What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
But if you look closely into the perfect law that sets people free, and keep on paying attention to it and do not simply listen and then forget it, but put it into practice—you will be blessed by God in what you do.
James 1:25 GNT
“…humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.” James 1:21
Love hurts, but God helps us use it to help the world.
How do you feel?
I’ve been reading a book that’s raw and gritty. It’s a memoir titled Untamed by Glennon Doyle. It’s been top of the New York Times bestseller list. Friends have been posting about it on Facebook and Twitter, so I decided to check it out. It’s good. In a chapter called “Feel,” Doyle talks about the day she went to her first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting where she shared about how much it hurt now that she wasn’t covering up her feelings with alcohol, something she’d been doing for sixteen years. Without alcohol, she was feeling all the feelings, and everything hurt. In her share, she said,
“It doesn’t seem like being alive is as hard for other people as it is for me. It just feels like there’s some kind of secret to life I don’t know. Like I’m doing it all wrong.”
Afterward, a woman came over and sat down next to her, and said:
“Thanks for sharing. I relate. I just wanted to tell you something that somebody told me in the beginning. It’s okay to feel all of the stuff you’re feeling. You’re just becoming human again. You’re not doing life wrong; you’re doing it right. If there’s any secret you’re missing, it’s that doing it right is just really hard. Feeling all your feelings is hard, but that’s what they’re for. Feelings are for feeling. All of them. Even the hard ones. The secret is that you’re doing it right, and that doing it right hurts sometimes.”
It IS hard. But feelings are for feeling. Sometimes we need help with all the feelings, and that’s ok, too.
How do you feel about feeling your feelings? If you’re like me, maybe you sometimes try to avoid them or cover them up. We have all kinds of tools for escapism. TV shows and movies, books and video games, drugs and alcohol.
We have a kind of love-hate relationship with our feelings.
One problem with covering them up, is that we cover up the good ones along with the bad ones. Love is a feeling. Sometimes Love hurts, just like the song says. But God helps us use love to help the world.
That’s what James is telling us in our reading for today. James is writing to Jewish believers in Jesus who are scattered across the Roman empire, sending words of wisdom for dealing with their suffering. He begins the letter with this encouragement about their feelings:
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
“Whenever you have trouble, consider it joy.” I wonder if some of the people receiving James’ letter might have wanted to crumple it up in a ball and throw it in the trash. Here’s what you can do with your joy, James. But I guess wax tablets (or parchment) would be hard to crumple up.
James’ point is that we have to stick it out through the struggle. Growing is good but it’s a struggle.
So, a few verses later, in the part we read today, James reminds us that God is good. God is love and God implants that love in us. He says, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father” (James 1:17 NLT). The most good and perfect gift we have is Jesus Christ, God’s word made flesh, God’s love in action. Through the Holy Spirit, God’s word is like a seed planted in our hearts. Romans 5 says that “God has poured out his love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to us” (Romans 5:5 GNT).
So James encourages us to “…humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls” (James 1:21 NLT).
Through the Holy Spirit, God’s love is poured into our hearts, planted in our hearts like a seed. And as that seed grows, it gives us the capacity to love like God loves.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that we need God’s love to be the foundation for everything we do.
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
Love is to be the foundation for everything we do.
But sometimes love just hurts and makes us angry or sad and we don’t know what to do. That’s what was happening this week with the pastor of Middle Collegiate Church in New York City. Last December, the church was pretty much destroyed by a fire. The roof is entirely gone, and their Tiffany stained glass windows were all shattered.
The day of the fire, Rev. Jacqui Lewis, Middle Church’s senior minister, said…that they were “devastated and crushed that our beloved physical sanctuary at Middle Collegiate Church has burned…And yet no fire can stop Revolutionary Love…”
This week Rev. Lewis was having a rough day. She tweeted:
“We don’t always know what our tears will water. Shed them anyway.”
What if our tears are watering that seed of love that God has planted in our hearts?
What if we do as James says and humbly receive God’s love and let it grow into action?
