Faith in Action!

“Faith in Action!”

James 2:1-10, 14-17 (2:14) – September 5, 2021

            I watched a lot of movies and television series in the past – usually with my children, when they were children and teenagers. A lot of these shows were about young people on a high school campus, complete with all the groups and cliques, exclusion and favoritism. All the “popular” kids were beautiful people, and all the “nerds” and “dorks” were unpopular. Heaven help you if you were really poor and came from the wrong side of the tracks!

            Does this sound familiar? Is this favoritism similar to what James talks about here, in our reading today? James mentions one person coming to worship in fancy clothes, with expensive jewelry. He follows that up with a description of a poor person, in ragged, threadbare clothes, coming to that same worship service. You and I need to ask: who would James exclude from worship service? Who would James exclude from fellowship in the church?

            When we consider the typical high school campus and the typical high school kids, we may give them a pass. Some say they don’t fully understand how damaging and how hurtful their actions are, to many people. Others say that only weak, socially-awkward people get hurt from the rough-and-tumble world of high school…that is just something everyone has to put up with, and to live with. Suck it up, people! Get on with life!

            Except, this rough-and-tumble, catty, mean way of carrying on is not the way that Christians are supposed to be! Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are supposed to be better than that! Believers are not supposed to play favorites! Aren’t they? James says so! Doesn’t he?

Who would James exclude? “If we’re honest, we have to squirm a little bit as he describes the scene. Of course, we’ve all done this; we’ve all shown partiality in this. We hope we’re overcoming it; we hope we’re countering it; we hope we’re better than that. But our society has drilled into us to value people on outward appearances more than essential being.”[1]

            This letter from James is so practical! Yes, he does refer to theological concepts now and then, but he wants to give us a manual of Christian living: living the way we as believers are called to live! The description in this reading today is a pertinent, hard-hitting example.  

            The Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary today also has some difficult, hard-hitting points. Jesus and the disciples are in the racially-mixed area of the Decapolis, near the Sea of Galilee in the far north of Israel. A Gentile woman approaches the Rabbi Jesus while He is at dinner, and asks Him to please heal her daughter. Jesus says some challenging words to her about being a Gentile. She convinces Jesus to help her and heal her daughter, which He does.

            This Gospel reading deals with favoritism and being partial to one group while excluding another group. Who would Jesus exclude? Would He exclude me and my family? Would favoritism include you? How about your children, or grandchildren?  

            These are difficult issues raised by both the apostle James and the Gospel-writer Mark.

            Perhaps the world does things like this, almost all the time. Perhaps the common, sinful people in the world act and speak and think like this, almost all the time. But, we as believers are not to act like the world!

            As commentator Dr. Derek Weber says, “James points out the economic distinctions that we are all too likely to make in our hospitality ministry. But it wouldn’t be too big a leap to talk about racial and immigrant and gender and orientation distinctions at the same time. This is not, however, a recommendation to avoid the issues We are called to speak up, to follow the boldness of James and talk about the lines of respectability that we too often draw, consciously or unconsciously. It is better to enter into these delicate subjects knowingly than to be surprised.”[2]

            Today, we often use the word “believe” to mean intellectual assent, or understanding. The New Testament agrees – except the full understanding of the word “believe” is deeper and richer than simply the intellect. “When John 3:16 declares that “whosoever believes,” it is asking for a life that reflects that core belief. It isn’t really asking “do you believe” but “are you willing to put your life on it?”

“Does your life and your witness, do your actions and your words tell us that you believe that Jesus Christ is Lord of your life?” That’s what it means to believe in New Testament terms. For James, then, at the heart of believing is how we view and then treat others.” [3] Listen again to the hard-hitting words of James: “My friends, what good is it for one of you to say that you have faith if your actions do not prove it? Can that faith save you?”

            Who would you exclude? Who would I? Do we act like we prefer someone who wears fancy clothes and expensive jewelry to someone who wears ripped, patched blue jeans and shoes with holes? But, it’s more than that. No one deserves favoritism, or a fancier place to sit, or more attention, or more service. Does God choose favorites? What if you are one of those excluded high school kids, sitting at the heavenly loser lunch table, with no way to even get close to God? Shut out from God’s loving, caring, nurturing presence?

            Thank God we are always God’s beloved children! We are always the favorites – all of us! Here is a quote by Max Lucado. See if it resonates with you. “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If God had a wallet, your photo would be in it. God sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning Face it, friend – God is crazy about you!“

            Does God choose favorites? No! That is the way God feels about each one of us! Please, remember that as you go into the world. Treat every single person you meet as a very beloved child of God – because, they are! No matter what, no matter who!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/doers-of-the-word/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-preaching-notes

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/doers-of-the-word/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/doers-of-the-word/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-preaching-notes

Generous With Our Actions

“Generous With Our Actions”  (delivered at St. Luke’s Church, Morton Grove, Illinois)

John 5:8-9 – March 1, 2015

Ever know someone who is a pessimist? A sad sack? Always down in the mouth? Things constantly seem to go wrong for this poor guy! (Or, girl, depending.) Our Gospel reading has someone who seems to typify this type of person. I am talking about a starring character in this passage from John Chapter 5.

Let’s set the scene. Here we are, in Jerusalem. The Rabbi Jesus came to the city periodically. He was an itinerant rabbi, after all, traveling through Galilee, Judea, even Samaria. Jesus and His followers came to the capital city to worship at the Temple on a regular basis. While Jesus and His friends were walking by a famous healing pool called Bethesda, Jesus must have seen a great number of people who were sick, lame, and otherwise disabled.

