Summary: Sermon for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
James 2: 1 – 17 / Faith By Itself
Intro: Have you ever wondered why the owners of Golden Corral chose that name for their restaurant. The word “Golden” conjures up in our minds the idea of great value, great wealth, ultimate, the pinnacle. - - - I don’t have a problem with the word “golden.” I do however have a problem with the word “corral.” What does one keep in a “corral?” ANIMALS of course! I guess the word “corral” is much preferable over the words “Pen” or “Sty.” Would you frequent a restaurant called the Golden Sty (as in pig sty)? Probably not! - - The concept behind places like Golden Corral is that people will graze, like animals. They pick and choose what is appealing to them.
I. This is what James is addressing in his letter. He affirms the fact that individuals in the church pick and choose those things and people most appealing to them.
A. Read VSS. 1 – 7 These verses show a community that makes distinctions and choices based on outward appearance.
B. The first century Christian community was the only place in the ancient world where social distinctions were not supposed to matter. Yet, James says the church has shown partiality to the wealthy at the expense of the poor. The Greek words used by James for PARTIALITY is literally translated into English as “TO LIFT UP A PERSON’S COUNTENANCE” or “TO REGARD A PERSON WITH FAVOR.” Judgment based on outward appearance.
C. The Bible tells us repeatedly to love other people. But, who do we REALLY have to love? James speaks of rich & poor. But we have a buffet filled with all kinds of people: rich & poor, people you work FOR & people you work WITH, people who can help you with your job & people who can hurt you just by being around them, beautiful people & ugly people, smart & dumb people, people like us & people who aren’t, people with skin like ours & people whose skin is different, people who are entertaining to be around & people who are a pain. WHO DO YOU LOVE? Most of us pick and choose being selective in who we love. Yet God calls us to love all people and not be selective about it.
II. Just as we want to choose those with whom we worship and associate, we also want to choose what we believe. READ VSS 8 – 13. These verses show how such behavior is inconsistent with the claim to live by the law of love as taught by Jesus.
A. Just as we cannot pick and choose who welcome with the love of Christ, we cannot pick and choose which of the teaching of Jesus we are going to follow. If you are going to be a follower of Jesus, then, you must embody ALL of his teachings not just those that are convenient or easy.
B. In verse 8 – 13 James addresses this problem. In essence, what James says is this: “if you follow all the teachings of Jesus but one, you are not complete in your faith.” We can’t obey some of God’s laws and ignore others. It is an all or nothing faith that Christ commands.
C. We can be a “good person” and yet spoil it all by one fault. A person can be moral in action, pure in speech, meticulous about devotion; but be hard and self-righteous, rigid and unsympathetic. If that is the case, all the goodness is spoiled by that one infectious flaw. Is there someone you know about whom it is said, “They are such a good person; but, . . .”? That one 3-letter word undoes all the good statements.
III. READ VSS. 14 – 17 / Verse 17 – “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead.” This passage causes many reform theologians some concern. Reform theology to which the Presbyterian Church adheres says that we are saved by grace alone.
A. How do we reconcile our reformed beliefs with this passage? James claims the Christian faith is a working faith, one that follows through and gets results because of our relationship to Christ Jesus. --- We must ask ourselves, “what significance has church membership if we do not honestly seek to live in accord with ALL the principles upon which that faith is founded, and not just the easy ones?”
B. Just believing, reciting a creed, or praying a prayer does not make us acceptable to God. If our faith is genuine, it will result in acting out that faith.
C. We have been engaged in this building project. What will it benefit God and us if we do nothing with it? We must not just build for us; but, we must build with a purpose. I believe the purpose must be ministry: not just ministry to ourselves, but also ministry to our community. A welcoming ministry that is an expression of our faith in Christ Jesus. “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” If our faith is genuine, we can’t resist ministering to others. It is a natural expression of faith in Christ Jesus.