It almost seems like James is telling us not to feel in the middle of what we read, where he says, “19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” (James 1:19-20)
It is human to get angry. Jesus got angry and flipped over the tables in the temple courtyard where people were selling things. Anger is also a normal part of the process of grieving. But James is encouraging us to temper our anger with listening. Listen to that word of God that is planted deep within us. Listen for what’s underneath the anger. We get angry because we care. We get angry because love hurts. The Holy Spirit can help us to pause, and listen, and turn our anger into love and compassion and action, and God will bless us for responding to the Holy Spirit.
James wants us to make sure we don’t just treat God’s love as something theoretical or academic. James is encouraging us to let it affect how we live.
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. (James 1:25 MSG)
It’s been said that action absorbs anxiety. God blesses our action, especially when it is action that we take out of response to God’s love. We water that seed of love as we continue to seek God daily through the Bible and in prayer. We need to read until something moves us, and let that sink in so that it can move us to action. What if every day we spent time with God and let that prompt us to do something.
Humbly receive God’s love and let it grow into action
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7
Long before I was writing sermons, my Bible reading would prompt me to write, which is part of why I’m here doing this today. Often Gary Davison’s response to God’s love is to do art, and over the past year he’s been working on a picture of Jesus that he’s brought to share with us, and is giving us this print to hang here in the church. It’s an amazing painting with lots of symbolism in the details, so it takes some time to take it all in. Gary has written about this to help us see all of the details and symbolism, so be sure to read the description in these handouts.
Sometimes the challenge is knowing what to do. What if all we know to do is pray? Yes, always start with prayer, and ask God for wisdom. James says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.” (James 1:5 NLT) Lift the person or situation up to God. On the website for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, for every situation to which they’re responding, they provide ways to act, ways to give, and ways to pray. So often it feels like praying is not enough, and we want to do more than pray, and we can, but we also need to pray. And write it down so you remember to keep praying about it and looking for ways to take action.
Even if it’s not a lot, it’s something, and something is better than nothing.
God helps us use the love that is planted deep in our hearts to help the world know that love. One way we do that by supporting the good things that happen in our community, like giving to the food bank and our little free pantry.
We show God’s love when we encourage one another. So often the loudest voices are the ones who are complaining, because we’re so much less likely to say something when we’re happy than when we’re unhappy. Right now, our community leaders are hearing a lot of complaining and anger, and not enough thankfulness and encouragement. So let’s make a point of encouraging them. It’s not an easy time. Let’s encourage those who are going through tough times, like those on our prayer list, and those who are at Sterling Village or who are homebound. We’ve got some cards and envelopes out in the fellowship hall for you to take and use to write encouraging notes. There’s postage there, and some address lists, and if you need help finding other addresses, let us know.
Who are we praying for? What if we send each person a card letting them know that we’re praying for them, and thankful for them? We get cards sometimes from churches that are praying for our church.
We have a special project you can help us out with. We want to give every student at the college a backpack tag, like the ones we gave out a couple of weeks ago, along with a snack and a note of encouragement. There’s a sign-up sheet in the fellowship hall and if you sign up we’ll bring you the pieces that need to be assembled, so you can work on them at home.
There’s a lot going on in our lives and in world and our hearts are often troubled. Sometimes, in the moment, we might just need to feel all the feelings and shed some tears. But those tears are watering that seed of love God has planted in our hearts. May it continue to grow and help us to take action.
What will you do to share that love today?
God, in all your ways, use us and use all that you have given us to spread your goodness in our world. Help us to freely share all that you have given us. May our giving and acting today remind us to be thankful to you for putting us in this time and place to serve you and to honor you, for you are our all in all, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
 Doyle, Glennon. Untamed (p. 49-50). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_Hurts listen to the Everly Brothers version or the Nazareth version.
 According to Richards, these were the most likely materials used to write letters in the first century. E. Randolph Richards, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing (Downers Grove: InverVarsity Press, 2004), chapter 3.