There is something about me that you don’t know.
I am a physicist. Well, I took physics in high school. I can recite a few things like the First Law of Thermodynamics and Einstein’s equation. I even enjoyed a physics book in the last several years on Chaos Theory. Therefore, I must be a physicist.
There is something else you don’t know about me. I am a physician. Well, I’ve been to the doctor’s office, read those pamphlets about prescription drug side effects, and I even assembled a “visible man” (you know one of those see through plastic models) when I was a kid. That ought to make me a physician, right?
By that same logic, watching the movie Apolo13 makes me an astronaut, visiting the Brickyard museum makes me an Indy car driver, and picking a tomato makes me a farmer, right?
Of course not. So why do people think they can read a few verses of the Bible, show up to church when they don’t have anything better to do (if at all), call upon God only when they get in trouble, and call themselves Christian? Being baptized, going through confirmation, or having you name on the old black membership book makes you a member of the church, but being a Christian is a whole different matter. You see Christianity is not merely a belief system… it is a way of living.
I read about a man in New York City who died at the age of 63 without ever having had a job. He spent his entire adult life in college. During those years he acquired so many academic degrees that they “looked like alphabet soup” behind his name.
Why did this man spend his entire life in college? When he was a child, a wealthy relative died who had named him as a beneficiary in his will. It stated that he was to be given enough money to support him every year as long as he stayed in school. And it was to be discontinued when he had completed his education.
The man met the terms of the will, but by remaining in school indefinitely, he turned a technicality into a steady income for life. But he never got around to doing anything with his gift.
Similarly, there are many, many people who spend years sitting in pews, attending Bible studies, even reading their Bibles, and they are technically Christian. But they never get around to taking their faith out of the pew, the classroom, or off the page. They may know everything there is to know about being Christian; they have the belief system down pat. But they never get around to living it.
That is what James is addressing in this morning’s passage from chapter 2. “Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”[i]
That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Maybe you expect that I will do some magic with the Greek words here and tell you that it really does not mean what it says, but not today. James is very simple and very clear. Hearing is not enough. Believing is not enough. Studying is not enough. Preaching is not enough. Being Christian is not enough…. If we never get around to doing Christianity, our faith is lifeless. In James’ words, Faith without works is dead.
You may remember similar words in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”[ii]
The life built on mere head Christianity and heart Christianity may be beautiful but it has no foundation. The life lived by practicing what Jesus preached, however, is a life built on a solid foundation that cannot be shaken.
There are three mistakes people make with this passage. One is they take it too far the other direction, and start to think that salvation depends on what we do. That is not what James is saying here. James does not claim that good works in any way earn us salvation, (salvation is based entirely on faith in Jesus Christ), but James does state boldly that good works are a result of salvation. They are the fruit of faith. If a person has faith, you should be able to tell it by their behavior. So don’t make the mistake of pushing this toward salvation by works.
The second mistake is turning it inside out. You might say, “I don’t lie, I don’t steal, I don’t cheat on my spouse, I don’t hurt other people.” Well and good, but James is not saying be circumventers of sin, or be evaders of evil, or dodgers of darkness. Even a moral atheist does that.
When I am long gone and you have almost forgotten about me I don’t want to be defined by what I didn’t do. I don’t want to be remembered as old “What’s his Name” that couldn’t spell or wasn’t a very good singer, or didn’t do this or couldn’t do that. I would much rather be remembered for what I did.
The Christian life is not best defined by the absence of evil, but by the presence of works of love, and justice, and service.
The third mistake some people make with this passage is to assume that it is talking about other folks. You know like the hypocritical Pharisee who says, “Lord, I thank you that I am not like that sinner over there.” It would be easy to preach about “them” because “they” are not looking me in the eye. It is much harder to preach into the mirror and realize that to paraphrase POGO[iii] “we have met the sinner and he is us.” No, don’t make the mistake of thinking that James is writing about someone else.
