The Righteous Life

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By Linda Rex

As many of the members of our congregation know, our pastoral team uses the Revised Common Lectionary as a resource in preparing our sermons each week. This helps us to keep in step with the Christian calendar and enables us to cover a large portion of the biblical text as the year goes by.

This Sunday I hope to preach on one of the passages listed in the lectionary—in particular, a passage in James 5. Several times during my morning commute to my second job this week, I listened to the book of James being read aloud. I don’t know if you ever have this happen when you read God’s Word, but something just jumped out at me as the reader was speaking.

Perhaps I was just in a Trinitarian frame of mind. I don’t know. But what struck me was James was expending a lot of energy talking about what it meant to live righteously. Over and over he described what the godly life looks like and what it doesn’t look like. And it all had to do with relationships.

The relational God, when he lives in us by the Spirit and we are responding in faith to his work in our hearts and minds, moves us to live in ways which build and reflect healthy relationships. It seems to me, when righteousness is discussed in terms of “right relationship” it can be described in just the way James described it.

For example, when James says a person who does not guard his or her tongue is not practicing true religion (1:26), he is showing how what we say or do not say reflects what is going in our hearts and minds. Later he reminds us when we are living out of the truth of who we are in Christ—the spring of living water—what we say will reflect Christ’s wisdom. When we are living out of the acrid, putrid water of our flesh, we will say things which are abusive and reflect a heart full of jealousy and selfish ambition. (3:9-18)

Obviously what we say and how we say it directly impacts our relationships with God and with other people. Speaking out of the abundance of a heart full of evil motives and desires will not achieve the right relationships we wish to have with God and others—it will not produce the righteousness of God.

James says in another place “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God”. When we think in terms of relationships and the love which goes on within the Triune God this can seem like a no-brainer. Our flashes of human anger where we are triggered and we blow up at the people around us—usually people we love and care for—do not build relationships but fracture and harm them.

When we are in tune with God’s heart and mind though, living out of the spring of living water Who dwells within us, we will be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger—all of which builds relationships and does not destroy them. When we look at the human life Jesus lived on this earth, we see this very thing occurring in all his relationships. This is the way of being of the God Who lives in and with us through Jesus and in his Spirit. This is what Jesus by the Spirit puts into our hearts and minds.

This is the “wisdom from above” described by James: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” The fruit or result of living out of the truth of who we are in Jesus is right relationships with God and others. How we live with one another—which spring we draw from—determines the seeds which are planted in our relationships and the fruit which is borne as time goes by.

This puts me in mind of a friend whose supervisor is rude, disrespectful and controlling. He creates an unhealthy work environment for those who are unfortunate enough as to have to be his employees. And it never occurs to him that the poor work performance and rotten attitudes of some of his employees may be the result of the way he treats them. The fruit of what he is sowing certainly isn’t right relationships!

Broken, fractured marriages result when spouses live out of the rottenness of their human flesh rather than out of the life-giving spring of living water available to them by the Holy Spirit. Even so, putting two people together in close proximity means there will be misunderstandings, inadvertent hurts, and thoughtless acts. This is why we need something or Someone beyond us interceding between us in all these situations.

Christ living in us enables us to weather relational difficulties and to resolve impossible relational schisms. Time and again I have seen and experienced the healing which comes when we turn to Christ in the midst of these difficult situations and begin living out the truth of who we are as God’s children. Prayer and seeking God’s will and grace are fundamental to the success of any relationship. Why?

Because of the reality Christ is the Mediator in any and every relationship. He is both the Mediator between God and human, and he is the Mediator between each of us as humans because in him God and humanity are joined as one. In all our relationships, he is the center and source of our oneness with each other.

This is the ultimate indicative or basis for every imperative or command we read in James. Because we are connected at the core of our being with the One, Jesus Christ, Who is connected with all others, we have every reason and ability to live in right relationship with God and others. In Jesus Christ, we also find we have, by the gift of his Spirit, the strength beyond our strength, the wisdom from above, to relate properly with God and others when our flesh is calling us to do otherwise.

