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Covet: A Sermon on James 3:13-4:3,7-8a
September 26, 2018, 12:19 pm
Filed under: Sermons

(sermon from James slide)

 

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

 

How do we know what to want? That might seem like a weird question- “how do we know what to want?” because most of us just go through life and when we want something, we know we want it. Most of the time, we don’t often think about where that desire came from.

 

Humans are social creatures. From our earliest age, we learn what to want by watching others.

 

(slide- parent and child)

 

Our parents teach us to want mushed peas from a jar. Our friends teach us to want sparkly backpacks. Our culture teaches us to want trophies, money, fame, certain bodies…

 

We look to others to see what they want, so we know what to want. We look to others to see what they have, and we want what they have.

 

(slide- kids photos series)

 

We value things because others value them. That’s the whole premise of a currency based economy. We’ve all agreed that these little pieces of paper have value (hold dollar bill). Without that social contract, they’re really not worth much- you can’t write much on them, they won’t keep you warm because they don’t even burn that well. We’ve decided that we all want them, and so they have value. We want more and more and more- and more than the person down the street…

 

The letter of James speaks to our wanting.

 

(slide- James quote)

4:1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.

 

We covet when we want something someone else has. James describes this coveting as the root of murder- the desire to have what someone else has leads us into greater and greater trouble. It isn’t just a hunger within our mind, it spills out into hurtful action.

 

 

 

 

At my pastors’ group this week, someone shared that they had learned to read the Ten Commandments backwards.

 

(slide- 10 commandments photo- blue)

We often start with “The Lord your God…” If we start with number ten, “You shall not covet…” as our lens, we see that all the breaking of these commandments rises out of a desire to have what we do not have.

 

(slide – 10 and 9)

 

Coveting, wanting what we don’t have and what belongs to another, is the basic sin that leads into all else. Looking at the Ten Commandments, Ten and Nine list all the things belonging to our neighbor that we might want. Out of our wrong desire comes the need for the other commandments, meant to rein us in when our coveting would lead to harmful action.

 

(slide- 8)

You might be jealous of your neighbor’s situation- their popularity or honor. To get a better position for yourself, you tear them down, you gossip and slander. Do not bear false witness.

 

(slide- 7)

You want something, so you take it. Do not steal.

 

(slide 6)

Do not commit adultery, taking the relationship belonging to another for yourself.

 

(slide 5)

You want something so much you’re willing to do anything to get it. Do not murder.

 

(slide 4)

Honor your mother and father, do not withhold your respect because you want it only for yourself.

 

(slide 3)

Remember the sabbath by not wanting more so much that you exchange a day of rest and worship for a day of work.

 

(slide 2 and 1)

Give God have the honor due God and not wanting it for yourself. From our misplaced desire comes all sorts of evil.

 

James writes that our wanting what does not belong to us causes destruction:

16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.

 

(Slide Genesis)

Our Holy Bible describes coveting as the root of all sin. If we go back to the idea of Original Sin, Adam and Eve in the Garden wanted to be like God. God has knowledge they did not have. They wanted it. They broke God’s command not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in order to get it.

 

Coveting comes from fear. We want something others have because they’re having it means its worth something and our not having it means we lack something and if we lack something, that must mean we’re not worth much.

 

(cartoon slide)

 

So the only answer to our feeling worthless is to get what has worth and pile it up all around us. Then we’ll have worth, right?

 

God gives us a different answer. God says you have worth now. God declares you are beloved and worthy by placing God’s image onto you. We can stop trying to impress God. God doesn’t need it.

 

Trusting that God has made you worthy means that you don’t need to be anything else or have anything else before you are valued. There’s nothing to be afraid of losing. You don’t need to be like anyone else because God has made you special- beloved and wonderful just as you are. God has promised to provide for you. There’s nothing more that you need, so you have no reason to covet.

 

It drives me nuts when a preacher seems to have finished the sermon and then goes on and on again. So, I apologize, but I really want to make one more point as a corrective:

 

James is an important text for our self-examination, but it could all too easily be used as a weapon against others. Surely the powerful have used it to justify their position, saying to those below them, “envy and selfish ambition” leads to “disorder and wickedness.”

 

(Slide- suffrage cartoons)

 

Stay in your place. That’s what weaponizing James sounds like: the powerful maintaining their power by calling evil the desire to be free and fully human, to have rights awarded another group. I can imagine it shouted throughout the generations: the Roman Empire to the Jews in occupied Israel, American slaveowners to slaves, Federal Government to Tribes, Whites to Blacks, citizens to immigrants, men to women, rich to poor: Stay in your place. To want more than your station allows is wrong and disrupts the natural order.

 

Jesus breaks down this use of James when he confronts the disciples as they argue about who is the greatest.

 

(slide- Jesus blesses children)

 

He places a child among them, a being that to their culture, was not yet fully human. Jesus lifts the child up as an example of one to be honored as Jesus’ own self. The very ones some would look down on are those Jesus most identifies with. Jesus always sides with the one we would cast out and push down. Jesus teaches us how to read James, keeping us from using his words to oppress.

 

You are beloved and worthy in God’s eyes, just as every other person is. Each of us has been created in God’s image. We’ve already received freely the greatest standing we could achieve. Live in God’s love, with generosity and gratitude rather than insatiable desire.

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