Sermon for Sunday September 6th, 2015, the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Isaiah 35:4-7a, Psalm 146, James 2:1-17, Mark 7:24-37
Text: James 2:14-17
Theme: The need for our faith in God to be apparent from our behavior and actions
An old Scotsman operated a little rowboat for transporting passengers. One day a passenger noticed that the good old man had carved on one oar the word “Faith” and on the other oar the word “Works.” Curiosity led him to ask the meaning of these oars. The old man, being a well-balanced Christian and glad for the opportunity to testify said, “I will show you.”
Then he dropped one oar and plied the other called Works, and they just went around in circles. Then he dropped that oar and began to ply the oar called Faith, and the little boat just went around in circles again – this time the other way around, but still in a circle.
After this demonstration the old man picked up Faith and Works, and plying both oars together, sped swiftly over the water, explaining to his inquiring passenger. “You see, that is the way it is in the Christian life. Dead works without faith are useless, and faith without works is dead also, getting you nowhere. But faith and works pulling together make for safety, progress, and blessing.”
(From a sermon by Dennis Davidson, “Authentic Faith Works,” 10/26/2009)
The English Reformers’ view of faith and works is reflected in The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England, and particularly in Article XII:
Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgement; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith; insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.
The truth that good works, or good deeds, are a necessary part of the Christian life, and evidence of authentic Christian faith, is found in Holy Scripture. The idea that faith in God is shown by the whole of our life is a fundamental insight even in the Old Testament. The principle is stated succinctly and firmly even by St. John the Baptist, when he calls upon the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him for baptism to “bring forth fruits meet for repentance” (Matthew 3:8, KJV). The Lord Jesus Christ in his preaching warns people that they cannot enter God’s kingdom unless their righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). In other words, righteousness must not merely be superficial, but real and embodied in their lives.
JAMES 1:14-17: FAITH IS TO BE SHOWN IN ACTION
The example of how discrimination against the poor Christian makes one a transgressor of God’s law is a telling one, and the implication of this discrimination is a refusal to show mercy, a refusal which will meet with judgment without mercy. At issue here is prejudice in all its forms. How often we human beings pre-judge others without thinking what sadness or difficulties, what trials and troubles, they may be facing!
People are often so caught up in the economic difficulties of their own lives, or in their own business, that they forget to show love and compassion toward needy people they encounter. The example St. James uses of the uselessness of faith without actions is Christians’ withholding from the poor the food and clothing that they need when it lay within their power to help them.
Faith without good deeds, St. James declares, is dead (James 2:17).
Now faith in God must be revealed by good deeds, especially by our love for people in need. Faith is also revealed when we are patient with those who try our nerves. It is revealed in acts of kindness, mercy, gentleness and in all the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and faith itself is both a gift of the Holy Spirit, and an aspect of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes a person may say, “If I help the poor too much, I myself shall become poor.”
Of course, one can help others so much financially, that one’s own resources run low. This can even happen to clergy. Yet the fear of becoming poor by giving away too much can lead to a complete lack of generosity altogether.
THE EUROPEAN CRISIS
As you well know, right now the numbers of migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq seeking asylum in Europe are overwhelming. While the traditional attitude of European countries is to help migrants as much as they can, many people may well be concerned about how such an enormous influx of migrants will affect the economy and the current scarcity of employment opportunities. Germany expects to receive 800 000 migrants by the end of the year, and their country sets no legal limit on the number of people who can seek asylum there. Even the USA will receive a few thousand Syrian refugees in the next two years.
I believe God is calling all the nations of the West to a new openness to the hard-working poor fleeing wars, terror and violence in their countries or origin. As Christians, we have an obligation to help those who are in need that come to us for help. We cannot solve the problems of the world. Migrations of peoples and nations have been happening for various reasons throughout ages past.
Let each of us be aware of God’s call to show our faith and love in action, especially in helping those who need our help. As St. James tells us, faith without works is dead.