God never meant for us to be estranged from him or any other person, but for each and all of us to live as one with him and one another. And it was always his desire to share himself with us so we could. And this beautiful thing happened when God came to earth and took on our humanity as an infant born that glorious night in Bethlehem. The God of peace gave us the Prince of Peace so we could live forever at peace with him and one another. Shalom!

Abba, thank you for the gift of your Son and your Spirit by Who we may have peace with you and one another. May we live out of the abundance of your life in us so we may live in the truth of who we are in you. Through Jesus, our Lord, and by your Spirit. Amen.

“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” James 1:19–20 NASB

Learning to Lament

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by Linda Rex

Yesterday I began my section of the service by reading portions of some news stories about mass murders both here in American and in the world outside our borders. These stories effectively illustrate the brokenness of our humanity—the natural inclination of the human heart towards evil. One of the hardest things for us to admit as human beings is our proclivity toward harming ourselves and others.

It is easy to read these stories and say to ourselves, “I would never do anything like that! Not ever!” And yet, we find ourselves yelling at our children, crucifying their self-esteem, because they leave the milk out all night, or drop our favorite dishes and break them.

Listening to these stories may awaken a lot of feelings inside of us—feelings we often do our best to ignore, bury or dismiss by the flurry of a busy life. These feelings of devastation or grief at such great loss, or raging anger at such injustice can overwhelm us so much we find refuge in our addictions, or bury ourselves in endlessly new forms of entertainment. Or we may lash out in a violent rage, thereby perpetuating injustice and evil rather than ending it. Facing the reality of our broken humanity, and our own proclivity to harm others and to be unjust is hard work and requires a lot of fortitude.

I believe it would be a good thing if we each could learn and practice what is essentially a spiritual discipline. We need to learn to lament—to learn how to listen to the cry of our heart against evil, pain, and destruction, to allow it to speak to us about who God is and who we are in the midst of our brokenness, and to motivate us to participate in God’s work in the world to right such wrongs. Learning to lament can teach us how to encounter God and his Light in the midst of the very darkness which seeks to destroy us.

When we are made aware of or experience a devastating loss, a horrendous injustice, or a crushing inhumanity, we need to pause and pay attention to what is happening in our hearts. We need to lament. We need to stay in this place long enough to ask God—”How do you feel about this? Holy Spirit, enable me to see, to hear and to know your heart about this right now.”

The reason we lament is to come to a realization of what is going in our own hearts and how it mirrors what is going on in the heart of God. What you feel about these losses, injustices, and inhumane events—your pain, your sorrow, your anger, your desire to avenge the wrongs—this is a reflection of God’s heart.

And yet, how God deals with these things and has dealt with them is different than how we as humans believe things should be handled. And so we do not recognize God is at work in these situations. He is at work—he does not ignore any of this. But how do we know this is true?

First, I believe we have an answer in the prophetic word of Isaiah where he spoke about the Suffering Servant who was to come and who did come in the person of Jesus Christ. Look at what he wrote:

“He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face he was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” (Isa 53:2b-4 NASB)

We hear Isaiah telling us about the Anointed One, who was just like you and me, but was despised by the people around him. Often people say that God is the one who inflicted pain and suffering on his Son, but in reality it was we as human beings, who tortured and crucified Jesus Christ unjustly. Going on:

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?” (Is 53:5–8 NASB).

The Creator and Sustainer of all life and every human being took on our humanity and allowed us to pour out on him all our prejudice, anger, hate, fear, rebellion, and all those inner drives which divide us. Jesus walked as a lamb to the slaughter, silent, with no refusal to anything done to him. He took on himself God’s passion against sin by receiving from us all our hate, anger, fear, prejudice and rebellion and becoming sin for us, in our place.

