9/9/2018 Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost The text is James 2:1-17.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is Rally Day and there is no better way to begin the fall season of activities than with a baptism. So today, CJ will become part of God’s family and a member of Emanuel Lutheran Church.
This indeed is a joyous occasion, even if there are those who would say that baptizing a child makes no sense at all. For from the beginning of the church, there has always been controversy surrounding infant vs believer baptism. Why…because babies can’t proclaim the faith and make commitments for themselves. Unless someone tells them, they will never know that they were made members of God’s family and are part of the church. They will never know what this one event means for their life and for the life of those around them.
And yet, Jesus did not withhold his grace from babies. So, we baptize young children based on the faith and commitment of the parents and sponsors, and the willingness of a congregation to support the child as he or she grows in faith. Today, CJ parents and sponsors will be standing before the font and proclaiming their faith in our triune God and making a commitment to teach CJ about Jesus and all the good things that God provides. They will be making a promise to help him grow in faith, to bring him to worship and to teach him how faith is translated into action.
If you are a parent, you did the same thing when you brought your child to the font. You said that you would teach and guide your child in the way of faith. And that means that you made a commitment before God and this community to bring your child to services and classes, and to show your child what it is to live out your faith each and every day of your life. But, sadly, those promises often fall by the wayside and it leaves me asking the questions: Were the promises you made when your child was brought to the font something you really intended to keep, or did you mouth the words because you had to say them in order to get your child baptized? Have you tossed the commitments aside as other things have taken priority in your life? Has faith alive in action taken a backseat? If so, you are not alone. It happens to everyone at some time…that’s why the church is filled with people whose words and actions don’t always reflect God’s grace and God’s will for the world around us.
This is not unusual. So, in a sense, the questions I asked are basically the same ones that James is addressing in the second lesson for today. He sees a disconnection between what people say and what people do – a disconnection between faith and actions. So, to help people see what he sees, James says bluntly: “So faith, by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” In this he is making it perfectly clear that “an empty faith,” a non-action filled faith … is not a true faith. It is nothing more than mouthing words.
Our faith is to be seen in our actions and attitudes…that is, in good deeds that reflect God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. These good deeds cannot save us. Only Christ’s death and resurrection, that to which we are connected in baptism, can do that. So while we cannot win salvation by what we do each day, definitely we can show the world what we believe by our actions and attitudes. Our faith in God and trust in Jesus is to work in tandem with our actions. If not our faith is not really faith at all. It is not the real deal. It is nothing more than lip service
These are tough words in a world in which politics and religion are supposed to be off the table. These are tough words in a world in which many are willing to jam their political beliefs down your throat, while keeping faith and religion in the closet. These are tough words in a world in which it is okay to be motivated by humanitarian ideals but not by the tenets of the Christian faith. These are tough words in our dog eat dog world in which what I want matters more than what others need.
Faith flies in the face of these commonly held ideas…just like faith flew in the face of those in James’ world in which partiality was shown to the rich and the poor were sent away empty. Sadly, this can even happen in our church if we should look at newcomers as dollar signs…that is, as a way to pay the bills so we can keep what we have instead of seeing newcomers as people whom we are to serve. Our mission is not to keep our doors open, but to use our gifts in serving the needs of the community.
It saddens my heart as I ponder the questions: What are we showing the world about our faith in Jesus Christ…and more importantly, what are we showing our offspring? Where is the faith alive in Christ Jesus?
If these seem like harsh questions, it is only because we often forget that faith and works are ultimately two sides of the same coin. What we proclaim with our lips needs to show in our actions. For what good is it if we say that God is important and then our children never see us praying? What good is it to proclaim that God loves everyone and then we criticize people who differ from us? What good is it to make a commitment to work for justice and then ignore the needs of the poor, the outcast…the type of people that Jesus served?
Words and actions, faith and works are like peanut butter and jelly, spaghetti and meatballs, bats and balls – they go together. But unlike the other pairings which can be separated, faith and works cannot. For what we believe and trust comes out in the way we behave whether we know it or not.
So as we begin a new year of activity, ponder the questions and ask: How am I showing my faith in God to my family, my coworkers, my enemies and all around me? Do I trust God above all things or have I bought into the tenets of a dog-eat-dog world? Am I living my faith or am I merely mouthing the words? For what you believe comes out in your actions and attitudes. You can’t prevent it. You can only turn to God, admit your shortcomings (something we all have) and ask for help and guidance.
Let us pray: Lord, strengthen our faith and help us each and every day to be instruments of thy will. Amen. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.