Monday, July 9, 2012

James 2:14-26

“Action Packed Faith”
MasterPiece Church
08-July-12

Some of you razzed me the other day when I said that “We’re fixin to start.” I picked that up when we lived in Texas for six years. For those of you who speak English as an additional language, “fixin” is a non-standard English term, of which there are many in Texas. They major in non-standard English.

And one of the fun things about Texas is the color in the language. “She’s jus pitchin' a hissy fit.” “That dog'll hunt” -- meaning that will do the work. “He’s more skittish than a long-tailed cat in a roomful ah rockin' chairs.” If someone asks how you are doing you can say, “I’m fair to midlen.” If dirt was dumb, he'd cover about an acre.

My favorite Texas sayin’ though, which I first heard from the late Governor Ann Richards -- the queen of color, is “He’s all hat, no horse.”

There is actually another variation on the phrase -- “He’s all hat, no cattle.”

Either way it means the same thing.

On the off chance that y’all haven’t got the gist of the saying I’ll explain. All hat, no horse refers to a person who dresses like a cowboy, talks like a cowboy, swaggers like a cowboy -- but isn’t.

He doesn’t even have a horse.

And it can be applied to a number of realms -- someone in business who wears the suit, maybe has the MBA, talks big deals -- but really has absolutely no idea what he’s doing.

It even works in the church. And this is where we get to our text James 2:14-26.

There are of people who have the gear – the cool Bible with the fancy slip cover, the Jesus hat and boots. They can talk Christianeze -- saying all the right things -- confessing really good solid theology.

But for whatever reason they never seem to be able to get on the horse -- they don’t even have a horse. So, in spite of all the talk, they go nowhere when it comes to faith.

And this is why James has a few words to say about how faith relates to action – how having the right words and right gear relates to the right ride.

Now, for the sake of clarity and convenience I’ve broken his message to us... And it is to us as much as it is to them. It is to me as it is to the others sitting in here. I mean, it is really easy to read this section of James 2 and think that he is talking about someone else and not me.

So, for the sake of clarity and directness I’ve broken his message down into two points leading into a key point.

And the first is this: RIGHT CEREMONY WITHOUT RIGHT LOVE IS A SHAM.

Remember, this is all set within the context of his discussion of the royal law of love – that was verse 8
“Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Then elaborating on this he starts out in verse 14: (CEB is a good translation here and I’m going to use that translation a lot this morning.)
“14 My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? 15 Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. 16 What if one of you said, ‘Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!’? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs?”
In verse 16 the greeting “go in peace...: is perhaps a reference to the ancient words at the end of the Christian liturgy.

Typically after the sharing of the Lord’s Supper the pastor or the deacon would stand up and say: “The liturgy (or the service) is ended. You are dismissed. Go in peace.” Bunny trail -- When the liturgy was eventually translated into Latin this phrase became "Ite, Missa Est" -- and that’s why the Roman Catholics call their worship “a mass.” It comes from the last Latin phrase in the service -- “You are dismissed -- you are dismassed -- go in peace.”

And James is perhaps playing with these words a bit – “What if we went through the whole service – got to the end – dismissed people to go in peace – in essence saying: “be warmed and filled – have a good day.” And yet they lacked the necessities to be warmed and well fed and to have a good day.

Doesn’t that make a mockery of everything that has gone on and been said prior to that point? Isn’t it a sham to worship God and then dismiss people with words of peace pretending that everything is just fine?

Vs. 17 -- “In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.” (CEB)

Backup your worship and the faith you proclaim in worship with action. Yes, the worship is good. Yes, the message you proclaim is good -- unless it’s all hat and no horse.

The Apostle Paul makes a similar observation about the worship in Corinth – which actually seemed to include a full meal as a part of their worship.

1 Corinthians 11:20-22 (CEB) --
“So when you get together in one place, it isn’t to eat the Lord’s meal.21 Each of you goes ahead and eats a private meal. One person goes hungry while another is drunk. 22 Don’t you have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you look down on God’s churches and humiliate those who have nothing? What can I say to you? Will I praise you? No, I don’t praise you in this.”
Remember that the society was very stratified and everyone knew their place.

And generally the rich didn’t appear to have much to do with the poor. It sounds like the church in Corinth, had a rich person’s table and a poor person’s table. And the rich person’s table ended up with more food than the poor person’s table.

That, however, says Paul, isn’t how things are to function in the church.

That’s how things work in the rest of the world. That’s how life rolls. It’s just the natural way things go. The rich get richer and poor get poorer.

But the life of Christians and the church are governed by a different set of rules -- the royal law of love. And if we were not loving each other in practical ways -- like making sure that we’re warm (or cool in the desert) and fed – well then, any worship ceremony that we might have is just a sham.