According to one of my commentaries, the famous pool was placed right over a stream which still flowed underneath the city of Jerusalem. That reminds me of something we have in abundance here—water! Little streams and waterways flow right through this whole area of Morton Grove, a former wetlands area. Our trustee Bob tells me we have a small section of the church parking lot where there is a source of water underneath. Last summer, when the parking lot was stripped and repaved, the water started bubbling up.

So, I can relate, in part, to this reading. Apparently, the underground stream beneath the pool of Bethesda made the waters of the pool bubble up periodically. And, the folklore of that area had a tale to explain the bubbling. An angel came and stirred the water around. Made it bubble up. The first person in the water after the bubbling was healed! Or so the local tale of healing went. So, many blind, lame, or paralyzed people used to sit or lie on the sides of the pool, just waiting for the next time the waters were stirred up.

It’s not uncommon for people who have various illnesses to gather around mineral springs. Think of the springs around Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. Or, in our own country, of the waters of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Long before the Spaniards arrived on our shores, the waters already had a name for healing and being curative.

Let’s go back to the pool of Bethesda. There was a complication here. A snag. I am not sure exactly how Jesus found out about this particular man—out of all the poor people lying and waiting around the pool. Perhaps He was told about a particularly sad tale about a paralyzed man who had been lying there next to the pool for thirty-eight years. Imagine! Thirty-eight years!

This is the man I was thinking about when I started my sermon. The sad sack. Nothing ever went right for this poor guy! I wouldn’t blame him for being depressed and disappointed with his life. Things certainly hadn’t been particularly rosy for this man. Not for a long time.

Let me ask again. Do you know anyone who often is pessimistic? Sad? Disappointed in life? Has life continued to give him—or youor me—only lemons? I know two people like this. One, in particular, always has problems with his house. He isn’t handy, so he regularly needs to call handymen. Or contractors. Or the plumber. If it isn’t one thing, it’s the other. And if it isn’t the house, it’s his car. Almost as if he was walking around underneath a portable raincloud. Raining on his head all the time. Or so it seems.

With a life full of sadness and disappointments, this paralyzed man who had been by the pool for thirty-eight years must have had huge barriers and blocks built up! Built up, at least, in his mind. In his expectations. In his whole demeanor. It’s how he lives. It’s his—sad—lot in life.

What does the Rabbi Jesus ask this man? John tells us Jesus knew the man had been lying there for a long time. But, listen closely to Jesus’ question: “Do you want to be made whole?”

Here’s one possible response, borrowed from a sermon by a fellow minister.

“No thanks, I think I’ll just stay here on my pallet and wait for the waters to ripple. I’ve been here 38 years and I know what to expect and I know all of the other people nearby. True, I’m probably not going to get better, but – you know – I’ve gotten used to being here. So, thanks all the same, Jesus, but I’ll just continue to lie here.” This kind of response from the man can be understandable.

Let’s go one step further and listen again to this middle-aged, perhaps even older paralyzed man grumbling to Jesus. “These young whippersnappers, lying next to the pool! Can you imagine, these young punks can get to the water before me! Then, they get healed! So, I’m always too late!” As we listen, we can hear this man’s chronic complaining, his excuses, his inability to get to the healing waters in time.

We come back to Jesus, again. Remember, He asked this man whether he wanted to be made whole. Essentially, whether he wanted to change. Change can be scary! Change can be different, even difficult—something this man has probably never experienced before! Lying by the pool? Waiting for the waters to bubble up? That’s what that paralyzed man knew, and knew well. Getting up, and being made whole?? That could be really scary for this man!

Jesus knew this man was scared. Tentative. Possibly, downright disbelieving. But—Jesus, being Jesus, knew exactly what this paralyzed man needed. He needed to get actively involved in his own healing! Not simply to be a passive recipient of Jesus’ gift of healing, His gift of generosity. So Jesus said, “Stand up. Take up your mat, and walk.” This man was to take an active part in his own healing process!

We don’t have a blow-by-blow report of exactly what happened as this man tottered to his feet, or how his muscles and ligaments were miraculously healed and renewed, so he could stand and walk again. All we do know is that what Jesus commanded, happened! Praise God!

Just as Jesus did not want this man to passively receive healing, in the same way, Jesus doesn’t want passive people today, people who just lie on the couch, or sit in the pew. He wants us—that’s all of us—to be active! Actively involved in responding in joy, meaning and purpose.

Just as the paralyzed man found his legs were strong, so we can start being active, and finding our legs are strong enough for us to walk—or even sit—beside others who are in pain and need help. Our arms are actively empowered to embrace our enemies and the outcasts. And remember the paralyzed man and his excuses? When we are actively involved in showing people the love and generosity of God, we no longer make excuses.

At this church, we have many ways for members and friends to be active! Actively involved in showing the generosity of Jesus. The Maine Township Food Pantry. By bringing a few cans or jars or boxes for the pantry and putting them in with the rest of the collection out in the narthex, that’s getting involved! What about the Diaper Pantry, our mission agency of the week? We can buy some diapers and drop them off in the collection barrel in the hallway. And, volunteering at the Kids Academy, the preschool here at the church during the week. Come ask me after the service, and I’ll be happy to give you further information. Those are just three of many excellent ways to actively get involved, and to show the love and generosity of God.

God encourages each of us to get up off our mats—off our pews, too. We can go out into the community, and serve others. Just as Jesus did for this paralyzed man, so we are encouraged to be actively generous to others. Like this formerly-paralyzed man, we, too, can walk forward to new life in Jesus Christ.

Praise God! Amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions for Lent 2015. Do Lent generously!

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)