Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 18)

Text: James 2:17
Faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Doing faith

Bernhard P Hopkins was born in 1904 and was raised and lived in Texas and during his 88 years managed to leave a lasting impression.  His tombstone simply gives his name and the dates of his birth and death.  However, there is another tablet with the inscription, “Legacy of BPH: Liar – thief – cheat – selfish – unsharing – unloving – unkind – disloyal – dishonourable – unfaithful”.  There is no known picture of Bernhard P Hopkins, no-one can remember what he looked like, whether he wore the latest fashions for men, or was a socialite in his community or who his friends were (if he had any) but he is remembered for what kind of person he was and it is engraved in stone for all to read.

I’m sure all of us want to be a positive influence on others.  For a moment think of the people who have left a positive and lasting impression on you.  Maybe you don’t know all of their life history and all of the praiseworthy things they accomplished, but you do remember what kind of people they are or were;
their faith and their openness about it;
their warm character and loving ways;
their care and sacrificial attitude – nothing was too much;
their joy in the Lord that was evident in the way they helped others;
their trust that overcame difficulties and troubles. 
I’m not saying that any of these people were perfect but they knew Jesus’ love and forgiveness. They were role models.  They left a lasting impression.
These people might have been a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, a Sunday School teacher, a friend.

I believe that most of us would like to be the same kind of role model to the people who are in our lives right now and in the future.  We want people to see us as warm, caring, friendly, understanding, and capable, not perfect but able to handle our weaknesses and flaws in the knowledge that Jesus is our Saviour and Forgiver.

Our second reading from the Letter of James today is telling us how to be God’s people who can be a powerful and positive influence in the lives of others.  It’s a hard hitting passage because James is talking to church people like you and me – 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. 

He holds nothing back as he describes how we disconnect our faith from our everyday lives – how we act and speak as if our faith and what happens on Sunday have nothing to do with the rest of our lives.  How can Christ change us if we leave him at the church door as we leave? 
How sad must God feel when we have just finished hearing him speak to us and we sing wonderful songs about his love for us and then go outside and forget it all?

Both Paul and James remind their readers that because they are the people of God, this impacts on what they do.  Paul 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 they 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 our 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?  … Faith without actions is dead” (James 2:14,26b). 

As an example James invites us to look into the daily life of a ‘believer’ whose faith and daily life don’t cross paths.  This religious miser bumps into someone who is a member of his own church and notices that he is half naked on a cold day, and he hasn’t had a wholesome meal for ages.  This believer says, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” but does nothing about this person’s needs (v.16).

James is obviously providing an extravagant and exaggerated illustration here to make a point – well, I hope it’s an exaggeration.  He asks, “What good is this person’s 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 how generous God is toward him but he can’t offer the same generous love to the needy person.  His faith hasn't any effect whatsoever on the way he meets the everyday situations that require him to be ‘like Christ’.

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

Faith is trusting and relying on Jesus.  It's a living, active, vibrant thing. 
It leads us to be like Christ.  It has something to do with accepting others like Jesus did (as we saw in the gospel reading today),
It has something to do with how we welcome others openly and how to break down barriers;
it has to do with being helpful,
how we speak about others,
how we respond to those who press our buttons;
how we are prepared to forgive,
how we pray for each other,
how to be peaceful, gentle and friendly, full of compassion,
free from hypocrisy and prejudice.

Faith is really a very busy thing and a powerful influence on the lives of other people.

In one scene of the popular movie ‘Robin Hood, The Prince of Thieves’, 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 of his bow, Robin poked his ear with the feathers of an arrow. The boy's shot went high missing the target by several feet.

After the laughter of those watching died down, Maid Marian, standing behind the boy, asked Robin, “Can you?”

Robin Hood, full of faith in his ability, then raised his bow and took aim. His eyes focused on the bull's-eye. Just as he was about to release the arrow, Maid Marian leaned beside him and flirtatiously blew into his face. The arrow missed the target, glanced off the tree behind it and barely missed 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 Satan’s 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. 

Faith in God produces more than pious religious feelings.  Faith becomes something we can see.  It becomes part of our nature, our character, our way of treating other people, it overflows into everything we do.

Earlier we thought about the people who have left a lasting and positive impression on our lives.  Good chance those people didn’t even know they were affecting you in such a powerful way – they were just being like-Christ to you and their faith in some way made them special to you by the way they interacted with you, cared for you, paid special attention to you.  

No doubt if you have young people in your lives, you are striving to be a loving light in their lives as others have been to you.

The hard-hitting Letter of James leads us to do some soul searching and to the inevitable questions,
How well am I doing in letting my faith influence what I do every day? 
How well have I been Christ-like to other people and a role model to next generation? 
Have well have other people seen in me “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23)?  

The faith that we are expressing in our daily lives includes a firm trust in a Saviour who loves us in spite of our weaknesses.  Jesus says to us as he said to those church people who stood around the cross, “Father, forgive them”.  He died to renew our lives and make us clean in the sight of God.  Part of putting our faith in action is showing others that forgiveness is real and that it is possible to forgive even the worst offence. 

There is a saying, “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel”.  People do remember the impact that we’ve had on their lives more clearly above anything else.  As Christians we want them to know the love of Jesus through our love for them.

More than ever before the people of our world, especially the younger generation, need to see that our faith is not just a set of beliefs but that what we believe makes a difference in our lives.  Our children and grandchildren need to see in us the difference that Jesus makes to us.  Through us they experience his love and kindness and care as we put our faith into action.  As they see how important this faith is and how active it is, our prayer is that they will be led to consider and see that Jesus is important to them and that they are important to him.  Through us they will see that faith in him does make a difference.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
6th September 2015

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