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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Wonderful Counselor


A sermon based on Jeremiah 33: 14-18

By Charles J. Tomlin, DMin;

November 28th, 2021, Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership

Series: The Royal Names of Christ

 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness."

 17 For thus says the LORD: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel,

 18 and the levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to make grain offerings, and to make sacrifices for all time.

 (Jer. 33:14-18 NRS)

Most people are familiar with Handel’s Messiah, especially at Christmas. 

The most explosive lyric in the Oratorio: ‘For Unto Us a Child is Born’.  It’s based on the text of the King James Version of Isaiah 9: 6 where like musical fireworks it explodes: ‘Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!

That just may be the most beautiful Christmas lyrics of all, but what does it mean for us, really---in our world, for our times? 

On this first Sunday of Advent, we begin a series of messages on Isaiah’s royal names for God’s in anointed Messiah.  It was actually a fourfold name. The King James’ translators added a comma where the original Hebrew has none. It should read: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.  

The first name we are considering today is about a coming King who is given the name: Wonderful Counselor.  This is quite an unusual and interesting way to refer to a coming King.  Hardly ever in Israel’s history, or in any human history for that matter, are kings ever called ‘wonderful’ or ‘counselor’.  Never would anyone think of putting these together.

Besides, even today, people make a lot of jokes about counselors who are psychologists or psychiatrists.  We even have a derogatory name for them:  Shrinks:

          And I have to admit, some jokes about psychiatrists are funny.  One story goes: A  man with an unusually large head came in to see the psychiatrist.    A few minutes later, he left the room, angrily yelling at the receptionist.
      Sir, please calm down and tell what's making you so angry, the receptionist asked.
      The man retorted: I came in to see the head shrink, but my head is still the same size!  

But sir, she concluded.  Isn’t he just trying to make you a little patient?

     Or how about the more familiar joke that goes:   How many shrinks does it take to change a lightbulb?   One, but the lightbulb has to really want to change.



Many people get nervous to think about having a counselor, but the royal hope of Israel, according to Isaiah, is that the anointed King of Israel’s hope would indeed  be a most  ‘wonderful counselor’.   But how is a king, or anointed Messiah of God a counselor?  What does ‘counseling’ have to do with Jesus?

Last spring I received an invitation to a seminar with the keynote speakers being former ambassador Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of State, General Colin Powell.  The seminar was about the importance of wisdom and moral leadership.   That’s the kind of leader Isaiah was envisioning for Israel:a coming King.  One who would rule with exceptional wisdom and moral authority.  Only this kind of ruler could rightly lead God’s people out of their spiritual and political darkness.  Only a wise and moral king could give guidance that is both wise and good.

          This is exactly what we see in how the gospels present Jesus to the world.  The king as “counselor” will be wise.  He will devise wise plans for his kingdom.  As a wonderful counselor Jesus answers human need by seeing beyond our conventional assumptions with a unique discernment.  In story after story Jesus astonishes his contemporaries.  As they observed his caring, compassionate work, people asked: “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!” (Mark 6: 2).   


Even the familiar birth story in Luke 2, moves toward his childhood, when he is celebrated for his uncommon wisdom.  It says: The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. … And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. (Luke 2: 40, 52)   Do you see it?  Jesus was wise in how he took on the corruption of his world, making even dying on the cross a kind of  serving and suffering wisdom that contradicts the “foolishness” of the world (1 Cor. 1: 25, 27).   

In book of Jeremiah, another one of Israel’s great prophets, we have a text that points directly to how God’s himself will respond to human need in Jesus the Messiah.   Like a good counselor, God listens, hears, and responds says Jeremiah.   Call on me, God says, and I will answer. (33:3)

The most important job of every counselor is to listen, and the mark of a good listeners is that they ask lots of questions.   Jesus was a master at asking questions. Often, he started conversations with a question.  And when  Jesus was asked a question, he usually answered with another question.  In a book entitled Curious, Tom Hughes writes:  Throughout the four Gospels, Jesus is asked 183 questions. Of those 183 questions, how many do you think he answered?  Only Four.  Jesus responded to the other 179 questions with a question, or a parable, or a cryptic remark that opens the door for even more questions.”   (Hughes, Tom (2015-09-17). Curious: The Unexpected Power of a Question-Led Life (Kindle Locations 223-225). NavPress.

Jesus asked lots of questions.  God answers, not by replacing our own response or actions, but by listening and helping us come to the answer ourselves.   That’s how the wisest counselor works too.  They don’t give out answers, but they listen, question and help us find the answer that is already there, deep within us.   

Isn’t this the greatest wisdom, not to remove our choices, but to shape and direct them?  When Jesus healed someone, he often said something like, ‘Go your way, your faith has made you well.   In other words, the answer is already in us.   That’s also how a counselor does their most wonderful, healing work too.  The wise counselor doesn’t simply spill out advice to us, but answers our need by revealing how God can empower the answer that lies within us.  God’s king rules, not by overruling us, but by getting into our hearts, and partnering with us to bring healing and help.



As our wonderful counselor, Jesus also confronts us with the truth.   This is what a good counselor does too.   They listen, but they don’t allow us to stay the way we are, but the confront, challenge and enable us to see in what we may not see. 

When Jesus questions us too, by the way the lived and His Spirit within us,  Jesus also us to see, know, understand and begin to live the truth.   This challenge of ‘truth’ isn’t meant to condemn us, but by coming to know and realize the truth, we can be set free!  

Still, facing and accepting the truth can be very hard.    As the Old Testament teacher, Walter Bruggeman said:   The capacity of Jesus for the wonderful—the impossible—constituted an immediate threat to all established power arrangements.   He is promptly seen to be dangerously subversive because he challenges and contradicts all normal assumptions. This is a king who refuses to accept conventional”.  He confronts people and power with the truth. (Names for the Messiah: An Advent Study by Walter Brueggemann, chap, 1.)

I’ll never forget how during a pastoral training group we had to tell how we saw each other in our personalities and our pastoral work.   This was hard, and sometimes very painful work.   We were asked to be completely honest in our evaluations of each other.   I ended up confessing to one person what I didn’t like about him, and he, in turn, told me what he didn’t like about me.   

In the end, we came to realize that we learned the most about ourselves from the person we didn’t like.  It caused us to confront how we were being perceived, so that we could see the truth about ourselves and grow in showing love and compassion for others.   

Isn’t this what Jesus was doing when as the wonderful counselor, he confronted his own people with the truth about themselves?   The ultimate truth about Israel’s story, which is every persons’ story too, is how, as John says, Jesus came unto his own, and his own people did not receive him, BUT, as many as did receive him, the text says, he gave them power to become God’s children (John 1:12).  

Notice again.  Jesus doesn’t automatically make us God’s children, but Jesus gives us to ‘power’ to decide to become God’s children.   In this wonderful counsel, Jesus came to confront us as sinners, not to condemn us, but so we can gain the power of truth and redemption to move out of our own self-destructive behavior.   

The story is told that an non-believing colleague was visiting C.S. Lewis at Christmas. While they were visiting in Lewis’s office, they began to hear from outside carolers singing.   

As they sang about the virgin birth, the colleague said to Lewis, “Isn't it good that today in our modern world we know more than they did in the ancient world.  We know now that virgins don't have children.”

C.S. Lewis responded by saying, “Don't you think that they also knew way back then that virgins didn't have children?”

What Lewis was doing was confronting his friend with a different way of looking at the miracle of Christ’s birth.   Just like Lewis’ colleague, we can get stuck in how we see things and forgetting how there are always new possibilities beyond what we think and what we know.  Isn’t that what Christmas is about?  Nothing is impossible when God breaks into our world.



Most of this text from Jeremiah, like Isaiah’s great text too, is about the new possibility of recovery and healing God wants to bring his people through forgiving their guilt and restoring their prosperity and joy.   This is exactly what a ‘wonderful’ counselor does.   They listen, confront, and challenge us, not because they want to condemn or denounce us, but because they want to help us get on a better road and make a better life for ourselves. 

Jeannot Plessy was a pastor’s wife in New Orleans. She had just returned from doing mission work in Samoa.   On Tuesday night, while she was dropping off her grandchildren at her daughter’s home in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans, she became the victim of a carjacking. When her son-in-law rushed to help her, the carjacker ran over Plessy. She died as the result of those injuries.

The Pastor, in writing to his church family about the incident, said what we all think in these moments. “Such tragedies cause us to become overwhelmed by sadness and grief.  We wonder, ‘Why do such tragedies happen to good and godly people in our world?’ Most of the time, there are no answers to that question.”

But, for these times, especially for these times, I am comforted to know that we have Christ for the crisis, and He is a Wonderful Counselor.

In this broken world, we all will struggle in some way; whether it is our own fault, or like it was for Mrs. Plessy, no fault of our own.   If we refuse to reckon with and realize how difficult life can be, and that we all need a Savior and Counselor, we will struggle to find healing or hope.  As Jeannot’s Plessy’s mother, also a believer, said, “I don’t know how people go through tragedies like this without the Lord and God’s people to help them.”

