I’m watching a line form in the foyer. My belly is swollen 8 months large over our third child. It’s the annual church camping trip sign-ups. The line is getting long as I watch the early birds select their campsites. If you invite a friend, someone who doesn’t go to the church then you can pick your sites first. It will be our family’s first time adventuring into the woods with this gathering of believers.
As I am standing there waiting for the service to begin I can’t help but listen to an exchange between a mother and daughter waiting in line. The little girl wants to know why they have chosen two spots. The mother quietly answers, stumbling over her words, “Well it is so we can invite some friends.” The daughter curiously asks, “Who are we going to bring?” The mother whispers, “We’ll see.” As they walk away, I’m left wondering.
You probably would not be surprised to find out that a few weeks later several families in our group made a choice to leave those extra campsites empty. We set up our tents and those few spaces remained bare as an obvious blemish. Families willing to spend the cash on those early bird sites, but not willing to take the time to invite someone. They got better access to the bathhouse and missed the privilege of loving on others.
Perhaps it is to the heart of these types of Christ-followers that James offers the judgment,
“Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver have become worthless. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh in hell…” (v. 1-3 NLT)
Right out of the gate in chapter 5 James admonishes those who have become more obsessed with money and the comforts of this world. He says “This treasure you have accumulated will stand as evidence against you…” (v. 3) While they are storing up riches and getting fat off the abundance, they are also trampling underfoot good, innocent people. God does not ignore the cries of oppressed people.
James is my kind of writer. He shoots it straight. He grabs familiar thoughts from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and uses them throughout the text. He does not shy away from telling the company before him that they are far from truth. He knows their hearts. James can see their wandering ways, the need for perseverance and patience. Patience as they wait for the Lord and patience with each other.
“Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (v.9 NLT)
He instructs. He admonishes. He loves. James sees their grumbling against one another and he points them in a different direction. He understands why they are wavering like an unanchored ship. They are wishy-washy in their words, in their beliefs and how they demonstrate their faith. Like many in our faith communities today there is so much potential, but we often miss it.
Similar to those who were waiting in line to get the best campsites, those who did not hesitate to trample upon their brothers in Christ just so that they could have better access to the bathhouse, while forgetting to extend a hand of invitation to the lost or lonely; the brethren of James’ audience is also missing it. They are caught up in many external distractions, but James guides them towards the truth. He points them to confession. He directs them to sing. He points them to prayer. He asks them to anoint the sick. He tells them to pray over each other so that they can be healed from their sin.
“Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.” (v. 16 The Message)
With all the condemnation and truth-telling that James has rained down on his readers he does not leave us wandering in shame and guilt, clueless. He leaves us with hope: hope in each other, hope as we wait for our Lord and hope in answered prayers. There is hope in our confessing and praying over each other. There is hope if even just one person comes back to the truth. There is hope in rescuing and reaching for those who have turned their faces. There is hope… when the company is true.
“…hope remains while the Company is true.” –Galadriel (JRR Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring)