James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
If you are wise and understand God’s ways,
prove it by living an honorable life,
doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.
James conveys to us
what is at the core
of the Christian lifestyle:
Another translation reads,
Show by your good life that your works are done
with gentleness born of wisdom.
Draw close to the core,
the core where Jesus lives out the humble lifestyle,
where God embraces our hearts with gentleness.
Draw close to the core.
Remain close to the core,
for God longs to dwell with you there,
to spend time with you.
Come close! Closer still!
Drawing closer to our dearest love, Jesus,
is not a matter of working harder, like a busy bee. (i)
Rather, drawing close to Jesus is about a posture.
As loved ones remind us,
when you pick heavy things up,
you should lift from the core.
Because if you don’t, you might throw your back out,
leaving your body out of commission.
James asks, What grounds our actions?
Do you live by the wisdom of God
or the wisdom from the world?
In other words, how is your posture?
Do you lift from your core,
or elsewhere, causing your body to be misaligned?
How do we know if we are operating from a healthy stance?
It comes back to listening to your core and from your core.
Our core is more than the physical center of our body.
The word core comes from the French coeur, meaning heart.
Lift from the core.
Lift from the heart.
In prayer, we receive the whisper of God
as love breathes and pulsates. In prayer to God,
the Holy Spirit moves upon us as
the interior person listens to the voice of God
speaking to the heart.
For God desires to talk to us from our core,
not from our ego.
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.
What James is saying is: stop operating from your ego.
Let’s take some time to discuss what that means.
You can think of your ego as your constructed self.
The ego is who you think you are.
It is the person we make ourselves to be
or other persons shape us to be.
The ego is the seat of control,
fear, and attachment.
Our ego is not bad or good; it’s just another part of us
that we can know, acknowledge, and love with gentleness.
It’s like an inner toddler that wants what it wants.
It is for us to consider:
How does its desires show up?
How does its desires harm us?
How do we appropriately order our desires
in order to be kin to all? (ii)
Let us contrast the ego with the soul.
We will define the soul as the true self.
As your unconstructed self. That which is already there.
It exists beyond the ego, beyond the surface appearance.
Our soul lives deep within us and cannot be wounded.
It cannot be violated. It is already in harmony with God.
Come back to this deep place,
Come back to your core.
Saint Augustine of Hippo writes,
“I wish to know God and soul and nothing else at all.”
To know God we must know our soul.
The soul is where God appears.
You can’t know God apart from your soul.
Working on your ego and outer appearance
is not the same as knowing your soul.
That outer appearance is false.
There’s a flimsiness to it. A fabrication.
You can’t fabricate the soul.
Draw near to God. God will draw near to you.
God will come to your soul.
God is in the specific of how we know our soul.
James is saying, perceive better.
God is in you. God is at work.
That work may not be as impressive as a pillar of fire, but that’s God.
God is in the details. God is in you.
Submit yourselves therefore to God.
Another translation reads,
So humble yourselves before God.
A humble lifestyle is the heart of our faith.
How do we live a humble lifestyle?
When we seek to usurp what others have,
this is the consequence of a fragile ego.
This ego does not lean into the fullness of the heart.
James criticizes quarrels and fights, saying,
we want what we don’t have;
we scheme and kill to get it.
We choose others as our models
and then we want to usurp and replace them.
We seek to build up our ego
and don’t trust that we have everything we need in our core.
However, our ego can never be satisfied;
its instincts drive us to consume, pursue, and conquer.
When the ego is not connected to the soul,
it seeks to control and dominate.
We don’t have what we want
because we don’t ask God for it.
We take, take, take for our immediate desires.
We do not ask for our emotional or spiritual needs to be met
from a place of soul.
Rather than imitate and conquer,
lean into God, James urges;
lean into your true self that you already have.
God is the fulfillment of all our needs and longings
because God gives us ourselves.
God gives us our soul.
God lives in our soul if only we would visit it.
When we can rest in our true core,
we don’t need to imitate others.
This is humility.
Unseat the ego.
Lift from the core.
Live from the heart.
This is the humble lifestyle.
We walk in shoes too small,
one of my spiritual teachers once cautioned me.
We walk in shoes too small.
What does that mean?
On our journey,
we remain resolutely in shoes
that pinch our soles and constrain our stride.
We are on a journey.
God is inviting us to put on spacious shoes
with a comfy cushion, proper support,
and a just-right feeling of snugness.
I recently walked with a little one
who had outgrown their shoes.
That’s not fun.
God invites to put on sole-wear
that will empower us to journey more fully.
That grounds us in a healthy posture as we more about.
Come closer to your true self, where God dwells.
Come close. Closer still!
This drawing close is what the practice of humility facilitates.
Empty yourself. Remember that nothing is your own.
Clutch not even your thoughts, your identity,
or your ideas about yourself.
There is a soul that lies beyond that.
The things we prize as our ego are fool’s gold.
The real treasure lies beneath.
Let go of the false gold of ego and fall into soul.
Fall into your deepest self. Fall into God.
Into the breath of love and the whisper of Jesus.
Jesus stands as the model of this letting go par excellence.
Jesus doesn’t generate rivalry or jealousy.
It is safe to imitate Jesus.
When we do that, we surrender to God, to love,
to humility, to peacefulness.
The spiritual journey is not about making us better;
it’s about going beyond the ego.
Only to the degree that we are willing to be changed
will new chemistry occur in another.
The question here, from Jesus, from James, is
Do I allow life, death, and resurrection to occur in me?
Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.
Come close to God. God will come close to you.
If you look at the original Greek,
this is not a conditional statement;
rather, it speaks of what is already occurring.
Come close to a God who is already coming close to you.
Come close! Closer still, God beckons.
Let’s spend the day together.
Like a wind on sparks,
the spirit blows on the embers of our core.
Do you remember the first time
you discovered a desire for God?
How has God drawn you in?
Come close. Closer still!
How do we change our posture?
How do we live from a place of grace?
Become who you are.
Lift from your core.
(i) This section is a paraphrase of a commentary written by Casey Thornburg Sigmon. You can read her full commentary here: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-25-2/commentary-on-james-313-43-7-8a
(ii) These three questions come from The Pulpit Fiction Podcast episode 448, “Proper 20B (OT 25)”. Listen here: https://www.pulpitfiction.com/notes/proper20b .