I don’t know either.  I’m just glad to know that we can celebrate Him as the Wonderful Counselor!  Whether we are struggling with sin, like Israel did, and like we all do, or we are struggling with the inequities and unfairness of life, as we know it, it’s good to know that we have a counselor, who not only confronts our sins, but who also forgives and heals us, both in this world, or by giving us the ultimate healing of the hope of eternal life.  A good counselor, and our most wonderful counselor, is always at work to bring healing and hope, both to our soul and in our bodies.



What ties this whole passage together, and points us back to Isaiah’s own words of the future Messiah as a Wonderful Counselor is this promise of hope.   This is what a good counselor does---gives us hope.   This is what a good leader and ruler does too---give us all hope.    Our human souls can survive almost anything with hope; and without hope, we end up tripping over the most insignificant and inconsequential.  

To give his people ‘hope’, Jeremiah spoke of a day that is ‘surely’ coming, ‘must come’, and one day ‘will come’ because God keeps his promise.  Isaiah, gave his people hope by speaking of a child who would be born and grow up to be a king who would rule God’s people in a completely different way; as a Wonderful Counselor, as the Mighty God, as the Everlasting Father, and as the Prince of Peace.  

Interestingly, Isaiah tells us the story of two babies.  In Isaiah chapter 8, God speaks to the prophet Isaiah and tells him to get a large scroll, and across it, with big letters write the name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.  Not long after that Isaiah and his wife discovered that they were going to have a baby.  God then told Isaiah to give the child the name he had written on the scroll.  The name meant:  Quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.  God then said to Isaiah, "Before your son is old enough to say mamma or daddy, your nation will be plundered and the people taken off as slaves."  Can’t you see a mother standing in the back yard and calling, “Hey, ‘Plunder’ time to come eat”?  

Needless to say, this child came to symbolize the hardship of the Hebrew people because of their rebellion against God.  Every time Isaiah looked upon his own son, he was reminded to confront God’s people with the most difficult truth.

As we move into chapter 9, however,  we find that the struggle this child represents was harsh.  The words Isaiah used to characterize this tragic time were harsh and difficult no matter what translation you are reading; Gloom and anguish (NRSV),  Darkness and despair (NLT), like death is casting a shadow (NLT).    As much as we might try to deny it, these words can sometimes be true to our own existence too.  In the last two years many have struggle either with losing loved ones to Covid, dealing it’s economic consequence, or bearing scars of months after month of loneliness and isolation.   Christmas, that should be the most joyful time of the year, can cast its own shadow of darkness too, as many struggle economically or suffer from depression.    

But the prophet Isaiah proclaims in the midst of this kind of darkness, there shines a great light!  In other words, there is hope!  A light has dawned.  For you see, there is a second baby!  The prophet proclaims, “For unto us a child is born.”

The good news is that this child will be different from the first.  He will not represent plunder and despair but hope and peace.  For the Christian  who believe in hope, the name of this hope is Jesus.  Jesus is the wonderful counselor who not only listens to us, but confronts us with our great need, and then offers us healing and hope.   But how does that hope come?

As we all know, the word counselor means advocate: One who stands up for us when no else is willing to do so.  An attorney is often called "Counselor" because he stands up for his client in a court of law.   By standing up for his client, the ‘counselor’ gives his client a voice and offers hope for justice---which basically means, setting things right. 

Jesus Christ is the wonderful counselor of Israel who offered God’s people a different way to face our sins and the world’s injustices too.   Jesus helps us face life because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, who shows us the way to the Father, which is the way of justice, righteousness and goodness.   In Jesus, we know that we aren’t alone, and that God is not against us, and that nothing will separate us from God’s love.  This is hope.

During the Civil War, there was a young man who had lost his older brother and father in the war.  His mother sent him a letter pleading with him to come home and help her and his sister take care of the farm.

The young man was granted a furlough and went to Washington, D.C. to plead his case to the president.  When he arrived at the White House, he asked to see the president.  But he was told in no uncertain terms, "You can not see the president!  Don't you know there's a war on?  The president is a very busy man.  Now go away!"

The young man left very disheartened.  He went to a nearby park and sat down on a bench and tried to figure out what to say to his mother.  It was then that a young boy walked up to him and said, "Soldier, you look unhappy.  What's wrong?" 

The soldier looked at this young boy and he began to spill his heart out to him.  He told him about his father and brother dying in the war and how his mother needed him back on the farm.

