We have spent this year thinking about 'His Story - Our Story', seeing how God has been at work all through history. More recently we have considered how we learn along the journey. It is a journey that by God's providence has a trajectory. With God things are not random but has an intended destination, which includes peace and wholeness - the Biblical concept of Shalom. On the journey there are big God-intervention moments, such as the exodus, and of course later the cross, itself enabled by God sending his Son to live as a human. Yet the journey is one for the long haul, and not just a series of fleeting moments.
So James uses the obvious image (v7) of the farmer patiently waiting for his crops. The ploughing and sowing are done, and now it is a waiting game. For us it is hard because we live in an instant society. But we must learn: stand firm, the rains are coming, the harvest will come in, for the Lord is near. In what area do you need to show patience?
The next image we can more easily relate to: (v9) for we all do our fair share of grumbling! We should realise the grumble betrays a lack of peace, and as we entertain grumbling we become more self-directed. James points out that through it we project standards onto others, yet those same standards can be held up as a mirror to our lives and find us lacking. The different way God has for us is to be God directed, living in a grace economy, patiently and faithfully working for peace with your neighbour.
Doing that in the long haul requires persistence. So in v10 James recalls past characters who persisted (e.g. Job). They learnt a skill our education system does not teach - the ability to be patient, faithful and discover peace even when the world around you is so broken. With that demeanour you don't have to make big bold claims. V12 is not about bad language, but making claims that are not yours to make. The wording is almost identical to the words Jesus spoke in Matthew 5:34-37. Such claims are unnecessary - just a simple yes or no will do.
James is practical, and knows that over the long haul life will bring ups and downs. He advises for those in trouble that they should pray. For those who are happy, they can give praise. For those in sickness (Christians are not immune to sickness) then call others to pray for you. For those who have done wrong (thats all of us!), then name it and have someone pray with you. The naming the wrong is important: the call to not grumble in v9 is not simply saying ignore/suppress all wrong, but rather name it (call it out), but in a way where forgiveness and restoring is possible, i.e. operate the grace economy of God.
Note that all of these responses are God directed. Someone once said that a relatively small percentage of life is what happens to you (which you cannot control), but the much bigger percentage is your response - which you can control. So is your response God directed?
The letter seems to come to an abrupt ending, rather than the winding down or greetings of other letters. In a way that is helpful for us, because we are not winding down or finishing, but instead called to continue. As a church we have a job to do in this city. So v17-18 is relevant: faithful ongoing prayer can change the climate, the things around us! Finally v19-20 brings it back to one-to-one relationships. Restoration and forgiveness starts with you, me and those around us. Who might you need to call back?
For James this is not just window dressing, but a matter of life and death. Its a big long term project, but one God calls us to be involved in, patiently and faithfully working in God's grace economy, responding to each new situation in a God directed way.