Last Weeks Sermon

This is the first sermon based on the SFF group’s reading, contemplation and discussion of the book of James.
A book which has a reputation for being “difficult.”  It is difficult to understand, and difficult to like.
When we first read this passage, at least two members of the group were caught by the sentences about doubt.
James says:  whoever asks God for wisdom shouldn’t hesitate, they should ask in faith, without doubting. Whoever doubts is like the surf of the sea, tossed and turned by the wind. 7 People like that should never imagine that they will receive anything from the Lord. 8  They are double-minded, unstable in all their ways.  And we asked in alarm
What?!  one doubt and we lose everything?
Just a few verses into the first chapter and James has already left us in a turmoil.  Finding his words to be too harsh,
arguing with his words.  So I want to focus on the other verses for a few minutes before I even try to address his words about doubters.  The first thing James says to the Jewish Christians living outside of the holy land is
when your faith is being tested, it’s an occasion of joy.  Oh great, I’m having doubts again.  Yippee, my faith is being tested.  But if I’m having doubts,  I’ll never receive anything from God!
However, James has a little more to say about being tested (or tempted). The testing of your faith, he says, produces endurance.  4 Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and
lacking in nothing.  That sounds a lot better!  My faith will be tested; and surely that’s what  doubts are.


So doubts must also be … opportunities.  Opportunities to mature, to become complete and
to receive all God has to give us.  You know, to receive faith, grace, and life eternal.
That made me think about how a lot of my weeks as a preacher start out.
On Monday,  I’m usually just being grateful for another Sunday sermon written, preached and done.
On Tuesday, I’m usually trying to pull together the bulletin information for the following Sunday.
Because we preachers are always aware of the relentless return of Sunday.
I provide this bulletin info to Colleen and Judy, the volunteers who format the bulletin and get it all in order for printing.  That info includes, most of the unison prayers, the hymns, the confession of faith and so on.
But I can’t begin to line any of that up until I at least have an idea of what I’ll be preaching.
So I start with reading the Scriptures from the lectionary or now the scriptures from a straight through reading of one book.  And then I wait, hoping that some word or phrase or idea will leap out and inspire me.
Hoping I can find some words or phrases that I can understand and be inspired by and build a sermon on.
Praying that God will send me the wisdom I need.  Sometimes it doesn’t just happen instantly.
Sometimes I don’t like the scripture I’m reading.  Sometimes I’m not sure I agree with Paul Or Peter Or James.
After all, they were just preachers like me,  (possibly more inspired, more talented and certainly more dedicated).
But still essentially humans who brought their own questions, experience, and yes, DOUBTS, to the assignment of bringing their listeners, “a word from the Lord.”

So how can James claim that anyone who prays for wisdom with doubts in their mind won’t receive what they are praying for?  Surely all of us preachers pray, “God show me what your Word for the church is this week.”
And surely I’m not the only one who sometimes wonders on Saturday night why nothing has yet come from my prayers!  And surely those moments of not knowing where the sermon is going, try my patience,
try my confidence and yes, try my faith.
But so far, something has come to me sometime during the week.  Starting on Tuesday with an idea, a title or a sentence.  Growing on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with thoughts and experiences that can put flesh to that idea.
And finally coming together on Saturday in time to print sometime before 9:00 a.m on Sunday morning.
And even when I thought on Tuesday that I would never find anything in this passage to preach about.
Even when I doubted that this time the Holy Spirit would come through, my prayers have always been rewarded.
I can’t claim that I’m equally happy or satisfied with the product, but at least I have not yet walked in on Sunday morning and said, “Let’s just sing a few extra hymns this week...I don’t have a sermon.”
God didn’t answer my prayers.  Clearly even one who doubts can receive answer to prayer.

So I read James 1 again.  James tells us to be grateful for the tests we endure because endurance, in time,
leads to our maturity, our wholeness, and our lacking in nothing we really need.
And it seems to me that doubts are the tests of our faith,The temptation to rely on our own judgment or experience instead of trusting God.  And yet those doubts lead to growth in the faith, not to the end of hope.
James says that those who endure the times of testing are blessed, tried and true, and will receive the life God has promised as their reward.  And James ends this part of his letter, “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.” 
Now surely faith is a good thing and surely our faith is not of our own doing.
It is one of those good and perfect gifts sent by God.  And when we doubt (as the double-minded, unstable creatures that we are), God turns our tests and temptations into opportunities for growth.
Chances to rise above the waves of doubt by our endurance of those times when we are afraid
when we have conflicted thoughts and wavering faith and then God gives us the perfect gift.
The reward for our endurance.  The life he has promised.  
God does not create the temptations or tests that leave us feeling like we are being tossed on the waves,
but God does give us the help we need to rise above the waves.  And forgiveness for our doubts
and the faith that grows out of enduring our times of doubt.

It takes quite a bit of endurance to wrestle with James long enough to like his book, but endurance leads to
maturity, wholeness, and everything we really need.
I’m not sure I like the book of James, yet
But it’s growing on me.