The little boy took the soldier by the hand and led him around to the back of the White House.  They went through the back door, past the guards, past all the generals and the high-ranking government officials until they got to the president's office itself. 

The little boy didn't even knock but just opened it and walked in.  There was President Lincoln with his secretary of state, looking over battle plans on the desk. 

President Lincoln looked up and said, "What can I do for you, Todd?"  And Todd said, "Daddy, this soldier needs to talk to you." 

Right then and there the young man was able to plead his case.

This why Jesus is a wonderful counselor.  Jesus is our advocate.  In Jesus, and through the Spirit, we have the ear of God himself.   Amen.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Faith of Prayer

A sermon based on James 5: 13-20

By Charles J. Tomlin, DMin;

November 21th, 2021, Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership

Series: The Book of James, 12/12


James 5:13 (NRSV):  Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise

14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.

 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.

 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.

 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.

 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

 19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another,

 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner's soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (Jas. 5:13-20 NRS)


Today, we come to our final message from the book of James.   As we have seen, James is a different kind of writing.  It is not like Paul's letters which dominate the New Testament.  Much of Paul’s writings are deep and theological, carefully explaining and expounding the faith.   Sometimes Paul wrote about things not so easy to understand.  It was told that after one of novelist Gertrude Stein's lectures, a friend traveling with her turned to the someone nearby and said, "Dearie has said some things tonight that will take even her years to understand."

In contrast to the deep theological, intellectual, and philosophical challenge of Paul’s letters, James single letter, written much later,  is much easier to understand but is also challenging on an entirely different level.  James challenges believers in practical ways through out his right down to the very last word.  Today, James still challenges us to live out the faith we say we believe and do the right thing   As James says it best,, ‘be doers of the word, and not hearers only.’

They Should Pray

James concludes addressing the different needs of three different kinds of people in the church; those who are suffering, those who are sick, and those who are struggling with sin.  What these all have in common is the need of prayer.   If you are suffering, James says, then pray. If there are sick among you, you should pray for them.  If there is someone who has sinned, if they are willing to confess their sin to you, you pray for them.


James is right.  Prayer is the most practical, consistent , and constant work the church must do.   But our prayer life always needs encouragement, doesn’t it?  So let’s consider (following Mark Trotter) how James gives two most basic reasons prayer is our most important work as Christians, no matter what our current life situation.  Whether we suffer, or know someone who is; whether we are sick or know a sick person, or whether we know someone who is struggling with sin, or we are struggling ourselves, we should pray.



Why should we pray?  What good does it do?  Well, in the middle of this passage James says that the prayer of a righteous person can do a lot.   That’s a very simple interpretation of his much quoted beautiful line from the King James Version; ‘The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much’ (NKJV).  That’s quite a statement, isn’t it?  A more current way of  expressing this to say that ‘the sincere prayers of a righteous person have great power.’   In other words, James says, we should pray because we know what prayer will do.  What does prayer do?  Well, most importantly,  when we pray prayer changes us.


Think about it this way.  Think about those people who are considered saints and are spiritually beautiful to us. Why are they beautiful?  Isn’t there something about their life, their quality of living, and their depth of being—-an inner peace, an ability to approach situations with love and compassion that aren’t just inward, but also flow outward toward other people most freely?    It is as if they had something in their lives that is missing in many people, but is available to us, if we were just as devoted.


When Mother Teresa's died  back in 1997, it called attention to how she lived her life.  Most heard wonderful stories about her sacrificial service to the most abject and pitiful creatures on earth, the poor and the dying in Calcutta.  How could she do that? We tend to look upon misery and run away from it.  She looked upon misery and moved toward it.  How could she do that? The answer is prayer.

As a nun she devoted her life to a life of prayer. What prayer did was to empty or cleanse her of all distractions, all that is superfluous, all that is debilitating, and prayer filled her life with a transcendent power.  

What was seen in that tiny, fragile, frail woman, was an apparently inexhaustible and power to love.  She loved God and others day in and day out, year after year, and through her love, she made a difference in this world.   What we didn't see was that tiny, little, frail woman on her knees, at morning, mid-day, evening, and at night, keeping the office of prayer, opening her life to God, inviting God to come and live through her.

Richard Rohr, another Catholic Christian, runs a Catholic retreat center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He has a wonderful word for this spiritual quality that comes comes through prayer:  He calls it "holy spaciousness."  That's what prayer does, he says, it creates space for the holy in our lives.  Prayer does this, not by adding something to our burdens or busy schedules, but prayer removes what distracts us from doing the good we can do with our lives.   Prayer is like cleaning the yard in fall.  It removes the debris that accumulates which we carry around with us day after day and sometimes year after year.  Prayer creates a "holy space."

