Tag Archives: James 2

Theology Virtue #1: Faith. It Defines Us.

given on Sunday, September 6, 2015

Scripture base: James 2:14-20, NLT

Faith without Good Deeds Is Dead

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God.[n] Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

Reflection:

Welcome home! Labor Day weekend brings families back together for one last summer blowout. Locally a fair has dominated this holiday weekend for 68 years. The wild time in the small town (this year’s theme) is representative of the history for the families and friends of the community.

The weekend is a showcase for the talents and gifts of the many generations that grew up on the farms around this little town. The school lets out early. The arena is busy with horse shows, queen contests and feature events. There is laughter, storytelling, friendly greetings, and kids squealing with excitement.

Home is where we learn who we are. We try out various behaviors during our school years, along the streets and country roads of the community. We develop our personality, our practices, and our habits.

The close knit community shapes our lives in a range of ways, and the churches typically are an integral part of that heritage. The social world has changed, but the values and the practices many families develop traditionally include the church.

The New Testament book of James reads like a textbook for Christian living. The focus in the first two chapters is faith, but continuing with the reading, two other qualities are identified: hope and love.

Faith, hope and love are virtues that separate Christians from non-Christians. Using the lectionary commentary, virtue is a Greek term meaning “habit” or “a lasting attitude that defines a person.” Faith, hope and love are defined as “theological virtues.” These virtues are the foundations of a Christian lifestyle.

In the reading from James, faith is connected to good deeds. Yet, good deeds come second or as a result of faith. Explaining faith is tough because it is one of those intangible concepts. There is no visible way to prove or disprove the very source of one’s faith.

Faith is trust in or knowledge about God even though we do not have concrete evidence. Faith in God is like knowing that there is a sun that will shine each and every day regardless of whether there are clear skies or cloudy ones.

Faith is a habit the opens the relationship between God and us. Faith begins with a conscious awareness that there is a God and we are his children. Faith supports our understanding of the scriptures that tell the story of relationships between God and his children over and over again.

James moves the fundamental relationship between God and us and shows us how to demonstrate that faith in our own lives. He emphasizes the good deeds we do is evidence of our faith. The relationship we have with God leads us to do good deeds. James writes:

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

James was Jesus’ brother. Understandably, James and Jesus had a brotherly relationship, but even that relationship had to expand as James witnessed the ministry of Jesus. A brotherly relationship had to develop into a personal relationship with God.

The letter James writes takes the words Jesus’ teachings and develops them into action—good deeds. A relationship that is a verbal statement is not a relationship with meaning. God teaches us that we are to demonstrate that relationship with God through good deeds.

Going back to the Old Testament stories, James supports the argument that good deeds puts faith into action. He points out the absolute trust that Abraham places in God when he takes his son Isaac to be sacrificed. That faith in God took Abraham to the very last moment of sacrificing his son—the altar built, the child secured, and the knife in hand.

He then adds the story of the prostitute Rahab whose faith in God was secure enough to protect the spies as they tried to reclaim Jerico, a city of Israelites, from its captors. Her good deeds saved her and her family from the city’s destruction.

Do we have stories of faith now that continue to show how faith works? Certainly. In our own lifetimes, we have studied history and know that faith in God has saved many from death. We see friends and family members live out their faith by the good deeds they do.

Faith in God creates a trusting relationship that deepens with each good deed.   As young people watch parents and adults, they begin to develop the faith they witness. Going to church and saying one is Christian may be outward signs that a person is in a relationship with God, but true faith is seen in the good deeds that person does day in and day out.

Maintaining a relationship with God is faith. Living that faith is done with good deeds. Reading James, we can learn how to live our faith openly. We do not have to tell everybody that we have faith in God because the good deeds will prove our relationship with God is real.

Closing prayer

Dear Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Thank you for the words of James.

What a gift his letter is for us still today.

Let us take the words and put them into action.

Guide us in learning to do good for one another

In a challenging world that holds us captive.

Help us hear the cries of your children in need

So that we can show how much you love them

Through the good deeds we can do.

Thank you, too, for all your children in our community

Who demonstrate faith daily with good deeds.

May we continue to develop our own faith

Living it out loud by the good deeds we do, too.

Amen.

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Star or No Star? Belong or Not Belong?

given on the fourth Sunday of Lent, March 30, 2014

references the book The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss by Rev. James Kemp

Star or No Star?

Belong or Not Belong?

 

            How many groups do you connect with? Do you go to school reunions? Have you paid any dues for various organizations that share interests with you? Do you get publications you subscribe to because it applies to your profession?

If you can identify even one group to which you belong, then you know the comfort you feel because of that relationship. The importance you place on the relationship typically determines how much time and money you invest in belonging to that group.

Consider this question: Was what you believed more important than belonging or was belonging more important in learning about the group/interest?

Another thought to consider: Would you have joined that organization or even subscribe to that publication if you had no knowledge or even little knowledge of the subject?

Rev. James Kemp read The Sneetches, a Dr. Seuss book written during the civil rights movement, and he connected the overriding theme to Paul telling the earliest Christians that there was no difference between the Jews and the Gentiles: “For all of you are one in Christ Jesus. As a Christian, all were completely equal.

These are the words from The Sneetches that capture the message:

Now, the Star-Bell Sneetches had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.
Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small.
You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.

The story continues showing how the stars excluded the non-stars from playing together. Simply put, the stars discriminated the non-stars. For those born prior to the 1970s, the story is a political satire concerning the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and the 1960’s. We might even tune out the story since we lived through it ourselves.

