November 18, 2007
Lake Harriet Christian Church
When Tammy told me that this was the passage we would focus on this Sunday, I was both looking forward to it, and dreading it. This is kind of the whole thing I have with the book of James: I love it because the writer puts such concern on care for the poor, but un-nerved by its seeming emphasis on works over faith. I truly believe that we are loved by God and there is nothing we can do about that. I am not alone in feeling some ambivalence about James. Martin Luther who talked so much about “faith alone,” said of this book, “I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove.”
So what is this all about? Are we supposed to go to soup kitchens in order to get God's love?
Short answer is no. We are loved by God regardless if we are the most perfect person in all the world or the biggest loser. But we do go to show our love for God, and also to show that are faith is still alive.
In doing some research on this text, I found out that most common mistakes someone does is to try to compare the Apostle Paul's condemnation of works to what James is talking about. However, Paul was talking about religious rituals that some thought had to be done to become part of the family of God. Paul didn't not believe such works were necessary to please God. Paul was talking about the front end, how someone can come into faith. James is talking more about discipleship-how one lives a life as a follower of Christ. James assumes that most of the listeners to his writing are already involved in the life of the church. So for Paul, works was something that could prevent someone from becoming a follower of Christ. For James, works was the evidence of faith in the life of a Christian. Of course, they are loved by God, but how are they responding to that love? That was what James was asking.
James is pretty blunt. Faith without works is dead. No sugar coating that. Works was not what made one a follower of Christ, but it was the proof that one was a follower.
James had no patience with those who saw people without daily food and did nothing but give poor platitudes.
So what does this have to do with this church? Well, lots. Lake Harriet is at an interesting place. Today, we are celebrating 90 years as a church. Ninety years, that is quite an accomplishment. We are also trying to discern our future as a congregation. As this congregation makes its way to the century mark, I'd like to offer some advice if I may. It's pretty short and to the point. Love God, love others, do justice. That's it. There is no doubt that this congregation loves God. I see it in those who come on Wednesday nights for prayer, and from the wonderful words I hear from the elders at the Table as share communion. I hear it in the sermons that come not from pastor-types like myself and Tammy, but from those of you like CJ and Karin and Wanda, who have shared what God is telling them to the wider community.
I also think we love others. We have prayed for people near and far. People we know and people we don't know. I have seen the congregation welcome people regardless of their sexual orientation and make them part of the family. When you get a call from 10 people who pray for you right then and there, you know you are loved.
We do justice. We have been a part of Minnesota Foodshare, bought gifts for persons with HIV/AIDS, walked on a grey day in the CROP Walk and raised money for three pigs to help feed people in other parts of the world.
So my message is this: don't stop. Do more. As a congregation, we need to look more into how we can help the poor and discarded. And again, I say don't stop. A few years ago, I wrote a newsstory about several Baptist churches in the Washington,DC area that chose to open their membership to African Americans. One pastor commented that those churches that decided to extend hospitality to all were still in existence. Those that did not were now only remembered in the historical records. The truth of the matter is, these churches died long before they closed their doors because they did not do works that help others.
Do you want to know how you can be a witness and maybe even help the congregation grow? Do justice. Show your love for God, by caring for the poor, by welcoming everyone who walks into the doors of this church as a child of God. Fail to do this and your faith is empty and dead. People want to be a part of community where faith is vital and alive; a church that is dead tells people that God is not present in this place.
On Thursday, we will all sit down and eat lots of turkey. Thanksgiving is a day we give thanks. Let me throw something to you: do works of justice is way of showing our thanks to God for God has done in our lives. As the theologian, Karl Barth once said:
“Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning.”
If we believe what God has done through Jesus Christ has saved us, then we will want to express that in giving thanks-not simply in words , but in actions of love towards others.
Happy Anniversary, Lake Harriet. Keep doing what your doing, and do more. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God. Thanks be to God. Amen.