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This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.

Scripture: James 1:19-27
Text James 1:22

Sermon by Rev. Shawn Brix of Burlington , Ontario

Whatever you do, don’t become a religious fanatic! There’s nothing worse! According to Web-Word-Online, a fanatic is “one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject!” What could be worse? No one can stand a religious fanatic!

Other kinds of fanatics are OK. On a Racing Fan web-site a fan wrote, “I’ve told my family that, when I die, I want my ashes scattered on Turn One at the Indy.” That didn’t seem fanatical to his family. They thought it was a reasonable request.

It’s OK to be a Star-Trek fanatic as well. If you check out one of the Trekkie websites for hard-core fans of the original Star Trek series, you’ll find that you can attend one of their national conventions dressed up as Captain Kirk. Or, if you prefer, you can learn the phonetics and syntax of the Klingon language! If you want, you can order $300 blueprints from the website for the Star Ship Enterprise. That’s not fanaticism, though! It’s just a hobby! It’s just entertainment!

But a religious fanatic? That’s the one kind of fanatic that no one can stand. A blog on the web says, “Religious fanaticism is a disease. DARE to think for yourself. Just say NO to religion.”

Isn’t that the general mood in our culture today? The one sure way to demonize someone in the media is to call them a “religious fanatic.” There is no worse slam.

Well...Poor James. He mustn’t have known much about life in 21 st century North America because his advice (here in Chapter 1) is, “Be a fanatic! A religious fanatic! Don’t merely listen to the Word; DO it! Don’t think merely showing up at church each Sunday and reading your Bible at the table before each meal is somehow going to cut it. Don’t think sitting around Sunday afternoon dissecting the sermon is going to somehow rate. Don’t think listening to Christian broadcasts on the radio on your drive into work means you’re religious. The only truly religious people are the fanatics,” says James. They’re the ones who not only hear the Word, but who DO IT, who obey it. Put it into practice. Live it out. Apply it to the tiniest details of their lives. They’re the ones who hear the message and leave church planning what they’re going to do differently in the week ahead. They leave church planning what they’re going to change at work, how they’re going to be different in their family. They’re fanatics! They take what they hear into every corner of their lives and do it.

If you’re not a fanatic (says James), if you’re content just to hear the Word, then you’ve deceived yourself. In chapter 2, James says (in essence), “If you think you’ve got faith, but you’re not fanatical about that faith showing up in your everyday living, then you’ve really got no faith at all. Faith, without the obedience to go along with it, isn’t faith. Faith is hearing and doing. Faith without doing is a masquerade. A show. It’s not faith at all.

Our English word “fanatic” comes from the Latin word “fanaticus” which means “to be inspired by divinity.” That’s the literal meaning of the word. And so, a “fanatic” (in the truest sense of the word) is a person upon whom the Holy Spirit has come to give to him or her a knowledge of genuine truth, and who then leads him or her into a lifestyle that reflects that truth. A lifestyle of obedience. That’s why James wants us to be fanatics. Because when our lives begin to look like the Word we’ve heard, then we can be certain that the Holy Spirit is at work in us and we have been given the gift of genuine faith.

When we think of some of the fanatics in the Bible, we’re likely to think of people like Abraham. When he heard God’s call, he packed up shop overnight and started heading off with his whole family to a land he didn’t even know really existed for sure. Now, that’s fanatical!

Or we think of someone like Job. Within 24 hours, Job loses his family, his house, his wealth, his health – and yet still Job continues to praise God! He worships God not for what God gives, but on account of who God is. Now, that too is fanatical!

But, in fact, it wasn’t the likes of Abraham or Job that James was referring to when he called his readers to fanaticism. It was nothing quite so dramatic as all that. Instead, these are some of the kinds of things James had in mind….

First: listen a lot, and don’t talk so much. That’s what James said in vs. 19. That’s fanaticism. That’s taking the Word and applying it to our simple, ordinary, day-to-day lives. Listen, because when you listen, you show that you’re genuinely interested in the other person. You show you care. You show you respect them. When you listen carefully, it’s a way of loving your neighbor. And, if you listen more than you speak, it’s a sign of humility. People who speak too much think too much of themselves and their ideas. Someone once said, “God gave us two ears and only one mouth; that’s because he wants us to listen twice as much as we speak!” James would agree with that. Of course, so would’ve Jesus. He said, “I tell you that men will have to give an account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36 ). And that’s why Solomon wrote, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Proverbs 10:19 ). Be a fanatic: listen well, talk less.

