I spent most of my sermon referencing Sunday's epistle reading from James largely because I was somewhat uncomfortable talking about the reading from Mark. I couldn't help myself when I got to the sermon and I talked a good deal about the Mark reading anyway. Regardless, here is the text of Sunday's sermon.
James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, "Have a seat here, please," while to the one who is poor you say, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. [For the one who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.]
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." Then he said to her, "For saying that, you may go-- the demon has left your daughter." So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, "He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."
Works and Faith
When I was taking coursework at the Lutheran seminary in Dubuque I was told that Luther did not care much for the writings of James in the bible. Luther had put the books of the bible into three different tiers and James was relegated to the bottom tier. I can reasonably assume that Luther objected to the stress James put on works. For instance in today's reading James says, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?” The final statement by James in today’s reading is: “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
Because I was aware of the status of the writings of James to the bottom rung of the ladder I made sure to sprinkle my own essays with a little bit of James whenever I could. Since I was an Episcopalian attending a Lutheran seminary I was comfortable saying what I wanted.
Paul was at the top tier for Luther because of the tenor of his letters regarding the importance of faith. In Paul's letter to the Romans he says: “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works.” At first glance you might think that there is real conflict between Paul and James. James says faith without works is not faith at all and Paul says a person is justified before God by faith alone and that works doesn't really fit into the equation.
So where does the Episcopal church fit into this theological tug of war? Living up to our position of the via media which is Latin for the middle way, we agree with both of them. How can that be? Yes, we truly believe that we are justified before God by our faith. We also believe that the works that we do in our lives are an outcropping of that faith.
I actually believe that Paul and James agreed with each other. James was telling us that if we go around telling people we have faith but we do not feed the hungry, visit the sick, give shelter to the homeless and welcome the stranger we are just spouting empty words that have no meaning.
Faith and works are tied together just as a symptom is tied to a disease. (That is a terrible analogy but I am going with it.) If I have a sore throat and a runny nose I probably have a cold. If I profess my faith in God and go about humbly doing works in my community then I likely have faith.
A Little Faith Humor Courtesy of Christians Unite .com
|A Very Faithful Woman|
Next door to her lived an atheist who would get so angry at her proclamations he would shout, "There ain't no Lord!!"
Hard times set in on the elderly lady, and she prayed for GOD to send her some assistance. She stood on her porch and shouted "PRAISE THE LORD. GOD I NEED FOOD!! I AM HAVING A HARD TIME. PLEASE LORD, SEND ME SOME GROCERIES!!"
The next morning the lady went out on her porch and noted a large bag of groceries and shouted, "PRAISE THE LORD."
The neighbor jumped from behind a bush and said, "Aha! I told you there was no Lord. I bought those groceries, God didn't."
The lady started jumping up and down and clapping her hands and said, "PRAISE THE LORD. He not only sent me groceries, but He made the devil pay for them. Praise the Lord!"