Monday, September 10, 2012

Faith without works, (part A) James 2:14-17

James 2:14-17  What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 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?  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. 

I have to share this story.  I was at a seminar (I don’t remember when or where or what the topic was) and the speaker (I don’t remember who he was) told us about this experience he had (which is the only part of the seminar I do remember!).
Our speaker/friend was leaving work that day and a man approached him and asked for money for a meal.  He quickly told the man where the local soup kitchen was, where the food pantry was, and advised him how to access other food-related services (this happened in a large city with lots of those kinds of resources).  Then he said good-bye and got in his car and drove away, leaving the hungry man to find the soup kitchen.

He said that as he was driving away, suddenly this passage of James popped in his head.  And he knew he had done exactly that – said to the hungry man, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill.”
The speaker had followed the guidelines his faith community had for taking care of people seeking assistance.  They had a policy of not giving money and routinely referred people to the food pantry at the neighboring congregation and the local soup kitchen.  So, he did help…sort of...but….

He turned his car around, and found the man pretty much where he had left him.  And he took the hungry man in his car and got him something to eat.

OK – this is not where I wanted to go with this passage.  I wanted to talk about the ‘faith without works is dead” thing – a pronouncement that makes a Lutheran pastor immediately want to unpack it and talk about how  the Greek for “can faith save you” in verse 14 can be translated “can SUCH a faith save you?”  To talk about how the good works James urges are a natural response to being ‘saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, a gift of God and not of your own works (Eph 2:8-9).  To talk about how we are only able to do those good works James urges us to do because God has created us to do them and prepared the way for us to do them, in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:10).  (See how I worked all that in? I can’t help myself!)

But then I remembered this story.

Our speaker friend couldn’t just drive away and leave that man there.  The word of God implanted in his heart (remember James 1:21) had taken root so deeply that he was unable to leave that man without meeting his need.

And then I remembered other stories:
An area farmer couldn’t just put his combine away when he knew that just down the road there was a neighbor who wouldn’t be able to bring in his harvest because he was out of town getting medical care for his wife.

When she goes to the nursing home to visit a relative, she just has to stick her head in and say ‘hi’ to her former neighbor and to the woman who taught her Sunday school class.
A casserole dropped off to a grieving family. 

Weekly picking up the mail for a housebound neighbor. 

Grabbing an extra ‘whatever’ at the store for the women’s group’s cause of the month.    

A pan of bars donated to the fund-raiser. 

The word of God implanted in our hearts, taken root so deeply, that we can’t not meet the need.
Wait - maybe that's what James is talking about with all that 'faith without works is dead."  Not that we need works to have faith, but that our works - those ways we love God by loving our neighbor - are an indicator.  They show the presence of...
..."a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. And so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises, it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them." - Martin Luther (Preface to Romans)


Thoughts to ponder:

Where do you see indications that your faith is 'a living, busy, active thing?"  In other words what are the needs that you can't not meet?

Who are the brothers and sisters in need around you?  What are their needs?  How might  God be calling you to meet that need?

1 comment:

  1. I'm not the only one working with this text. A colleague posted this question: Could a church promise that no member would ever go hungry, become homeless, or lack medicine and that a scholarship for college is available, in addition to home finance counseling and assistance to get out of debt and stay out of debt?

    Just another point to ponder.