This month in worship, we are going to be focusing on the book of James in the New Testament.
It is all the way in the back of our bibles… just after Hebrews and right before a couple of shorter letters that lead into Revelation.
This book is actually a letter written by James to many churches.
And while I encourage you to read the whole letter… it’s only five chapters… we are going to be focusing on a just a few of James’s main points.
Sometimes, we are asked to embrace the both/ands of life… like faith & action.
Sometimes, James will show us how the &’s in our life… like blessing & cursing… are keeping us from being faithful.
Will you pray with me:
Gracious God, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts and minds be holy and pleasing to you, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
You must be doers of the word and not only hearers.
You must study the word and then put it into practice in your life.
Sometimes, James gets a bad rap. In fact, Martin Luther… the same guy that nailed up his demands on the door of the church and started the reformation… wanted to leave this letter out of his bible precisely because of this theme of faith & action.
We talk a lot about faith. We talk about how the only thing we have to do to receive God’s love is to believe. To trust. That faith alone matters. There is nothing we can DO to earn salvation.
The problem is not that James disagrees.
It is that James defines faith a little bit differently.
He doesn’t see it as an either/or. It’s not that we choose between faith and action to get to salvation.
It’s not even that it’s a two-step process. First, faith…. Then, works.
No, in James’s understanding they are the same thing. You simply can’t have one without the other.
Faith, when it is alive, can be seen in the works we do and in the ways we treat one another.
Put another way… actions are the fruit that grow on a healthy and living tree of faith.
I had a whole sermon in the works that basically took that point and ran with it…
But I realized yesterday that it was just me, saying a whole lot more than I needed to say on the topic.
James is pretty clear (and this is the Message translation):
Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?
I was going to stand up here today and give you a whole lot of God-talk.
But we need some God-acts today.
We need to see where we have simply been looking on and praying and wishing people well without living out our faith.
And I’m thinking specifically about those who are naked and hungry and hurting today.
I’m thinking about the images of children being washed up on shore we saw this week.
I’m thinking about the millions of families who are fleeing from the violence in Syria.
According to Mercy Corps, more than 11 million people are displaced.
More than half of those who have been forced to flee their homes are under the age of 18.
4 million Syrians have registered or are awaiting registration with the United Nations High Commission of Refugees.
And hundreds of thousands of them are risking a dangerous and costly trip across the Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe. One man, Abu Jana, told the Guardian, “Right now Syrians consider themselves dead. Maybe not physically, but psychologically and socially [a Syrian] is a destroyed human being, he’s reached the point of death. So I don’t think that even if they decided to bomb migrant boats it would change people’s decision to go.”
We have seen how our own ancestors in faith, like Abraham, Lot, Jacob, Moses, and Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were refugees themselves… fleeing from persecution, famine, violence, and war.
And because of their experiences, we have been told over and over again in our scriptures about our call to care for immigrants and refugees.
Exodus 22: You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Leviticus 19: You shall not strip your vineyards bare… leave them for the poor and the alien.
Leviticus 24: The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
Psalm 146: The Lord watches over the strangers…
Isaiah 16: Be a refuge to the outcasts of Moab.
Malachi 3: The messenger will bear witness against those who thrust aside the alien.
Each of these passages uses the Hebrew word nokri (nok-ree’), which can be foreigner, alien, or stranger…
And when we get to the New testament, we hear over and over again the call to reach out to the strangers among us.
Matthew 25: I was a stranger and you welcomed me
Romans 12: The Mark of the true Christian…. Extend hospitality to strangers…
Will we simply hear the words? Or will we live out our faith?
Yesterday, I read a blog post from a woman named Ann Voskamp and I decided to rewrite most of this sermon.
Because she reminded me that this is not a new problem… and that I have been sitting back and not doing much for a while now.
And I felt after reading her words like the person James was talking about in his letter… who hears the word of God but doesn’t do it. Who listens and then forgets.
And what I love about her post is I felt like I have something I could do.
Like there are things WE can do.
Ways for the church to be the church and live out our faith.
The first thing we can do is simply understand the problem and let it move you. Maybe some of the facts I have shared today, or the stories you have seen and heard this week are part of that for you.
Second, while we may not be able to physically make a journey to Syria or the Mediterranean to make a difference, we can advocate for our government to open the doors to more refugees who are seeking a life for themselves and their families.
You can write a letter to one of our congressional leaders.
You can sign a petition at whitehouse.gov for our country to resettle Syrian refugees here.
And after worship today, you can take a picture of yourself with this sign (#refugeeswelcome), post it on social media, and encourage others to share the word with our government as well. In fact, I encourage everyone who wants to do so, to come back up to the front after worship so we can take some pictures together.
Third, you can support the organizations that are on the front lines making a difference.
The Migrant Offshore Aid Station, which is a family foundation that has launched a private ship to rescue people at sea.
Our very own United Methodist Committee on Relief.
The list goes on and on and a number of different organizations are included in Ann’s blog. If you are so moved, choose one that inspires you and give financially to support their efforts.
The last thing that we can think about doing…. is to consider sponsoring a refugee family yourself.
I was amazed last winter as we celebrated the life of Evie Surface to learn about her efforts to help settle refugees from Vietnam here in the United States.
She was just one person, but she believed that Jesus meant it when he said that we were to love the widow and orphan and stranger among us.
Here in Des Moines, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants helps to resettle refugees and they have a wide range of opportunities for you to give of your time and energy to help folks who have sought home here in our community.
Hearing and Doing.
Faith and Action.
“It is the seamless unity of believing and doing” the Message translation of James tells us. (2:25-26)
We have heard the word this morning. A word of calling to reach out in love to the last and the lost and the least in this world.
And as that seed is planted in our hearts, may it bear fruit in the world.