Summary: Ordinary Proper 18: What is the relationship between saving faith and works of righteousness? Sometimes an inability to distinguish can create confusion. But we look to Saint James to answer the question!
There are vocations that endeavor to deal in certainty. Take engineering: I’m not certain that I would feel comfortable driving over a bridge designed by a person who simply ‘felt’ that their design would have integrity. I want somebody who will crunch the numbers and who understands beam and column formulas. Without that sort of clear demonstration that bridges are safe, it would be difficult to declare them safe for public use.
Physicians do the same thing. About fifteen years ago, my physician heard a bruit in one of my carotid arteries. His word to me was, “I am pretty certain that there is nothing wrong – it is probably an artery that takes a torturous path through your neck. But I’m not paid to guess, so I’m sending you to have a sonogram and then we can talk. Turns out that his intuition was right – but, again, physicians are not paid to guess – they want to make the very best diagnosis possible.
Teachers do the same sort of thing. They spend a lot of time teaching and providing students with exercises and practice that allows them to master the subject matter. But at the end of they day – they determine how well the material was taught and mastered by administering some sort of assessment instrument.
But what about areas that are not so easy to measure? - For example, what about love? Is it fair to say that love is not measureable and that we must simply go by a feeling or an intuition? Interestingly enough, the Scriptures really do speak about love as being very measureable and observable. Listen to what Saint Paul speaking through the Spirit tells us:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13.4-8a)
Love is something we can see in action. Love is something we can see – not just an airy feeling. Hey – and I’d like to direct this to the young ladies in the congregation this morning – before you fall head over heels for a guy, make sure that you consider what love really looks like before you make any serious commitments. Love looks like something!
Ok, so let’s talk a bit about another one of these things that is not always easy to pin down – saving faith. The picture on the cover page of the sermon notes is instantly recognizable by much of the world. Of course, you know that the drawing is a depiction of Mother Teresa – the nun who established the Missionaries of Charity and dedicated her entire life to serving the poorest of the poor. There is a story about some very wealthy and well-placed people visiting Mother Teresa in Calcutta. She received them graciously and showed them the work that she and the Sisters of Charity did. The story goes that at one point along the way, Mother Teresa stopped to dress the wounds of a leper. As she cleaned the oozing wounds and replaced the soiled bandages, one of the wealthy people was heard to say, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars!” – To which Mother Teresa was said to have replied, “Neither would I.” Now this story may be urban legend because I’ve read a number of different versions of it on the Internet. But it almost doesn’t matter, because Mother Teresa did devote her entire life to helping the lepers and the homeless and the abandoned in Calcutta, India. What is undeniable is that Mother Teresa’s faith drove her to devote her entire life to helping the most helpless and needy people in the world.
Ok, so is there a way to determine whether a person has saving faith? Can we look at the way a person engages life and come to a position about whether a person has faith that is the genuine article? Saint James suggests that yes, we can tell whether faith is the genuine article. Let’s read what he says:
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. (James 2.14-18)