A Book of Straw

Brothers and sisters,

I hope that the Illuminator this week finds each of you happy and healthy. The last two weeks have been eventful! We have made yet another delivery to the folks at McDougald Terrace and are planning to make one more. We have begun, in ear-nest, a school supply drive to benefit the teachers and students over at Parkwood Elementary School (be sure to check the list of needed supplies!). And we have wrapped up our sermon series on King David, “The Man After God’s Own Heart.” This past Sunday, August 15, and next Sunday, August 22, we’re taking some time to read a couple passages from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and then, starting the next Sunday, August 29, we will begin a whole new series, entitled, “A Book of Straw.” So, I wanted to take some time and cast a little bit of a vision of our next sermon series.

First of all, this series will be shorter than the series on David. With David, we were looking at the highs and lows of a person’s entire life. In the new series, we will be looking at some of the most famous passages from one of the shortest books in the Bible — the Letter of James. Since the letter is so much shorter than the accounts of David’s life, we’ll only be in this series through the month of September, but I like the idea of moving through a letter like this because we can get a much fuller understanding of James’ beliefs in a shorter amount of time. And James’ ideas about God and the Christian life are wonderful and life-giving.

So then, you may be wondering, “Why call the series ‘A Book of Straw’? What does that mean?” The title of the series comes from Martin Luther’s famous (or infamous) opinion of James’ letter. He believed that there was nothing worthwhile in it, so he deemed it a “book of straw.” He particularly disliked James’ idea that “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17). Luther much preferred Paul’s letter to the Romans and Paul’s emphasis on faith alone, “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law” (Romans 3:28). Luther also preferred Paul’s writing style and abilities to James’ style. Paul writes long, eloquent essays on complex theological topics, using complex Greek words and sentence structure, with soaring rhetoric that inspires and informs his reader. James writes very plainly. He writes in short sentences. He does not use long words. And his insights are incredible.

Here’s the thing—I think the ideas of Paul and James are both correct. I love the way that Paul can write such beautiful works about the boundless love and grace of God. I also love the way that James can speak so simply about how Christians can live in ways that testify to that love. James is an incredibly practical book. It is wonderfully relatable. A few years ago, I had a church member who told me that James’ letter was his favorite book in the Bible. When I asked him, “Why is that?”, he responded, “Because he tells it like it is. I feel like he’s actually talking to me.” So, over the next five weeks, we’re going to read through this letter and see what James has to say to us. We’re going to look at the simple, practical, insightful advice he gives to all Christians. And we’re going to see how James affirms the idea that God’s love is unending, God’s grace is boundless, and God’s mercy knows no end. We will see that it is a book of wisdom, not straw.

Grace and peace to you all,
Pastor Ben