Preached FCCW, September 9, 2018
James 2:1-10, 14-17
It’s not every day that you walk away from a stand-up comedy show with an epiphany about religion and morality.
But, it can happen.
It happened to me, when a nationally known comedian shared with his audience his personal take on the relationship between his moral beliefs and his behavior.
He said: “I have a lot of beliefs.… And I live by none of them. I just like believing them—I like that part. They make me feel good about who I am. But if they get in the way of a thing I want, I just do what I want to do.”
James, who was not a stand-up comic, but who was the brother of Jesus and a pretty big deal in the early days of the Church, didn’t find anything funny about this kind of disjointed spirituality.James warned his audience of Christians: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
Or, to read it from the Message version of the Bible: “Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?”
Just about every new church school year begins with a theme to give it shape and direction.
This year, the theme is “Actions Speak Louder Than Words.” Which reminds me of a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.”
What Emerson, James, and the stand-up comic are all saying in their own way is that we can talk a good talk even though we might not be walking the walk to back it up. And that, sooner or later, the scales of credibility tilt more towards what we do than what we say.
Nowhere is this truer, than in the context of the Church of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the Church can be its own worst enemy. Especially when the words we use to express our beliefs don’t match our actions.
Whenever we preach with our mouths words of mercy but practice judgment; whenever we proclaim with our lips words of justice, but are apathetic towards – or even worse, are complicit with – injustice; whenever we pray aloud for our neighbors but stop short of doing anything to better their circumstances, the Church’s voice is drowned out by the resounding volume of it’s failure to practice what it preaches.
But, faith that is acted out in love towards neighbor, in practical kindnesses, and in the courage to stand for justice carries a resounding volume that awakens the conscience of the world.
Jesus is recorded as having told a parable about the difference between religion that is made up of nothing more than pious words, and religion that is active and alive. The parable was about a father who had two sons. He called the first son and asked him to go out and work in the fields. That son refused to go. But later on, he reconsidered and did what his father asked of him. The father made the same request of the second son. That son said he would go, but he never went. The point of the parable was that the son who actually did his father’s will was not the one who said the right things, but the son who acted according to the father’s wishes.
James also paints a picture of the difference between a religion of only words and good intentions and a religion of action and love of neighbor. He asks the question, “If a brother or sister is inadequately clothed and lacks daily food. And one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”
James’ question of “what good is a faith that is all words but no action?” addresses that stand-up comedian’s description of a faith that is a lot of beliefs, but none that are actually lived by when it really matters. A faith that makes me feel good about who I am but doesn’t affect my choices in life.
The question, “What good is a faith that is all words but no action?” can also motivate us to honestly examine whether our words and our actions contradict each other.
Faith can be expressed in words that tell the world what you believe.
Faith can also be visible in actions that show the world the difference it makes that you believe.
Christian Education begins with words. Not just any words but the sacred words of scripture.
But it doesn’t end there.
It is not just learning Bible stories or memorizing Bible verses.
It is learning to live the meaning of the words so that we become a Living Word to others.
Instead of people not hearing what we are saying because our contrary actions are speaking too loudly; our faithful actions will speak for themselves and amplify what we say we believe.
Christian Education goes beyond intellectual education.
It is faith formation that leads to a personal transformation.
It is a learning process from which we never graduate.
A course which we should never feel we have completed.
So, as we celebrate the beginning of a new year of church school for the children of this congregation; and as we bless those who will teach them; let the rest of us not forget that we are all teachers.
Teachers at times by our words, and always by our actions.
Copyright 2018 Raymond Medeiros