Would Paul have asked us to ignore the issue of discrimination or not? Hardly. In his own life experience, he first would have been a Sneetch with a star on his belly, but along the road to Emmaus, God removed his Jewish star. God wanted Paul to get the message of Jesus Christ; and since Paul was persecuting the first Christian believers, God needed him to get the message in a very direct and concrete manner.

The no-star Sneetches knew they were being excluded even though they were exactly the same as the starred Sneetches. The problem of belonging to a group or not is found throughout history. Due to Paul’s personal conversion, he learned there were no differences between Jews and Gentiles as he writes to the Galatians:

28 There is no Jew or Greek. There is no slave or free person. There is no male or female. Because you belong to Christ Jesus, you are all one.

 

In today’s society, belonging is everything. Everybody seems to find some way to connect with people through genealogy, social media, alumni organizations, sports teams, common experiences. The list continues to grow and sometimes it seems a game to see just how many ways you can “belong” to as many groups as you can. (Sorry to John Wesley for the parallel phrasing.)

Fortunately, characters like Sylvester McMonkey McBean are not always around trying to find a quick fix to connect one to some particular group through false methods. The Sneetches paid the $10.00 charge to add a star to a belly. The fix worked until the Sneetches with the stars naturally discovered they were no longer special and Sylvester McMonkey McBean devised the machine to take the star off, too.

The New Covenant delivered by Jesus eliminates such risky investments. Rev. Kemp places the emphasis on the inclusiveness of God’s love. No longer is there any reason to look for ways to belong, believe in Jesus Christ and you do belong.

Rev. Kemp focuses on the similarities rather than the differences:

  • Creation. We all are created by God. We are both alike and different from one another, but God called the whole of creation good.
  • Calling. There is purpose in life for each and everyone of us. Just as the prophets in the Old Testament were called, we too are called for a purpose.
  • Sin. All of us have fallen short of what God requires. We deceive ourselves if we think we have not sinned. But to acknowledge this does not mean accepting it as the last word.
  • Christ.We share in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. God loves us despite our failings. This is by far the most important basis for our unity. [p.70-71]

 

People want to belong. There is a very basic human need to feel connected with others and belonging to special groups helps fulfill that need. It is the very reason that gangs continue to grow in today’s culture.

A mobile, global society has significantly altered the sense of belonging to a community. In small towns, the economic need for a community has shifted. Transportation has eliminated the 10-mile radius that once determined where business was transacted. Communication is instant and no longer needs a central location to connect people to people.

Belonging to a family, a community, or a church is no longer dependent on genetics or even beliefs. Belonging comes first. Once individuals develop that sense of belonging, the practices in that setting lead to belief. After one becomes accustomed to the practices, the belief becomes part of the foundation.

This faith process is just opposite of what it has been for thousands of years. What you believed determined where you belonged. Beliefs led to practices that identified to what group you belonged. Belonging was the result of the belief system.

Paul’s message to the Galatians came at a time the belief system was changing. The belief in Christ eliminated the difference between the Jews and the Gentiles. As the centuries passed, the Christian faith grew. People belonged and it created the Judeo-Christian foundation for governments, human relations, and more. The Western Cultures were defined by the Christian beliefs.

Today, the Sylvester McMonkey McBeans character might be considered an excellent marketing executive, but marketing today—even in our churches—is to show others how they belong, and in our churches the unchurched first need to know they already belong in God’s world. There can be no discriminating factors in our churches because Jesus erased them. The doors are open, but our arms must be open, too.

Rev. Kemp wraps up his sermon focusing on how we all belong to God. We can do it, he says,

“Proclaiming and celebrating unity in the church . . encouraging others and not boasting about our own accomplishments.  It means courting a spirit of gratitude instead of pride. It means that we cannot separate love for God from love for one another.” [p. 71]

Any church that can demonstrate unconditional love and acceptance creates a sense of belonging. In this 21st century, those outside of the church are watching closely to see who belongs or who does not belong. They are watching to see if the arms are as open as the doors.

Rev. Kemp closes with these thoughts:

No kind of Christian is the best Christian in the church. There are no Star-Belly Christians. We are family. We are one in Jesus Christ. [Ibid.]

 

Churches who can demonstrate this depth of Christian love for one and for all, then others will come. Others will discover they do belong to this family, a Christian family. They will be able to work together in acts of mercy and to develop their acts of worship. John Wesley lived when the belief, supported by the practices, created a strong bond of belonging within the church.

What works is what James wrote in his letter, too:

. . . treat everyone the same.

     2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes. And suppose a poor man in worn-out clothes also comes in. Would you show special attention to the one who is wearing fine clothes? Would you say, “Here’s a good seat for you”? Would you say to the poor person, “You stand there”? Or “Sit on the floor by my feet”? If you would, aren’t you treating some people better than others? Aren’t you like judges who have evil thoughts?

 

Today’s churches are working to make sure all feel as they belong. First they invite, they host, they teach, and they love one another. As one feels a sense of belonging, they join in the practices, and they live what they now believe. Sounds backward and upside down, but the churches who grow know loving one another breaks down all the differences. We are truly “one in Christ Jesus,” as Paul wrote the Galatians.

Closing Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for granting complete equality for all who believe.

Thank you for loving us before we know we are worth loving.

Thank you for sending your Son to teach how to live your love.

What barriers you have removed between people,

help us to keep them torn down,

help us to reach out to include them,

and help us to share the joy of Christian family.

Guide us in our decisions, in our efforts, and in our plans.

May we welcome others into the glory of God’s grace. –Amen

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