James 2:18 (CEB) --
“Someone might claim, ‘You have faith and I have action.’ But how can I see your faith apart from your actions? Instead, I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice in faithful action.”
IOW, real faith, the kind that cuts muster, involves putting your money where your mouth is.

James goes on to elaborate – and this is #2 on the message guide – RIGHT WORDS WITHOUT RIGHT LOVE IS A FARCE.

James 2:19 (CEB) -- “It’s good that you believe that God is one...”

We’ve talked before about the Shema – the basic affirmation of faith recited thrice daily by good Jews. It’s from Deuteronomy 6:4 and it starts out – Sh'ma Yis-ra-eil, A-do-nai E-lo-hei-nu, A-do-nai E-chad...

“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one....”

These are the right words. This is true. It’s very biblical. This is a good affirmation of faith. You should say this until you really believe it. But it’s not enough to just have the right words.

“Ha!” says James in 2:19-20,
“Even the demons believe this, and they tremble with fear. Are you so slow? Do you need to be shown that faith without actions has no value at all?”
Then James offers two examples or witnesses to prove that we need to back up our faith words with faith actions – that you actually need to get out and jump on the horse.

James 2:21-24 (CEB)
“What about Abraham, our father? Wasn’t he shown to be righteous through his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 See, his faith was at work along with his actions. In fact, his faith was made complete by his faithful actions. 23 So the scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and God regarded him as righteous. What is more, Abraham was called God’s friend. 24 So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone.”
This passage really bothered Martin Luther the great 16th century reformer. He was ready to throw the whole book of James out of the Bible because he thought that these verses contradicted what St Paul said in Romans 4. Romans 4:1 --
“So what are we going to say? Are we going to find that Abraham is our ancestor on the basis of genealogy? 2 Because if Abraham was made righteous because of his actions, he would have had a reason to brag, but not in front of God. 3 What does the scripture say? Abraham had faith in God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.
Paul emphasizes that Abraham entered into a relationship with God just by believing – that his relationship was initiated just by believing -- before Abraham had done anything about it he took God at his word and that was enough to credit him as righteous in God’s sight.

James on the other hand is emphasizing the vitality of this same faith – saying that Abraham’s actions proved that he was righteous and in a sense they declared him justified or right before God.

James and Paul don’t really contradict each other – even though at first glance their words appear to. But when you look at the context you see that they are just emphasizing different aspects of faith.

Paul is emphasizing that it’s something God does – and James is emphasizing that it is something that we do. Both are true. Paul is looking at the seed of faith. James is looking at the fruit.

The biblical scholar Peter Davids says:
“James does not argue for faith instead of works or works instead of faith or even faith above works, but for faith and works.”
James even introduces another example to make the point – one which was sure to get a reaction from his readers.

James 2:25 (CEB)
“In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute shown to be righteous when she received the messengers as her guests and then sent them on by another road?”
Rahab was a hooker who lived in Jericho and when the Hebrew spies went into the city they somehow ended up in her apartment. And she somehow understood that they had God’s favor and she saved their lives by helping them escape when Jericho Homeland Security put out an APB on them.

And because of that risky action she was saved by God – declared a righteous person – when the city of Jericho fell.

You remember the song --
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,
Jericho, Jericho
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,
and the walls came a-tumblin' down.
Down, down, down,
Down, down, down, down.

You can talk about your men of Gideon,
You can talk about your men of Saul;
But there's none like good old Joshua
At the battle of Jericho.
Now I think James would have rewritten this verse.
You can talk about your men of Joshua,
You can talk about the trumpet call;
But Rahab the harlot saved the day
At the battle of Jericho.
And as you know Rahab ended up in the genealogy of King David and Jesus. God has a great sense of humor – or irony -- choosing to use even the most questionable of people -- when such people act in faith. It escapes explanation and messes with any attempt to read the Bible as a systematic instruction book on morals.

The point is that she didn’t just SAY she believed in God – she actually stuck her neck out and acted on her words.

If you’re really a Christian, if you really have faith -- you’re going to act on it.

You can’t just put on the cool lookin’ Jesus Stetson -- walking around for God and man to see. Y’all got to get yerself a horse, hop on, and ride -- move some cattle toward green pastures and clear waters -- where they can be well cared for.

The point is -- If you’re all hat and no horse -- you’re not really in the rodeo.

God is saying to us through James, that FAITH UNACCOMPANIED BY LOVING ACTION ISN’T REALLY LIVING, SAVING FAITH. This is the key point this morning.

vs. 17 (CEB) again --
“In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.”
James 2:26 (CEB) --
“As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead.”
And from the context, we know that James is thinking particularly about actions or deeds directed toward the poor.

