Hebrews 9:11–14 (NRSV)
11 But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), 12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!
This weekend is filled with many events. The royals are playing in New York in the World Series for the second year in a row. This is something that amazes me, I can only say that it is obviously an omen for the good things that are on the brink of happening. But major sporting events aside, this weekend is also a very religious time of year, today is All Saints day. For most of us here we do not quite understand what exactly All Saints day is but it is a day set aside to honor all the known and unknown saints that have made significant contributions to the church and to our lives. Tomorrow is another holy day called All Souls day, which is the Christian equivalent of Memorial Day, a day to remember those people that have passed beyond the vail of life into eternity and to praise God for the opportunity to have known them. Yesterday, a day where most children in the community are actually encouraged to take candy from strangers to supply their parents with the necessary sugar to embrace and survive the days leading up to Christmas, is also a very important day. We commonly know it as Halloween, or All Hallows eve, but it is also a significant day in the church because it is a day that marks the beginning of the reformation. It is not surprising that this weekend is so significant. It is a time that we remember what God has done through individuals, and it is also a time to remember the work that continues.
This time of year has often been a struggle for me personally. There is this constant reminder throughout history that although this is a holy time of year for the church, it also has a dark side. When I was younger this time of year was always associated with evil. So as a child wanting to be a good Christian I struggled with participating in the celebrations, but the idea of free candy was enough for me to go along and ask for forgiveness later. But more recently it has become even harder for me, because this is the anniversary of the death of my little sister. For many years Halloween has been my least favorite holiday.
This whole time of year reminded me of the doubts and questions that I have about faith. It reminds me of the fragileness of life and how thin that vail between life and death really is. I still struggle at times. I struggle with grief, with depression, with a view of hopelessness and that everything we do is pointless. Why do I tell you all this? I tell you because living a life with and for Christ is difficult. At times it seems it would be easier to just throw our hands in the air and give up. But then something began to change. I began to sense that there was something more working just beneath the surface. I had this yearning to seek, to find, and suddenly I began to see pinpoints of light begin to shine in the dark.
These feelings, I imagine, are the same type of feelings the first century followers of Christ might have felt. They had this long history of God working in their nation, and then seemingly everything fell apart. They fell from being the light of nations, to living in exile. They return from exile only to become prisoners in their own land. Every so often some light would shine but it seemed that the darkness would overcome. They gathered up in group that would make attempts at explaining why the world was crashing around them and what they could do to improve the situation, but all the while darkness continued to push in on them. So they would push back.
We look at the various religious groups mentioned in scripture and we often judge them. The Pharisees were just legalistic individuals that were blind to the reality of God’s kingdom, the Sadducees were just liberal individuals wanting to keep the institution going to line their own pockets, we could continue on with the list, but the point is they were people feeling the pressures of a rapidly changing era. We look at them, we look at them through the lenses of history but do we learn?
The writer of Hebrews was a man that was intimate with the inner working of the religious community. He knew the theology. He knew the rituals, and the implications and symbolisms that they possessed. This is why many scholars believe that this letter was not written by Paul but by someone of the priestly class. So when the writer of Hebrews speaks about the priests, it is not from the outside but the inside. The priests, the temple, this lifestyle of religiosity was in many ways the only light that people could see, their only hope. They were not a people that could pull out a cell phone and instantly find answers to their questions because Wikipedia had yet to be invented. I did not have the constant news updates that we have today. All they had was their community, and their tradition. We can look at the people of ancient days and say why didn’t you see the light, but they may not have known any better.
The writer of Hebrews, is speaking to the people that were not swayed by the newest things. He is speaking to the people that are grounded in their faith, and have full trust in the institutions that have provided them hope. Today we read in the ninth chapter of Hebrews. In the first ten verses the writer speaks about the place of worship, the significance of that space, and the rituals that happen there. He then says, “But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come.” This is odd wordage. When reading this we are not getting the full effect of what is being said. I do not envy the people that translate the scripture, because how do you translate the idea of emerging hope? That is what the writer is trying to explain. This idea of something different a new era in life with God. This is also why he uses the illustration of the Tent of Meeting used during the exodus instead of the image of the temple, because that symbolism is such that God is not dwelling in a building far away but is camped out right in the middle of the community. Before God was only accessible through the priest in a temple, but now God is with us.