Then, as Richard Rohr continues, if you want God to come into your life, you have to make room for God.  Prayer is the way you make room for God. The reason that God does not come into our lives is that our lives are so cluttered. There is too often no room for anything but ourselves and our preoccupations. Prayer empties our lives of that which is distracting. Prayer is a form of remodeling, making room for God.  Prayer is also a form of hospitality, preparing for someone to visit.  Prayer creates "holy spaciousness." This is what what prayer will do. It makes room in our lives  for God, and for other people too.

Henri Nouwen was a Christian monk who was once the most popular Christian writer in Christian spirituality.  He spent most of his career in the secular world, teaching at universities, at Yale and at Harvard, then going to South America living as a village priest among the poor.  In the last years of his life, he spent in Toronto, at a home for the most developmentally disabled people, called L'Arch.

Right after he died there were lots of testimonies written about his life. They all tell the same story, really. They celebrate his writing, which is vast, and which will be lasting. They talk about his academic contributions, his career in the university.  But mostly, these testimonies speak about how he gave himself in humble service to the poor and to the least among us.

Most interestingly, more than one person wrote, about how after an evening lecture, someone would introduced themselves to Henri Nouwen, and how Nouwen would say to them, "Let me walk you to your car."

That's what happens when you make room in your life for God, God will lead you to invite other people to join you and God there.  When you make room in your life for God, God will use you to send out invitations to other people, because you now have room in your life for all those whom God loves.

James says the Church ought to be characterized by prayer, because we know what will happen if we pray.  Prayer changes us.  Prayer will create a "holy spaciousness" in our lives so God can enter your life and you will invite others into our lives too.

Folks, we live in a divisive and argumentative world today,  but it’s always been that way.  It may seem sharper and meaner because we have many more ways to express ourselves.   The question is how do we overcome this divide?  I know only one way.  We have to learn to pray for each other more than to attack each other.  Could we resolve do that?  Could we at least pray for each other as much as we debate and argue with other?

We should pray first of all, because we know what will happen when we pray.  We will change.  If we pray we may not always change the other person, or win the argument, or change the situation, but we will change.   Both as individuals, and as a people, we will change.  We will be renewed as individuals, and as a church.  This means, just like James says, that prayer will save us from who we are and who we were.



The second reason we should pray, James implies, is because we don't know what will happen.   More specifically, we don’t know exactly what prayer will do.  Which might lead you to say, "Well, Dearie said things this morning that is going to take years to understand."  It’s can, so don’t you think it’s time to  get started.

The example of not knowing what prayer will do comes from the part of this text that lifts up Elijah, praying for rain, as an example.

Elijah was just like us.  Elijah was just an ordinary man. Elijah the prophet, going up against a Queen and the priests of Baal.  Baal was a nature god, so worshiping Baal was supposed to bring a practical and positive effect to farming.  It was to bring rain when we need rain, stop the rain when we don't want the rain. What's the point of worshiping  if you can't something practical and substantial out of it.   

That’s still how people see religion and worship.  If you can’t get get something immediate or practical out of it, then it’s useless. So you leave the invisible and impractical God for your own god you can manipulate and get something from.  That’s what Israel did.  It’s what people still do.  What good is praying to God we can’t get results from?

Elijah, however, believed His people should stay true to the true God—-results or not.  So, to respond to the false priests of Baal, Elijah prayed that there would be a drought, and there was a drought.  Later he prayed to God that there would be rain. The rain came.  What James doesn't mention is that not only did he get rain, he also got hell to pay from Queen Jezebel. But the point is, that surprising things will happen when you pray.  Elijah was just an ordinary man, like you and me.  Elijah prayed and look  what happened.

That is the most dangerous part in any discussion about prayer, is make prayer something like magic, with us trying to use and manipulate God—-to get God to do what we think God ought to do.  The Bible doesn't look very kindly upon that, and neither does Science.  The Bible and sophisticated people object to this kind of prayer because it is superstition to think that we can manipulate God or the forces of nature. Everything that happens must have a natural or rational explanation.

But the trend now in the natural sciences not just to look for the predictability but for the surprises in the inter-relatedness of all things.  Quantum theory, as presents a more organic and wholistic, rather than mechanical or Independent view of the world.  It better understood by sciences today that what happens in one part of the world or universe can affect what happens in another part, far, far away.  It other words, we and everything is interconnected.  What affects on part can and eventually will have and an effect on another.  

