Take Your Shoes Off
James is warning us against hearing the Word of God and letting it go in one ear and out the other, so this morning, I am going to read the passage again. This time from The Message version of the Bible:
Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.
But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.
Wednesday night when we were sharing about our accommodations on the mission trip to Mexico, we mentioned that one of the rooms is known as the “rustic” room. Someone asked what made it rustic, and one of the things is that there is no mirror. The other rooms have dollar store hand mirrors hung upside down by a nail. For a week, you brush your hair, wash your face, and don’t worry about what you look like.
In the first Century, mirrors were made of highly polished metal. They could see themselves clearly, just like you and I see ourselves in the mirror every morning. So, James is not telling them to find a mirror or start paying attention to how they look. Their standards are not “rustic.” James says, Hearing the Word of God and not responding to it by doing what it teaches is like looking in the mirror, and you see that you have jelly on your cheek from breakfast and you not washing it off.
William Barclay says of this passage, “James does well to remind us that that which is heard in the holy place must be lived in the market place – or there is no point in hearing at all.”
Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. Put away all filthiness and wickedness and receive with meekness – remember the term isn’t weakness, but meekness, and it means “to come under the authority of another”, Horses are meeked when they are trained. It doesn’t make them meek, but it does make them obedient – receive with meekness the Word planted in you to grow and save your soul.
And do it – not just when you are at church – but everywhere you go. But that’s hard – really hard. Really, it is just impossible. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t try.
I watched a clip on YouTube this week of America’s Got Talent. I don’t watch TV, so I missed it. One of my friends posted it on Facebook and said it was worth watching. You may have seen her summer a year ago. Mandy Harvey stood at the microphone with her ukulele. I almost didn’t click on it, but I wondered what she would do with that ukulele that would be worth watching.
She had an interpreter because she is deaf. She lost her hearing when she was in college at Colorado State University, studying vocal music education to live her dream of being a choir director. With the loss of her hearing, she lost her sense of identity – the dream died. She moved home, didn’t leave the house, and succumbed to the darkness.
Until one day, her dad asked her if she could still sing. Of course not. But, just to prove him wrong, she tried. She got out a tuner and sang, tuning her voice by watching for the light to turn green. With near-perfect pitch, she is able to find a starting pitch and then use muscle-memory to sing.
Her new goal became to be a jazz singer. She enrolled in voice lessons, she has a tuner app on her phone, she practices diction and pitch 40-70 hours a week, and now she tours with her band, has four albums and a book.
She sings with her shoes off, so she can feel the beat with her feet. She feels the bass in her chest. Nothing comes between her and the vibrations of the music.
This is the kind of connection with God’s Word that James is talking about. We have all become deaf to the harshness of the words we speak and the vileness of the anger that we allow in our lives. Like Mandy Harvey, with the loss of our hearing, we lose our sense of identity – the dream dies. She moved home; we move into our comfort zone, too. She didn’t leave the house; we don’t leave our comfort either. She succumbed to the darkness, and so do we. The song that God planted within us, the spark of God’s image in us, silently languishes in darkness. And as a result, God’s dream for us dies.
Unless, we learn to sing again. Unless we use the Bible like a tuner to help us find our pitch. Unless we practice – all the time. Unless we refuse to give up on being better. Unless we take off our shoes – removing everything that stands between us and God.
Unless we rely on more than our hearing – don’t just hear the Word, DO the Word.
James says we will be blessed if you act and persevere in doing the Word. Not because God rewards those who focus their gaze on the Law of Liberty. N.T. Wright explains that law of freedom this way: Suppose[ing] we didn’t have a law about which side of the road we were supposed to drive on. Everyone would set off and do their own thing.
It would be chaos: accidents, near-misses, and nobody able to go at any speed for fear of disaster. The law that says you drive on the…right sets you free.” The limits of the law provide boundaries that set us free to fully live our lives.
Take some time and look at yourself in the mirror. Will you act on what you see, or will you walk away and not do anything about it?