James 5:7-11 (Third Sunday in Advent—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
December 15, 2013
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Epistle lesson recorded in James 5:
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. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
How many of you are familiar with the one-line prayer, “Lord, grant me patience, but please hurry!”? It’s funny because it is true. We are not, by nature, patient people. “Patience is a virtue,” you might say to your mischievous child who is snooping around for clues about what she’s getting for Christmas. Now if patience is a virtue, then we must recognize that our impatience is a sin. Impatience defines us even as it shows up in a variety of situations. It may take some critical self-examination before we’re ready to admit that.
Some people may remark about how nostalgia and warmth in this joyous holiday season bring out the best in humanity. But don’t we also notice how the stress of these hectic days brings out the worst in people? People embarrass themselves and the rest of us by drinking to excess at Christmas parties. They push and shove through the stores. And when you get behind these people in the checkout line, they take forever, don’t they? Fumbling with their wallets, talking with the cashier about things unrelated to the business at hand, completely unconcerned about the rest of us who are held up behind them.
Before we go any further, we should stop and ask ourselves, “Which is the bigger problem?” The annoying behavior of those people or your impatience with them and your grumbling about them? Which problem can you, ought you, do something about? Throughout James’ letter, he urges us Christians to live out our faith by doing good works of caring for others. In our text this morning, he continues that lesson. We are to do good works, especially having an attitude of patience, as we await the day of Jesus’ coming again.
Now, we’ve already said and shown that we are not naturally patient people. Granted, some of us live with shorter fuses than others, but none of us can always describe ourselves as patient. We are not always content in our situations nor are we always comfortable with other people in whose company we find ourselves. We can only stand so much and then our long-suffering runs out: That’s it! I’m done! Forget him! Forget her! It’s over! No more! I’m finished!
We expect then, at that point, that God would feel the same way with “those” people we have to deal with. Of course, “those” people are quite often the members of our own families, our close friends, and people with whom we must live alongside of day in and day out. I’ll ask it this way, you married couples, when was the last time we grumbled against our spouse? You didn’t say anything to her or to him, but your less than fully articulated groaning and moaning against them amounted to statements of judgment against the other because she or he didn’t meet your standards—doing things your way or not doing things or whatever. Parents, when was the last time you and I grumbled and complained against our own children, failing to see our imperfection as parents but keying in on all their wrongs? When was the last time we talked about a church member, a neighbor down the street, or a coworker behind their back, complaining about them because they somehow didn’t measure up to what we thought they should be? Employers, how often do you grumble about your employees? And workers, about your employers?
We are not patient people. We want instant gratification and instantaneous satisfaction. We want people to do things our way and meet our standards, as inconsistent as they are. We see ourselves as better than we are, and so we hold the measure of what is good, right, and salutary for our spouses, our children, our coworkers, neighbors, and even people we don’t know who annoy us when we are out and about. Sometimes we’d just as soon curse the person who gets in our way, flip off the driver who made a mistake on the road, or just complain about so-and-so because they obviously don’t “get it.”
Each time we act in our impatience, we put ourselves in the place of God, the Judge. He alone has the right of passing judgment based upon the absolute standard of His own Word. When Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you,” He was talking about the very thing that you and I do in our impatience. We judge others according to our standards and our measure of how people ought to be and to act and not according to God’s standard found in His holy Word. Sometimes we apply God’s Word to others and fail to apply it to ourselves, or we apply it to some people and not to others. We make His Word arbitrary, suitable to our own sinful needs and wants. That’s not what God does. He holds all people to the same standard of holiness and perfection. And held to that standard, every single one of us falls short. We miss the mark. We sin.
When we consider our sin, and specifically today, our sin of impatience, it causes tremors of fear to go through us when we hear James’ word that “the Judge is standing at the door.” “The coming of the Lord is at hand.” As we wrongly apply our own standards of judgment against others and misapply God’s Word to them and to ourselves, we stand imperfect before God’s perfection. Christ is ready to come again to judge sinners with the full weight of God’s Word and the punishment that we deserve for our sins. What if today He should open that door and step through to judge the living and dead? How would you and I fare? How would we stand up against the Word of God, we who so often grumble and complain and treat others without patience and mercy and compassion?
