Summary: Pentecost 17: It is uncomfortable to consider the shortcomings of our faith life. This message focuses on The advice that the Epistle of James gives us to make our faith vital and active.
There is one device in many homes that is despised. It is often ignored and hidden away because we just simply don’t want to deal it. When we use it, it can have a wonderful or terrible effect on us. Is it the lawn mower? No! Is it the microwave oven? No! Is it the vacuum cleaner? No! It’s the bathroom scale! You see it is brutally honest about what it tells us. I’ve tried all sorts of ways to trick the scale: I’ve tried to gingerly step unto the scale – no dice – it still tells me that I need to diet. I’ve snuck up on the thing – still the bad news comes. I’ve climbed on the scale while holding myself up on the bathroom counter and then gently lowered myself on the thing – still, it registers what I weigh accurately. It doesn’t hold back – it doesn’t mince words – it tells me in no uncertain terms how well I’m managing my weight.
In most every endeavor, a standard of performance is either explicitly stated or implied. A salesperson knows that sales quotas have to be met in order to be considered successful. A manager knows that the bottom line, whether it is in the black or in the red, will communicate their skill as a manager. A manufacturer of high performance cars knows that their vehicle must outperform their competitors’ entree. A restaurant must provide good service and enjoyable meals at a competitive price in order to survive. Even when not explicitly stated, in almost every human endeavor, there is an unspoken standard of performance that is expected.
And here is where the rub lies. People oftentimes have difficulty with measures and standards. They are like that cotton-picking bathroom scale that is brutally honest and often brings bad news. And so when we consider the Epistle of James, it can be like our bathroom scale. It is a book that is so brutally straight-forward that it makes us squirm. You see, James writes to us about what living the Christian faith looks like. He describes the do’s and don’ts of living the faith in terms so stark that they become a clear, unmistakable standard that doesn’t hold back – doesn’t mince words – and tells in no uncertain terms whether the believer lives up to his or her calling. I’d like for us to read together the last paragraph from our Epistle Lesson today. [Read James 2:14-18 here]
“My brothers and sisters, what good does it do if someone claims to have faith but doesn’t do any good things?” (James 2:14a) Do you see what James is talking about here? He is striking a blow against hypocrisy. He is saying that true faith is not only about words. He is talking about a standard. He is asking, “Do your deeds match your creeds? Do your actions match your words? Do you put your money where your mouth is?”
He uses the example of a believer who is truly in need. If a person who is part of your fellowship is hurting. They are cold because they have no coat. They are hungry because they can’t afford food. And, if we know about it and our response is lip service – how can we claim to have saving faith? James says that faith that isn’t active - that doesn’t register on the theological bathroom scale – is dead; useless; of no value to the person who claims to have it.
You see, beloved, faith like that is like a false compliment. It is completely and transparently artificial and fools no one. It’s like this comment made a Congressman addressing the House of Representatives: “Never before have I heard such ill-informed, wimpy, back-stabbing drivel as that just uttered by my respected colleague, the distinguished gentleman from Ohio.” (from ChristianGlobe.com) James says to us that honoring God with our words but not with our actions sends this same kind of mixed message as the Congressman’s self-contradicting words.
People can be hurt by this kind of faith. I’ve shared the story with some of you of the young man who was an employee of a company for which I used to work. His daddy was a preacher and this young man was very active in his father’s ministry. He talked about his faith openly. He was married and had several children. One day a cute young lady came into the office and this young man went gaga over her. I mean he was running around like a little puppy with his tongue hanging out. When the young lady left, the young man went on and on about how this young lady liked him. One of the unbelievers in our company then made the comment, “Hey, I thought that you were married and that you were a church-going guy. What happened to all this Jesus stuff?”