Sometimes when I read scripture, I lose all hope for humanity in general and the church in particular. It’s easy to let myself believe that life now is so much better, easier, more enlightened than it was in biblical times. Humanity has come so far in the last two thousand years, haven’t we? We have figured out how to fly, how to share information instantly, how to cure many diseases, how to predict the weather, and so much more. We’re good, right?
No. Not really. On the flip side of the advances are the horrors. We can fly but we can also shoot planes out of the sky. We can share news as quickly as we can share hatred. We can cure so many illnesses and we can weaponize disease or withhold treatment from those who need it. Yes, we can track storms, but we also deny or ignore the climate change that is melting polar icecaps. I think our capacity for self-centered thought and action remains the same, it’s just our technology that has advanced. This is why I lose hope when I read some scripture passages.
Some time in the late first century, a man named James wrote to Jewish Christians urging them to pay attention to who they claim to be and how they act in the world. It’s pretty clear that Christians haven’t changed all that much in the years since. The people to whom James wrote tended to favor rich people over poor people, especially when a rich person showed up for worship. James’ audience also seemed to pick pieces of the Law to follow while ignoring the rest. It’s also possible that these early Christians would offer words of prayer or blessing for those who were hungry, thirsty, and in need of shelter without doing anything to help. They might have believed faith-filled words were enough.
Unfortunately, the words James wrote nearly two thousand years ago, could be written today to many of us who call ourselves Christians. We’ve gotten very comfortable with a faith that has few close-up works. We can send money to organizations or feel good when we volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen, but are these actions indicative of faith? Is it enough to pray for people with significant needs? Is it enough to say we believe God loves all human beings? Is it enough to gather for worship with those who are like-minded? Is it enough to say we are not like others who condemn people who are different from themselves? James would say no.
It’s likely Jesus would also say that words alone are not enough. Words will not end the fear mongering and divisive hatred perpetrated by the current administration if no action is taken. Words will not stop white supremacists (many of whom claim to be Christians) from boycotting Nike and others who take a clear stand against racism if we do nothing in support of what we say. Words will not end discrimination in our systems of education, law enforcement, healthcare, employment, justice if we don’t use our votes to support what we say. Words will not save the life a bullied child if we add no supportive action. Our words, no matter how sincerely they are spoken, without our actions will not change anything.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we did not need the words of James to wake us up? Wouldn’t it be great if after two thousand years we could finally get what Jesus was all about? Jesus came with a message of love, the kind of love that is revolutionary and liberating. It was so radical that it spread rapidly around the world, even though every community struggled with how to embrace and embody the message of life-saving love. The message continues to be radical, revolutionary, and liberating. We have diluted its power with too many words and not enough action.
God’s love for humanity has not diminished over the generations. The Holy Spirit still moves in the world and in our churches. If there is hope for humanity it lies in God’s steadfast love for us. Maybe one day (and may it be soon!), we will truly love our neighbors as ourselves and act accordingly.
RCL – Year B – Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 9, 2018
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 with
Isaiah 35:4-7a with
James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17