But secondly, James had in mind our temper as well. Be fanatical about not becoming angry James says at the end of v.19. There is, of course, something known as righteous anger. When we see God being blasphemed, when we see God’s holiness being treated as a common commodity, we should become angry. But the truth is, very little of our anger is like that. Most of our anger is a result of us being slighted in some way.

And then, once we’ve lost our temper, we’re usually ready to justify ourselves as well. “I’ve been too busy,” or “I’ve been under too much stress,” or “It runs in the family; I can’t help it.” But James leaves no room for excuses. He says in vs. 20, “Anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” In fact, the apostle Paul warns that anger can give the devil a “foothold” in our lives (Ephesians 4:26 ). So: keep your cool. Don’t blow your stack. That’s the kind of fanaticism James was thinking of.

But he had other things in mind too. Thirdly, he says, “Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent.” Has there ever been a day and age when moral filth is so accessible, so easily tripped over, so in-your-face, as in our own day and age? The internet is a virtual mine-field of degradation. We’ve got music that glorifies rape and drive-by shootings. We’ve now got billboards and ads and magazines and TV shows that endlessly parade women’s bodies in front of our eyes. James says, “Be fanatical about steering clear of it all. He says, “Keep yourself from being polluted by the world.” Someone once said, “TV is that medium by which we allow people into our living room that we would never even dream of inviting in our front door.” What are you renting at the video store these days? Are you being fanatical about your choices?

So: in summary, James says, “Be fanatical about your speech,” “Be fanatical about your temper,” “Be fanatical about what you watch and what you listen to,” and now, fourthly, he says, “Be fanatical about caring for those less fortunate than yourself.” In James’ day, there was no one more vulnerable than orphans and widows. Without a man (without a “breadwinner”), orphans and widows were left utterly destitute. In vs. 27, James says, “Religion that our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” That’s the very essence of religion, James says. The essence of religion is not about doctrine; it’s about DOING! It’s about caring for “the least of these.”

Now, of course, James is not talking about the core content of the Christian faith. If he had said that the essence of the content of the Christian faith was caring for those less fortunate, he would’ve been dead wrong. We know from the rest of the Bible that at the very heart of the content of our faith is the amazing message of Jesus Christ, and him crucified. When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, he insisted that the message of the cross alone is the power of God to those who are being saved (1Corinthians 1:18 ). The cross must always remain at the very core of the Christian message. Christ’s life in exchange for ours. His sacrifice to pay for our sin. His life given, so that we could gain ours back. That’s the core content of our faith.

But caring for others is the necessary expression of that faith. If we have the content, but not the expression, we don’t have faith. If we have the content, but not the expression, we have a profession of faith but not a possession of faith. James would make his point even clearer in his second chapter. “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” No: it cannot, James says just a few verses later. “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14 , 17).

Real faith expresses itself in the everyday details. Listen well. Keep your cool. Keep it clean. Care for others.

This is where the rubber hits the road. Do you hear the Word and DO it, in the nooks and crannies of your life? Jesus, in John 14:15 , said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” Just a few verses later, he says it again. “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching” ( 14:23 ). You see: the test of whether our love for Christ is genuine is fanatical obedience.

Do you love Jesus? You need only look at your life. If you see there a fanatical desire to obey him in ALL things, then you know your love is real.

Fanatics, of course, are not perfect. But fanatics do have a desire, more than anything else, to please and obey the Lord, because it’s in obedience that our love for God is shown.

When we obey, it’s is a sign of our thankfulness for the love God has shown us. He came to us in Jesus Christ so that we might receive that love and then return that love in fanatical obedience.

Finally, know this: As you obey, relying on the Holy Spirit, you will experience God’s blessing on your life. That’s the promise James gave us in vs. 25. “The [person] who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he (or she) will be blessed.” Thanks be to God. Amen.


Suggested Order of Service: 

Welcome and Announcements
* Greeting One Another
* Opening Prayer (concluded with Hymn # 419:1)
* Call to Worship: Psalm 29:1-2
* Hymn # 249 Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty
Prayer of Confession
God Guides Our Living by His Word: John 15:1-5, 11
Song: Jesus, Be the Center
Prayer for Understanding
Scripture Reading : James 1:19-27 (text vs. 22)
Message: Religious Fanatics
* Hymn # 548 When We Walk With the Lord
Congregational Prayer
Offertory Prayer
* Hymn # 289:1-5 Take My Life That It May Be
* Closing Prayer
* Hymn # 289:6

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