It was about 18 months ago at one of our monthly luncheon gatherings of evangelical leaders in Washington County that one of the brothers raised the issue of the opioid crisis and how we might make some impact upon this local scourge. One thing led to another, and a decision was made to present a unified sermon series as one voice in our community to address this and other pressing issues. The result last fall was a series on the book of Nehemiah – the series being called “For Our City.”
Again this year, leading up to the Thanksgiving and holiday season, we are coming back together with a sequel – to bring a voice of truth, biblical perspective, hope and godly encouragement to our community and its people. The themes and text this year will come from the New Testament book of James – truly a repository of practical advice and godly admonition. James begins his letter by saying …
James 1:1 – James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.
So why should we have an interest in studying James? Consider this background …
Rocks were hurled at Stephen. As they struck, he prayed for the forgiveness of his attackers, falling asleep before he died. A passionate and radical Jewish leader named Saul approved of this murder and watched intently.
That same day, a great persecution erupted against the fledgling Christian church, and Saul rallied his followers to snuff out this community of devotees of Jesus and to end the influence of this new way of faith. They dragged Christians to prison and even to their deaths. As a result, the church scattered from Jerusalem to the surrounding regions.
Christians gathered in groups far from their homes and continued to teach and encourage each other in the way of Jesus, but many of the most prominent leaders remained in Jerusalem.
The church in Jerusalem continued to meet and grow (even under great threat) led by James, the brother of Jesus. With great compassion and concern for these “dispersed” believers, around AD 45, James wrote letters to rally the scattered church to continue in their bold faith and active love.
While they were tempted to hide or grow quiet or retaliate, James challenged them to live radically, to entirely re-orient their lives around a set of ideals offered by Jesus. He challenged them to live a life that mattered for eternity – a life that wasn’t merely about their well-being or preservation.
James’ letter was not a call to arms, to war or violence, but to a bold and visibly active faith in Jesus. James invited people of faith to join a revolution of love, to give up this temporary life for life eternal, to surrender personal desires to fulfill the will of God. In essence, James offered a radical, counter-cultural battle-cry for all who would listen to live a life for Jesus and for others.
Shortly after his writing, James was martyred for his faith. But his legacy of an active, practical faith lives on TODAY. We are invited to matter, to make a difference, to change our world through revolutionary living. The revolution of Jesus is one of intentional kindness, of compassion, of serving others. Rather than bunkering in churches or shielding our faith from threats, we are challenged by the teachings of James to run toward danger while others are running away.
The church is exhorted to rise above surrounding troubles and become the greatest healing agent in their world. Every Christian is called out from hiding in order to be the response of God to the crises around them.
The Letter of James is both a personal and corporate invitation to churches and Christians to unite together in serving and loving so loudly that their words and actions transform their neighborhoods, communities, and cities. And this is what we want to see in Hagerstown and in the Tri-State region, doing so not just as isolated outposts dotting the landscape here and there, but rather as a united voice of THE CHURCH of Jesus Christ. We are better together.