Doers of the Word – Sept. 2, 2018
Doers of the Word
A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
September 2, 2018
Main Idea: God calls us to action.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (1:27)
What does it mean to live a life of faith? This is a question that has challenged and divided the church since Jesus was a baby. The multitude of denominations and non-denominational churches illustrates the complexity and diversity of answers. In spite of, or maybe because of, the complexity of answers, this is the question that brings many of us to church. What does it mean to live a life of faith? How do our beliefs translate into action? Last spring our Monday Bible Study read the Letter of James. We were struck by the beauty of James’ descriptions of God and by his frank discussions about how a Christian community should live and work together. So, this month we will delve into this beautiful, candid, and challenging letter.
The letter of James is a short collection of directives given to an early Christian community. Tradition holds that the author is James, the brother of Jesus, who was a leader of the early church in Jerusalem. This means the letter was written about the same time as Paul’s letters and before the Gospels were written. In the book of Acts, we read that James and Paul find a way for Gentile believers to be brought into the church without requiring them to fulfill all of the Jewish obligations. In that account, James demonstrates the wisdom described in today’s text. In simple and clear terms, James tells us how to live out our faith.
To begin with, James tells us to recognize that all good, “every generous act of giving”, comes from God, everything! Every impulse to reach out and help another comes from God, not just Christian actions but all acts of justice and kindness from everybody; people of faith and those with no religious tradition. Everything good comes from our God who is generous and unchanging. God created humanity so that we might care for each other and for creation.
After giving us this expansive vision of God, James says “Pay attention! You must understand this, my beloved. Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speech, and slow to anger for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.”(1:19) Did James watch cable TV news shows; where no one seems to listen, everyone fights to speak, and all are on the verge of anger? It sure seems like it! James understood the everyday dysfunctions of community. He knew the human tendency to jump in with our thoughts and opinions without considering others. How often do we simply wait for someone to stop talking so we can say our piece without listening to what they had to say? And James knew that we also can jump to anger or be offended without really understanding what the other person meant to say. “You must understand this, my beloved.” he says. “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speech, and slow to anger”. “Listening is an art. It is also a deliberate decision to leave space for others to be and not to feel we have to fill in the gaps or exercise some kind of control.” (William Loader, wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au). We are called to listen with humility and love so that we might “rid [ourselves] of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness [how about that for a vivid image?], and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save [our] souls.” (1:21). With God giving us all goodness and everything we need, why would we clog up our lives with anger and disgruntled pettiness?
When we listen carefully and compassionately to each other, we might actually learn something from each other. Our bonds are strengthened and our wisdom is increased.
But, James says, listening is not enough. “Be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” (1:22). “Hearers who deceive themselves” are the folk who may not say anything but certainly don’t do anything either. They nod their heads, “Oh sure, sure” but then act in ways that have no consideration of God. James gives us this image of a person who looks into a mirror and then walks away immediately forgetting what they look like. This is like person who smiles into a mirror but then neglects to get rid of the broccoli stuck in their teeth. There is little understanding and no action.
James calls us to be “doers of the word”; to act in response to God’s love with generosity and love toward others. James reminds us again “if any think they are religious and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” We can’t claim to be religious while gossiping, complaining, and acting selfishly. We can’t claim to be saved while condemning others. “Doers of the word” understand that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (1:27) Let me repeat that. “Doers of the word” understand that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (1:27) That’s it – our faith should lead us to care for those in need and to resist the temptations of our individualistic, materialistic culture.
The folk of First Baptist are doers of the word. We feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and provide space and resources for those in need. We live out our faith in myriad ways. Our ministries are focused on caring for those in need in our community and around the world. We also work to keep ourselves focused on living a life of faith rather than chasing society’s recipe for success; more, more, more for me, me, me. We value our community and we give our time, energy, and money to share God’s love with the world.
Two weeks ago we listened to God and to each other to discern our ministry priorities for the coming year. From these priorities came our theme. “In response to God’s love, we reach out to serve the needs of our church, our community, and the world.” As we prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate the Lord’s Supper let us rest in the generous Goodness of God and let us be empowered to be Doers of the Word.
Let us pray,
God of Goodness and Unchanging Love, we thank you for every good gift which enlivens and sustains us. Empower us to listen to each other with grace and understanding. Help us to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. May we be doers of the word and may we be a blessing to you and to the world. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.