Now, I’m not going to go into a lot of detail telling you exactly how you should be acting on your faith. I trust that you’ll let the Holy Spirit lead and direct you. But I will ask a few questions.
  • Does having faith mean that you give money to everyone who asks you for some? 
  • Does it mean that I give a handout of some sort to everyone who asks? 
  •  Even those who might be taking advantage of us?

What do y’all think? How do you handle this issue? (group discussion)

I read a wonderful little story about George MacLeod, the great Scottish Presbyterian minister. He was recounting an event that took place in his childhood.

His father was scrupulously concerned to heed Christ's teaching about giving to one who asks -- and as he interpreted it -- with no conditions.

One day when George was six or seven, they were walking the streets of Edinburgh and a blind beggar was sitting on the corner holding out a can.

George's father gave him a coin and told him to give it to the blind man. When he returned from his assignment, his father said ''George, you didn't take off your hat to him.''

George said, ''But father, he was blind.''

His father replied, ''Yes, but he may be a fraud.'' Others are more measured and calculated in their response – “Let me go buy you a meal.”

Still others are inclined to say, “Let me buy you a meal and enroll you in my personal management class so you never have to beg again.”

The fact is, no matter what you do it will be messy and inconvenient and frustrating.

Which is the proper response? At different times the Lord may lead in different ways. But he will always lead in some way. And if we are truly followers of Jesus – our worship and our words will be backed up with action.

Now, of course, we may trip over ourselves as we’re learning to get up on the horse -- and its embarrassing when you have all that cowboy gear that you’ve been parading for so long.

But, hey, that’s a part of the struggle – and that’s okay.

The only way you really get good at it is to get on the horse and ride.

I learned to ride when I was 20-years-old and was working as a counselor at Frontier Ranch -- a camp in northern California. And one of the junior wranglers, a 13-year-old girl, thought it as pathetic that I didn’t know how to ride a horse. I mean, yes, I’d been on a horse before. I think we did it as Cub Scouts and once when I was child at camp I went horseback riding. But I showed up to ride wearing tennis shoes. I thought I was pretty into it because I was wearing shoes. Period.

Anyway, this 13-year old kid taught me how to get on the horse and really control it -- how to go faster than a walk. How to gain the horse’s trust. But it was a process.

Since then I’ve been thrown, scraped up by tree branches, kicked, and dragged by horses. And I can tell you that the horse knowledge and the good gear is helpful -- the hat is great. Appropriate boots are essential. But none of it really matters if you don’t get on the horse and ride. That’s really the only way to past being a lame city slicker with a cool hat.

And that’s James’ message – get up out of your chair and into the saddle. You’ve got to put some feet on your words. You’ve got to practice what you preach -- or at least what you say you believe.

As Jeffrey said during our Bible study on Tuesday morning -- “Faith is necessary but somehow you got to put the roller skates on it.”

Faith unaccompanied by loving actions isn’t really living saving faith.

Don’t just say. Do.

There was a young engineer who was transferred to Ireland by his company to work in a new electronics plant.

It was a two-year assignment that he had accepted because it would enable him to earn enough to marry his long-time girlfriend.

She had a job near her home in Texas, and their plan was to pool their resources and put a down payment on a house when he returned.

They corresponded regularly – this was before email, texting, and cheap long distance rates.

But as the lonely weeks went by, she began to worry over whether he would stay true to her or not. There are a lot of very attractive Irish lasses.

The young engineer wrote back, declaring with some passion that he was paying absolutely no attention to the local girls.

"I admit," he wrote, "that sometimes I’m tempted. But I fight it..... I’m keeping myself for you."

In the next mail, the young engineer received a package. It contained a note from his girl and a harmonica.

"I’m sending this to you," she wrote, "so you can learn to play it and have something to take your mind off those girls."

The engineer wrote back, "Thanks for the harmonica. I’m practicing on it every night and thinking of you."

At the end of his two-year stint, the engineer was transferred back to his company headquarters in the States.

He took the first plane to Texas to be reunited with his girlfriend.

Her whole family was with her as he stepped off the plane, but as he rushed forward to embrace her, she held up a restraining hand and said sternly, "Just hold on there a minute, Billy Bob. Before any serious kissin’ and huggin’ gets started here, I want to hear you play me something on that harmonica!" (Bits & Pieces, October 15, 1992, pp. 17-18.)

You’ve got to back all those words up with some harmonica playin'. James 2:14 (CEB)
My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it?

Unless otherwise indicated all scripture is quoted from the Common English Bible. ©2011 The Common English Bible.

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