JAMES 1:19-21

JULY 29, 2012




            A frustrated driver had circled the block a number of times and still could not find a parking place.  Already late for his appointment, he parked in a No Parking zone and placed a note on the windshield of his car.  It read, I am running late.  If I miss the meeting I will lose my job.  Forgive us our trespasses.

            A couple of hours later, when the man returned to his car, he found a parking ticket and a note.  It read, If I miss giving you a ticket, I lose my job.  Lead us not into temptation. 

            Well, this morning we leave trials and temptations behind and move onto the next section of James.  Up until now James has been primarily addressing defecting Christians - specifically Jewish Christians undergoing great persecution and who were tempted to turn their backs on Christ so that their lives might return to normal. 

            You see, it was no small decision to leave Judaism for Christianity.  If you embraced Christ you were shunned socially, and if in business, the Jewish community would boycott your business.  As a result, many first-century Jews who had come to Christ began to have second thoughts.  They were contemplating abandoning Christ and returning to Judaism, so James writes these Jewish Christians telling them how to handle their trials and temptations, trying to convince them to remain in the fold. 

            Then, having addressed the potential defectors - after giving them some practical advice on trials and doubts and temptations - James turns his attention to another group of Christians.  He turns his attention to divorced Christians, not divorced in terms of marriage, but divorced in the sense of faith and practice.  By that I mean, hes addressing people who say one thing, but do another, and this morning he will help us better match our speech with our faith. 

            Speech, communication, has always been an important topic.  It was for James and it is for us, maybe even more so for us given how easily and quickly we can communicate with just about anyone in the world today.  Back in James day if you wanted to communicate with someone in another city, you used carrier pigeons or a human courier, and depending on the distance between the cities it could take days or weeks to get your message to your intended party.  Today with our computers and smart phones we can be in touch with someone in London as quickly as we can with someone in La Vista, and like James contemporaries we have a lot to learn when it comes to sharing our thoughts, ideas, feelings and information with one another.

            Forty years ago, Edmund Muskie, a Democratic Senator from Maine, made an unsuccessful run at the presidency of the United States.   George McGovern got the nomination instead.  On the campaign trail he liked to tell the story of the first time he gave a political speech.  He was to give it at a womans luncheon in Maine and he was very nervous about the speech so he consulted a speech coach.  The speech coach  assured him that he would do fine, that he had an important message, and he would deliver it well.

            Muskie told him, Oh, its not the speech that Im so nervous about.  Its the conversation at the table during lunch.  What do I talk about?

            The speech coach told him, Thats easy.  You simply turn to the woman on your right, ask if shes married, ask about her children, and she will carry the conversation.  If the woman on your right slows down, just do the same thing with the woman on your left.

            After the lunch Muskie called the speech coach and was livid!  He said, That advice you gave me got me into so much trouble.  Now, remember this was in the day when there was a stigma attached to divorce and having children outside of wedlock.

            What do you mean? asked the coach.

            Well, I turned to the woman on my right and I asked her if she were married.  She said, No.  Then I asked her if she had any children, and she wouldnt speak to me for the rest of the meal.  I didnt want to make the same mistake again, so I turned to the woman on my left and I asked if she had any children.  She said, Yes.  Then I asked her if she were married and she wouldnt speak to me for the rest of the meal either.

            Even the best of us need help when it comes to communication, and this morning James reminds us of four basic communication skills that need to master if we are to become colossal communicators.

            First, he says be quick to listen.  Verse 19,


            You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen ...


            The eminent Swiss psychiatrist Paul Tournier made a scathing comment about the current state of listening.  He said, Listen to the conversations of the world, between nations as well as between people.  They are for the most part dialogues of the deaf.

            I think of the man who walked into a drug store and asked the pharmacist if he had a cure for hiccups.  The pharmacist came out from the counter, slapped the man on the back, and asked him, Do you have the hiccups now?

            The man replied, No, I do not.  But I bet that my wife in the car still does.

            The pharmacist was quick to take action, not quick to listen.  Of course, the sad thing is he is not alone.  The adult education department of a nearby state offered two courses in speech and one course in listening each term.  The two speech courses were always full.  The listening courses, even though offered each year, were never held over a period of five years because only two students signed up for the class over those five years.  Speech classes full.  Listening classes empty.

