Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you: pour your love into our hearts and draw us to yourself, and so bring us at last to your heavenly city where we shall see you face to face; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Gracious God, you call us to fullness of life: deliver us from unbelief and banish our anxieties with the liberating love of Jesus Christ our Lord.
But the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death;
considering him a friend, they pined away
and made a covenant with him,
because they are fit to belong to his company.
For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves,
‘Short and sorrowful is our life,
and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end,
and no one has been known to return from Hades.
‘Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.
He professes to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child of the Lord.
He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;
the very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his manner of life is unlike that of others,
and his ways are strange.
We are considered by him as something base,
and he avoids our ways as unclean;
he calls the last end of the righteous happy,
and boasts that God is his father.
Let us see if his words are true,
and let us test what will happen at the end of his life;
for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him,
and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.
Let us test him with insult and torture,
so that we may find out how gentle he is,
and make trial of his forbearance.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death,
for, according to what he says, he will be protected.’
Wisdom 1:16–2:1, 12–22
Alternative OT reading
It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew;
then you showed me their evil deeds.
But I was like a gentle lamb
led to the slaughter.
And I did not know it was against me
that they devised schemes, saying,
‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will no longer be remembered!’
But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously,
who try the heart and the mind,
let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.
1 Save me, O God, by your name •
and vindicate me by your power.
2 Hear my prayer, O God; •
give heed to the words of my mouth.
3 For strangers have risen up against me,
and the ruthless seek after my life; •
they have not set God before them.
4 Behold, God is my helper; •
it is the Lord who upholds my life.
5 May evil rebound on those who lie in wait for me; •
destroy them in your faithfulness.
6 An offering of a free heart will I give you •
and praise your name, O Lord, for it is gracious.
7 For he has delivered me out of all my trouble, •
and my eye has seen the downfall of my enemies.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
James 3:13–4:3, 7–8a
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’
Sermon on Sunday Trinity 17
James’ letter has something interesting in the Greek which I would like to explore. He is writing to those ‘in two minds’ (“double-minded” was the translation I read). However, the Greek suggests something other than what we would consider ‘mind’, it uses the word psyche, from which we get psychology, it is the mind, but it is more embracing than what we normally consider “mind” – well, that is the implication of the word, you know, that world of dreams and fantasies, that part of us which gets all messed up by so many things in our lives.
The Greek word “psyche” means “life” in some uses, so I would suggest that psyche bundles together the whole of our experience. The psyche also allows us to hive off every aspect of life into separate areas – our emotions, our rationality, our fantasies, our dreams (including nightmares and hopes). In other words, our psyche embraces the whole of our lives but allows us to see different aspects of experience. The psyche deals with life well in some cases, and in others disastrously.
But within that phrase, where this word, δυψυχη, appears, is καρδια, heart. We all know that the heart is taken as the seat of life. We say so when we profess our love to another – “My heart belongs to you!” or, on the other hand, we say. “You have broken my heart!”
Why has James connected the two here? Why has he connected the heart with the psyche?
Perhaps James sees the human being as a singular entity. Mind and heart are a whole, they belong to each other and one is not whole without the other. Perhaps James sees this as the essence of Jesus’ “life in all its fullness.” The Greek language, like English, has lots of words to describe the inner workings of human being.
My intention, however, is not to do a dictionary search about the inner life of the human being, rather I want to understand why James has unified the human being’s experience in this very short phrase, a phrase which acts as a condemnation of so many people. James speaks of those who are in two minds – when it comes to submitting to something greater than one’s own self. This follows hard on his harsh words about how badly we restrain ourselves and how we speak to others, using the tongue which is like a poisonous serpent, that tongue which can curse as well as bless.
Perhaps this is why he uses this word – “double-minded”. The tongue which can curse and bless, must reflect what is in our minds. – Don’t our military leaders warn us that although we may defeat an opposing army, unless we win their hearts and minds we will never win the peace.
We do fight a war daily – we fight against evil for the good. Too often we are in two minds in this struggle. James exhorts us, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” This is the dualism the human being faces, God or the devil. There it is, stark and simple, good or evil, just as we read in the letter. The solution is simple, as James puts it, isn’t it? “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” However, in our doubting, in our two minds, we don’t commit to anything – we invest ourselves in neither the devil nor God.
James sees this battle very clearly as it plays out in our lives. He thinks it a simple matter. He tells us, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” Let’s think about this sentence a little more, for it is not as easy as it first appears.
Cleansing one’s hands is symbolic of purification – we all know about Lady MacBeth trying to wash her hands of the bloody sin staining them. We know that we ourselves like to wash thoroughly when we feel “dirty”, when we have really messed up in some fundamental way, when we have sinned. This is all James is saying, isn’t it?
How do we purify hearts? This is the second part of James’ call to better behaviour. I think it is revealed in the phrase to whom James is speaking, “you double minded”. I have already suggested that the unity of the heart and mind is the basis of faithful behaviour. Single-mindedness in the broadest sense of that phrase – single-mindedness is not doubting one’s final goal – single-mindedness is not obsession with some one thing. Rather someone who is not in two minds can go forward through the many choices of life to that one goal, one’s ownmost possibility. The balanced single-minded approach to life would be able to do what James suggests, because they have clean hands and a pure heart.
It is that singleness of innocence whither James steers us. James wants us to grasp God, the only true good in our lives. Our collect confirms this, that our hearts are “restless until they find their rest in God”. Our hearts will continue to be restless until the final resting place is attained – and that place is at the right hand of God.
Why does James use this complicated, simple phrase, “Purify your hearts, you double-minded”? We often hear how different Jews and Greeks were. Their cultures were so very different. The bible is written from the Jewish point of view, and we often hear the phrase, “the heathen” – everyone who is not a Jew.
What if James was using this phrase to speak to the two sides of this cultural battle? What if he were speaking to the Jew by talking of purifying the heart and to the Greek by addressing the disturbed psyche – as he speaks to the double-minded? Is James actually trying to unify the two populations which are so disparate? We always say that Paul is doing this. Why not James? Here he is showing – very subtly, I admit – that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, for he is addressing them in the same phrase. James is using words which are culturally specific to speak of the good life in God.
Perhaps this is a model we need to keep in our own minds as we speak to our neighbours about the most important thing in life, when we talk about the ownmost possibilities of life. We need to remember that hearts and minds do form the unity of life. These hearts and minds are what life in all its fullness is all about. That singular experience of salvation unifies us into the soul ascending to God. We should take hope as we purify our hearts and become single-minded. Isn’t this single-minded purpose the essence of a caring love between ourselves and with God just as Jesus commanded?