Tuesday, September 12, 2006

James 1 (Speech, Words, Conduct, Tongue, Sin, Responsibility, Talk, Charity, Repentence, Submission)

Fr. Lee Nelson
Presented to the Parish and People of St. Francis Church – Dallas, TX
The Feast of St. Patrick, Bishop and Confessor

Therefore put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

From the Epistle of Saint James, I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

The story goes that
on a misty Friday morning
in the cool October air
of Arkansas
- in the fall,
an old man rowed his fishing boat out into the middle of the lake.

He breathed easily as the oars cut through the water, glad of the peace and quiet.

As the sun began to sear through the layers of the mist, turning night into day, he heard the distant slam of a truck door.

He knew it was a truck because of the sound it made, the way the aluminum roof popped up. Besides that – no one drove cars in these parts.

A few minutes later, he heard the unmistakable sound of an Evinrude Outboard Motor, how he detested motor boats.

Pulling up to the port side of the old man’s craft, breaking through the mist, cutting the engine as he did, was the local game warden.

“Mornin!” Yelled the game warden.

“Humpf,” grunted the old man.

“Reckon’ the fish ought to be biting this fine morning.”

“Mmmm hhmmmm.”

“Say. You got a license?”

“Mmmm hhmmmm.”

“Well, gist remember – no trotlines or trawlin’ and the bag today is 7 – largemouth or small.”

“Mmmm hmmmm.”

The old man reached into his pocket and pulled out his old walnut pipe, tobacco, tamper and lighter. Shoving a plug of tobacco into the pipe, he lit it and began puffing away.

“Say, I don’t see that you’ve brought any tackle!,” hollered the warden.

“Uh uh.”

“Just here to enjoy the fine morning then?”

“Uh uh.”

As he grunted the old man pulled a pine box out from under the seat in the stern. On the pine box was some red stenciled lettering – marking the box.

T. N. T.

As the old man pulled out a fresh stick, the game warden was indignant.

“What in tarnation are you doin!?”

The old man did not respond as he stuck the fuse into his pipe, the fuse flaring immediately.

As the game warden continued his shouting, the old man lobbed the stick of dynamite into the lake, opposite the warden.


Flop, flop, flop, flop, flop. The fish began to rise to the surface, and the old man pulled his net from under the seat in the bow, gathering them as the warden – astonished - hollered.

“Don’t make another move! You’re under arrest! Poaching by means of explosives is illegal in this state and punishable by a three-thousand dollar fine and jail time.”

The old man withdrew another stick, stuck the fuse in his pipe, and lobbed the stick directly into the warden’s boat.

Said the old man, pulling the pipe from his teeth,

“Are you here to talk, or are you here to fish?”


“Are you here to talk, or are you here to fish?”

We do an awful lot of talking – we have talk shows, talk radio, talking heads, talking points, and you can talk shop, turkey or terms, while being the talk of the town.

We chat, gossip, rattle, tell tales, tell stories, chew the fat, and spill the beans.

Often, we think that talking is a good replacement for action, in other words, if we talk enough, then people will think that we’re actually doing something – even when we’re not.

Opposite that, we think that talking is a good replacement for listening and for hearing.

The great tragedy of it all is that we have lost, in a sense, our ability to hear and to act.

It is in this light that I wish to bring to light the following section from the Epistle of Saint James:

let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely
hearers who deceive themselves.”

In our haste to speak, and slowness to listen, we commit two essential faults. The first includes actions and words which are out of alignment with the action of God and His word. The second includes failure to act and failure to speak in accord with God’s commandment and word.

The first faults are classically defined as sins of commission. The second are classically defined as sins of omission – those things which we leave undone.

The first are well-defined – they are the “don’ts” of the Christian life, a life lived in accord with God’s perfect law. The Ten Commandments, the Commandments of Our Lord, all define action that is broken in the act itself. Idolatry, dishonor of mother and father, murder, adultery, theft, deceit, and covetousness – all are actions taken wrongly.

But, about this you need not be reminded. Most of us know all too well our own sin. The problem is not that we don’t know that we’re sinners – every Christian should know that.

The problem is that we keep at it, committing sin after sin – we all have our habitual sin, and it is our ruin.

The kind which we often forget are those sins of omission, when we omit right action, and in the omission of righteous action, sin.

The woman broken down on the side of the road with no cell phone, the orphan, the widow, the homeless man, the victims of hunger – all decry in union with Our Lord, our lack of action.

Perhaps you know the justifications for this: the blind eye is turned and the reasoning is, however false, that you are powerless anyway and there wasn’t anything that could have been said or done. That if the lady had a cell phone she wouldn’t be stranded, that if someone would only adopt the orphan, care for the widow, etc. etc. – there wouldn’t be a problem. And like the high priest and the publican, we walk right by the man injured on the road, and let Good Samaritans do our acts of charity for us.

If there is a sickness in the Church today it is twofold.

First, we have denied our responsibility to those in need, and have, through selective reading of the Scriptures and selective hearing of the Spirit of God rejected our duty to Christian charity.

The author Jim Wallis recently wrote a book called “God’s Politics.” In it he describes the work of a graduate student in biblical theology who took up a pair of scissors and cut out every verse in the Bible calling for justice for the poor and oppressed, the widow and orphan.

What was left was a tattered and torn Bible, missing most of the Prophets, much of the Gospels and almost all of Deuteronomy and Numbers.

Wallis travels the country, speaking in churches, holding up this bible, and says “This is your bible.”

So, we are plagued by selective hearing.

Second, we have, after the mentality of corporate America, begun to “outsource” works of charity, far more content to write a check than give or our time.

So, in short, in addition to the multitude of sins which we commit by our own action, we have the multitude of sins which we commit by our in-action.

This is where James speaks most clearly:

“Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”

Thus, the first step is to put away the sin, more appropriately to allow Jesus Christ to penetrate our hardness of heart and put away our sin, no longer grasping at it, hanging on to it.

But, we all know how long that lasts – not very, right?

Seems like every time I say – “well, I’ll never do that again.” Less than a week later – there it is.

This especially happens with my particular habits.

Ought we give up on repentance?

Absolutely not!

Without repentance – no one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The apostle Paul tells us that repentance leads to salvation and brings no regret.

James upbraids us to – in addition to repentance – to receive with meekness the implanted word which has the power to save our souls.

The part often missed is “with meekness.”

The key to meekness is submission. Submission to God’s righteousness and no other. Measuring ourselves not by our own standards, but by His. No excuses.

The meek man says “tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.”

The meek man listens to God.

The meek man puts away his rationalism, his emotionalism, his desires and will, and submits to the judgment of Almighty God, that “implanted word.”

He looks into God’s perfect law and he perseveres.

He is not the hearer that forgets, he is the doer that acts.

He is not all talk.

And when the trials come, the weakness, the temptation and the struggles, he leans upon meekness.

He does not speak his words, for that is proper only to God.

It is God who speaks.

It is with a word we were brought into being: “let us make man in our image.”

And it is with His Word that we are redeemed.

“Forgive them, Father” and “well done, good and faithful servant.”

Our talking, our seemingly endless talking, cannot save us, it cannot perfect us in any way whatsoever.

“Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.


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