            Yet, to become a colossal communicator we need to master the art of listening.  Jesus mastered that art.  While his disciples argued and talked, Jesus listened to their deeper needs and the deeper needs of people they encountered.  Jesus traveled the same roads and village streets as his contemporaries, but with one major difference - he heard and saw needs no one else seemed to notice.  James invites us to the ministry of listening.  We will be amazed at how much more satisfying our relationships become if we simply learn to listen.

            Second, James says to become a colossal communicator, we need to be slow to speak.  Again verse 19,


            You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak ...


            Do any of you remember George Jefferson?  Sherman Helmsley, the actor who played him, died this past Tuesday.   I read in the paper that he was trained as a serious stage actor, and he was nothing like the character he portrayed.  Anyway, in one episode of the old sitcom, Florence, Georges wife, was speaking to their maid.  Florence said of her husband, If Mr. Jefferson wants some peace and quiet he doesnt need ear plugs - he needs a muzzle!

            There is a couple I know who wonder why they do not have any close friends.  The reason is simple ... they talk too much.  When I am with this couple they talk ninety percent of the the time ... and its not because I am such a great listener.  Its because they are excessive talkers.  They are fast to speak, not slow to speak.

            And as an aside, a recent article in Scientific American magazine debunked the widely held belief that women speak much more than men.  Researchers used a device to collect data on the chatter patterns of university students, both men and women, at colleges in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.  In the end, the sexes came out just about even in the daily averages: women at 16,215 words and men at 15,669.  In terms of statistical significance, the lead researcher said that 500 word difference, "It's not even remotely close to different." Unfortunately, statistics are not available as to how many of those 16,000 words we speak are beneficial. 

            Third, James says be slow to anger.  Once again verse 19,


            You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce Gods righteousness.


            Im in a mens small group.  I have been meeting with these guys once a month for years.  We met yesterday, in fact, and one of the guys, who owns a small business, was commenting about an irate customer and said, Some people live in a warfare world.  Everything for them is a battle.

            Do you know anyone like that?  Know anyone who lives in a warfare world?  Does it seem at times that anger has become our national pastime?  It seems that way for some.  Some have coined the times in which we live as The Age of Rage.  They wish we would return to an Age of Civility. 

            Once again, I think James had his brother in mind when pondering the attributes of a colossal communicator.  Did his half-brother Jesus ever get angry?  Yes, he did.  I recall a handful of times he became angry and I recall he let others know it.  But it did not happen often.  Why?  Because Jesus was slow to anger.  Some of us, on the other hand, are often quick to anger and the problem with quick-tempered people is they are no fun to be around.  We walk on eggshells whenever we are around them.  So we  try to avoid them if we can. 

            The next time you are in a meeting be it a business meeting or church meeting or school board meeting and someone stands up with a red face and veins bulging in their neck and begins speaking in a loud voice, assess how effectively the person is getting his or her point across.  Most of the time, the angrier we become, the less effective we become in communicating with others.

            The fourth skill is not really a skill.  Its a way of life.  Its making our insides as attractive as our outsides.  Listen to James.  Verse 21,


            Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.


            Outwardly we can do and say the right things, but we wont be able to do it consistently unless our insides match our outsides.

            Linda Riley was asked to substitute in the middle school boys Sunday School class.  Her husband was the pastor of the church and what caught her eyes was a bulletin board with title The Person I Most Admire.  Linda thought to herself as she ambled over to the board, This ought to be interesting. 

            She paused to read the names.  Many of the expected names were there.  Lebron James.  Peyton Manning.  Abraham Lincoln.  Martin Luther King.  But the name that caught her by surprise was the name mentioned by over half the boys in the class.  Her husband, Pastor Jay Riley.

            That took her by surprise.  Werent these the same boys who stared blankly at the ceiling when her husband preached?  Werent these the same boys who had to be personally escorted by their parents from the car to the class lest they got lost in the great beyond?  Werent these the same boys who spent every waking moment trying to be as cool as possible?

            Yes, they were, and so, over the next few Sundays she kept an eye on these boys to see how they came up with their pastor as the person they most admired.  She watched every Sunday as Travis brought his latest work of art to show her husband.  She watched as Charlie always popped into her husbands office for a quick hello.  She watched as her husband patted backs, and gave warm hellos, and asked the boys about school and sports.  She watched how he had gotten through to a class of middle school boys because he had welcomed with meekness the word implanted within him, and the boys saw it and they wanted to be like him when they grew up.  Not a pastor, just a man like him. 

            He was a colossal communicator because his insides matched his outsides.  Amen.