(Click to listen to: Resisting “Security”)
As many of you know before following God’s call on my life to become a pastor, I was a technical consultant. In my line of work I had to deal a lot with security issues and one of the most frustrating bugs to deal with was fake anti-virus software. These pieces of malware claimed to be making systems more secure, and did a great job at pretending to do so, while actually making systems less secure and in some cases actively stealing financial information. In other words I often had to confront things that cast a projected illusion of security that my customers desperately wanted. In some cases my customers refused to believe me when I told them their “security” software was actually fraudware. Those were the hardest ones to deal with because those people were so lost in the world of technology that they didn’t know who to trust. It required relationship building before any kind of truth could sink in and even then they didn’t always believe me. In today’s text James echoes the words of Jesus in confronting the illusion that wealth is a source of security, and confronts us on two fronts when it comes to wealth: how you get it and what you do with it if you have it.
Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. 2Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. 3Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. 4Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you. 7Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.
James is not addressing people who obtained riches through honest means and used their wealth according to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. James is addressing two sets of effects that happen when people define security in terms of wealth or possessions. The first effect of defining security in terms of possessions or money is that we start to see the things in our lives as our belongings rather than gifts God has given us to meet our responsibilities and promote his kingdom. We begin to accumulate and aggregate, focusing on what we don’t have and working to accumulate more so that we can feel more secure, but eventually what we have doesn’t look like quite so much. We begin to feel that we aren’t safe because we don’t have enough, so we try to accumulate even more until our lives become focused on maintaining what we have and gathering more to us. This is a never-ending cycle because at some root level, we all know the truth, that at any moment we can lose everything, and so we end up feeling less secure, because our hope for security is in an illusion. We fear losing the illusion because the illusion of wealth comes with an illusion of control, and we desperately want to think we have some control in our lives. We do have control of a sort…we can control who or what we serve. The second result of placing hope for security in material wealth is that we become able to justify all kinds of behavior in order to maintain and grow our wealth. None of the bankers who were involved with the mortgage backed securities that almost destroyed our economy woke up one morning and said I am going to be unspeakably evil so I can make a ton of money. The CEO of Enron killed himself rather than face the fact that he had been convicted of multiple felonies. He never thought of what he did as wrong, even though the effects were disastrous and fell disproportionately on the poor and middle class. The CEOs of garment companies don’t think about their responsibility for the deplorable working conditions in Malaysian factories because they have believed the lies that say “The more you have the more valuable you are.” and “The more you have the safer and happier your family will be.” When we believe these lies it becomes a little bit easier to remind our boss of our co-workers faults at promotion time. It becomes a little bit easier to fudge on those timesheets and expense reports. It becomes easier to point the finger at poor folks as the source of their poverty rather than looking at how our choices may be affecting their ability to thrive. James has given us a stark reminder of exactly what happens to us when we place our sense of security in the things of this world rather than God. Are we able to hear it? Am I able to hear that I may have been paying homage to the false God of security?
Our world is filled with illusions or as the song we began the service with calls them “frames.” Each of us has frames that we have handed to us as we walk through life, and those frames can look good, sometimes they can even appear to be aligned with Jesus, but the subtle ways they differ from the truth of who Jesus was and what he calls us to cast large distortions on our faith. The “frames” of financial security, physical security, and living “the good life” are sweet indeed, but we dare not trust in them. As we lean on those frames they will mold us into something other than our intended shape. We lose our integrity when we see our security resting in anything other than Jesus. James calls us in this passage to keep our integrity through denying the lies that things and money can bring satisfaction or security. The frames which our culture imposes on us to distort our understanding of where our security lays must be confronted by each of us so that we may overcome. I can’t tell you which frame you have to confront, the Holy Spirit is faithful to prompt us to change when we are ready, but what I can do is point you to the perspective that we must never tire of seeking Jesus. Jesus must become the frame through which we see everything and, I am dead serious here, I do mean everything. That includes our study of the bible, the way we interact with our family, coworkers, and friends, even the recreation activities we do need to be done and looked at with Jesus as our prime reference point. Only then will we be able to cut through the bull and see things for what they really are.
The reality is that everything around us, everything we have, every cent in every account or pocket is a trust placed into our care by God. We have been entrusted as God’s stewards over the earth and some specific pieces of creation, and we need to take time to consider whether we are using the resources entrusted to us in the way God would use them. That is what stewardship means, not just taking good care of things, but using them in the way the one who entrusted us would. James is confronting us with the uncomfortable truth that we use God’s bounty in ways that go against the basic calls God has on our lives as followers of Jesus. Sometimes I use what God has given me to try to fulfill a need that only God can fill and if I am honest with myself it never works. Patience is hard. I want to be fulfilled and I want it now. True fulfillment cannot come through instant gratification though. True fulfillment can only come through waiting on the Lord, working alongside God’s purposes, and following the example of Jesus. True security will not come from wealth, power, violence, sex, food, or any part of the created order. True security will come through patiently emulating the attitude of Jesus who held on to nothing other than God the Father in whom he lived and the Holy Spirit which filled him. Placing yourself fully in the hands of God, following Jesus, and allowing yourself to be filled with the Holy Spirit is scary. It means giving up any sense of control you may have in your life. Are you ready to surrender everything you are and have into the hands of the one who knows and loves you best? Then join me in our time of open worship, our communion with God in which we practice giving up control to God and allow the wind of the Spirit to blow where it may. There is a bit of guidance for discerning the direction the Holy Spirit is moving in the blue pamphlet, but today I would like you to take the time to place yourself in the hands of the creator, commit or recommit yourself to follow Jesus, and ask the Holy Spirit to live within you guiding your steps and filling you with the strength needed to resist the self-destructive false “security” offered by the systems and things of this world. And know that we as followers of Christ have to do this every day as we are confronted by the blitz of messages telling us different stories about where security is found. There will be some queries on the screen based on the queries found in our faith and practice. Feel free to use them or not as you are led.
In what ways or practices do you acknowledge God’s ownership of all that is under your care? How do you give of your time and abilities in service to church and community and in what ways do you gratefully use your possessions as a trust to honor God?
In what ways or practices is your life marked by simplicity? How do you keep your life free from the burden of unnecessary possessions? By what means do you avoid waste? What practices help you refuse to let the prevailing culture and media dictate your needs and values?
How are you careful to live within your income? How do you avoid involving yourself in business beyond your ability to manage or in highly speculative ventures? What practices or disciplines help you accept a lower economic standard rather than compromise Christian values?[i]