Summary: We respond to God’s grace when we look beyond ourselves, see the needs of others and strive to met those needs.
James 2:8, 14-17. “Giving is Helping Others”
We come to the fourth and final Sunday of our Stewardship Emphasis Program. Within the theme “Giving Is ...” we’ve highlighted that giving and stewardship is “Praising God,” “Loving Our Neighbor,” “Serving Jesus,” and “Helping Others.” Our emphasis has been on action. Stewardship is putting legs on (acting out) what we believe to be true.
Though this might appear to be a “no brainer” the idea of living out our faith has been approached cautiously by the Church.
SAVED BY GRACE
For over one thousand years, the Church told its members that they weren’t doing enough. They needed to do more. Christians believed that they would never be able to please God—no matter what they did. God would always be displeased with them. The Church used this anti-gospel message to control the people and amass great wealth.
Next week we will celebrate the fact that five hundred years ago, Martin Luther rediscovered the gospel of Jesus Christ—that we are saved by grace through faith. He was a man who struggled in his relationship with God. He wanted to please God, but as hard as he tried he could not do so.
While reading the scripture in preparation for teaching classes and peaching, he came across several passages of scripture that proclaimed that people were saved by grace. Salvation and pleasing God was not the result of hard work but rather was a gift of God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Reformation was a movement that celebrated the good news of God’s grace. It also fought against the corruption in the church.
GOSPEL OF STRAW
We can understand Martin Luther’s reluctance to talk about Christians “doing” something in connection with their faith. He called such actions “works righteousness.”
Martin Luther did not like the epistle of James. He called it the gospel of straw. He did this because the epistle of James stresses the need for Christians to live out their faith. As James writes, “ So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
Martin Luther would argue that when it comes to our salvation—living in a relationship with God—we do not need to accomplish any works. Everything that we receive is a gift. Nothing that we are given is earned. At the same time, Martin Luther would agree that living in a relationship with a living God is a life transforming experience. We are changed by the Holy Spirit into the image of God. Our words and our deeds reflect God’s love and grace.
LIVING IN PARADOX
As followers of Jesus Christ, we live between to paradoxes. The first paradox is that we are saved by grace through faith. The second paradox is that faith without works is dead.
We celebrate that our relationship with God is a gift. God has chosen us to be children of God. God loves us and there is nothing that we can do that will change God’s decision to love of and never be separated from us.
At the same time, Jesus has demonstrated to us a way to live. It is a way of peace, justice, acceptance, love and hope. The path that the Holy Spirit leads us upon is one of self-denial, sacrificial living and obediently following the Spirit’s leading. Such a life doesn’t not earn us or win us our salvation. It does, however, transform the world in which we live.
You have been asked to give prayerful consideration to your support of God’s work through Desert Streams with you time, talent and treasures. Responding to this request does not make you a good Christian. It doesn’t get you a bigger mansion in heaven. What it does do is enable you and your brothers and sisters in Christ who are gathered into the fellowship of believers called Desert Streams Lutheran Church to change the world.
The decision before you is not an easy decision. It is a decision that is based on the good news of God’s steadfast love and overwhelming grace. It is also based on the understanding that Jesus, by his words and his example, calls us to live for others. Living in the light of the gospel and heading Jesus’ call enables us to live lives that are truly free and truly abundant.