Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sermon: James 5: 7-12 Faith in Action - Have a Little Patience

I’m sure you know the wee saying: ‘Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can. Seldom in a woman, and never in a man!’ Well, this morning, we’re thinking about patience. So just how patient are you? When you’re stuck in traffic? When you’re in the queue at the shop? When you’re walking behind someone going really slowly? When you’re on hold on the phone, listening to the same ten seconds of music for the fiftieth time? How patient are you?

Even if our wee saying suggests that women seldom have it, and men never have it, James tells us firmly, and repeatedly to ‘be patient.’ Being patient, then, isn’t a take-it-or-leave-it type choice. It’s not that we can say, well, that’s not what I’m like, or not how I’m wired, so I don’t need to be patient. James says, because God says, be patient.

But don’t think, as we dive into the passage, that what we’ll find here are just some handy hints for being patient in the queue at Tesco. You see, as James begins in this passage, the patience he calls for is perhaps bigger and harder than we would like. Look at verse 7. ‘Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.’

Hopefully you know that when you see a ‘therefore’ you need to ask what it’s there for. It’s a connecting word, linking what comes before it to what comes after it. And here, the command to be patient until the coming of the Lord comes in the context of particular suffering.

If you were with us a fortnight ago, before the Confirmation, you’ll remember that James talked about time and money - not making plans, because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring; and a condemnation of the rich who stored up rather than shared out. It seems that the Christians James is writing to are the very labourers whose pay has been kept back by fraud. Some might have even died at the hands of the rich.

But rather than calling for revolution (a point Sam Allberry makes in his commentary), James calls for patience. Faced with this suffering and injustice, the Christian is called to patience, rather than retaliation. Now that’s not the easy option. It’s the harder thing to do. And so, James gives us some reasons to be patient, as well as some examples of how to be patient. We’ll see them as we work through the passage. In verse 7, we’re told how long to be patient for - ‘until the coming of the Lord’; and we’re given an example of being patient:

‘See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.’ In Fermanagh, we might think of the early rains as those that fall in the morning, and the late rains as those in the evening. But in Israel the early rains were those in October, when the seed was sown, and the late rains were in March/April to swell the grain.

The farmer waited until the rains had come, and the time was right, to get the precious fruit. If he was impatient, if he dug up the seeds every day to see if they were ready, he wouldn’t have a crop at all. He had to be patient. And in the same way, we’re to be patient. He says as much in verse 8 - along with an example of what it looks like, and another reason: ‘You also, be patient. Establish your hearts (there’s the example), for the coming of the Lord is at hand.’

Establish your hearts, make them fixed, firm, standing fast. Why? ‘For the coming of the Lord is at hand.’ The Lord’s return is near. He’s almost here. So keep going until he comes. In fact, he’s so close, that James goes on to say in verse 9 that he is at the door. The Lord is also the Judge, ‘standing at the door.’

It’s that moment in the courtroom where people are taking their seats, and there’s lots of chatter and to-ing and fro-ing, but the judge is at the door, and the clerk of the court cries out ‘All rise.’ Now, with the judge at the door, we need to be patient - by not grumbling against one another, so that we may not be judged.

Our patience isn’t just when facing external opposition, it’s also for internal annoyances. It isn’t enough to be patient in times of difficulty from outside - we also need to be patient with one another, putting up with things rather than grumbling against one another. Could it be that this is harder to do than the first? Remember that the judge is at the door, so put up with grievances for a little while.

In verses 10-11, James gives us examples of what this suffering and patience looks like in real life. With a wide angle lens, he points us to ‘the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.’ The thing to note in their example is that they ‘remained steadfast.’ That’s why we consider them to be blessed. They stuck at it, they kept going, they remained steadfast. And then in verse 11, James zooms in from the whole bunch of prophets to just one - perhaps the supreme sufferer in the Old Testament: Job.

‘You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.’ James says we’ve used two of our senses - our hearing ‘you have heard’ of Job’s steadfastness. And we heard that this morning, those remarkable words of faith, trust and patience on Job’s disaster day when his livestock, his staff, and his ten children were all taken in a single day. There’s also the sense of seeing - ‘you have seen’ the Lord’s purpose, as the Lord works out everything to the end, displaying his compassion and mercy.

As you look back on your life, can you see the purpose of the Lord? Can you say that the Lord has been compassionate and merciful to you? It’s when things aren’t going to plan; when times of pain and sadness and loss come that we can really discover God’s compassion and mercy. It’s when times are tough that we learn to be patient.

So how might the Lord be using the circumstances you find yourself in to be growing your patience this week? It’s not that we can pray: ‘Give me patience, and give me it now!’ Patience is something that grows, something that only grows when we’re facing hardship, when we’re dealing with something that requires patience!

And as we’ve seen with Job - when we’re growing in patience, our words matter. That’s what James says in verse 12. ‘But above all... do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.’

When the pressure is on, we shouldn’t have to resort to swearing of oaths to assure someone we’re telling the truth. Rather, we should always tell the truth - our yes meaning yes, our no meaning no, without any special pleading or promising that in these next few words we really are speaking truthfully.

So whether it’s seldom or never in you according to the wee saying, God commands us to be patient. Establish your hearts; don’t grumble; remember the farmer; remember the prophets and especially Job; and speak the truth, even when it hurts. The Lord who is compassionate and merciful, the Lord who was patient in his suffering on the cross, enduring the hate and mockery of the crowd and the pain of the crucifixion, this Lord the judge is coming. He will right every wrong, so be patient until he comes.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 26th March 2017.

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