This realization has given rise to ecology.  Ecology is how we document this organic interconnected understanding of life, like in our recent struggle with the coronavirus and our growing understanding of climate change.  What we do or don’t do, effects many things, both directly and indirectly, both good and bad.  In fact,  in both science and religion, we have neglected this truth of ‘what we do always has an effect’ to our peril, some of which we are already paying for in consequences  right now.

So maybe the Medieval Christian poet, John Donne had it right. No person is an island.  No one stands alone.  We are all part of the whole.  What you do affects me, and what I do affects you. So, as my Catholic doctor often says to me when I leave his office, please pray for me.  And please know, that I pray for you.  We pray and who knows what might happen.   Life isn’t always predictable, and that surprise can also be a good thing, not just a bad one.

I told you this story recently, but it bears telling again in this context.  It’s about a young pastor visiting a very old and very sick woman in the hospital. At the conclusion of the visit he asked her, "Is there anything special that you would like me to pray for?" With all the strength that she had left, she said, "Of course. I want you to pray for me to be healed."

Now he was an educated pastor, been to seminary, all that. He knows how to pray an intellectually acceptable prayer. So his prayer went like this. "Lord, if it be thy will, we pray that this sick sister might to healed. On the other hand, if it not be thy will, we pray that she might be given a positive attitude and a willingness to accept her situation. Amen."

As soon as he finished the prayer, the woman opened her eyes, threw back the covers, put her feet over the side of the bed, stood up, and said, "I'm well! I'm well!" She bounded out the door of the room, went down the corridor of the hospital, dancing, saying, "Look at me! I'm well! I'm healed!"

Dumbfounded by this, the young pastor left the room, went to the parking garage, stood by his car for a moment, looked up into heaven, and said, "God, Don't you ever do that to me again." 

According to James, the Church ought to be praying for two reasons. First, because we know what will happen.  If we pray, we'll change. We'll be renewed. And secondly, we ought to pray because we actually have no idea at all what might happen. 

Again, in conclusion to this great biblical book, let’s get this right.  If we are are suffering something right now, if you aren’t already, pray.  If you or someone you love is sick, again pray.  Pray for healing and pray for strength, both physical and emotional.  Then finally, if you are struggling or someone you know and love is struggling with some known or unknown moral weakness, pray for them.  Keep praying in all things and in every situation, because not only do you not know exactly what will happen, when you pray something always happens.  Prayer will always either impact the situation or it will at the very least, which can still be much, because prayer will always change us.  Amen

Sunday, November 14, 2021

The Coming of the LORD…


A sermon based on James 5:7-10

By Charles J. Tomlin, DMin;

November 14th, 2021 Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership

Series: The Book of James, 11/12


Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.

 8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

 9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!

 10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

 11 Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

 12 Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your "Yes" be yes and your "No" be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (Jas. 5:7-12 NRS.


 Not long ago, The Los Angeles Times published a story about a commercial airline flight cancellation that resulted in a long line of travelers trying to get booked on another flight.

One man in the line grew increasingly impatient with the slow-moving line.  Suddenly, he pushed his way to the front and angrily demanded a first-class ticket on the next available flight. 

 “I’m sorry,” said the ticket agent, “but I’ll have to first take care of the people who were ahead of you in the line.”

 The irate man pounded his fist on the ticket counter, saying, “Do you have any idea who I am?”  

 The ticket agent picked up the public address microphone and said, “Attention, please! There’s a gentleman at the ticket counter who doesn’t know who he is.  If there is anyone in the airport who can identify him, please come to the counter.” 

 Hearing this, the man retreated, and the people waiting in line burst into applause.”

 Today’s message from James begins with an attitude we want a person like that, and the person standing behind us to hear and learn—-



 It has been estimated that the cost of traffic violations for running red lights in the world runs up to about 7 Billion dollars per year.  Just think how much money could be saved if people could learn 50 seconds of patience.  That’s the average delay of a traffic light; about 50 seconds.

The modern world we live in has a lot of trouble developing patience because modern technology has given us the means to control much of our world, to hold back floods, cure disease, predict the weather, forecast the future (or at least it has given us the illusion that we have control).  Interestingly, most of these our modern technologies arose out of our human impatience, because someone got fed up with patiently enduring the crippling effects of certain diseases or the ravages of unchecked nature.  When you think about it, our modem world is built on impatience.   Patience is now a virtue that goes against the grain of modern mentality.