One of the best sermons on this topic is only 7 lines long
· I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger.
· I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.
· I was naked and in your mind, you debated the morality of my appearance.
· I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
· I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
· I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.
· You seem so holy so close to God. But I'm still very hungry, and lonely, and cold.[iv]
Look in that mirror… do you see yourself anywhere? <<<silence>>>
I do… I see me… and I see you.
But, you say, I have several good excuses… I know…so do I. Here is the top ten list of reasons for not serving as determined by a survey published in Leadership magazine. Say them with me because if you’re honest you will find one that you have said before.
· 10. I don’t want to
· 9. I’m afraid I won’t be very good
· 8. I’ve never been asked
· 7. I’ve already served my time
· 6. I’m not qualified
· 5. I don't know what to do.
· 4. I don't want to commit.
· 3. I just need to be home with my family.
· 2. I did and I didn’t like it.
· 1. I’m too busy.
o The truth is that we know our excuses for not serving just don’t add up.
o The truth is, we know that we need to do more than be students of Christianity.
o The truth is that we know Jesus said loving our neighbor is the least God expects.
o The truth is that we know what God requires, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
o The truth is that we know that if we haven’t done something for the least of these, we have failed Jesus.
o The truth is that James is right. Each of us at one time or another has been a hearer of the word, but we fall short on the doing.
You all know whose logo and slogan this is? Well I think Nike stole it from James, because if Bible books had tag lines, James’ would be “Just do it.” No excuse, No finger pointing, No holding back. Just do it.
There are no freeloaders in the kingdom of God.
Both Jesus and James are clearer than we would like in saying that being Christian doesn’t count if we don’t DO Christianity. If we don’t spend our lives loving and serving our neighbor.
Just do it.
James picks up this theme again n Chapter 2, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? …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? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”[v]
So just do it.
Do you want to know something funny? I decided on the topic for this sermon last week. I was preparing it but most people didn’t know that. Wednesday at the leadership team meeting, we were setting goals for 2016. Guess what the very first suggestion was…to set a goal that “every person be in ministry.” For every person to be not just hearers of the word, but doers. For every person to just do it. Do you think that, maybe, we’re on to something here? I do. It is the path on which we started 2 years ago when we started talking about a new committee structure. We did that because we had too many people sitting in meetings and talking about ministry, and not enough people doing ministry.
We no longer have that problem. That monkey is off our back. No one will be asked to be on the mission committee this year. No one will be asked to be on the worship committee this year. The leadership team’s intention, and what I am asking, is for every person to identify a way to serve, and just do it.
Just teach the children, just visit the elderly, just welcome new neighbors, just feed the hungry, just join a prayer group, just make and serve food for LIGHT, just be a liturgist, just help with kids Klub, just plan the Christmas program, just help with worship technology, just give a ride, just build a handicap ramp, just make worship guests feel welcome, just deliver meals on wheels, just organize the pork burger stand, just keep up the building, just be a communion steward, just sing in the choir, just go on a mission trip, just adopt a family at Christmas, just walk in CROP walk, just … well, what would you like to do for Jesus? Whatever it is… Just do it!
The leadership team and I are here to do two things.
1. To help you figure out what the passion of your heart is (The “open your gifts” retreat would be a great place to start)
2. To get out of the way and make sure you have everything you need to "just do it" for Jesus.
So by now, I really kind of hope that you have stopped listening to me… “Be not just hearers of the word.” I actually hope that you have stopped listening to me and started to ask yourself, what is my ministry? Where to I fit in? What is Jesus asking me to do? What can I do for Jesus? Maybe even where do I sign up for a Ministry Action Team?
You are, each and every one of you saved by God, not to be knick-knacks on God’s shelf, but to be tools in God’s workshop, workers in God’s field, servants in God’s kingdom, his hands and feet ushering in the Kingdom of God by loving and serving your neighbors. So JUST DO IT.