It's always great to have vacation time. The negative thing about a vacation is that it always seems to come to an end far too speedily. So it's back to life and back to reality for me! It's not that I don't love my work and feel incredibly fortunate to be the pastor of such a great group of people as Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church. Rather that a break from the routine is always refreshing for the soul and it grants a refreshed perspective for our daily routines. (My first sermon back after vacation, a reflection on Psalm 23, can be found here)
In our services through the coming month we are going to be taking a look at the New Testament Book of James. James is a very practical little book. For James faith isn't so much about what we believe (although he thinks that is important), it is more about what we do. For James the evidence for having faith is seen, not through the words we say, but in the actions of love and acceptance of others that our lives demonstrate.
He has harsh things to say about people who make religion a way of getting on in the world. Those who court the influence of the powerful and ignore the needs of those the world sees as insignificant. He warns people to be careful with their words, because he recognizes that words can be powerful vehicles of hatred and intolerance. There are many echoes of gospel stories in this short letter. He talks of enduring troubles, praying for healing and leaving judgment of others in God's hands.
He suggests that we all have a battle on our hands when it comes to living a Christ-like life. That it doesn't come easily. That the ways of the world influence our lives in more ways than we often realize. We should therefore be careful in regard to what we nurture our lives upon. If we feed our bodies and our minds and spirits upon garbage, then we will probably produce a corresponding output. James is a 'back to reality' kind or writer. He doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the business of 'walking the talk'.
An ancient tradition, held as genuine by many scholars today, is that the James who writes this letter is the same James who was the brother of Jesus and a prominent leader within the earliest church. Certainly the tone of his words support such an observation.
When asked about the business of living productive spiritual lives, Jesus responded (In Matthew 7:15)... 'By their fruits you will know them. Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles?' 'Fruits' meant good works of any kind. By observing what faith produced, you could determine if it was genuine or not! This is a common theme for James.
As we begin a new season in our lives it is never a bad thing to get back to reality. The Book of James can help us do that... so I highly recommend it for your study. For sure it is great to get away from time to time. But life is not a vacation and love always challenges us to take the needs of others with great seriousness. In such a way we often discover God blesses our lives in unexplained ways!
For some back to reality, back to God music, here's a country ditty from Randy Houser titled 'Back to God'. Not sure if James would be a country fan (then again, why not?) but pretty sure he'd endorse the statement Randy sings - "Ya gotta keep on praying"! (See James 5:13-18).
Rev Adrian J. Pratt