Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 18)

Text: James 2:14-17
My friends, what good is it for one of you to say that you have faith if your actions do not prove it? Can that faith save you? Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don't have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them, "God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!"óif you don't give them the necessities of life? So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead.


Doing faith

At a memorial service (at St Paulís Aged Care Village) a relative or friend is invited to read the obituary or say something about the person who we are farewelling. As I listen to what is being often I learn a whole of things about that person that I had never known before. Mostly I have known this person only in their declining years and it is only at the funeral when the eulogy is read that I get a glimpse of that personís journey through life and the things that he/she has accomplished and the impact that the person has had on the lives of others. A memorial service is a time of remembering.

How would you like people to remember you? What would you like people to say about you? If you were to write your own eulogy today what would you write about yourself? Not just dates and events but what would you say about yourself as a person. I dare say that it wouldnít be an easy task. What would you write so that people have an honest account of your life? Of course, you could always fudge the truth a bit and say what a wonderful person you were and that there was never a moment in your life that you have said, "I wish I had done that differently".

At Alpha on Wednesday night we heard Nicky Gumbel talk about the fruits of the Spirit as you find them in Galatians 5. He read this verse, "The Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control" and immediately went on to say, "Thatís the kind of person I want to be". I know I would be happy if the person reading my eulogy said this about me. "Vince was the kind of person whose life was filled with Ďlove, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-controlí.

I believe that most of us would like people to remember how warm, caring, friendly, understanding, capable we are, but if we are honest we can be awfully self-centred, impatient, unkind, self-absorbed. We try to hide this side of our lives and want people to see only our good side. We hate people seeing the ugly side of our lives and in fact we develop some pretty good excuses why we behave so badly to make us look better in the eyes of others.

Our second reading from the Letter of James today is hard hitting. James is talking to church people, people who go to worship, sing the hymns and songs, say the creeds, hear that God loves them and forgives them and yet, none of this has any impact on how they live their lives the rest of the week. Maybe this is why the Letter of James has been so disliked over the centuries. His words hit us right between the eyes. He is speaking to us in the 21st century. He holds nothing back as he describes how we disconnect our faith from our everyday lives Ė how we act and speak as if our faith and what happens on Sunday have nothing to do with the rest of our lives. James is not afraid to call a spade a spade.

He is telling us that we make a mockery of our faith in a God who loves us so powerfully when we are so quick to give him a second place in our lives.
We make a mockery of our worship when we ignore the needs of the poor,
when we look the other way rather than welcome the stranger,
when we refuse to forgive someone, or convince ourselves that we see a neighbour in need but donít want to get involved.
We make a mockery of the generous love that God has for us when we refuse to give someone the benefit of the doubt, willingly stab someone in the back with cruel gossip, or criticise someone who is only trying to do good.

James is reminding his readers that there is a close connection between what they believe and what they do. Paul says the same thing when he writes to the Colossians and reminds them that they are the people of God. They are loved by him; they have been chosen by him to be his sons and daughters; they have been adopted as his own through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It follows then, Paul says, that everything you do and say is filled with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, forgiveness and love (Col 3:12-14).

Making the Christian faith an integral part of your everyday life is no easy ride. Very bluntly James says, "My friends, what good is it for one of you to say that you have faith if your actions do not prove it? Ö Faith without actions is dead" (James 2:14,26b).

As an example James invites us to look into the daily life of a Ďbelieverí whose faith does not affect his life at all. This religious miser bumps into someone who is a member of his own church and notices that they are half naked on a cold day, and they havenít had a wholesome meal for ages. This believer says, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,í but does nothing about this personís needs (v.16). He is supposed to be a Christian; the needy person is not even a stranger; a fellow brother or sister in Christ and would you believe it, all he can offer are some feeble platitudes as he hurries on by Ė "God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!"

James is obviously providing an extravagant and exaggerated illustration here to make a point Ė well, I hope it is an exaggeration. He asks, "What good is this personís faith?" The answer - nothing whatsoever. He says he believes in Jesus. He says he trusts in the love of God for forgiveness and salvation and yet when it comes to the hard work of putting this faith into action, he fails miserably. He knows about how generous God is toward him but he canít offer the same generous love to the needy person. His faith has had no affect whatsoever on the way he meets the demands of everyday life.