This is the good things that have come, the era of God with us. Similar to the tent that traveled where the people traveled but far greater because there is no separation. The tent, the temple, the very idea of holiness is changing form into something far better and more perfect. God is all around us and in us.
Wait am I just reading into this passage something that is not there? Let us go back a step. The author says, “[Greater] and perfect tent.” I want to look at the word greater for a moment. This term in English we can see as simply better. I just used that term actually, but greater is far greater than what our language can convey. The idea being implied is of greater status, or might. It is a term that speaks of position. When John the Baptist spoke of Jesus he said that the one to come was greater than him, of which he, John, was not worthy to even untie the laces of his sandals. This is the greater that the writer of Hebrews is speaking. Everything that came before is not even worthy of performing the lowest of tasks before the majesty of the one to come. Let us then consider the greatness that John spoke about. John cried out in the wilderness calling all to repent and be baptized. Saying, “I baptize with water but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
This idea of baptism for repentance is much deeper than ritual cleansing. It was the idea that as you are immersed in the waters that the water would carry away all the impurities and that those that repent would be saturated with purity. The ritual of baptism is just a shadow of the greater things of which the writer of Hebrews speaks. The Greater things is God with and in us, we being saturated with the very spirit of God.
God with us that is what the author is telling us. The rituals carry great symbolism but they are empty without Christ, and with Christ they are insignificant. They may help direct us but they are not even worthy of the lowest status. Consider that for a moment, because that is where so many of us get trapped.
We get trapped looking at the shell instead of what is filling the shell. We get trapped fulfilling our interpretations of the law, or what is required to be holy and we miss the reality of what God really wants. We become like the Pharisees and Sadducees of old making vain attempts of trying to change the darkness by pushing back. We settle for the husk instead of the fruit. Jesus does not call us to institutes but he calls us to follow him. He calls us to walk with him, pray with him, and serve with him. He desires to be with us.
I mentioned that often this time of year can be one of the most depressing times for me personally, but that has begun to change. I say this because I do enjoy history so I get excited about considering the lives of the saints. I have looked into the circumstances that various people lived through that lead them to become what we consider great people of faith. I have looked into the lives of people like Saint Francis and Saint Ignatius. I look into their lives because they were strong people of faith that encouraged those that would listen to them to live their faith out in the community. I have studied about the life and ministry of our own traditions founder, George Fox, and I see something very similar. Each of these people that I consider saints show us something profound. They lived through trying times where everything seemed to be going the opposite direction, the world around them seemed to be moving away from God instead of toward Him. Each of these individuals suffered trials of various kinds, and each through the power of the Spirit were bearers of light in the darkness. These saints and many more like them faced the trials, reformed the church, and left a legacy whose ripples continue throughout history.
As I have walked this path of faith, seeking and attempting to find what is happening just beneath the surface I have also had to consider the events of my own life. I have spoken of many instances in my life that have been instrumental in my formation. Those events are not always pleasant. The death of my sister, Candice, sent my life in a spiral. Not many would have been able to see what was going on inside because I got very good at hiding behind the façade I constructed. For a while I rejected all things of God. He could not be real since terrible things happened to such an innocent girl. I realized looking back that as I ran and made choices each of those events, each step I took seemingly away from God was actually leading me back into His arms.
I look back on the lives of the saints, on the lives of the souls, at the reformers, and those that just lived lives of faith, and I see hope. Because there is a greater more perfect tent through which our High Priest is bringing about the good things to come. I look out at the events surrounding us and I see hope. Do I want to live through these trying times? Absolutely not. But this is where we are, this is the time and place that Christ is calling us to follow Him through. This is the era in which God formed and is forming us to serve. Will we rise to the race set before us?
