Words of wonder, words of mystery, words of remarkable truth. Words that simply have to be read from the Authorised Version!
This has, after all, been a month of variableness. And variableness can be very unsettling. Bitterly cold one day, remarkably mild the next. Brilliant sunshine one day, a deluge of rain the next. The weather has been what the Met Office would describe as ‘variable’. But we all know this kind of variableness has to do with larger forces at work, the forces of global warming, forces that are unsettling.
And then there’s been ‘variableness’ on the economic front. Credit Crunch was a phrase we hadn’t heard until a few months ago … problems in the economy of the States and the impact is felt the world over. One day up, the next day down … variableness is unsettling, not least in its effect on the pound in your pocket.
Variableness in mood, in health, in family fortune: one day up, the next day down. Variableness is unsettling.
Every single one of us in this building today holds two things in common. We live in a world unsettled by ‘variableness’.
We come together here into the presence once more of the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness.
The trappings of what we do in this building have changed in the last 76 years, they have changed in the last 181 years: but the substance of what we do has not changed in 2000 years. We do as Jesus did on the night when he was betrayed. We take bread, We take a cup. And we remember.
And we are drawn once more into the presence of the God Jesus enables us to know as Our Father.
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
I love that phrase the Father of lights. It is full of mystery. It takes me out on a cold and clear night to the stars, and the God of the Universe. It takes me back to the beginning when God said, “let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night … and God saw that it was good.”
The Father God we look to is greater far than the light of his creation. The lights of his creation cast shadows that lengthen as the day draws towards its close. But we look to the Father of lights with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
God is our refuge and strength
A very present help in trouble
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
Though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
The remarkable thing is that this God we turn to once more this day, is a God who offers us gifts, wonderful gifts, gifts beyond all imagining.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
Does that mean that every act of giving every generous deed has something of God in it? Maybe. What a wonderful thought.
But more than that, James has in mind a very specific gift that in his gracious and boundless generosity God shares with us, as we seek it from him.
James, it is said by many, was the brother of Jesus. Leader in the church of Jerusalem, he was steeped in the Jewishness of the Hebrew Scriptures, and his letter is shot through with the teaching of Jesus, not least in The Sermon on the Mount.
Ask and it will be given you, seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened for you.
In that Sermon on the Mount Jesus invites us to pray with confidence. Those words are echoed by James here. Ask and it will be given you, such is the way of God that he gives generously and ungrudgingly.
But what is it that we lack? What is it that we should ask for?
“If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.”
Read through Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes … and you get a feel for the wisdom that James is talking of here. It is the wisdom that maps out what you should do with your life, it is the wisdom that helps you understand the purpose of life, it is the wisdom that amounts to nothing less than ‘the ability to cope’.
That’s the kind of good gift and perfect gift that is from above, that cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
It is a very practical kind of wisdom that really does make a difference to the way you look at life, and to the way you live life. This is what God gives.
It is a wisdom that enables you to face off times of testing and times of trial: it is the kind of wisdom that enables you to know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. It is not that God sends that testing, but rather that testing does come … and God’s gift so generously given of wisdom enables us to stand our ground.
It is a wisdom that turns upside down the values of our world. Riches are not all important, the humble are lifted up – verses 9-11 echo the Magnificat in a remarkable commitment to the poor.
It is a wisdom that involves listening to the words of Jesus’ teaching. And then acting on them. “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger… Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers.”
That’s the key to it.
It is good in a world of variableness to come aside for an hour and be reminded of the Father of lights with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
It is only good to do just that, however, if this hour prompts us to back into that world of variableness where the shadows are turning and do something about it.
The kind of religion James envisages is the kind of religion Jesus embodied. It is a pure and undefiled kind of religion. Religion, that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning, is this: to care for orphans and widows, in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Did I say that each and every one of us in this building has two things in common:
We live in a world unsettled by variableness
We look to the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
There is one more thing we must each one of us have in common.
We seek the wisdom to be ‘doers of the word’ and not hearers only.
Our prayer is for the wisdom that will send us into a world of variableness as doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
For the pure religion that draws us to the Father of lights with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning is this: to care for those whose needs are great wherever they may be.