May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our song – Amen
/Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
and … /If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.
How many of you come out to church on Sunday morning for /religion that is worthless/?
How many of you are want to be part of something, want to commit your precious weekend time, your hard earned leisure time, to something that is of no value at all?
Well, according to James, the brother of Jesus – that is exactly what it is, if you are not a /“doer”/ of the word
Coca-Cola slogan is /“the real thing”/
The message given is that if “you want the real thing.
You need the real Coke”
So it is with our spirituality, our faith-walk, our Christianity: we want to find the real thing
James takes a hard line position on the message of being a “doer” of the word
Is James right?
… does James matter at all?
Is the letter of James of any value to the church – the people of God?
Does it matter what we ‘do’ with our faith?
Many evangelicals, which this church identifies itself as, make claims that our faith is what matters – you may have heard the term /“justified by faith alone”/
That sounds a lot like salvation is connected to what we believe – to *our* faith
Where does that fit with James and the ‘epistle of doing?’
Well, let’s work through some contextual stuff
We are now at the beginning of a series of NT readings on the Book of James.
There will be five weeks which focus on the Book of James, and so some understand of James is important.
- Our contextual material will start with James himself
This week, in my preparations I came across some material that said succinctly, precisely what I wanted to say – so I am indebted to Pastor Edward Markquart, who has been the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, since l973.
Pastor Markquart’s primary gift is his preaching, and he has made his material available to share it with as many people as possible.
James, the brother of Jesus, is REALLY important in the New Testament.
James, the brother of Jesus, *saw* the RISEN Christ.
The Apostle Paul tells us that the Risen Christ appeared to Peter, the 500, to James and all the apostles.
(I Corinthians 15:5-8).
The name of James is at the top of the list.
James, the brother of Jesus, was one of the first three pillars of the early church.
In Galatians 2, Paul writes of - James, Peter, and John.
James was listed first, BEFORE the names of Peter and John.
You have to be PRETTY important when your name is listed before Peter and John.
Not only was James the first pillar of the earliest church in Jerusalem, we hear other stories in the New Testament about James.
- We recall that when Peter miraculously escaped from prison, he specifically wanted James informed as to what happened (Acts 12:17).
- Also when the first Christians in Jerusalem were having a big conference about whether or not Gentile people needed to be circumcised, it was James who guided the answer (Acts 15:13ff).
- Also when Paul arrived in Jerusalem with a fistful of money to give to the poor in Jerusalem, it is James who met him at the door and advised Paul to first go and cleanse himself at the temple (Acts 21:18ff.)
- Finally when Paul showed up in Jerusalem after his conversion, he visited Simon Peter for fifteen days and saw none of the apostles other than James, the Lord’s brother.
In other words, James, the brother of Jesus, was THE primary leader of the earliest church in Jerusalem.
James was a VIP in the Early Church,
Yet we almost never hear sermons about him.
Why not, why are there so few sermons about him?
One reason might be because James is mentioned only once in the four gospels
Albeit as I have said, he is clearly important in the Book of Acts and letters of the Paul
Another reason is that there is a perception that Protestant theology clashes with James
In particular, it clashes with one of the key founding figures of the Protestant Reformation – Martin Luther
Martin Luther did not like the book of James.
Martin Luther said that the epistle of James was an epistle of straw.
“/It was easily consumed by fire, and when the straw was burned away, you did not have the pure gold nugget, the gospel, remaining./”
Why was James nothing but straw to Luther?
The first reason is that Christ is not emphasized
The words, /Jesus Christ/, is mentioned only twice in the whole book.
- There is not one mention of the cross.
- There is not one mention of Jesus dying on the cross to pay for our sins.
- There is not one mention of the word grace and what grace means.
In James, there is little mention of Christ, no grace, no atonement, no death on the cross
The second reason Luther disliked James was because of its emphasis on works.
Luther, like the Apostle Paul, emphasized that we are put right with God, /justified/, by God through God’s grace, through faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law.
James, on the other hand, seems to say that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone….
James clearly and simply emphasized works in order to be a Christian.
/Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
/Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.(James
Now, if you combine the two problems; that is, very limited explanation of the Gospel and instead there is only talk about works, people could draw the false conclusion that a person is saved by works.
Even so, I have to admit to all my Lutheran-leaning friends, that I like the Book of James.
And I believe that many of you probably also appreciate the Book of James because of its basic practicality - down to earth, real life, practical implications of being a Christian.
I like the Book of James for a couple of reasons.
First, because it is a book of action - Be doers of the word… Be doers who act…
And not just a listener who listens.
Not just a thinker who thinks.
Not just a talker who talks.
Not just a believer who believes.
But be a believer in Christ who gets things done for the kingdom of God.
That appeals to me because, I like doing things.
I like to get things done.
I get itchy feet when a church committee *just* talks, Plans, Process, or Organizes, and never does anything
So when James says in the epistle for today,
/“Do not be hearers who look into a mirror and forget;… but be doers who act.
They will be blessed by their doing.”/
I like that in James because I think of myself as being a doing person.
But I also like the book of James because I believe that it is a clear simply spoken corrective to our Protestant theology and heritage.
Protestants, from Luther’s teaching, strongly believe in faith in Christ and not works.
For centuries, we have shouted, /“A person is saved by grace and not by works lest any person should boast.”/
Citing Ephesians 2:8-9
We have said these words so often and so persistently we often come to the false conclusion that works of charitable love are not that important.
A Christian cannot separate faith from works of charitable love, from deeds of charitable love.
Just as you cannot separate my head from my body, without both dying, you cannot separate faith from works of charitable love.
Sometimes our attempts to speak the truth turn out funny, like these sentences found on insurance claims:
1. "I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law and headed over the embankment."
2. "In my attempt to kill a fly, I drove into a telephone pole."
3. "The pedestrian had no idea which direction to run, so I ran over him."
4. "I was thrown from my car as it left the road.
I was later found in a ditch by some stray cow."
5. "A truck backed through my windshield into my husband's face."