Psalm 37: 1-7a
JAMES 1:5, 17, & 22; 3:18; 5:11b & 13-20

August 25, 2019

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And, on Friday morning I paused to look up at stained glass windows casting colored lights on the copper box that held my friend’s body and I saw a cross embedded above him.   And, then later following the casket of this man of faith we entered the church for mass and the gathered crowd heard the voice of a woman attempting to put us into a holy state of mind singing “HERE I AM LORD … ‘is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night … I will go Lord if you need me. I will hold your people in my arms.”

FAITH and ACTIONS; the book of James has been a much more intense study than I would have imagined; presenting a continuous challenge to those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ; this letter from an author whose true identity no one really knows … takes the Gospel of Jesus Christ and provides a very specific instruction manual to use every day and every week so that all of our today’s allow us to be ready for the unknown of tomorrow.  James teaches us that we have a role … we have a responsibility … when we choose to walk in the Light of Christ it is not a Sunday momentary escape carefully glancing to insure the neighbors don’t notice but rather a challenge to be the ones who the world clearly sees as being different; more loving; more caring; and willing to stand up through our faith and actions on behalf of those who are hurting while not falling into the trap of complaining about other human beings … which is a challenge in a time when we have people whose daily preoccupation is to put down those they disagree with or who disagree with them.  We need to be accepting of the healing power of God rather than falling victim to the pain of the world.

Church,  as we close out the book of James here at St. Paul’s, I am here to ask; I am here to challenge … have you opened up the book of James to hear how God wants you to live?  Do you invest some of your waking moments in an attempt to determine and enhance your relationship with the Creator of all or do you view that as Sunday morning time only?  Are you praying without ceasing leaving God the opportunity to have the Holy Spirit reply with God’s pushes, nudges, and directions for your life?  Or do you leave God behind in the daily planner for living?

In Daniel Schutt and Ann Laura Page’s great hymn of the church that was sung at my friend Ken’s service we experience through song a conversation with the Holy.  The songwriter asks us to sing God’s concerns, which isn’t much different than so many Scriptural texts that challenge us with God’s words … “I the Lord of sea and sky … I have heard my people cry.  All who dwell in dark and sin.  My hand will save.”  We’ve sung this hymn many times.  “I have made the stars of night; I will make their darkness bright.  WHO WILL BEAR MY LIGHT TO THEM?  Whom shall I send?”

Pretty words but a truth that we find throughout the context of James’ letter, which also is reflective of the challenge that Jesus presents to those who believe.  ACTIONS are needed from people of faith … Christianity isn’t the lazy take a break religion that we have allowed it to become through the years; skipping out on it when we want to enjoy life or when we want to get our time … Jesus taught, “And, everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a fool who built a house on the sand … the rain fell, the floods came, the wind blew and the house fell and was completely destroyed.”  It should come as no surprise that JAMES in this instruction guide of faith would write, “You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves.”

In these ten weeks, I have attempted to again challenge you into considering the value of your faith in relationship to your life.  James understands that we often disregard the  temporary nature of life on earth because the eternal side is foreign and far off or so it seems while James also clearly comprehends God’s gift of promise through the saving powers of Jesus Christ.  James gets that faith is a transitioning moment when individuals become a different person whose breathing hours no longer are about them but rather about mission wrapped up in care for others.  That our mornings even before the first cup of coffee have the potential to forever change another person’s direction in life.  That the witness of our weeks on earth; the testimony of the years of our lives that contradict the human norms not only are our way to verify to God that we just aren’t church goers hoping for an easy fix who are not buying into the change but are indeed Christians whose very witness if we allow it can bring the light of God’s love into the paths of those who need it most; “all who dwell in dark and sin;”Are you just singing “Here I am Lord … I have heard you calling the night.  I will go Lord.  If you lead me.  I will hold your people in my heart.”

James may have heard Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in person because his letter is so reflective of Christ’s admonition from that hillside on the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee. James letter is about Christian ethics and not mere human morality but rather the expectations that are placed on those who have stood up … raised their hands … said that living the every day human life amongst the haters; the selfish wealth hoarders; the slanders; and those who use their words and actions to harm others will no longer be an element in their days, weeks, months, and years.  FAITH is changing who you are.  Being a believer is accepting that you can never be who you once were.  Living as a Christian means you love everyone … that is how you are known as one of Jesus followers.  “Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.”

