August 9th James 2:14-26 I don’t think that means what you think that means”

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Please read today’s text with an open mind.  Think of it as a plow blade that was mistakenly reforged into a sword.  Or in other words, we aim the text at others when we should be tilling our own field.  Hopefully, you will see what I mean.

Scripture Reading: James 2:14-26 

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” 

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. 

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. 

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. 

To “weaponize” something means that you are turning a regular object into a weapon.  These days, the word most often applies to offensive uses of words that originally had a better purpose.  Long before “weaponize” became a common word, people were using verses of Scripture to hurt people. 

If you look up  quotes from the letter of James on Google, you will find that one of today’s verses is the most commonly quoted of all the things that James had to say.   In the translation above, the words are “faith without deeds is dead, “ but it is usually quoted as “faith without works is dead.” 

Out of context, “faith without works is dead,” is easily weaponized.  It is usually used as a criticism of others for their minimal number of visible good works.  The first problem is that many good works are not visible, and we also the instruction from Jesus that good works should be done in secret (without witnesses) and without letting your left hand knowing what your right hand is doing.  Some people are moved by faith to very private good works like hospital visitation, making quilts for the sick or bereaved, or hours of daily prayer.  So, this weaponized phrase is used in a self-righteous way to criticize others. 

James is not trying to give ammunition to make cruel attacks.  He is sharing the message with us, so that we realize that faith and works are linked.  If we know ourselves to be lacking in works, we don’t generate faith.  If we lack faith, we should pray that God would give us more faith.  If we lack good works, we are lacking in faith, and need more. 

Faith and works are linked in a causal way.  Faith is a motivating force.  In looking at our on lack of good works, we see that it is because of a lack of faith.  Faith is a motivating force that is a gift from God that we usually associate with the Holy Spirit.  To say that “faith without works is dead” might be better understood as “faith that does not lead to good works is not real faith.”  Just as a car can’t make its own supply of gasoline, you can’t make your own faith. 

If you ever had the experience of walking into the surf of an ocean, or even of one of the great lakes,  you will know that waves are stronger than they look.  Even a reasonably small wave will move you.  A medium wave can knock you off your feet.  Not only that, but you can feel the undertow tugging at you, and every time the water covers you, your buoyed upward.  A wave is a motivating force.   

Faith is like an ocean wave, it pushes you toward love that wants to express itself in acts of kindness.  As we talk of artist being inspired to make art, we are given a good impulse that makes us want to respond in a positive way. 

A small push of faith can lead you to attending church or visiting a sick friend (in normal times).  A larger push of faith may motivate you to say daily prayers or volunteer time at a food shelf or a homeless shelter.  Faith may lead you to a small ministry of repairing things for neighbors, or it may make you a more enthusiastic listener or counselor.  Great pushes of faith have led people into missions to the poor, and even a change of career.  Church workers, like musicians, custodians, pastors, and teachers are often led their by faith that needs to do something good for God and other people. 

God is the source of faith.  Faith is one of the gifts that God gives us.  We do not generate faith to be acceptable to God, but faith is a gift that is one of the signs of God’s love.  Faith is a gift of motivate onto do things in response to God’s goodness and love.  We are not satisfied by giving kind words to hungry people; faith impels us to give them food.  God’s love is not limited to a rosy feeling:  God’s love always does something in us.  God’s love is not static; it wants to move. 

For a long time, I got confused between faith and belief, but faith is what leads us to belief.  So, if you lack faith, as we all do at one time or another,  ask God for some more.  If you wish to do more for others, don’t burn yourself out by pushing yourself.  Instead, ask God for faith and you may get more than your bargained for.  People who seek faith are often blessed with joy and enthusiasm. 

On the other hand, faith can seem invisible at times.  You may be motivated to do all sorts of good things, but not realize that God is the one who gave you the energy and ability to do them.  If the good works are done, you may find that faith was there all along. 

We are not in a contest to win a gold medal or a prize.  We are certainly not in a competition to earn God’s love, because we already have it.  We do good deeds and good works in response to God’s love.  We do good because God plants faith in us that drives an overwhelming need to respond in kind and in kindness.  

Blessings,

 Pastor Rick