“Step 4: Confession” on Jame 4.1-10 by Joe Ellis — February 4, 2024
Let me invite you to be curious right now. When you read the passage, it most likely brought about some emotional response — truly, it would be difficult to hear this passage from James and not experience any sort of emotional response. My guess if you were aware of your emotions while I read, your response wasn’t what you would call ‘fun’. So, let’s just start by being curious, paying attention to your response. Emotional responses start in our body, before our mind is really even aware of what’s happening: try to remember what was happening in your body as you heard James say things like: “Those conflicts and disputes among you.” Or “Your fights come from your cravings at war within you.” or “You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder.” Or “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures!” James seems to be talking to you, to me, in a way that is shocking. What did you feel in your body as you heard the text? Maybe you felt like you tensed up as though to block a punch? Maybe you wanted to get up and run? Maybe you just crumpled, and felt deflated? Maybe you felt like, “Here we go again, pile it on.” What sort of thoughts did you start thinking as you listened, as you felt your body respond? Did you feel defensive? Did you wonder ‘Why Joe is reading this passage on Simple Sunday?’ Did you rub your hands together thinking, ‘Good, we’re finally talking about sin!’?
Now, notice what changes in your body when I say that James isn’t talking to you, directly. The issues that James is addressing may not be your issues. James is addressing some teachers that have moved into the community who are using their words and their position of authority to create a lot of trouble. Students of this passage in James tend to wonder how free James is with his language. For example, James talks about certain actions leading to murder — does James literally think that their quarrels are leading them to actually kill one another? Are they actually resorting to violence? It may be, but we don’t know. The intensity of his language does show how serious the situation was.
So, James isn’t speaking directly about your sinful choices, he isn’t speaking directly about my sinful choices. He’s really addressing particular sins of people in his community. That might be a relief, and you might experience your body relax just a little. But let’s keep paying attention to our body’s response to someone pointing out our sin.
When that someone pointing out our sin is the Holy Spirit, how might you respond? When it's God highlighting an area where you’ve missed the mark, what happens in your body? That’s why I invited you to really notice your physical, mental and emotional response to this passage. Is it possible you might respond the same way when listening to the Holy Spirit speaking to you about a particular part of your life?
In The Examen, there are five parts, and we’re talking about the fourth part today. This first is to ask for God’s wisdom. The second is to give thanks for all He has done recently. The third is to look at our deep emotions about our recent responses and ask God to help us understand them.
In the fourth part of the prayer of The Examen, we are invited to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, to ask God to reveal the ways that we’ve broken relationship with Him. Notice what’s happening in your body as I talk about this. Notice what thoughts are coming to your mind. Notice how you want to respond to this invitation. Pretend you got this invitation as a letter in your mailbox to examine your sins: what’s your gut tell you do with that letter? Leave it in the mailbox? Send it through the shredder? Open it with an anxious heart? In the fourth part of the prayer of Examen, we are invited to both rejoice with God about how we’ve responded faithfully, and to seek forgiveness for those instances where we have made poor choices, in James’ words, that result in living with enmity toward God, that is, separation from God.
The invitation and encouragement James gives us is to humble ourselves before God. As we do, James promises that God will give us grace, kindness, and compassion. God invites us to lay down our weapons, our defences, to hang up our urge to flee or fight — and to trust Him with our most vulnerable self. He promises He will be gentle with us. He is safe.
When we can become aware, and calm down our own defences, we can hear God’s heart for you, for me. And knowing His heart for us, that He loves us, is absolutely essential for opening up to God the most vulnerable parts of ourselves — the parts that we are not proud of, the parts we would rather ignore. God’s love creates a safe place to be vulnerable before Him. Listen to the way James puts it: God “yearns jealousy over the spirit he has made to dwell within us.” God yearns for you, He yearns for your spirit. He does not want anything bad to happen to what is so precious to Him — your spirit.
One of the reasons why God cares so much about sin is because sin creates a break in relationship between us and God, sin creates a break between us and one another, sin creates a break between us and creation. That’s the thumb print of sin — a break in relationship. And when relationship is broken through our choices, God yearns for us. God loves you and does not want anything to come between you and him. God yearns for you like a lover yearns for their beloved. Sin is so painful because it creates a break in relationship. God yearns for you back. He thirsts for you back.
Mother Theresa was convinced that when Jesus cried “I thirst” on the cross, he was crying out his thirst for you and me. That is the depth of his yearning for you, his thirst for you. Jesus embraced the cross out of thirst, out of longing for you. He yearns for your spirit to be close to him once again. He yearns for you to be restored to him. This is the invitation in the fourth part of The Examen — to rejoice in the ways that you have drawn close to God, but to seek to repair the ways in which we have created rupture in our relationships with one another, with creation and with God. As we return to Him, we satisfy His thirst. When you and I turn back to God, we satisfy God’s thirst. James says “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” This is so true, but what is also true is that God is always drawing us to Him. His drawing us is not conditional. As Jesus said “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.” (John 6:44)
So God draws us, and then we draw to Him, and He draws to us, and then we draw to Him. Sin breaks this cycle, it distances us, but God keeps drawing us to Himself, so much so that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. He yearns for you, He thirst for you, He is drawing you to Him.
And so, as we draw near Him, as He draws us, as we encounter His grace — we perhaps will find ourselves moved in some way to respond. Perhaps in the ways James suggests: Perhaps we will cleanse our hands, purify our hearts, lament, mourn, and weep. Yet this will be woven with wonderful sweetness — as we are brought into deeper fellowship with our loving Father, who yearns, who thirsts so deeply to have you close to Him, His beloved. As we seek forgiveness, we’ll be drawn back into a sweet relationship with God.