The Pharisees and Sadducees lived in the turmoil of an emerging era and history often sees them as villains unable to see the light. The author of Hebrews challenges us to purify our consciences of dead works and worship the living God. Often I am like those religious leaders devout to the traditions of old, but missing the life that God wants me live. Often I can get caught up in the legalistic based righteousness, and try to push back on those that oppose my ideals. But God has shown this to the dead works of imperfection. God used the pain, He used the sin, and He used the trials to lead me to His grace. It was and is often a painful journey, but I want to be a Friend of God. I want to be a disciple that follows Jesus. He is calling us to a different, and far greater life. A life that is saturated with His very spirit. And that life is a lifestyle that revolves around prayer, worship, and service. It is becoming people that are loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others.
As we enter this time of Open worship, Holy Expectancy, and communion in silence I encourage us all to contemplate the lives of those that have gone before us. Look into those trials that they face and the trials that God has allowed us to face and ask the Spirit to fill the gaps between our understandings and to show us a way forward through the darkness and pain.
James 3:1–12 (NRSV)
Taming the Tongue
3 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
What do people say about you? A simple question that depending on your age, or current circumstance may be something encouraging or devastating. It is ridiculous really how much weight many of place in the words that people speak to and about us. It is ridiculous but we cannot help ourselves. People talk, people listen, we are concerned that maybe what people are hearing might be untrue or even worse the truth we do not want others to see. The spoken word.
How we speak to others and how we speak of others can reveal a great deal about the character of an individual, and even the community in which individuals participate in. Yet do we really consider what the words we speak to those around us are doing?
James the brother of Jesus speaks a great deal about the words that we speak for a reason. The words that people spoke got someone very close to him killed. Have you ever considered that our words could be taken to that level? That concept struck me over the course of this past week. I spent a great deal of time contemplating speech, words, how words can be perceived and how they could be twisted. The spoken word.
All week I have scrolled though news feeds, viewing picture after picture, editorial after editorial of people urging us to remember a day fourteen years ago. It is a day most of us will never forget, a day where the foundations of a mighty nation of people were shaken, a day where we were faced with a very grim reality. How often have we considered what was spoken around that event?
I do not want us to brush this to the side but I want us to consider it fully. That day happened because people spoke words carefully strung together to drive emotional response that may or may not have been true, they spoke these words in such a manner that those who heard the words would not question the validity of what was being said but would believe. People were blamed for the situations that others found themselves in, guilt was professed, a solution was proposed, and promises were made. This was done over the course of a lifetime, and slowly through the use of carefully manipulated words people within a community were moved to such a degree that they felt it was not only permissible but a righteous requirement to kill.
Now on the flip side of the equation, words were also spoken, words that assessed blame, guilt was announced, sentences were carried out and promises were made. Carefully formulated words that were spoken in a tone, manner, and location to move people in such a way that they would feel that it was not only permissible but a righteous requirement to kill.
How many of us have considered how much power the spoken word has over people. The spoken word can encourage an individual to strive for greatness, or it can feed primal instincts of survival. Yet so often words are spoken with little regard. This is why James says that not many of you should become teachers. Last week I said that James was probably the most controversial book of the New Testament and this is just another example of why this controversy is there. For most Christians in the protestant branches of the faith we have an understanding that every person that is a disciple of Christ is a priest of a minister. That every man, woman, and child has the ability and directive to spread the Gospel of Jesus. Especially among the Friends traditions, of which for most of its history did not have an office for a position in the church meeting of Pastor. Because we have a strongly held belief that we are all called to be ministers.
Not all of you should become teachers. I have to admit that this statement does not set well with me, because I firmly believe that if God wants something to be said or done He will empower that person or group of people to act. Because the words did not set well with me, because they challenged my understanding of what I thought to be true, I studied what was going on. I must study because I might have missed something important and it is my responsibility to seek out answers. Does James just come right out and say that not everyone should preach the Gospel? Did James say that there is an ordained office of teacher that we must submit too? The short answer is yes, yes he really did say that, but that is not the total answer.
