The message of James in our text today is one that no person should overlook or disregard. The message in this text is one that, if heeded can alter how we live our lives today and every day for the rest of our lives. I doubt that the lessons I am about to share with you are new in any sense of the word. Rather, this message is a reminder, a word of warning or caution for those who are so busy living from day to day they forget how completely fragile and uncertain is this thing called life. Simply stated, James says that our lives are like mists or like the stream of smoke that dances into the air when a candle is extinguished. It is here today and gone tomorrow; it is here one minute and gone the next.
Look around the world at large and around your own life in particular and you will see that this word from James is true. There are loved ones whose presence is as central to our lives as our own breath; and yet one day we look around and death has snatched them away. Life is fleeting and uncertain. Look at the flood waters of the Gulf Coast or the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq and you will see how quickly lives can be snatched away. In a burst of gunfire or the breeching of a levee the people we love the most can be taken away.
The book of James reminds us that we should not take tomorrow for granted. We should not put off until some later time those matters of the spirit that each one of us needs to resolve. Is your house in order today? Is your soul right with God today? Are you living today in such a way that it is apparent that you understand that you can be here today and be gone tomorrow? What is your life? That is the question I set before you today. Do you understand that with all of our wealth and learning and social status and long-range plans, you and I are nothing more than a mist that vanishes away?
Notice that I am not even referring to the material things that surround and adorn and edify our lives. I am not suggesting that our jobs can be terminated or that our marriages could unexpectedly fall apart. I am not speaking of the possibility that our finances could unravel or our health could break down and send us into a prolonged sickness. Any or all of those things could certainly occur without any warning whatsoever. But none of those things, as serious as each one of them is, cuts to the level to which James is pointing in this passage.
James is not saying your job may be here today and gone tomorrow; James is saying that you and I can physically be here today and physically be gone tomorrow. What is your life? It is like a puff of smoke that rises into the air and then quickly vanishes away.