September 2, 2018
Title: Doing Out of Grace
Tomorrow is a day to be intentional in our resting. For a society that is always so much on the go, it is wonderful to be able to take a day off and simply be. Of course, we know that this is not true, because there are still many places that are still open on Labor Day and many retailers even having special sales. I can only imagine what the marketing team thinks up: Hey! It is a holiday, let’s see how much money we can make off from running special sales. The intention of Labor Day seems to be lost on our current economy.
For those of you that do not know, Labor Day was established in the late nineteenth century at the encouragement of labor unions that were attempting to protect the right of their members. There were constant protests in response to child labor, 12-hour workdays, and 7-day workweeks just to name a few. The establishment of Labor Day was a step toward recognizing individuals for their contributions to their employers and the economy. It is similar to the commandment of God to take a day of sabbath. In this rest, God calls us into action through the word of Jesus. The words Jesus say matter and part of his commission for us is to go out and proclaim the good news. One way to live into this calling is through our actions.
I will admit, that we could think of it as ironic that in the midst of the Labor Day weekend we receive an epistle from James that tells us to be doers. It seems to speak counter-intuitively to the entire reason for being able to take a day of rest. Martin Luther was not very receptive to the letter of James. At one point he even called it the “epistle of straw,” which was not worth anything. He believed that it spoke opposite to the letters Paul wrote, to which Martin discovered that nothing was required of us and that we are justified by faith alone. James’ words can seem like he his laying out rules of morality and how one should act and behave.
Despite this, there is value to be found in the words of James. There are many jumping off points from today’s lesson. One is his comparison of being a hearer versus a doer of God’s word. He compares those that hear the word to those that look in a mirror and look away and immediately forgot what they had just seen. James concern is that those that only choose to hear the word and not act on it are only deceiving themselves.
How easy is it to deceive ourselves when we choose to only hear what we want to hear. This is not only true when we choose to just hear, but when we choose to not do anything about it. We deceive ourselves when we choose to only listen to one side of an argument and turn our back on those that we disagree. We deceive ourselves when we selectively tune in to only those things that we agree with. We deceive ourselves when we take everything we hear for granted and do not choose to question it.
Let’s admit it, it is easy to just listen and sit back and not do anything. When there are no expectations of us, why should we stick our nose into things that don’t affect us? It is easy to be apathetic to those things happening around us when they do not personally affect us. This apathy is the path that many have fallen into today. We are so focused on our own well-being that we forget to look beyond where there may be help needed. When we choose to hear only those things that we agree with, then our lives become one-dimensional.
I believe this is part of the fear that resides in James. He wants the hearers of his letter to be moved into action. The action that he is calling them to will add value to the Word of God. The Word that has been with creation from the beginning of time. This action that he is calling them to is not for their own merit. They are not going to get gold stars for going out and helping their neighbor weed. They will, however, begin to build a stronger relationship with their neighbors and ultimately with God through the connections that are made.
James does not discount the power of hearing. He says, “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” There is power in learning how to be still and listening to God. There is power in learning how to be still and listening to their neighbors. This does not come out of their own doing though. James reminds them that they are given these gifts from God. “Every generous act of giving and every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights.” The language James uses brings us back to the creation story and reminds us that all creation has come into being through God.
Through our hearing, we are called to ministries that we may have never contemplated on our own. This past week the mission and outreach team met and did a brief brainstorming session on where God may be calling us to be in this community.
While James called his listeners to be doers of the word, we too can take his words to heart today. It is extremely important for us to be hearers of the word. We can read and contemplate on the word of God and listen to where it may be calling us in our lives. Out of this time of hearing, we shall also be compelled to go out and share that word with others through our actions. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Friar, has attempted to find this balance in his ministry through the Center for Action and Contemplation. Not only can we contemplate on the word of God, but through the grace and love of God, we can share that same love and grace with those that are in need through our actions.
The Message translation has the reading from the epistle end today as James writes, “Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” One of the core principles of the Center for Action and Contemplation connects with this on a personal level as it states, “True religion leads us to an experience of our True Self and undermines my false self.”
Through the gift of grace and love that comes to us from God through Jesus Christ, we may be propelled to go out and be doers of the word. It is in this action that we can begin to understand our true self. The self that is created in the image of God.
Let us pray. Gracious God, we give thanks for your Word that has come and dwelled among us. The Word that we have opened up our ears to and a Word that is reverberated through our love for others in reaching out in service. Amen.