The King of glory, the Lord of Hosts, Jesus Christ, is standing at the door. He is waiting for the proper time to enter. The imminent return of Jesus should be for you and me motivation, not only for patience, but also for refraining from the grumbling and complaining against others, exercising the judgment that belongs to Him alone. In fact, the Lord is now being patient toward you and me. He hesitates to express His anger in judgment as He allows time for repentance and faith. He allows you and me time to hear this Word of the Lord, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, repent of our sins and our impatience, trusting in Jesus for full forgiveness and full salvation from our sins.
A farmer’s patience is absolutely necessary for bringing in the fullest-possible harvest. The farmer waits for the rains to germinate the seed and the rains that strengthen the grown crops to produce the precious fruit. Jesus is that farmer. You and I, the people about whom we grumble and complain in our impatience, yes all people—are the precious fruit that Christ desires. “Precious” means something which has been purchased for a price or which has great value. You and all people have value because Jesus purchased you for a price.
The price for your forgiveness and eternal life was not paid in the things of this world that are considered valuable, like gold or silver. The eternally valuable blood of Christ redeemed you, the Lord’s precious people, from the impatience of sin, from death and everlasting destruction. Jesus’ own blood was He poured out for you when He was nailed to the cross, Himself being judged and punished with death for your sins.
So that you would have time to hear this Gospel Word of forgiveness and be brought to saving faith in Christ and so receive the forgiveness and life Jesus’ won for you with His blood, Christ’s return has been delayed. So that other people might have the opportunity to hear the Good News of Jesus life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of their sins and so receive saving faith in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord gives time for repentance in this expression of His love. He waits to come again for the sake of those who need to hear the Gospel and be saved. He waited for you and me. Now He waits for others.
During this time of expectant waiting (for we know our Lord will come again at any moment) God the Holy Spirit fixes our hearts firmly with faith in Christ. He gives us a new life in Him, a life of patience. Patience is one of those precious gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5, along with love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Because you have been baptized, you have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you. He has given you the gift of saving trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior. That faith has received the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life which Jesus’ purchased with His blood and won for you on the cross.
“You were bought with a price,” we are reminded in 1 Corinthians 6:20. So glorify God in your body. You who have been brought into God’s eternal kingdom by grace through faith have been given forgiveness and patience for yourselves and plenty to spread around to others. So in the new life of patience given by the Holy Spirit, we tear our gazes away from the annoyances, the grievances, and from everything that taxes our patience. We look to the cross of our Savior where His mercy forgives and His compassion saves. And then we turn back to the realities of this life and, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we show mercy, forgiveness, and compassion with patience to others. We begin more and more to treat our spouses as Christ treats us in patience and love. We show the patience God our heavenly Father has had on us to our own children. We demonstrate, in Spirit-empowered patience, with our words and actions, the compassionate mercy of Jesus to family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. In humility, we count others more significant than ourselves. (Philippians 2:3) With the help of the Holy Spirit, as He strengthens our baptismal faith with the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Holy Supper, we speak up for others and speak well of others rather than grumbling against them. We praise their good actions and qualities. You and I put the best construction on everything, explaining the actions of our spouses and children, family, friends, and neighbors, even perfect strangers, in the best possible way.
That what our lives of faith and patience are now like. That’s now how we live in the fruit of the Holy Spirit patient lives of faith. Let us pray for the Lord’s continual gift of patience as we await His coming again:
Divine Savior, how patient You have been with us! Too many times we have failed You, yet you have not turned from us, but with compassion You have sought us and drawn us to Your forgiving heart. How thankful we are that You have tenderly pleaded with us through Your Word and Your Christian church! Grant that we may learn from you to be patient with others, thoughtful and considerate, even though they irritate, upset, and disturb our peace of mind. Remove from our hearts all resentment toward those who provoke us by word and action. Do not let us return evil for evil, unkindness for unkindness, harsh words and biting comments.
When You, gracious Savior, were mistreated, misunderstood, hurt and bruised in body and sorrowful in soul, You prayed: “Father, forgiven them.” Grant us the grace to face the many vexing problems of the day with patience and find in You rest and peace and contentment. Let us lean on You for strength and guidance and abide Your time, Savior and Lord. Amen.