Straw is Good!

Greetings and blessings to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Each spring we watch hay grow all around us. In farmers fields, they let the grass grow tall and strong. Then eventually they will start the process…you know what I mean. The hay is cut and spread out. It dries a bit and then is gathered up into bails. I remember with the only bails were rectangular cubes that could be thrown by someone into a wagon or a barn loft for storage. Now, of course, we see huge round bails that are held together by mesh netting and sometimes are left standing in the field. But some are loaded onto trailers to become feed for cattle throughout the winter. Since I have lived here in Hermann I have also learned that these bails can cause spontaneous combustion if they are stored in enclosed areas. There is a lot that a ‘city-slicker’ like me has to learn. But no matter the risk this straw is good. It offers winter feeding for live-stock and income for some farmers who sell the bails. Even while the hay is growing and it just looks like grass the cattle can graze in the field. If you are a hunter you know where to look for deer or turkey in the midst of this crop. The hay offers food and cover for them too. Luther wrote about each book in the Bible. He had concerns about the letter that James wrote and has been often quoted. He referred to James as “an Epistle of straw.” Many people have interpreted this as meaning that it has little value and is of questionable importance. I am not so sure that is what Luther is saying. Luther and Katie, his wife had a mattress that was filled with straw. Dirt floors were covered with straw to control the mud and dirt. This is what they fed their horses and used to light cooking fires. It had very simple and practical uses. It had common usage for the rich and poor alike and was available to everyone, no matter their status in life. I think that the same thing can be said for the letter written by James. It is practical, straight forward, and applies to everyone. James was one of Jesus’ brothers, also the son of a carpenter. He was not a theologian, like St. Paul, the Pharisee of Pharisees. But he was also a man of great faith. He grew up thinking of Jesus as his brother. It took a while for him to know that He was also the Savior of the world. But he did lead the church from Jerusalem for many years and would ultimately die a martyr for his faith. James wrote it to a world that already knew the message of Paul, so he is now adding a practical edge to the message. He is answering the question…what does this faith look like? “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” Wow! That is as basic as hay in your mattress. James does not say how to pray or what to seek…but you are to pray. Pray for “Forgiveness of our sins?” Pray for “relief from our suffering?” Pray in thanksgiving, that despite who we are and what is happening to us,,,Jesus gives us His life, His Flesh and Blood fir the nourishment of our souls. “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” I had an aunt who was a real morning person. As she aged, her hearing went bad and her voice got louder. She could greet you for breakfast with the most cheerful greeting in the world. WELL…Kathy will tell you that I AM NOT a morning person. Her loud cheerful greeting was almost too much for me, but here is the Bible telling me, AGAIN, that I am wrong. Aunt Alice and I should have song praised to God because He has given us another day to be His workers in His kingdom. Her morning voice was one that raised praise to God even if all she said was, “Good morning.” “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” So that is what you do when you go to the doctor? You call the Elders and have them pray for you when you are sick? I wish…! In this day of HIPPE (sp?) laws the pastor and the Elders are rarely the first person to hear from a member who is hospitalized or having intense medical treatment. The hospital cannot call unless they are told to by the patient and family. So often we just stumble over the information that someone is at the hospital. So it can be hard to pray with someone. But that is the advice and recommendation of St. James and it sound like the right thing to do. But James is very clear, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James uses the example of Elijah and we again wish that we could be as effective with our prayers as this great prophet. James reminds us, over and over again about our faith lives and operates in a very real and practical setting. “If anyone among you wonders from the truth…” here we have it…people are not found in church as regularly as they were 50, 30 or even 10 years ago. They live by what society is telling them…their truth is different from your truth which is different from my truth. If that is the case then there is no need to gather together to worship. The issues that I have do not really matter to anyone sitting in the same pew…there reality is different. That is a HORRIFYING view of the world. That view isolates each and every one of us and there is no way to lift and share each other’s burdens. Each person is left alone and may be just lonely. This leaves us all just cynical and disconnected from each other. This pattern of thought has been happening in the public sector for many years. In the 80’s President Reagan attempted to unite us and show us the greatness of our collective strength as a nation. Since then, we have been fragmented and subdivided over and over, so the point that an individual becomes a minority group/person unto himself. That too is sad and even depressing as we realize that our world does not even recognize that we have anything in common with each other. That having been said, what is meant by mutual defense treaties or alliances? IF it is not for me, as an individual, then there is nothing mutual about it. “Let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” Thus we see AGAIN that our faith is and always will be separate from our culture. James understand that we are often motivated by our own salvation, but this one is about getting the message out to a lost world. We need to make sure that the people we encounter know that God loves them. His love has been there since the beginning of time and there is nothing we can do to add to it or increase it. The Gospel of Mark puts it this way. “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Share, scatter and spread the truth like salt on food or to preserve meat. It mixes and changes, preserves and keeps. It is very basic and yet important in our lives. It is equivalent to that simple, warming, nurturing straw that takes care of the basics in life so that we can look after the complex and difficult knowing that the basic has been solved. That is what our faith is; Jesus loves me. I have a lot more to learn, but all that I need to know is that He loves me enough to die for me. Thanks be to God. Amen.