Sermon on James 4:1-17, “Resistance is not futile”

Resistance is not futile,  no matter what the Borg might say. 

Read this passage from James:

“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor? Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.” (James 4:1-17)

I used to be a bit of a Trekie in Junior High and High School when Star Trek: The Next Generation aired. Star Trek has its own cheesiness and belief in the progress of humanity that is a little far-fetched, but I loved it. I loved the characters. I loved the sense of adventure, and the belief of an open future where people (or the whole galaxy for that matter) could determine their own future, and work together for a greater good. But the Borg challenged all that. They were a race of the collective – that assimilated all cultures and races by force to join them. They thought nothing of the destruction of planets, and histories, or of individuality. They were controlled by their technology, and their only goal was the assimilation of all. There was no compromise. They only uttered one mantra, “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”

Yet the people did resist. The characters I came to love and enjoy did defeat them time and time again although the threat of another attack always loomed. The Borg revisited and we triumphed. Yet, the threat always remained.

Sometimes I think we consider God’s expectations of us this way. “Resistance is futile.” Because let’s be clear – None of us can fulfill God’s law and all of its demands. We just cannot do it. It cannot be done. We might be great people and make good thoughtful choices that consider others before ourselves most of the time. But no one, no one, can keep the law 100% of the time.

So that leaves us in a precarious position – feeling futile. So what do we do next?

One response would be to give up entirely. We could throw our arms up in disgust – with God, with ourselves, with the world, and just go about our business. If I can’t do it anyway – who cares? Why try? What difference does it make? Church just seems like a bunch of rules, judgment and hypocrisy, so why bother with it at all? You may be nodding your head right now in agreement, saying, “Yes, I often feel this way,” or scoff at the mere suggestion that we would pack it in so easily. But many people have come to this conclusion – about God, about the church, about you; “Faith is too hard, too difficult, too inaccessible, too full of judgment and double standards, and I’m probably better off without it.”

Another response would be to pick and choose. It is to say, “There are some things that really matter and a lot of things that don’t. As long as I or anybody else, are not hurting anybody, how bad can it be?” I find myself saying that a lot – trying to convince myself that ignorance is bliss. If we just don’t read certain passages or “know” what is expected of us, how can we go wrong, right? The problem is – we do know. We do know how important it is to keep God at the center of our lives, call on his name appropriately, find time for rest, be mindful of authority, respect life, honor relationships, protect others property, speak the truth, and be grateful and generous when it comes to the people in our lives and the things we have. The problem is, we are not very good remembering this all the time, and quite frankly, our own self-interests keep getting in the way. But if we could just justify our actions, look the other way, and pretend nobody notices –after all – we try not to notice this law-breaking in ourselves.

A third response (and an all too common one I am afraid to say), is to deflect the judgment that is coming our way and pass it on to someone else. Ever notice that most religious people who make the news or are on television are the people who blame everyone’s problems on a select few? We do it too. Maybe it is an ethnic group, another religion, the non-religious, the poor, the rich, the married, unmarried, the divorced, men, women, the old, the young, the middle-aged, people abroad, people at home, politicians, lawyers, workers, the financial sector, students in debt, the media, the educated, the uninformed, those who excluded us, those with another perspective, those of another orientation, those of another culture, the neighbor across the street, but never…me that deserves to be judged for the world’s problems. That is not to say that others are completely
innocent, or have not made bad choices themselves. Of course they have; but so have we. Blame, scapegoating, and passing the buck are a good indication of our own guilt when it comes to our inadequate response to our call to love God and serve our neighbors. But blame we do. Even “the devil made me do it” is indeed a cop-out for the responsibility we should all face for our own actions. It is not wonder than non-church goers think we are hypocrites. We are!

But there is another way.

Indeed, we are all sinful, broken people, who cannot meet God’s expectations of us. We might as well admit it. We better own it. We deserve God’s judgment and wrath. But God chooses a new way forward by sending us Jesus.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. He says so himself. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18). He fulfills the law by answering for it, succumbing to its grip around us. As the Word of God in the flesh he dies on our behalf, but he dies for a reason. He dies not just to be a nice guy or to teach us to be nicer guys – but so that light can shine – his light, through you and me.

James says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you, draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7). We can only resist the evil around us, the sin and brokenness that tempts us and our own despair, indifference and blame we assign to others because Christ has already defeated them. He has entered our world, challenged their grip on our lives, suffered and died at their hands so that we would break free. His resurrected life, his new life – is the reminder that from loss, despair and the emptiness of death – God is not through with us yet. In fact he calls in our sin and brokenness to be his light in the world (Matthew 5:14-16). Resistance is never futile, because the God of the universe who defeats the devil and all his empty promises is guiding, protecting, fighting there beside us on our behalf – always.

When we submit to God – it is not to be assimilated. Isn’t that is our fear – that if we become too religious we will start to lose our sense of our own identity? Actually faith is a bit of a paradox – true freedom is not found in resisting God to go our own way in the world. That is the way into the devil’s snare. In fact true freedom comes when we know who our Lord is – when we trust in fact that we never face the evil in our world alone. When we know that when we reach out to others, and they reach out to us – it is not just the human spirit at work, but the Holy Spirit at work – calling us again to see and hear and know the promise of God – in Christ you are free. And there is no futility in that promise no matter how bleak things look. Ever.

Peace,
Pastor Geoff
__________
“Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith.” (Romans 3:23-27)

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About geoff sinibaldo

Follower of Jesus, Husband, Father, Son, Friend, Change Proponent, Goofball, Seeking Faithfulness in the 21st Century
This entry was posted in Faith Everyday, on Letter of James, Sermons. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sermon on James 4:1-17, “Resistance is not futile”

  1. oslovich says:

    Great post, Geoff. Of course, I’ll read anything that mentions the Borg. 🙂 The metaphor works because we do often feel that no matter how hard we try, failure is inevitable. So why even try? But that’s only true if we (mis)measure success by thinking that success = moral perfection. As you point out, Jesus hasn’t left us alone to do God’s work in our own strength. God doesn’t expect perfection in this life. We just need to recognize the imperfection in ourselves continuously and ask Jesus for help. This is why I don’t think that the church is full of hypocrites. According to dictionary.com, a hypocrite is “a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.” I don’t think most people are pretending to have some virtue they know they don’t have. Maybe that’s true sometimes. But mostly, I think, people long to have the virtues and beliefs that they know they don’t have or that they have only in an incomplete way. They would prefer to do the right thing, but they’re just too weak, too tired, too influenced by the world around them, to do it. Most people are not deliberately putting on a show to deceive people, it’s just that their actions don’t match their beliefs due to weakness. Still a problem, but much less of a problem than hypocrisy.

    • Great comments Tim. Thanks. Indeed if we can see the freedom we are given as exactly that – freedom – to shine the light not on ourselves where we feel only dim and inadequte but on the Light of the World who is the Savior of this World we can join in the amazing grace God calls us to be and live for others. Peace brother. G

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