Fourth Sunday of Lent, 30 March 2014, St Mary, evening

Readings  Micah 7; James 5

Preacher  Revd David Gardiner

 

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May the words of my lips and the meditations of all our hearts be forever pleasing in your sight, O God our strength and our redeemer.

David Otis Fuller once asked: “if you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Both Micah and James provide us tonight with a means to build our case.

Micah wants to know how we treat one another. Those who are faithful to God, he says, do not bicker and plot to undermine one another. If there is an atmosphere in the community where friends, family and lovers cannot speak in confidence with one another without the risk of  gossip, tale-telling and political point-scoring, then there is a problem. That is not how followers of God are to behave.

Micah develops his point by looking at those who gloat over others’ misfortune and even commit violence. The fruit of their spite-filled lifestyle will be their own actions visited upon them.

James, on the other hand, looks to another visible aspect of our lives: our possessions. It makes for difficult reading, not least because in fact we in this building are all some of the richest and best-provided for people in the whole world, indeed in the whole of human history. But James isn’t so worried about what we have as he is about how we got it, and what we do with it.

Have we turned saving for our needs into hoarding for our wants?

Have we received the gifts of our abilities and wealth, and used them to the advantage of our brothers and sisters in God’s creation? Or have we soothed our consciences with the pernicious lies of ‘trickle-down economics’ and the ‘job-creator’ title?

When we read the Bible or hear stewardship talks on tithing, do we recognise that tithing is the biblical ethical minimum response, one that is so small in relation to the sacrifice God made for us? Or does our heart harden at the suggestion that a tenth of our income should be given in love for our fellow human beings?

We know we live in luxury in a world that contains starving people, and we know that we alone cannot fix all that injustice. But do we let the scope of the problem stop us from making the attempt? One person saved from starvation or preventable illness may be but a tiny drop in the ocean, but as we know in our hearts, tiny drops are what oceans are made of.

If we are not self-aware with our money as well as our relationships, James tells us, then we are just as guilty, just as in need of the redemption Christ bought us on the cross, as those who directly and deliberately hurt others with gossip and violence.

The final item on our quick check-list of Christian evidence is present in both readings: prayer. Micah responds to his woes by praising God and asking for his help: “I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me… Shepherd your people with your staff”

James is clear that the answer to our problems, needs and issues is prayer. It can seem silly to us sometimes, but James’s point is quite clear. Are you unwell? Pray. Are you under threat from anyone? Pray. Are you distressed in your relationships or work? Pray. Are you in financial trouble? Pray. As the hymn says ‘is there trouble anywhere? Take it to The Lord in prayer.’

Prayer should be the default setting of any Christian. Nothing we do as Christians is inappropriate subject matter for prayer. Every meeting we hold as a church, whether led by an official minister or not, should be held within a state of prayer. Every member of our church should be in the practice, whether aloud or silently, of praying about the things we do. We may not be good at acknowledging it, but James is clear: prayer is powerful.

“But I get a lot of this wrong – what hope is there for me?” If, like me, this list of Christian evidence seems awfully hard to live up to, then Micah has something to remind us of. He marvels about God’s incredible power, and therefore the even greater miracle in his chosen attitude of mercy and care. He acknowledges that God has the power and right to retain anger and be destructive, and gives thanks in awe that he chooses not to, but instead is creative and caring and faithful to the end. If we struggle with any of this, even with prayer itself, Micah and James both tell us that we can trust in God to guide and help us.

All we have to do is make the decision to rely on our God. Amen.

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