Happy (belated) Labor Day, everybody! We had a really nice low-key weekend. Church was quiet, Bruce and I golfed nine-holes in the afternoon and I spent Monday binge-watching Friday Night Lights while getting caught up on laundry.
I know, I know. You’re blinded by my glamorous lifestyle.
Here is Sunday’s sermon! It is my last sermon of the summer, so it’s back to coordinating music, children’s sermon, etc. this week! Enjoy …
Rehoboth Congregational Church
September 6, 2015
Using Our Faith
I was hanging out with Zackary Rutko this week (you know Zack – five going on 35) and I asked him what he thought my sermon should be about this week. He thought about it for a second while he looked at his surroundings and then finally said with confidence, “Fire hydrants.”
“Fire hydrants?” I asked him.
“Uh-huh. Fire hydrants … and people,” he went on. “But mostly people.”
Well okay then.
Not to publically admit that I have started crowdsourcing five-year-olds for sermon content or anything, but as I thought about this passage from the letter of James this week, I could not help but think that the kid might actually be on to something.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 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. (James 2:14-17)
In other words, if our faith is not doing something, if our faith is not active and thriving, then it is not alive and living up to its potential in our lives.
This can be a challenging passage for us to think about because it is a deliberate call to action. It forces us to think about that way that we live our lives. And then it furthers forces us to reflect on how we could do more to strengthen our faith, grow as Christians and live out the Gospel.
Let’s think about Zack’s fire hydrant metaphor for a second: Say you drive by a building full of people and suddenly a fire breaks out and starts to spread quickly. That would be completely terrifying! But have no fear – there is a fire hydrant on the sidewalk in front of the school. Everything is going to be fine, right?
But that fire hydrant is completely useless in fighting that fire if it just sitting there. It needs to be used; it needs to be put to work in order for it to make a difference.
And in the same way, we need to use our faith; we need to put our faith to work if we want our faith to mean something, if we want our faith to be alive and if we want our faith to make a difference in this world.
The Letter of James is thought to have been written in the late first or early second century. It was written to Jewish Christians who had left their homes and communities in order to avoid persecution because of their faith. It encouraged dispersed men and women to stand strong in their faith; to be wise in what they learned through Christ and to seek heavenly wisdom and not just earthly wisdom. Today, we can read this letter very much as a guidebook in our own lives and journeys of faith.
For nearly 2,000 years, there has been an ongoing debate among theologians about whether or not we, as Christians, are saved by faith or saved by works. The fancy theological term for being saved by faith alone is “justification”. And the question at hand is this: Is it enough that we profess a faith in the Risen Christ – or do we have to act on that faith in order to truly be saved?
I have no idea.
It is a slippery slope. You can believe in God and do a lot of really bad things in your life. You can also do a lot of really wonderful things and think that the whole faith thing is completely bogus. And sometimes churches can take things a little bit too far when they give people the opportunity to do something (or buy something) in order to confirm their faith and buy their salvation. Which is the better scenario?
Like I said – I have no idea.
Personally, I do not think that either side of the debate is completely right: I think that it is about finding a balance, a balance between having faith and professing your belief in God and actively and tangibly living out that faith. And – even more so – I think that each one of us has to find a balance that works for us in our lives.
So I am not out to solve the 2,000-year-old debate on justification this morning; but this scripture does point out that there is more to our faith than simply professing a belief, so let us talk about why that is true and how we can do this.
First of all, I think that we need works to strengthen our faith. And this happens in many different ways! It happens when our works lead us to places where our eyes are opened to faith alive in this world. It happens when we see the faith of others and are inspired to further strengthen our own faith. It happens when God gives us the strength to do something that we never thought we could have done. It happens when we feel as though our faith is leading us to a place where we are making a real difference in the world.
My call to ministry did not come within the four walls of a church building; it came when I was in Honduras, doing the work that Jesus did in his life, the work that we are called by the Gospels to do in our lifetime. Suddenly 18 years of Sunday School made sense for me and anytime I have taken part in some sort of service project with people in this congregation – young or old – I have seen the same spark in their eyes that I felt on that trip. It is one thing to believe that all of this faith stuff is true, but something happens when we are actually serving in a tangible way that makes us feel that it is true.
Faith is something that needs to be used in order for it to be healthy. In the same way that doctors make their patients get up and moving after surgery so their muscles don’t atrophy sitting in bed, we need to use our faith so that it continues to grow and be healthy. The more we use our muscles, the stronger they get. And the more we use our faith, the stronger it gets; it is as simple as that.
Like I said, I am not trying to solve the debate on justification. There are going to be moments in our lives where chaos ensues and all we have the time or energy to is throw our hands in the air and say, “God, I hope you’ve got this, because I sure don’t!” before we collapse on our bed and cry into a bowl of ice cream.
But in order to prepare ourselves for those moments, we have to be constantly working on our faith. We have to find ways in our lives to actively express the things that we believe so that our faith can be nurtured, strengthened and protected. We have to send cards to people when they are going through something difficult in their life, give them a call or drop off a meal. We have to come to worship so we can strengthen those “faith muscles” with other people (it is always more fun to workout with other people, right?). We have to challenge ourselves and our faith by reading the bible, learning about our religious history and engaging in discussions on faith. We have to serve the church in some form or another (y’all know nominating is right around the corner, right?). We have to look for ways to give back to the community. We have to pray – for ourselves and for others.
Faith, by itself if it has no works, is dead.
So it is time to look in the mirror and see not only who are, but who God is calling us to be. It is time to find a balance in our lives – that works for us! – between professing our belief and acting on that profession. It is time to strengthen our faith by serving others. It is time to challenge ourselves and push ourselves outside of our comfort zones. It is time to see our faith come alive. It is time to use our faith so that it can change the world.
Thanks be to God!