I’ve done this from time to time, and I thought I’d try it again this week. Over the next couple days, I’d like to work on writing a collaborative sermon based off the passage James 1:17-27. This is how it will work:
- Read the passage below.
- Read any of the progress that I’ve made on the sermon so far.
- Leave any thoughts that you have on the passage below in the comments section.
- I’m going to work on incorporating your comments into the actual sermon that I’ll preach next Sunday. It will all be one flowing sermon, and I won’t use your name unless I ask you specifically.
- Let’s have some fun with this and write a sermon together.
The idea behind this is that we interpret the scripture best together as a community – and so we’re going to try and do that this week. Here is the scripture – and let’s all interact and engage in this experiment together.
Scripture – James 1:17-27:
17 Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all.
18 He chose to give us birth by his true word, and here is the result: we are like the first crop from the harvest of everything he created.
19 Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. 20 This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness.
21 Therefore, with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you—the very word that is able to save you.
22 You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. 23 Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. 24 They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like.
25 But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do.
26 If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is worthless.
27 True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.
When I read this passage, I’m immediately drawn to verses 22-24, and then verse 27. For so long, our understanding of church membership has been this: believe, behave, belong. One had to get the right “beliefs” down first, before they knew how they should act, and then once they were believing the right things, and acting the right ways, then they could join a church and become a true member.
Many authors today (Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass, and others) are suggesting that we need to turn that model upside down. The first thing we should do is welcome people into our communities…and then invite them to join in our practices with us…and then, perhaps, they may begin to change their beliefs…but that shouldn’t be our main purpose in inviting people into our communities.
Now, that presents some interesting questions when we talk about how to fully invite people to truly belong in our communities (because in order to do some things in our church, you have to be a member), because in order to become a member, you have to answer certain questions about what you believe. And so, perhaps, asking constitutional questions of someone in order for them to become a member, is maybe not the best way, or the right way, to see if someone is fit and ready to become a full member of the congregation…but that’s getting a bit off track…
“You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves.”
I wonder what that means for us….much of coming to church on a Sunday morning is simply being “hearers of the word.” Folks in the pews sit and listen to prayers, listen to sermons, listen to the scripture being read….at what point does that listening translate itself into action? (and I acknowledge the reality that those who are in church next Sunday will be sitting and listening to me preach).
After all the warnings about just being hearers of the word, about being mislead by ourselves, the passage ends with verse 27: “true devotion” (or true religion, as many other translations read) is not personal piety, it’s not scripture memorization, it’s not what committees you sit on, how much you pledge in church (another dangerous thing to suggest, I know), how many years you’ve been a regular member of a church and what your attendance is on Sunday mornings…true religion, religion that is pure and faultless before God…is boiled down to this:
“…care for the orphans and widows, and to keep the world from contaminating us.”
It’d be interesting in the sermon to play with “keep the world form contaminating us” means.
Those are some initial thoughts. I’ll start writing the draft tomorrow. What are your initial thoughts?