In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
I don’t know if you have heard, but the Pope has been in America this week. I have had so many people wanting to talk to me about all the comings and goings of Pope Francis—and it’s a good thing. For the most part everything I have heard has been pretty positive—maybe I just don’t attract negative comments toward the Pope. In my opinion, the best thing about the Pope’s presence here is that it has gotten everyone talking. Granted it has been splattered everywhere on TV, but when else would the media focus solely on a particular religious person or subject in such a positive light?
This almost ubiquitous coverage—almost so much that they have someone listening to his door saying, “The Pope is sleeping. The Pope is sleeping. The Pope is still sleeping.” This coverage and having everyone talking about what he is doing, with very few negatives, I think brings out the gist of what Jesus is telling his disciples—He that is not against us is for us.
I think that the overly Christian leader can even unite Protestants with Catholics—during his visit anyway—because he is able to confront Congress and the President and whomever else with the Gospel. He doesn’t have to pull any punches, because he is also a world leader, and as a world leader, he must be respected. To not invite him to say something and have important meetings with important people would infuriate so many people, that no matter the views of the individuals in the Oval Office or in Congress, it would be political suicide the prevent the Pope from doing this. So everyone is forced to eat their vegetables, because you don’t not eat what’s put on your plate when the Pastor comes to visit your home.
So even Protestants, some of whom are very much against almost everything he represents, even the most vehement of them admit that when it comes to the nation, he who is not against us is for us—and that sentiment can only come from God.
One of the things that is so uplifting about this pope is the joy that seems to be associated with him. He shuns the rich and powerful in order to dine with the homeless, but it is not done so with the air of someone who is seeking attention. Rather it is someone who sees Christ in the least of these. There is a joy that radiates from him as he does each act because it seems that he does so with the love of Christ.
Last week I was reminded that we should always have that joy near us to remind us that this Christian life we lead is not merely a list of dos and don’ts, but it is a relationship of love between our Creator and his creation. This week James asks us to put that aside for a second. He tells us, lest we get caught up in all the joy, that we do have rules that need to be followed. In fact, I think it is when we focus solely on the joy that we are most susceptible to overlook this.
Think about a party, how many times do the good times of a party cause one to sin? I’m not merely talking about sins of the flesh, I’m talking about getting so wrapped up in having a good time that you forget yourself. Maybe a group of friend are standing around swapping funny stories, each trying to keep the good times going, then one person goes a little too far and tells a story that gets riotous laughter but is one that makes the storyteller wish the next day that they hadn’t told that story.
James would have us spared from having to regret the good time we should have had because we forgot ourselves because we were too wrapped up in the moment. James tells us to first put on a hair shirt, then the fine clothes can be donned. This was the practice of King Louis IX of France. Even though he had to wear the fine livery of a monarchy, he would first remind himself of who he was, by putting on an itchy, irritating hair shirt, then he would put on the fine silks of a king. This is what James is saying.
He tells us “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection.” He does not mean to say place these things aside for good. He means to place humility in the midst of this joy. Remember, our joy is the result of Jesus’ death due to our sins. James wants us to temper our party nature with the reality of sin.
If we get too caught up in showing our joy that we forget the reality of sin, then we call people to join us in the revelry of death. Only sin that is repented of is forgiven. If sins are glossed over to call more people in, then those who are called in are given the opiate of the people. Rather than dealing with the reality of sin, they are called to ignore it and dance until they die.
James would have us rather be reminded of the reality of sin that our joy may be complete. He follows in the footsteps of Jesus his kinsmen, who in John’s gospel tells us,” As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
This is the purpose of the Pope’s visit here to America—to remind us in our revelry of the reality of sin. Congress couldn’t turn him away and the media is falling over themselves to document every second of his time. This is a time when we as Americans are offered the opportunity to see the reality of our situation. When the dross is burned away with the trial of testing, and the silk of revelry is burned away, will we find ourselves still clothed in the reality of the hair shirt? Because if we do find ourselves in this position then we will find ourselves further clothed with the clothes of salvation.
So by all means, Beloved, revel in the joy of the Lord. We should be seen as joyful people, but remember that we cannot have merely a party food diet. We must eat our vegetables, especially when the pastor comes for dinner. And eat with the knowledge that the joy is us is not mere happiness—a fleeting emotion—but true life-giving joy that results from an honest relationship with a loving God.
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.