One of the main of charms of affluence is that it frees us from having to wait patiently for most things in life. We have transportation, meals, clean clothes, entertainment when we want them.  We live in an instant, ‘I want it now’ society, especially in most of the United States. When I lived in Europe we spent a lot of time waiting to ride buses and trains, having to walk and ride bicycles to our daily destinations.   We kind of liked it too, because the different pace of life gave us time to think!".  Who has time or patience for living like that where we live?

Have you ever thought about the fact that our lack of patience in our modern society could be attributing to much of our dysfunction, especially in developing deep and lasting relationships.   It takes quiet a bit of patience to learn how to love someone, doesn’t it?  Marriage involves being patient and trying to understand another person who is very different from you—-different background, different habits,  different ideas and different likes and dislikes.

    Besides all that, it’s quite a risk to give yourselves to another person you really don’t know that well.  You  put yourself at risk when you marry "for better, for worse, richer, or poorer, till death.”  And with that you really don't know what might happen. You hope that you'll be patient with each other and grow closer day-by-day, but you have no guarantees.   People change, get sick, become poor, get worse. Who knows where you'll be, who you'll be at 64?  The Beatles sang the right question: Will you still need me, Will you still feed me when I’m 64?  

It takes quite a bit of patience to live with someone when they are 64, just like it took a lot of patience to stay with someone until they turn 64 too.

Maybe that’s part of why James compares patience to being a farmer who has to wait on something good to grow.  Most all human relationships go through challenges and changes, growth and development, and we have to relinquish some control over ourselves and develop patience in order to keep moving forward in our relationships.  I don’t know how many times my wife has reminded me to fill up the water pitcher or check my pockets before putting them in the wash.  I know, it’s a small thing,  she has a developed a lot of patience living with me and waiting for me to grow up in some things.  

 But isn’t that guess  exactly what makes marriage so interesting, being patient and allowing time for things to work out, giving both yourself and the other person time to grow and change?  You really don’t know just how it might turn out, but you have to give everything time and you sometimes just have to be patient.  Patience in a marriage can grow out the conviction that the other person is a mystery to be enjoyed rather than a problem to be solved, that our differences and difficulties are even bearable, if we bear them together. Marriage, and the patience it requires, is an everyday witness that don’t have to have total control over our lives in order to live life well.  Such control is, after all, only an illusion anyway.

And if you get good enough at being patient with a husband or a wife, then you might get to have children which will really teach you a thing or two about patience!   

 You may have thought, until you tried raising children,  that when you had children you could "bring them up in the right way", exactly like you planned.   Then, however you discover that your children had other plans than you had planned, and if you try to control them, it only gets worse.  Recently I watched the biographical movie made about the first woman to when the Melbourne Cup Horse race in Australia,  Michelle Payne.   She was the youngest of 10 children whose Mother died when she was small.   She grew up around horses and in horse racing and was determined to ride in big races before her father said she was ready.  He said no, she wasn’t quite ready, but she found a way to do it anyway, in spite of many broken bones and several near death falls. 

Most of the time we eventually have to be patient and let our children grow up in their way and in own good time.  A lot of well-intentioned and determined parents did either too much, or either too little, which is just another way of realizing we should have been a little more patient and waited just a little longer.  How many older parents have you heard tell about they went through several years of struggle with a certain child, trying this strategy and then that one, only to have the child end up reaching adulthood and becoming an decent and good human being for which the parent could take absolutely no credit. Patience!

Okay. So what does any of this have to do with waiting for our marriages to get right or for our children to turn out right, have to do with learning to be patient and waiting on God to come and set the whole world right?  It really does get in a mess sometimes.  What is God waiting on?  Why doesn’t he split the eastern sky and fix this world?  Waiting for God to come, or for Jesus too return takes quite a bit of patience too.  How long has it been now, 2000 years and we are still waiting?


Last week, we read how James condemned the irresponsible rich who were making it hard on the working poor.   Now,  James is addressing his “beloved” community who were suffering due to the self-centered and self-serving practices of those same rich people.  He tells these beloved  believers to be patient and to show endurance until the coming of the Lord.’   Clearly, James expected that the Lord would come in their lifetime.  But nothing happened even like James expected it too either.


In Matthew's Gospel, there is story about the time when John the Baptist, imprisoned by Herod.  In that difficult moment John sent some of his people to ask Jesus, "Are you the one we've been waiting for, or are we supposed to wait for somebody else (11:2)?"  That sounds like a strange question, coming from the preacher who was so sure that Jesus was the one who would bring the fulfillment of God’s purposes.  In a most confusing and difficult moment, John asked:  "Are you the one we’ve been waiting for?"