God’s heart about all these things we are talking about is compassion—he enters into our brokenness and sin and suffering and shares it. He became the Word in human flesh (sarx), the broken part of us, and became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in him, righteousness meaning we are brought into right relationship with God and one another.

The meeting place between every human being on earth is Christ, the One who is fully God and fully man, who tore down every wall between us in his incarnational life, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension. God has forged a oneness between all of us in his Son which is unbreakable—yet we experience none of it as long as we deny this reality.

God has already entered into our darkness, fully received our rage against him in his rejection, crucifixion and death, and has already translated us, taken us out of that darkness into his marvelous light, into his kingdom of light. God has already paved the way to our healing and wholeness as human beings by pouring out his passion against all that mars our true humanity, all our divisions, all those things which separate us by taking it upon himself in his Son.

One of the basic lies of the evil one since the beginning has been, you are separated from God and each other. And unfortunately, we believe him. God is one—a unity, a whole, in which each are equal yet diverse. God is love—dwells in perichoretic relationship of mutual indwelling. This is the God in whose image we were created. We were created to live in this way—to love God and to love our neighbor—this is who we are.

God knew beforehand in our humanity alone, we could and never would live together in this way, even though it was what we were created for. Abba planned from before time to send his Son to enter our humanity, knowing his Son would take upon himself the worst of all we are as humans, but in doing so his Son would by the love and grace of all he is, perfect and transform our humanity.

All that Christ forged into our humanity in his life on earth, his suffering, his crucifixion, death and resurrection, and ascension, is ours today and is being worked out in this world by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is at work right now bringing this perfected humanity and the kingdom life of God into real expression in the world. We see the Spirit most active in the universal body of Christ where there is true perichoretic love—we know Christ’s disciples by their love for one another.

You and I participate in the Spirit’s transforming work in the world as we respond in faith to his work in our hearts and lives. If you know what God’s heart is about all these things which are happening today—that God’s heart is full of compassion and concern and a desire to bring people together, and to help heal relationships—then you know how to participate in what God is doing in the world today by his Spirit to make things better.

God doesn’t do everything alone—he includes us in what he’s doing.

The reason things aren’t getting better but are getting worse may be because we are quenching the Spirit of God, we are closing our hearts to God’s power and will being activated in our circumstances. Sometimes we don’t listen to and obey the promptings of the Spirit to pray, or to say a kind word, or to help those in need, or to encourage those who are suffering. Sometimes we refuse to listen to the prompting of the Spirit who is asking us to forgive a wrong, to go make things right with someone we are estranged from. Sometimes we refuse to hear God’s call on our heart to intervene in a difficult situation and to act as a mediator.

And sometimes we refuse to set aside our own prejudices and expectations, and our own animosity against someone of a different culture, race, ethnic group, or belief system. We hold onto our grudges, our resentments, our anger, our sense of injustice instead of obeying God’s command to forgive. We feel we are owed something better.

But I ask you: What could anyone possibly owe us which would even come close to what we owe Abba after all we did to his Son when Jesus came to offer us life and we killed him? Nothing. Nothing at all.

Thankfully, though, God does not leave us in our pain, our brokenness, anger, resentment and sorrow. No, he meets us there. Our failure to live in love with God and each other is the very place God entered into in Christ. He meets us in our failure to live in love and says to you and to me: I am yours and you are mine.

It is God’s nature in our humanity by the Spirit which brings us together and joins us at our core humanity. Abba has declared his Word to us: “My adopted children, the whole human race, are diverse, yet equal, and are to live united, as a whole, as one body. They are never separated from me or each other.” Abba has sent his Son, the living Word, into our humanity to join us with himself and one another—this is our union with God and man. We are always united with God and man through Jesus Christ.

