Would you believe that it has been twenty weeks since we have met in person?
On Sunday mornings, we take time to consider what blessings we may have had during the week, as well as our worries. Take some time to think about these joys and concerns. You may share your personal joys and concerns in a comment below, if you feel comfortable doing so. You may also want to look at the prayer list in last week's worship service for a list of people to pray for.
I have always liked the Psalms, and was reading this article (which is super short, and worth reading) about how to "Pray the Psalms." I particularly liked the option to, "pray the Psalm like an apple tree or a Christmas tree." For this week's guided prayer, I have picked a Psalm at random for us to pray like a Christmas tree. Guidance will be in a different color.
For the director of music. To the tune of “Lilies.” Of David.
1 Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
2 I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.
3 I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God.
4 Those who hate me without reason
outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause,
those who seek to destroy me.
I am forced to restore
what I did not steal.
[Pray here for anxieties you have, particularly for yourself or someone close to you]
5 You, God, know my folly;
my guilt is not hidden from you.
[Pray here for forgiveness]
6 Lord, the Lord Almighty,
may those who hope in you
not be disgraced because of me;
God of Israel,
may those who seek you
not be put to shame because of me.
7 For I endure scorn for your sake,
and shame covers my face.
8 I am a foreigner to my own family,
a stranger to my own mother’s children;
9 for zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
10 When I weep and fast,
I must endure scorn;
11 when I put on sackcloth,
people make sport of me.
12 Those who sit at the gate mock me,
and I am the song of the drunkards.
[Pray here for people who are working to make the world a better place]
13 But I pray to you, Lord,
in the time of your favor;
in your great love, O God,
answer me with your sure salvation.
14 Rescue me from the mire,
do not let me sink;
deliver me from those who hate me,
from the deep waters.
15 Do not let the floodwaters engulf me
or the depths swallow me up
or the pit close its mouth over me.
[Pray here for other, wider concerns and anxieties, which may include the reopening of schools, church, etc]
16 Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love;
in your great mercy turn to me.
17 Do not hide your face from your servant;
answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.
18 Come near and rescue me;
deliver me because of my foes.
[Pray here for people with physical illness, which may include those on our continuing prayer list]
19 You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.
20 Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none.
21 They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.
[Pray here for those struggling with mental or emotional wellbeing]
22 May the table set before them become a snare;
may it become retribution and a trap.
23 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.
24 Pour out your wrath on them;
let your fierce anger overtake them.
25 May their place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in their tents.
26 For they persecute those you wound
and talk about the pain of those you hurt.
27 Charge them with crime upon crime;
do not let them share in your salvation.
28 May they be blotted out of the book of life
and not be listed with the righteous.
[Pray here for people who are struggling to choose to do good]
29 But as for me, afflicted and in pain--
may your salvation, God, protect me.
[Pray here for anyone who may need protection]
30 I will praise God’s name in song
and glorify him with thanksgiving.
31 This will please the Lord more than an ox,
more than a bull with its horns and hooves.
32 The poor will see and be glad--
you who seek God, may your hearts live!
33 The Lord hears the needy
and does not despise his captive people.
[Pray here in thanksgiving for your joys and blessings]
34 Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and all that move in them,
35 for God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah.
Then people will settle there and possess it;
36 the children of his servants will inherit it,
and those who love his name will dwell there.
[Pray here for the wider world, including things like the current pandemic, civil unrest, etc]
Our Sunday School lessons come from our adult Sunday School book. All scripture references are linked to an online text, and are bold and underlined. Just click on the words, and it will open the scripture passage in a new window.
For the month of August, we will be considering The Way of Wisdom.
In this unit, James examines the interplay between following Jesus and possessing faith. James reaffirms God's generosity in sharing his wisdom, which is especially needed in times of trouble. However, if a person's faith is not marked by acts of obedience to God's Word, then it is dead. Intellectual assent to God's ways isn't enough; wisdom is evidenced by a transformed life. According to James, the quality of a person's speech and treatment of others is an accurate barometer for measuring one's pursuit of wisdom. James revisits Solomon's conviction that we are all presented with the choice of pursuing wisdom or folly. James details how possessing, "wisdom that comes from heaven," (James 3:17) inevitably yields godly character.
