may not admit it, we dream a little secret revenge when we feel we have been wronged: our brains are wired that way. James and Matthew provide directions for keeping those things under control. Following the guidance of Jesus as told in Matthew and then James practical direction in even broader aspects of life, we have the satisfaction that we did the right thing; internal peace of mind is better than a pat on the back. That pat is soon forgotten. Not enacting revenge does even more for our peace of mind. The pats we then receive for gaining peace of mind and being “doers” are eternal.
Let us overcome our vanity, pride, and desire for praise (revenge) in order to daily live the lives that truly change the world and grow God’s kingdom on earth.