James’ eldest brother was out of control. They had all got along great until recently, but then his brother had started hanging out with the wrong sort of folk. He had started saying things that upset a lot of people, especially the authorities, and the things he had started doing had begun to attract a lot of media attention. The numbers of people following him were getting bigger every day. James was not sure what was happening but his brother had become a bit of a local celebrity, and not for the right reasons and this was affecting his family’s everyday life. James, with the support of the rest of his family, decided it was time to act. It was time to take control of the situation.
We find ourselves, like James, living in times that have suddenly changed. Yesterday’s ‘normal life’ is gone, we are uncertain about what is really happening and we long to be able to regain ‘control’ of our lives. This week we were given the news that the ‘lockdown’ in the UK is to continue for three more weeks. The reporters, whose faces we could see on screens at the now ritual daily briefing, all asked the politicians and medical experts the same question, the question that we are all asking ourselves, ‘what will happen next, how will life return to normal?’
James’ life never did return to ‘normal’. He began to realise that though the things his brother said and did, often turned his view of the world upside down, that this ‘upside down’ world was a better place to live in than the world he had lived in before.
It is in times like these that we find ourselves pondering the big questions of life. What is really important and what is less so; who we miss most and who we discover have greater depths and strengths than we had seen before. When everything changes, it is who we really connect with, who help us through.
And then there are the big ‘god questions’. ‘Is God real?’ ‘Why does he let things like Covid-19 happen?’. ‘What about all the hurt and suffering and death?’ ‘Why does God appear to be so distant?’ At times like this we are tempted to shout our hurt at God, longing for answers because ‘nothing is normal’.
Some years later James became the leader of a new movement; the fast-growing group of people whose lives were turned upside down because they had met his brother. We don’t know many details of James’ life but we do know that he lived through many hardships and we do have a letter that he wrote to the members of the movement that he led.
I like James a lot. He clearly loved his family and was willing to act to try to make things right, even if what he did, did not work out how he planned. He was willing to learn from his mistakes and he was willing to have his world turned upside down because he realised that the one who was turning it upside down was good. The one who was turning it upside down, was actually, God.
In our upside-down world, may I encourage you to read the letter that James wrote, it is full of wisdom and encouragement. It opens with the line, ‘Consider it pure joy my brothers (and sisters) whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance’. I know that at times like this, ‘perseverance’ is something we all need.
We all long to know what tomorrow will hold. What the world post-pandemic will be like. When we will be able to meet our family and friends again with a hug. We long for the ‘certainty’ we used to enjoy. James reminds us that ‘certainty’ is only an illusion. That no-one knows the future, no-one that is, except God.
James’ advice is timely. ‘Now listen, you who say “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city… carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow… Instead you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that”. (4:13-15). James came to realise that every new day is actually a gift from God. God does know what he is doing. God is in control, even when he has not revealed to us what his plans are, and God always works all things together for good.
May I also encourage you, if you have not already met him, to get to know James’ brother. His name is Jesus. James came to realise that in Jesus, God was not far-off and distant but he was willing to be up-close and personal. God in Jesus, was willing to experience the worst of human suffering to defeat that which we fear the most, death. Getting to know who his brother really was, turned James’ world upside-down. He discovered that this new upside-down world was full of life and hope, and love and grace and goodness.
James walked into an unknown future, in an upside-down world, empowered and encouraged because the God who created the universe came into his life in the form of his brother Jesus. If you do not yet know Jesus, I would encourage you to get to know him. Get to know him through the words of James and the others who did meet him, in the bible. Discover him in the company of those who know him now and walk with us into the upside-down world of tomorrow with new-found hope and certainty that your future is safe in the hands of James’ brother.