Lesson Basis: James 5:7-11
It amuses me what bits stick in our minds and which ones fly away almost as soon as they are placed in them. For example, Luther’s Small Catechism explanations are highly memorable and spiritually invaluable, yet to get confirmands to memorize them is a chore. Yet, I’d bet that 80% of Lutherans immediately remember that Luther once called the Epistle of James and “epistle of straw” or that Luther once said “sin boldly.” Now, “sin boldly” is actually a very deep reflection on the gospel and the reality of life in this world. Most of our choices are not black and white, and even black and white ones our personal motivations tend toward gray shades. This is the reality of our fallen nature. Luther’s “sin boldly” is more importantly have faith that God knows our frame and has covered all our sins in Jesus, so make the best choices you can in the moment and trust God. “The epistle of straw” was one I bet that Luther wishes he had back. Luther was a polemicist. The vast majority of the things he wrote were engaged in conflict of some type. And the problem, still present with us today, is that when we are being polemic, we tend toward hyperbole or outright “fake news.” It is easier to make your “enemies” and their sources unclean than it is to argue the ideas. Hence the epistle of straw. And while it is true that some scripture ends up being more impactful than others, the letters of Paul have always been the spine of the New Testament, setting Paul against James is not a good idea. They need to be reconciled because they share the same faith.
And what makes Luther’s quip so tough is that the reconciliation is part of what he was complaining about. Luther didn’t like James at the time he wrote because it didn’t pronounce the gospel as strongly as Paul. James leans more on the law, and even beyond the law you could call James New Testament wisdom literature – the New Testament Proverbs. And the Proverb that is placed before us today is on the virtue of patience. “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient.”
Being patient is not an American virtue. We are the people of the fast food drive through. We invented immediate gratification. Of course we could argue that it is these things taken to their fulfillment that are killing us. Our entire food supply chain geared around what turns out to be unhealthy. Amazon Prime delivery promising us everything in two days, only to be depressed when whatever we ordered doesn’t bring us happiness. Patience is a virtue that we might need some lessons on.
But James on patience is keyed directly into the gospel. “You have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” You know what God is about and who He is. Christ has revealed this to us. He justifies sinners. Does everything happen when we want it to happen? No. It doesn’t in simple material matters. Heck, even a slow line at McDonalds can get us frustrated. Things spiritual don’t happen on our timelines either. Things spiritual happen at the right time. Things spiritual happen “after the early and later rains.” Things spiritual happen on God’s time. Patience for James is waiting on God to be exactly who we know he is. And Job is his example. Yes, waiting can be suffering, but long after this is gone in my flesh I shall see God (Job 19:26). It’s an Advent message. God keeps his promises. Wait for that right time.