Abba has poured out his Spirit on all flesh so we might live together in holy communion both now and forever. The Spirit works out into all our relationships with God and one another this true reality of our union with God in Christ. This is the true reality of who you are and who I am. You are an adopted child of Abba, the Father, and he has bound you to himself in his Son, Jesus Christ, and to one another. The person next to you is also an adopted child. And the person you just can’t stand is also an adopted child, whether you like it or not, and whether they know it or not.

The Spirit’s work is to bring each person to an understanding and awareness of this reality of who they really are. You and I participate in that work as we respond to the Spirit’s inspiration to bring healing, renewal, restoration, forgiveness, understanding, and reconciliation. God has given us the ministry of reconciliation, for he has reconciled all things to himself in Christ Jesus. And by the Spirit we participate in that ministry in the world.

Let us through lamenting face the truth of our brokenness and the horror of our depravity. May we see Jesus meets us there in that place with his mercy and grace. May we understand Jesus has bound us together with God in himself so we are never to be separated ever again—we live in union with God and one another forever. And may we indeed find by the Spirit who dwells in us, we are reconciled to God and one another, so we have the heart of Abba and Jesus to make amends, to create community, to restore relationships with God and each other, and so we are able to experience true spiritual communion with God and one another.

The power of lament is the power of the gospel. The power of lament is the power of the Spirit to call us back to the truth of who we are in Christ, and the reality of our reconciliation to God and one another in the finished work of Christ. Let us respond to God’s call upon our hearts to be reconciled. As we live in this reality of who we really are, as God’s adopted children, in our diversity, our equality and our unity in Christ, we will find our world being transformed, healed and renewed.

Thank you, Abba, for your heart of love and grace which you share with us through your Son and by your Spirit. May your heart of love and grace which you place within us find full expression in every area of our lives, and in the world in which we live. Through Jesus and by your Spirit, we pray and we work to participate fully in all you are doing to bring healing, renewal, reconciliation and transformation to this world. Amen.

Killing Expectations

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Incarnation by Linda Rex, copyright 2005
Incarnation by Linda Rex, copyright 2005

By Linda Rex

I was reflecting back on some of my life events recently, when it occurred to me that we don’t take seriously enough our participation with Christ when it comes to our relationships. It seems as though we go through life interacting with others and building relationships without taking into consideration all of our life is bound together in union with Christ in the Spirit.

For example, we bounce or in my case, crawl out of bed in the morning, go through our routine, and find ourselves in the middle of the day, wondering why our spouse is cranky, our boss is rude, or our friend is ignoring us. We may decide then that we need to follow some Biblical principles in order to try to fix the relationship. Following them may or may not help, but sometimes even our best efforts don’t change anything—in fact, at times, they seem to only make things worse.

I think the error is in believing that somehow by doing and saying the right things we cause the right things to happen in a relationship. We turn people into objects we act upon, which automatically respond in preset ways to certain words and actions. How many books have you and I read which teach us this very thing: In order to have a good marriage, you have to do x, y and z, in that order?

We approach our marriages, our child-raising, and our friend and work relationships in this way. And we approach our relationship with God in this way too.

But the thing is, relationships involve persons. And persons derive their identity from the three Persons of the One God who are united, diverse and equal. In the oneness of the Trinity, there is always freedom based in love. That freedom means that no one causes the Persons of the Trinity to do anything. God acts out of his own nature as Father, Son and Spirit in love, in whatever way he chooses to. The Persons of the Trinity may respond to our efforts, but they are not obligated in any way by anything we say or do to act in certain ways.

Some of the greatest hurts in our relationships occur because of these types of expectations we place upon God and upon one another. Expectations in a relationship are helpful only if they are held within a framework of grace, because no human being can perfectly and fully meet another human being’s expectations. Rigid expectations, when they are unmet, create resentment, bitterness, hate, and anger. They create a separation within a relationship—they do not build unity. Nor do they facilitate love.