This week's lesson text is James 1:1-11.
Introduction: More Informed, Less Wise
In case you hadn't heard, this is the Information Age. Everything, or so it seems, can be accessed online. From medical records to legal opinions, from academic scholarship to celebrity gossip -- all is available with a simple search on your computer or phone. Countless libraries' worth of information is now publicly accessible through the internet.
But while we are glutted with information, it is right to ask exactly what we are doing with all of it. In spite of all the generalized and specialized information at our fingertips, are we any wiser as a society? This month's study -- five lesson drawn from the letter of James -- helps us evaluate that question.
Lesson Context: James the Man
There may be as many as five men by the name of James in the New Testament so we take care not to mix them up (see Mark 1:19; 3:18; 6:3; 15:40; Luke 6:16). Tradition has taken the author of the book of James to refer to James who was the half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19).
Jesus and James grew up in a large family (see Mark 6:3, this lesson). Along with the other brothers of Jesus, James did not believe in Jesus during Jesus' lifetime (John 7:3-5). But when the Day of Pentecost arrived after Jesus' resurrection, they had come around (Acts 1:14). Paul indicates that James himself had been a witness of the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:3-7).
The chronology is not entirely clear, but perhaps by the mid-40's in the first century, James had become a leader in the Jerusalem church. His exact role is not specified, but Paul associates him with the apostles on at least one occasion (Galatians 1:19). Paul also lists James among the "pillars" of the church (Galatians 2:9); James was a leader in a group that included apostles and elders (Acts 15).
The significance of this is heightened when we consider the centrality of Jerusalem in the thinking of the earliest Christians, who were of Jewish background. The Jerusalem church was more than just one congregation among many; it was the mother church. What happened there mattered to the entire church (examples: Acts 15:4, 22-29). We see James's impact on the first-century church in the account of what is called the Jerusalem Council as he gave the final, decisive word on the matter at hand (Acts 15:13-21). That was about AD 51.
We have corroborating evidence outside the New Testament as well. According to the Jewish historian Josephus (AD 37-100),
Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator ... Albinus was but upon the road; so [the high priest Ananus] assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.
That martyrdom occurred in AD 62.
Lesson Context: James the Epistle
The letter of James therefore had to have been written prior to James's death in AD 62. Given the other details of his life, a reasonable supposition is that the letter was written in the 50's, making it one of the earliest of the New Testament documents. Very likely it was written from Jerusalem, given the status of the writer there.
Structurally, the epistle lacks many of the features of an ancient letter, features that we see throughout Paul's letters. It opens with the standard opening features of sender, recipients, and greeting. Beyond that, however, it lacks of a thanksgiving (characteristic of Paul's letters; example: Romans 1:8-10), a standard letter body, and a closing (example: Romans 16).
The letter proceeds loosely from subject to subject, repeatedly returning to a handful of prominent topics. Those include trials (example: James 1:2-4), wisdom (example: James 1:5-8), and wealth (example 1:9-11).
The letter approaches Christian living from the obvious backdrop of Judaism. This is evident in the author's use of the Old Testament: he quotes from it five times (in James 2:8, 11, 23; 4:6) and alludes to it at least that many more times (see James 1:10; 2:1, 21, 25; 5:11, 17, 18).
When we meet in person, we usually discuss the lesson text, and how it relates to our lives. Take some time to work through these questions from our teacher's book. These can be difficult, and there is not usually one right answer. If you are reading with someone else, discuss your thoughts together. If you feel comfortable, you can share any questions, answers, or comments below.
The opening lines of the book of James set us up for our study of the letter as a whole. In these lines we were introduced to three themes we will see again and again over the next few weeks. These themes are the reality of trials, the need for wisdom, and the reality of economic privation.
The trials we face produce the need to ask God for wisdom and can involve economic consideration. Above all, James impresses on us our need for God's wisdom and our inability to live faithful lives apart from it.
Only by seeking God wholeheartedly will we continue to be formed into the kind of people he desires us to be.
Father, in the midst of the trials that this life presents, teach us to seek wisdom and guidance from you, the only true source of all that is good. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
This week's translation is from the World Messianic Bible.
Next week's lesson will be on James 1:19-27.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.