CHURCH, have you changed … are you getting closer to God?  Are you with Paul when he wrote, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things” or since that moment of sensing Christ have you slipped back to the comfort zone where the world and its concerns matter more than the challenge for life that God presents?

James strongly declares that God does not give up on us.  God’s call is persistent and loving.  If you don’t have the wisdom to make the right decisions … just ask God.  James reminds people of faith of the obvious but church don’t’ we need to be reminded from time to time … we get busy and we forget so James as he provides this instruction guide of faith from the beginning of his letter until its closing he is very clear to state that God is loving, caring, forgiving and just wants us to be living in God’s light today, tomorrow and into all our days to come so that when life here is finished we will not have been actors pretending to be Christians but rather we will be active believers and followers of Christ.  And, James admits that challenge is there … “If any of you are suffering; then get down on your knees and pray to God!”

When was the last time you got down on your knees … sometimes I so wish we had kneeling rails in Methodist churches because I so need to get down before God at times.

A God whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score.”  James understands human nature and gets that people can be doubters; just look at Thomas who needed to put his fingers in the wounds of our Lord … but once we have figured it out we need to focus on the light “because in doubt people are like the surf of the sea, tossed and turned by the wind.”

And, James challenges us to be people of integrity in our faith.  Not lazy, not living lives and using words that diminish Jesus Christ but instead holding true to God’s truths. Those on the receiving end of this letter had heard the Gospel message and so have we.  Jesus used the example of the Good Samaritan as His answer to what is required of a person to have eternal life.  Now, we often hear loud proclaimers who claim that to have eternal life you must memorize John 3:16 but Jesus had a different answer … whether it is encased in his harsh message of Matthew 25 or in Luke 10, Jesus declares that to “inherit eternal life we must love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, soul, strength, and mind AND love our neighbor as ourselves.”  To explain what it takes to love a neighbor Jesus taught it wasn’t the priest … it wasn’t the Levite … clearly they were not inheriting eternal life in the part of the story we don’t focus on but it was the Samaritan whom the Jewish people rejected who loved his neighbor as we are to love our neighbors who would be heaven bound.

It only makes sense then that James spent so much time explicitly teaching about loving the hurting because this is an element of Salvation; it is a verification of faith; it is a challenge in the world that claims that people need to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and that some people deserve their fate.  James reminds us to welcome ALL and never show favoritism because of someone’s status so if you segregate people according to who they are .. James says you commit a sin.  If you don’t feed the hungry and care for the poor … you reject God and Jesus Christ; who are you choosing to follow? The policies of some worldly leader or Jesus Christ?

The prophet Micah declares, “The Lord has shown you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

At the end of the day … this letter is a reminder of Old Testament and New Testament lessons but it is captured in 5 short chapters focused on you and me.  If we want to disconnect our life actions from our faith walk … then we really have no faith.  EACH DAY and EVERY DAY and EVERY WEEK … you and I have the opportunity to obey or reject God.  Sadly, many church attending people choose the reject part thinking they can fool the Holy by saying that they raised their hands once upon a time after a good preacher preached a message and the preacher said they were saved but in fact all they were …. All they did. .. was raise their hand … they didn’t become part of God’s light unless they changed who they were because faith and actions are entwined tightly together.  Who one belongs to … determines the future.

Our closing hymn following Communion … the mass was finishing and the pall bearers readied themselves to take Ken’s body out of church was HOW GREAT THOU ART … ‘Then sings my soul; my Savior God to thee.  How great thou art.  How great thou art.  Then sings my soul …”

And, James wrote in this letter to people like you and me … “If you are happy … then you should sing” … “Submit yourselves to God … come nearer to God, and God will come near to you.”

That’s our challenge for the days and weeks of our lives to insure that the tomorrow’s are filled with the light of Christ … FAITH and ACTIONS; Living a life striving to get closer to God rather than to ourselves.  AMEN



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