Holding God to our human expectations is actually arrogant. After all, God is free to do whatever he wishes in any and every situation. Whatever we may expect of him, he is going to do the good and right thing. He’s going to be loving and gracious, faithful—he is and will be true to his nature as God. Our expectations do not change who God is and what he does. They only hurt us, because when God doesn’t perform to our expectations, we end up hurt, angry, and frustrated.

Holding our loved ones to rigid expectations can be very abusive. To expect a child to do something beyond their age and capacity and to punish them when they fail to meet our expectations is destructive to their mental and emotional health. To expect a spouse or loved one to perform something exactly how we think it should be done, with no room for individuality, personality or preference is selfish and controlling, and destroys trust and love, and stifles affection.

The sad thing is, not only do our rigid expectations ruin our relationships, but they also blind us to our own shortcomings. We become so focused on the other person’s failures that we cannot and do not see the many ways in which we ourselves have not kept our word or have been unfaithful. We are so “right” that we don’t realize how very wrong we are.

The truth is that there is only one Being, our Father, Son and Spirit God, who is able to fully keep his side of a covenant. It is his covenant with us as humanity that is the basis of our relationships with others. Because we could not fulfill our part of the covenant agreement, the Word came into our human flesh and lived out our part perfectly and completely. It is Jesus Christ who is the One who is the perfect human, who never fails to keep his promises and perfectly fulfills his Father’s will.

Jesus is the risen High Priest who stands in our stead, bearing us in the presence of the Father. He also, as the Mediator, intercedes between each of us, being the One who perfectly relates to us and to his Father in the Spirit. God sends his Spirit into human hearts so that we are bound together, not only by our common breath in the Spirit, but also by our common sharing in the humanity of Christ. At the basis of all our relationships is Jesus Christ in us by the Holy Spirit.

This means that all our relationships with God and each other are set upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, our Intercessor and our Lord. They are mediated by Christ in the Spirit, who works to bring about love, joy, peace and unity in our relationships. Whatever efforts we may make to heal, bless and grow our relationships need to have their center in Christ by the Spirit, because it is his relationship with his Father in the Spirit which defines what true relationship is.

Christ’s relationship with the Father does not require or use expectations. Christ does the will of the Father because his own will is in perfect unity with the Father’s will. Christ’s will and the Father’s will are one in the Spirit. Their relationship is based on love and mutual submission, not on fulfillment of expectations or obligations.

If in our human relationships we were to release everyone from any and all expectations, and instead focus on the relationship Christ has brought us into with the Father in the Spirit, we would experience a huge shift in our dynamics. When we begin to treat one another as persons who equally yet diversely share in our common union with Christ in the Spirit, we open the door for love, unity and peace. Accepting that we are all broken people sharing in the grace of God in Christ will begin to create in us a spirit of humility, mutual submission and service.

When Christ admonished his followers to be people of their word, he was well aware of their inability to always be faithful and truthful. Jesus himself is the only human capable of actually keeping his word and fulfilling the will of God. Thankfully, God’s relationship with each of us as faulty, frail and at times untruthful people is not based upon our ability to perform, but upon the inner relations of the Father, Son and Spirit in their perichoretic union and communion, and upon the grace and love showered upon us through Jesus Christ.

Our relationships with one another, especially in marriage and family, need to be built upon this same foundation. It is in looking to Christ and participating in his perfect relationship with the Father in the Spirit that we find the grace to love and respect one another, and to be faithful and truthful in every circumstance of life. Whether we bound out of bed or crawl out in the morning, we all share in Christ, and can by God’s Word and through the Spirit find the wisdom, strength and whatever we may need to truly love and care for one another like we should. May God find us so doing!

Father, thank you that by your Son and in your Spirit we have been given a relationship with you and each other we could not have otherwise. Grant us the grace to throw away all our expectations of you and others which create division and hurt in our relationships. Instead, may we live together in love and grace, awake to the life you have given us through Christ and in the Spirit, expectantly looking forward to all you will do to heal, restore and renew. Through Jesus, our Lord, amen.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:33–37 NIV