Faith and Works

Sep. 06, 2015

Prov. 22.1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Jm. 2.1-10, 14-17; Mk. 7.141-17

What we call a thing has a lot to do with how we see it. For example, everything looks red to someone wearing rose-colored glasses! Names matter. According to the Book of Genesis one of the jobs that God gave to Adam was to name the animals...I wonder how he came up with aardvark? Proverbs today says, a "good name is to be chosen rather than great riches" because names matter!

Communication expert Marshall McLuhan back in the 70's called a derogatory name, a "label libel," because it bends our view of people and things. These days high priced publicists "spin" make the better seem the worse and the worse to seem the better. It's hard to know what to think. For example, in the debate about immigration, images overflow in the media of refugees flooding Europe fleeing the violence and slaughter in their countries. It culminated this week for many with the image of a soldier retrieving the small body of a three-year-old Syrian boy who had drowned in the Mediterranean along with his mother and brother. The image of the little boy's limp body was an desperate cry to God. It was like photographer Matthew Brady's Civil War pictures making people in the North aware of a very uncivil war going on in the South. How to care? How to respond? In October, 1862, a month after the battle of Antietam, the NY Times commented on the battlefield photographs displayed in a shop window on Broadway. They said one was initially horribly shocked, but after awhile hardened to the reality they represented. As the Times said it may take a "few dripping bodies, fresh from the field, ... laid (on) the pavement...(so) there would be a gathering up of skirts and a careful picking of a way" before people grasp the reality lived by the combatants. Sociologists call it "compassion fatigue".1 When we are exposed so frequently to the pain and distress of others, that we feel the need to cut ourselves off emotionally from their suffering. But as the Epistle of James put it this morning: "If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says, "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." So, we are called to care and to act.

The author and pastor Rick Warren said, "God is far more interested in your character than he is your comfort, or your career, because you're not taking your career to heaven, but you are taking your character." Sometimes we can get so caught up in ourselves that we can't calibrate the real significance of what we are doing. Everything becomes about us. I heard about a pastor who preached well and was commended by a parishioner after the service for a "really great sermon". The pastor who was swelling with pride, was trying his best to appear humble but he gushed out the explanation, "Well, actually it wasn't me speaking, it was the Lord." The parishioner winked at the pastor and said, "Reverend, it was good, but it wasn't THAT good."

That brings us to the core issue in the scriptures today...the content of our hearts and what comes from our hearts in the way that we name and treat each other. In the continuing controversy between faith and works, it adds up to a challenge of how God's work will get done through faith.

In this Church we have all sorts and conditions of Christian believing. For some the spiritual life is praying, contemplation and reading the Bible and thinking about God; while for others that doesn't really make sense, because as any practical person will tell you, a real spiritual life means working in a soup kitchen or any place where the poor and needy are seeking help other than to just have somebody pray over them, that they'll be successful in finding food.

But I think a good case can be made that real faith without works is like being alive, but being paralyzed and unable to move. How can works or faith be genuine without one informing and moving the other? Jesus actively engaged in helping the sick and needy but prayer informed everything he did. Faith bids us to walk even when we cannot see where our feet will tread. We Christians are called to walk in faith...even when we don't know exactly where God has called us to go. Sometimes it's just about putting one foot in front of the other until we get there.

Christians are called to a "leap of faith". Spiritually, that makes us like an African impala that can leap more than 10 feet in the air and cover a distance of more than 30 feet in a single bound. But these magnificent animals can be kept in an enclosure in any zoo with just a short fence that blocks them from seeing where their feet will land if they were to jump over the fence. Christians are called to make mighty leaps of faith even when we don't know where we'll land. The Bible says, "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Faith bids us to trust even we cannot see.

1Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain and Suffering of Others NY: Farrar, Straus, and

Giroux, 2003, 62.
Whether we are helping youngsters with backpacks, or visiting at Woodland Village, or going to visit in the jails, or our youth raising money for the Hancock Food Bank...Whatever people in the secular arena may call it, we call it a "Church" because it's where God's work gets done in faith. Our mission as faithful Christians is to bring the healing, strength, and hope of the gospel to all. But that doesn't happen through will-power, rather by the grace of God that many differently gifted and challenged people can work together to accomplish what God has called us to do. AMEN. The Reverend Wayne Ray St Thomas Church Diamondhead, MS 09/06/15

2John Emmons, quoted in Homiletics. Vol. 21 No. 5