Consider this closely.  Here was John, a man who spent his whole life trying to get Israel prepared for the coming of Messiah, the God-anointed one who would come and drive out the Romans, establish justice, peace, and God's reign. At Jesus' baptism, John had put his money on this young man from Nazareth. "Behold the Lamb of God," John had proclaimed. Here, in the flesh, is Emmanuel, God with us, Messiah! But now, John is in jail, Jesus doing everything except what they expected, John is beginning to have doubts and second thoughts.

"We too have been waiting for peace, justice, and for God to break into our world clearly and visibly, and the church has been waiting some two thousand years, Jesus! Get with it!"  That’s what John said.  Thanks what we say too!  ‘’Come quickly, Lord Jesus!  Get with it!  The Spirit says come!

John's problem in prison, and James’ problem is also ours too.  The church has been waiting, and is still waiting for God to come and set things right. We wait to marry, we wait in marriage, we wait for children, we wait for them to grow up, and we still wait for God to come.

And we get tired, exasperated, impatient too. Is this marriage right, or  there something better? Is this really my child, will they ever turn out right?  Is this all there is? Is this God really for us or should we get involved in something else? Is God really coming, or we take matters in our own hands and do what God cannot or will not do?

Patience in a marriage, or as a parent, or as a Christian too, arises from a deep conviction that it is still better to wait, than to force anyone or anything to just what we want.  If that person, our child, or the world only became only like us, it would be no more than a mere projection of ourselves. And what good can that do us?

Patience in waiting, especially for God, arises from a conviction, deep within us, that it is better to wait on God than to force God to do or be what or who we demand, because if we did that, then He wouldn’t be God, diff one thing.  By only doing or being what we want the god we controlled would be no more than an idolatrous projection of  our own selfish desires. And what good can that kind of God do us?  How can God save us, unless he is God?

So, Be patient, James says.   Wait, for the coming of the Lord.  



even like Job did, through what he had to endure.


E. Stanley Jones was a Methodist minister and missionary who served in India for fifty five years during the early twentieth century.   As a preacher, evangelist, and best-selling author, Jones was a prolific writer and speaker and is revered as an gifted preacher.  He was also an early human rights advocate both in India and in the USA.


E. Stanley Jones life and service in India brought him into contact, and ultimately into a close friendship, with Mahatama Gandhi. As Gandhi worked out his own version and vision of protest — both against the British rulers of his country and of the divisive caste system of his own countrymen — Jones offered Gandhi the example of Jesus as a possible model to follow. Jones suggested to Gandhi that the gospel defined patient love and enduring suffering and difficulties as ways to bring peace and justice into the world.


Gandhi founded much of his non-violent resistance movement upon what he learned from his Methodist friends Jesus-centered messages. Gandhi took to heart the teachings that Jesus offered in his Sermon on the Mount, his parables of love and forgiveness, his morality of turning the other check, of loving ones enemies.  As we all know, Gandhi attitude and actions, which he called Satyagraha, transformed and ultimately freed India from its oppressors and its own oppression.


Shortly after Gandh death in 1947, Jones wrote a book about his friendship and relationship with Gandhi.  Even though E. Stanley Jones was“the Billy Graham of his day,” the book he wrote about Ghandi went largely unread

Until a few years later, when a young graduate of Crozier Theological School and a doctoral candidate at Boston University  stumbled upon it in his studies.  As he read about Gandhi commitment to a nonviolent, yet non-compliant form of protest, this young pastor and civil rights leader found a basis for forming his own resistance to abuse and oppression.  The book that Jones deemed his greatest failure was pulled from the shelf of a theological library and  that young student wrote in the margins:“THIS IS IT!”Based on that book, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. formed and formulated the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott and the nonviolent resistance model of the early civil rights movement based on what he read in a “failed”no one was interested in


Consider this too: Some of our biggest failures might not be.  In fact, some of our biggest failures might end up being some of our greatest successes.


Folks,  like James, like Job, like in a marriage or as a parent, or even like a faithful missionary who had no immediate result, or like the patient endurance or suffering of. Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr, patience is the path we are all called walk.  Waiting, enduring, trusting, that is what good we are all called to do, and called to be today, will impact what happens tomorrow.

Doing good and waiting patiently on the Lord, is what life is now, and it may be why the Lord is slow in coming, so that his mercy and compassion can keep growing in us.   Amen.