All too often we fail to fully hear when words are spoken. We catch a part and if the words do not fit well with our preconceived ideas we stop listening and often if we were just able to listen to the second half of a sentence we would have found an explanation for the perceived discrepancy. James says not all of you should be teachers. The word we translate as teacher in the ancient world does not only mean Pastor, even though it is often used in that sense. The word used is probably more clearly understood as skilled master.
In college I took a couple of semester of Taekwondo to fulfill a physical education requirement. I learned a great deal in these classes, I moved up in stature among the community of students, but I am not a skilled master. I should not be a teacher of Taekwondo, because if I were to claim to be a teacher of Taekwondo someone might get hurt because there is much more I would need to learn. I can however assist the master in teaching those that have not yet made it to the same level I am at. If you have ever hired skilled laborers, there are various levels of expertise: apprentice, journeyman, and master. A master plumber, is more skilled than the apprentice because they have spent many hours perfecting their trade and skills. The Master plumber is the one that trains those beneath them and the one that we feel the most confident with. The other levels we probably would not even call. With this in mind not everyone should be considered a skilled master. Does this mean that an apprentice plumber cannot fix a leak in your pipes? Does it mean that a yellow belted Taekwondo student is incapable to defend themselves in a fight? No it simply means that there is more that can be learned from others. Not all of us are master teachers, but we can assist people along their journey to the place where we are.
Why are most of us not able to be teachers? Discipline, or more accurately disciplined speech. I have just illustrated that the spoken word can be used to manipulate people, to move them to do things that they were incapable to do before, this can be either positive or negative depending on the will of those speaking. James says that the tongue can be like a small fire that consumes a forest, or a deadly poison that can become a curse to those that hear. Discipline is key. Fire is not always a threat to the environment, in many ways fire is a necessity for the health of an ecosystem. This is why ranchers and scientists have continued to utilize this primitive tool when managing range lands of the prairies. Fire is also a powerful tool that can be used as a method of controlling unwanted weeds within croplands as well. But we all know fire, when not controlled, is dangerous. At this moment there is currently 1.6 million acres of land being burned by 33 uncontrolled fires in the American west, communities are threatened, families are being displaced, and lives have been lost.
Now let us consider poisons. What is a poison? A poison is a compound that can cause illness or death. These poisons can be naturally occurring or they can be compounds manipulated by man to produce some sort of desired effect. Many things could be poisonous if they are used improperly but under disciplined care many poisons can actually be lifesaving elements. Something as simple as Visine which can be used to lubricate dry eyes if used improperly can cause severer illness, and something like rat poison if used properly can manage cardiovascular disease. So fires can promote or destroy the environment, and chemical compounds can promote or destroy life, how are you using your words?
Not all of us should be teachers, or more accurately not all of us should be considered speech masters. This does not mean that we cannot encourage those around us to follow Christ. It simply means that we should be very aware that we need to have discipline when we speak. One of the most recognizable traditions of Friends worship is that we utilize times of silence to encourage communion with God. During these periods of Silence we not only hope but expect that the Spirit of God will speak and move us as individuals and as communities. This can be a powerfully spiritual experience, but it can also be a place where people can cause great spiritual harm. During those periods of silence no one really knows what might happen, we just wait in spiritual limbo. It can be awkward at times, it can be enriching, it can be rest for your souls, or it can be convicting, and during this time anyone can speak. There is an old proverb that states, “Do not speak unless you can improve the silence.” I do not know where this comes from, or who originally said it, but it is profound. Just because words are not being spoken does not mean there is a void of concern or activity. But the idea that words should improve the silence points to the fact that what we say should be out of discipline. Or as James says earlier in his letter to the church, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” Silence allows the words to settle before they are reacted to, it allows one to consider fully what has been said so that when we respond it is not out of anger but out of the desire to improve. When we are able to listen before we speak and to discipline our speech to improve those around us we can control the burns, instead of causing wild fires. When we are quick to listen and slow to speak we are better equip to administer healing balms instead of poison.
