Rich Warnings

James 5:1-11, Lectionary

Rev. Christopher Harbin

20 September 2015

We keep the wealthy on pedestals. They are our heroes. They embody what we mean by successful. We envy them; we laud them; we seek their benevolence; we name buildings, streets, bridges, monuments, and parks to memorialize them. We learn their names, publish their wealth, and give them places of honor in our media and lives. We pay homage and deference to the wealthy, for they are the ones who have accomplished what we likewise desire to accomplish, and yet at the same time we consider them greedy, selfish, and out of touch with the needs of the rank and file population. We don't really know how to relate to extreme wealth, or, for that matter, to relative wealth or poverty. Do we really even care what God would have to say about wealth?

Martin Luther did not like James' letter, for at least a couple of reasons. First of all, James was not Christo-centric enough for Luther. Secondly, James dealt with the issues of works as Christian responsibility without balancing his remarks with the concept of salvation by grace through faith. While there are those who might still have those same issues with James, more people today would be offended by what James has to say about issues of wealth than anything else. We might overlook concerns over salvation by grace, but taking to heart what James says about wealth is a much greater reason for discomfort in too many circles. We would rather not talk about it at all.

About a year ago, I took a middle-aged homeless Black man into a Sunday school class I was teaching on this passage from James five. He was not afraid to join in the conversation, but what he had to offer to the discussion was worlds away from the life experience of the rest of the middle-class, elderly, White members. They read James' words without considering how they might apply to the daily struggles of people trying to survive in the current economic climate and job market. They had no experience with what it meant for a Black man to struggle against systemic prejudice and racism that kept him from getting ahead.....

...for the full text of this sermon, see Rich Warnings, at

—©2015 Chri­stopher B. Harbin

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