James 2: 14 – 17
14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and 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? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
I have been wondering, as we enter this time of Advent about this thing that we call faith. Quite often as Christians we speak a lot about faith. We speak about holding fast to those things that we can’t measure, see, or quantify in the world and in particular our beliefs. We hold fast to our faith. We pray. We come together to worship in community. There are many of us who do such good work within our communities, doing the work of building up the community in faith. Then there are those who move beyond the community and bring their faith to the world. The scripture from James speaks directly to this but I think that it goes beyond that as well. It speaks of our faith, which is something that we believe deeply in, as that which only lives when we allow it to impact our actions in the world. Our faith is not something that we only think about, contemplate, or exists only in our churches, rather it is something that we embody in all that we do in the world.
I received an email from someone this week with a poignant quote from Muhammad Ali, the famous boxer, who said, “I don't trust someone who is nice to me, but rude to the waiter, because they would treat me the same way if I were in that position." More often then I care to acknowledge I have seen people who call themselves Christian be nasty to others around them. I myself have been the brunt of this more times than I care to remember. We have seen those videos of so many people in customer service being berated for doing their jobs. This email went on to speak of two very important points that I will paraphrase in my own way here. The thing is that as a Christian, as a human being, we are not defined by what we say that we believe, not at all. We are defined by what we do. We are defined by the way that we treat people. I wonder if that is one of the challenges that Christianity faces these days, the perception that we talk the good talk, but beyond that there is very little, we don’t walk the walk.
As the reading from James says, “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” As Christians we are called to live into our faith, to embody or faith, in all that we do, from the way that we treat the person who serves us in the drive through, to the driver who is impatient behind us (yes I am speaking to myself here), to the person sitting in the next pew, to those who are doing their best to steer our communities of faith through these times. To all of these and more our faith should be shining through, if it is not we need to rethink how we engage with the world. The second point that was made is that the world truly needs more kindness. We are living in a time when so many are struggling and let’s be honest here, most of us don’t have a clue as to the struggles faced by other around us, so let’s make a decision to be kinder and in that way fill this world, which can be so hard, with kindness. It is important that our faith brings us to action and that action can be challenging for us as individuals.
The scripture from James goes beyond just being kind, it speaks to an action of transformation. It speaks to action that can change lives. We oftentimes in our churches offer prayers for those less fortunate but how many times does it stop at offering our thoughts and prayers. We are called to action, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit the lonely, to offer our gifts and blessings to the world. It is a challenge and yet it is so important. It is another way to bring a deeper kindness to this world. Our faith, that which we believe is important, some might even say it’s foundational, in how we understand ourselves in the world. So, then let us embody that faith for all to see and in doing so bring kindness to the world.
God who challenges us to action, help us to see our faith, not as something that we say we believe, but rather as something that we do each and every day in our lives. Help us to hear you call to action, to an action of love, kindness, acceptance, and forgiveness in the world today. Give us eyes to see that so many are trying to do their best under difficult circumstances, some are so very tired, and let us lift them up rather than tear them down. Let us be conduits for kindness in the world today and bring or faith to action so that we might truly change lives. Give us the wisdom to know that we don’t know that others are struggling with in their lives and so let us gentle with ourselves and others, not demanding and callous. We ask all of this in the name of the gentle shepherd who came to guide, your son Jesus. Amen.