Just as a Taekwondo master spends a lifetime in practice, just as a musician spends years practicing an instrument, just as a doctor spends time in study, and plumbers fine-tuning their skills we must practice the discipline of speech. Jesus taught us this through his life and his ministry. Throughout the scripture we are told that He made it his custom to worship in the synagogues, that he would withdraw to the isolated places to pray, and that he would go out to the community to minister though teaching and healing. This I have often called the Holy Rhythm, but it is simply a life of discipline and devotion. It is no different than a doctor learning their trade, or any other skill humanity has mastered. This holy rhythm is a life devoted to the Kingdom of God. We have incorporated this in our mission as a church to be a people loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the Love of Christ with other. This is a call to a different life, a different life style, a lifestyle that does not look at personal gain but community improvement. It is a lifestyle where we listen first and speak only if we can improve those around us, by pointing them to the source of true hope.
As we enter into this time of Holy Expectancy consider the way you have used your words this week. Have they been used to improve those around you, or have they caused harm to the environment? You may also want to ask God how to help you in this area and just sit in the silence until you can improve it with your voice.
James 2:1–17 (NRSV)
Warning against Partiality
2 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 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, 3 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,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 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? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 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. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
Faith without Works Is Dead
(Cp Gen 22; Josh 2)
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 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? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
Of all the books of the New Testament, James is probably the most controversial. I find that very odd because it is one of my favorites, following the Gospel of John. I should rephrase that as being it is the most controversial in the western church and particularly the ones from more protestant variations. The Eastern Church loves this letter mainly because the eastern cultures have a different perspective on many things. I mentioned last week that this book was written by James the Brother of Jesus, and many have argued that James and Paul might have been having a debate while they penned their letters to the churches, while other scholars simply believe that they were speaking to two very different cultural perspectives. I tend to lean more toward the latter. I say this because I have visited a more Eastern influenced culture and found that they think, speak, and act in different ways. Their culture is more community focused than what we have come to know as the west.
East and West, I do not want you to think that I am speaking of current events when I say this. In ancient times we all know that the kingdoms of Israel were conquered by the empires of Assyria and Babylon, and were later assimilated by Persia when it conquered Babylon. All of these empires came in from the East. Then Greece from the west began to push from the west across the Persian Empire, pushing the Persian Empire to their farthest Eastern boarders known today as India. After a time Israel gained their independence from Greece forming the Hasmonian Dynasty which ruled for 123 years until Rome was asked to assist the nation in a civil war becoming a puppet kingdom under the leadership of Herod. Under the Greek and Roman leadership Israel began gaining more Westernized ideas, these ideas were what prompted the revolution from which they gained their independence for a short time. But for most of its existence, Israel has had a very eastern perspective, this is not surprising since Abraham was called out of the city of Ur, which was a prominent city of the Sumerian Empire the first major empire of the Middle East from which Babylon and Assyria emerged.
So we have these Eastern and Western ideologies working among the people of Israel, James was a leader of the Church in Jerusalem while Paul was writing to a cultural perspective that did not have the Eastern influence and was strongly influenced by the Greco-Roman philosophies. When Paul writes his letters to the people in the west they think and speak differently than the people James writes to in the East. This is important to consider because as we contemplate and study scripture the cultural perspective is important. Jesus was born and lived in a timeframe when the East and West were both influencing the area Rome called Palestine, much of the struggles that Jesus mentioned were issues revolving around ideologies that clashed between the two perspectives, and James writes to the people that continued to live where the East met the West. Of these influences the role of the individual within a community were the greatest struggle, mainly which is more important the community or the individual.
This has been a struggle within the church from the very beginning. As Paul moved west taking the Gospel of Jesus to the courts of the Roman Emperor, he was taking along with him a very eastern minded religious perspective, where the community took on a greater importance than the individual. Which was very contrary to the ideas of the west. And as the western ideas of individualism pushed East James was reminding the believers that they could not neglect their community. This struggle is most vividly seen in the passage we read today.
