Being a Christian does not mean we are part of some insiders club with special benefits.
Saying “I’ve been saved, or baptized,” or “I believe in God and Jesus Christ” doesn’t get us some free ticket to salvation or some special blessing that insures we’ll be rich or famous or powerful.
(Believe it or not, not everyone agrees with me on this point. (Shocking, I know!))
Some feel that proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior means that all of our problems are over. That allowing the Holy Spirit into our lives means that God will grant us favors, like some sort of a genie or Santa Claus. If we only say the words, we’ll be granted eternal life and joy and peace after we die; and before that we’ll be “blessed” by good jobs and a comfortable lifestyle. All we need is faith.
We talked a bit about James last week. This epistle, this letter, is believed by some scholars to have it’s foundation on a sermon given by James, the brother of Jesus. It was then edited and added to in the decades following Jesus’ death.
James’ letter is one of my favorites. In it, I see a focus on what we would today call “social justice.” In both last week’s reading and this morning’s, we see a specific call out for readers to care for the poor. James makes no bones about it: this is one of the primary purposes of the church – to care for those who need help.
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?
Faith…without works…is dead.
It’s not enough to just worship God. It’s not enough to say that we are Christians or say that we go to church. In order to truly worship God, we must also serve humanity.
We say those words every week as we recite our Covenant together. And I believe that is the core of who we are at MCC.
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?”
Worship God; serve humanity.
Sometimes, the Bible can seem a bit obtuse and confusing. But here, James is straight forward. He says what he means and he sets out a pretty clear example. What would you do if two new people showed up at your church: one rich and fancy, the other poor and dirty?
If we call ourselves Christians, if we want to properly worship God, we need to always be looking at how we interact with God’s world. We need to honestly consider scenarios such as this and look deep into our souls to think about how we might react. Would we gravitate more towards one than the other? Would we offer our seat and our time to the rich one we hope we might be someday instead of the poor one whose life we fear?
And it’s not just about rich vs. poor during a Sunday worship service. We are called to examine and wonder about our lives outside of these walls. As people of privilege, we need to look at our actions through the lens of our faith and to examine our own racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia – all of the ways that we experience others who are different from us. In God’s name, we need to dig deep and confess the ways in which we wound the world by our actions or our inactions.
A life of faith comes with responsibilities. If we began our journey of faith with a baptism or dedication as an infant, vows were made in our name; promises that we renewed at confirmation or when we joined the church: “to follow in the way of our Savior, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, to grow as Christians, to further Christ’s mission in the world.”
They are vows that we echo each week when we promise to worship God and serve humanity.
“faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” The two go hand-in -hand.
If we only say we worship God, we’re half-hearted disciples, willing to step over others for our own comfort, willing to make the rich richer at the expense of the poor, willing to attack our enemies as Caesar would instead of laying down our life as Christ would.
“I by my works will show you my faith.”
If we worship God and serve humanity, then our works demonstrate our faith to others as we look after the orphans and widows and the naked and hungry and thirsty and imprisoned that Jesus told us to love;
If we worship God and serve humanity, then we stand up for the outcast and the oppressed and work to create a society that provides and cares for them;
If we worship God and serve humanity, then we give of our time and talents and treasures out in the world, providing meals and rides and companionship;
If we worship God and serve humanity, then we work towards peace and reconciliation instead of violence and vengeance; we seek to join together as partners creating a future free of want and fear;
If we worship God and serve humanity, then we seek to create a world of equality and justice; receiving and sharing the gifts of God’s creation so that all may have abundant life;
Being a Christian does not mean we are part of some insiders club with special benefits. But it does mean that we have this wonderful opportunity to gather together, to explore our faith, to support each other, as we work together co-creating the world that God intends for all of creation – God’s kingdom on Earth as in heaven – showing our faith through our works as we worship God and serve humanity.
May God continue to be with us on our journey. Amen.