By | Sunday Prep

At your core, what drives you? What makes you tick? What is it that informs your every decision and interaction?

This is where James is going in the third and fourth chapters of his epistle. And his answer, is, quite frankly, nothing short of astounding: Gentleness.

James, writing to a church mired in conflict urges gentleness. And, why? Because gentleness is meant to drive our faith, our assembly, our relationships. Gentleness is meant to be at the very core of our understanding of God, our relationship with each other, and our common faith. And, it’s a gentleness that’s “willing to yield.”

Yes, there are times to act, to “stand firm.” Yes there are moments where we need to defend the faith, and rise up to aid the oppressed.

But, at our core we need gentleness. We need to be a gentle people. And we desperately need to be gentle with each other, and with those who need to experience mercy and grace.

Escape velocity

By | Sunday Prep

When things are hard, there’s a temptation to want to “bug out.” To “get outta Dodge.” To hop on the first train going anywhere else but here.

At times that temptation permeates the culture. We saw it with slaves in the American south. We saw it around the Great Depression. These times produced great music that was all about getting out of here and going to heaven. They’d sing for the “sweet chariot” to “swing low” and carry us away. They’d sing about that “one bright morning” when they could “fly away.”

Escapism reigned supreme, because the world was so bad—life was so bad—that the only thing they could imagine was getting out.

But, that’s not really the trajectory of the Bible. Most of what we find in both testaments are prescriptions for how God’s People can make this world better, for themselves, and for their neighbors. It’s about asking for the Kingdom of God to “come” here instead of us going anywhere else.

And, we see this theme firmly in James’ epistle. As we saw in the first chapter, James is writing to a community in conflict. People are fighting, people are arguing, and things are not going well. As we saw in last week’s reading the argument is over the bigotry of class distinction.

What becomes clear very early on in the third chapter is that the fighting is intense. People are speaking in anger, using words that pierce and hurt. James says that such speech is like arson. It sets things on fire. And some things that burn down can never be rebuilt.

How many of us know relationships that have completely broken down because one person spoke a harsh word to another? How many of us remember when someone said something harsh to us—maybe even a long time ago—and it still hurts?

Offense may not have been meant at all. But, that doesn’t matter.

Words hurt. Words tear things down. And, words can’t be unspoken, once they’ve been spoken.

James begs us to consider what we say before we say it, and not let our anger get the best of us, or our relationships.

The church that James is addressing is broken. In fact, it seems like it’s broken pretty badly. But, it’s not irreparable. It’s not time to burn it down and start from scratch. It’s not time to dream of flying away on a sweet chariot. It’s time to watch how we speak to one another, and to see our relationships with other people as something sacred and beautiful.

The old law: loving your neighbor

By | Sunday Prep

James is writing to a church in crisis. And we know what that crisis was: the bigotry of class. Rich members of the church were treating poorer brothers and sisters in Christ badly. Rich Christians were shown preference in the assembly over those without high means. Poor Christians were without food and clothing, and their needs weren’t met by those in the church with them.

James quotes an interesting part of scripture: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Christians will instantly recognize these words as words from Jesus’ mouth. But, they were not first uttered in Jesus’ ministry. They are found first in the Bible in Leviticus chapter 19. Jesus was quoting Leviticus. James is quoting Jesus quoting Leviticus.

This little commandment then isn’t just the foundation of 2,000 years of Christianity, but its foundation stretches back far longer than that.

But, the importance here isn’t in its provenance, but rather its grounding in our lives, our communities. Loving our neighbor as ourself is so basic, but it’s also incredibly hard. Maybe not intrinsically hard, but “apparently hard.”

And so, so necessary.

Five Sundays in James: What you need to know

By | Sunday Prep

This Sunday, September 2nd, isn’t just Labor Day weekend, it’s also the first of five Sundays of reading the Epistle of James. Here’s what you need to know:

Who was James?

So, James was a pretty common name—in Hebrew it’s the same name as “Jacob.” Yes, like the great patriarch of Israel. With such an important name, people loved naming their children after this important figure. In the New Testament there are a bunch of James’. But, THIS James appears to be the one who’s frequently identified as “James, the brother of the Lord.” This may mean that he was so close to Jesus that he was like a brother to him, or, more probably, was Jesus’ blood brother. One thing we know for certain, this James was not one of the twelve disciples—so, for him to be so close to Jesus, he had to be pretty important.

James the Brother of the Lord was also the leader of the first Christian Community in Jerusalem after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Oftentimes we think of Peter being this leader, but no, there are several places in the New Testament where James overrules Peter.

Who was James writing to?

Unlike most of Paul’s letters, where he’s writing to a specific and identified community somewhere in the ancient world, we have absolutely no idea who James is writing to. Though, if he is the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, then it figures that he might be writing to that community.

Why was James writing this letter?

Whatever community James is writing to, the community is in turmoil. There are major disputes and arguments going on, and the thrust of his letter is about finding a way through the nastiness.

What does it have to do with 2018?

Huh, can you even imagine people today being divided on issues that cause great consternation and anger?


By | Uncategorized

Following Jesus isn’t easy.

I mean, loving your neighbor sounds all well and good…until you start contemplating who your neighbor actually is.

Forgiving people sounds fine, as long as we keep it to the people who just cut us off in traffic.

Loving and praying for our enemies? Forget it.

Being a peacemaker has a ring of nobility to it if we’re talking about peace in the middle east or something… but what about peace in our hearts, our homes, our relationships?

For two thousand years, Christians have had a school for helping people learn and follow this way. At this school the scriptures are read and wrestled with. Prayers of thanksgiving are offered for all the blessings we’ve been given. We seek forgiveness for the ways we’ve fallen short of the kind of life we’re meant to live. And we gather around a table where we’re offered a meal.

This school… well… it meets on Sunday mornings. Here at St. Mark’s in Basking Ridge school meets at 8AM and 10AM.

From January 7th to Easter Sunday (April 1st) there are thirteen Sundays.

What if you committed to coming to church for these 13 Sundays? Or, if you absolutely can’t come to church, we broadcast our services live (and archive them) on our Facebook page. And, of course, if you’re not here you could go to a church wherever you happen to be.

13 Sundays. That’s it. That’s less of a commitment than most Netflix series.

And who knows, by the end of 13 Sundays you might have gotten following Jesus down a little better. And, you might have helped someone else follow Jesus a little better.