“My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?” Israel was founded on equality. No one tribe was seen as greater than the other in respect to their inheritance. Each tribe was given land in accordance to their numbers. There was no favor was given. It remained this way until the people began to desire a king to fight for them. Favoritism is not from God, favoritism deems that one individual is greater than another. God warned Israel about this saying that a king will demand your sons and daughters, your produce and your flocks. Why because the king has the right do to their position of ruler over the people. Now once they had a king, your position in respect to the king gave people status over others. No longer were the people equal but they were guided by the rules of favoritism and hierarchy. People begin to strive to find favor with the king, to rise in favor, where does this leave everyone else? There can only be one king, the community begins to take a back seat when the king is not God.
The Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of men. In God’s eyes we are all equal, no one person is greater than another. It is the kingdoms of men that cause oppression, it is the kingdoms of men that rule over other and demand allegiance. But the kingdom of God calls us to love Him with all we have and to love our neighbor. This is what James calls the royal 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.” The concept of mercy comes out of justice, which come from the concept of equality. Mercy or justice does not take into account favoritism, it does not put one person higher than another but all members of the community are held at the same level. To live merciful lives we must look outside of ourselves and treat those around us as equals. Mercy and justice build the community where judgement based on favoritism cuts it away. James urges us to become a people not just of faith but of mercy.
This is where the controversy comes. Most Evangelicals hold very tight to the premise that we are saved by faith through grace, not by works. This is a concept that was strongly held at the time of the reformation and continues today. James says, “What good is it.” And people like Martin Luther tense because he goes on to say, “Can faith save you?” This is not so much about theology but theology in action. Remember James is writing from a perspective that the community of great importance. He gives an example that faithful looking at those in need and saying to them have faith and stay warm and fed. Yet these people need clothing and food. Can God provide? Absolutely! But what are we as a community telling them? If only you had enough faith then all your needs would be provided for. Our faith is not magic, we cannot command God to grant our wishes and call receipts down from heaven. No salvation happens when the community of faithful live lives of mercy. When we see those in need we as a community pull together and help them.
James speaks of this from observation. He saw this lifestyle lived out before him and at first he totally rejected it. Yet something changed. He saw his brother make it his custom to worship, he saw Him withdraw to the isolated places to pray, and he observed Jesus minister to the needs of those around him. He saw all of this, he saw it move people that once lived on the fringe of society back into life. He saw people once left for dead in the leper colonies restored to the community fully cleansed from all that society rejected. He saw blind eye restored, withered limbs refreshed, and the dead come to life. He saw this and it scared him, it scared him because he thought he was better than these people. If Jesus his own brother is restoring those people where does that leave him? It scared him because he had worked so diligently to be seen as righteous, yet to his own brother these beggar were equals. He also saw that as Jesus’ followers grew in number things began to change the oppressed were no longer living as oppressed because the community took care of them. Each person as they followed Jesus added to the community.
Then he saw something even greater. The leaders were losing favor so they began to plot. James then was fearful for other reasons, if they kill his brother would they then seek me out? He began to openly rebuke Jesus, calling him a mad man because he was afraid that if he did not speak out judgement would then hit him. But Jesus did not cower. He looked out to the crowds and said that they were his family. Jesus died on a cross, he was buried, and then he rose again. He even spoke with him. James like the others did not know what to do or to think, but on the day of Pentecost Peter spoke up and thousands believed, and so did he. They began to live the lifestyle of Jesus and greater numbers were added daily. They lived that holy rhythm of worship, prayer, and ministry. Faith did not save James, it was the community of faithful living by the royal law, that brought him to the feet of Jesus the author and perfecter of faith, not just faith but mercy.
Friends we can live by faith or mercy, we can live by judgment or grace. We can claim to have the right answers or we can help others take steps toward Christ by helping them see beyond their current circumstances. James does not say faith is out of place, he merely says faith without action, faith without movement, is dead. He is saying that often God is calling us to be the answer to the prayers of the naked and hungry, we are called to be the answers to the prayers of the hurting and the broken. We become those answers if we become people of mercy, when we become people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others.
As we enter this time of open worship, I encourage us to consider and examine our lives with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Ask ourselves if we are bringing glory to Jesus through our lifestyles, and actions? Are we becoming answers to prayer or are we simply pushing people away? And are we willing to change direction as James did?