Cleanse your hearts, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
Martin Luther was famous for shaking the world to its foundations. He wrote treatises, books and pamphlets lobbying for the active participation of every believer in the life of the church. His work in translation caused him to become the Shakespeare of the German language. He wrote hymns and even drew pictures- some kind and good and others, well- not so much, as you can see in this little drawing of the pope riding a dragon, looking like the Antichrist. A picture says a thousand words!
And that brings us to our next point. Luther was a highly flawed individual. Besides his obvious bitterness toward the church that had cast him out, Luther is also known for his foolish and hateful statements about Jews. It would be these words that Adolf Hitler used in his own campaign against an entire people. What self-respecting German theologian would argue with Luther’s judgment, after all?
And, one more thing, Luther hated the book of James. He called it the “epistle of hay and straw.” He argued that it did not even belong in the bible. Like I said, Martin Luther was flawed just as much as the next guy.
Every time I read James’ little letter to the Jewish Christians at large, I try and forget that one of my favorite teachers hated it. Usually I am in good shape until chapter 4, which is where he tells us to mourn and weep. Well, maybe I was too quick to judge Luther on that point anyway…
Have you ever been in a position that caused you to pick sides between two people you loved and respected? Maybe you had to choose between living with mom or dad after the divorce. Maybe you have come to a turning point in your life and you realize that, to follow the will of the Lord, you may very well have to leave your family and the customs to which you have become accustomed. Maybe you just have a hard time picking between regular and organic bananas and you find yourself having to decide. To choose one is to exclude the other. Does James’ words make you feel that way too, or is it just me? Torn between two commands, just like this old man? *Disclaimer: Enjoy the whole clip if you like, but watch the old man at the very beginning for the point!
I feel like if I am mourning, I would be ignoring Paul’s command to be joyful and if I was being joyful I would be ignoring James’ command to weep.
If we are honest, these commands seem much more within our grasp than that whole “rejoice always” business, right? Be miserable? Mourn? Weep? Sure, James, I can knock that one down! If there is anything I am good at it is being miserable and dragging others down with me! I may not know how to dance but I sure enough know how to turn off the lights and turn on some old-school Cure!
For those of us practiced in whining however, it turns out we are ill-equipped even for this task. Why? One little phrase James slips in under the radar: Humble yourselves before the Lord. The weeping we are called into is not anything like what we have practiced.
See, James is getting at a simple point. He wants us to think soberly. No excessive celebrations when you are constantly fighting with the ones you love. No self-pity when you do not get what you want from God. No envying those above you; no oppressing those beneath you.
The point is that we live in reality. Who can live a day in reality without recognizing his own brokenness? What sense does it make to be ignoring the fact that there are hurting people right next to us? The call is for realistic living.
The call is for living as the men and women God has recreated us to be- nothing more, nothing less.
This is a type of mourning that comes with a promise. Crazy, right? But that is the type of God we serve. The type who gives more than we could ever ask or imagine. The promise?
and he will exalt you.
God exalts us. Who saw that coming? God exalts us because of our humility. This has all been done before, as Paul tells us:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The idea is to humble ourselves before the Lord and let him be the one to bless us. The idea is to throw away our veneer of happiness in exchange for the lasting, abiding happiness he will work in us even through trials and tribulations.
Just be patient and let him work. He is for you.