James hits us over the head a number of times to bring us to our senses Ė to bring us to the realisation that our Christian faith is not something that we reserve for special occasions, for the times when we feel religious, or for those occasions when we want to impress someone. It is not something we put in a cupboard like we do with our Sunday church clothes and only take it out the next time we go to the church.

James is saying that faith that is living, active, vibrant thing.
It has to do with how accepting we are of others,
how much we welcome others openly and how much we set up distinctions;
it has to do with how charitable we are,
how we speak about others,
how critical we are of those who donít fit a mould that we establish as the only mould;
how much we are prepared to forgive,
to pray for each other,
to be peaceful, gentle and friendly,
full of compassion,
free from hypocrisy and prejudice.

James and Paul wrote to the early Christians reminding them that being at one with Christ through baptism, Holy Communion and the Word spoken through the Bible has a powerful effect on our daily life. Paul often wrote to Christian groups who were arguing, demonstrating a lack of love and care for one another, often divided over how the church should be run. In his letters we find the plea, "You are people whom God loves Ö let that love guide you in every way".

In one scene of the popular movie ĎRobin Hood, The Prince of Thievesí, Kevin Costner as Robin came to a young man taking aim at an archery target. Robin asked, "Can you shoot amid distractions?" Just before the boy released the string, Robin poked his ear with the feathers of an arrow. The boy's shot went high by several feet.

After the laughter of those watching died down, Maid Marian, standing behind the boy, asked Robin, "Can you?" Robin Hood then raised his bow and took aim. His eyes focused on the bull's-eye. Just as he released the arrow, Maid Marian leaned beside him and flirtatiously blew into his face. The arrow missed the target, glanced off the tree behind it barely missing a bystander.

Like Robin Hood we can be very confident about our faith and ability to let faith be our guide, whereas in actual fact we can be very easily distracted from letting our faith be something that affects our relationships, our choices, our attitudes and morals. It is Satanís joy and delight to lead us into believing that being a Christian is so easy and that our faith has nothing to say about that disagreement, or the bad choice that we made, or the person who annoys us no end.

If our faith in God who has shown his love for us and sent his Son to die for us produces nothing in our lives except pious religious feelings then this is not true religion according to James. Our faith in Jesus is a living, renewing faith, a strong powerful work of the Holy Spirit which changes our hearts, our attitudes, our relationships with others, the way we see those who are in need. Faith exists so that we donít continue in our old selfish ways, but it changes us so that we are happy to do what is pleasing to God.

True faith will not be happy to just talk about love Ė about Godís love for us and how we should love one another. True faith wants more than talk; it wants to do deeds of love. St John sums all this up quite simply by saying, "My children, our love should not be just words and talk, it must be true love, which shows itself in action" (1 John 3:18).

Those of us who are honest about our faith and its effect on our lives will have to admit that we fail miserably when it comes to putting our faith into action. Iím sure youíve heard people say that they donít belong to a church because itís full of hypocrites. Well how right can they be! It is true that we hear about our faith, sing about our faith, state our faith in the creed, and that God strengthens our faith in Holy Communion, and yet when we get back into our everyday routine we mess up so terribly putting our faith into action.

The Letter of James leads us to ask the inevitable question. How does my faith influence what I do everyday? How have I isolated faith from my actions?

Thank God that we have a Saviour in Jesus Christ. That old saying is true Ė ĎChristians arenít perfect, just forgivení. Jesus says to us as he said to those church people who stood around the cross, "Father, forgive them. They donít know what they are doing". He died to renew our lives and make us clean in the sight of God. He died so that we can be called God's children.

He gave us his Spirit to guide us in our walk as Christians and to live out what we believe. He gave us his Spirit so that our faith makes a difference to us and the way we live and work together as his family. He gave us his Spirit so that others can see in us the faith and love of God.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
10th September, 2006

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