The story is told of an Eskimo hunter who went to see the local missionary who had been preaching in the village.
“I want to ask you something,” the hunter said.
“And what’s that?” the missionary responded.
“If I did not know about God and sin,” the hunter asked, “would I go to hell?”
“No,” the missionary said, “not if you did not know.”
“Then why,” the hunter said, “did you tell me?”
This is the very point being made in our first lesson, from the Letter of James, of not living hell: “Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.” The Greek word used here for “sin” literally means “missing the mark.” If your life has a goal or purpose or destiny, this is to completely lose track of the target, take the wrong turn on the path, miss the mark. That’s sin.
The energy in James’ letter around “sin” is not so much about doing what is wrong, but about not doing what is right. Throughout his letter, James is very clear about what is right: about living your faith, about recognizing life as a gift from God; about being quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; about being single-minded; about honoring all people, rich and poor alike; about being patient; and – in the lesson appointed for today – about living a day at a time, a step at a time. We need to think about tomorrow and speak about tomorrow with real humility. We have no idea if we’ll even be alive tomorrow. James says, very soberly: “For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” So think this way, he says: “If the Lord wills, we will do such-and-such tomorrow.”
In the meantime, do what is right, which is to be present to life in the here-and-now, which is where we will know God’s presence. Live life as an adventure, so very little of which we could have anticipated and over which we have so little control. Surrender to God’s terms for your life. And take into the vocabulary of your soul words like “wonder” and “amazement” and “delight.” Savor every breath; share your God-given life with great generosity; don’t think too highly about yourself… but don’t think too lowly, either; be thankful for it all. As James says, “draw near to God, and God will draw near to you,” today.
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