Doers, Hearers, Forgetters, James 1:22-24
First United Methodist Church, September 2, 2018
Pastor Toni Carmer
It all begins with the recognition of how blessed we are.
We are so incredibly blessed.
I am so incredibly blessed.
The knowledge of that doesn't come to my awareness often enough. I take too much for granted. From the beauty of creation around me…my family, my friends, all who love me in spite of my many frailties…good health…this church that I'm privileged to serve…I too often take too much for granted.
I forget how blessed I am.
And then, when I do remember…when I have a moment of clarity…when it comes to my awareness….how can I respond? Can I sing my praises loud enough? Can I find the right words? Is there a suitable way I can communicate my thanks to God, for all the blessings I've been given?
How can I respond?
James reminds the people of God—scattered—as they live in places and among others who don't share their faith and beliefs that all they have is a gift from God. They have been born through him…truth has been revealed through him…all good gifts have been offered through him…and so in thanksgiving there are things they can and will want to do in response.
Martin Luther, one of the great reformers of the church, wasn't impressed with the book of James: he called it an epistle of straw. He took issue with James and his emphasis on works. Luther believed that James' teachings were contradictory to Paul's teachings, that we are justified/we are saved/we are redeemed by faith: by faith alone. It's not what we do, it's what God has done through Christ for us.
You know that, right? Sometimes that's an easier thing to know with our heads then it is to accept in our hearts. But God loves you and me because of who and what God has done, and not because of who and what you and I have done (Or haven't). God loves you. God loves me. God redeems us and makes us whole, draws us to himself…not because of who we are or what we've done, but because of who God is and what God has done in Christ.
So the things that we do (the good behavior, the service, outreach, caring for others and those kinds of things)…the things James talks about—we do those things in response to what God has already done. Not to catch God's attention or to convince God that we're worthy.
"Be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves," James says.
"Be doers of the word…"
Doing is important.
It's important for us. It's important for others. So we can better remember who we are and what we want to be. Doing increases our enthusiasm…it gives us energy. It adds story/ illustration/it puts flesh on our beliefs…it helps us see that what we believe in our heads, and feel in our hearts, can change things. And so doing strengthens us and grows us in our relationship with God and one another.
If we don't "do", we can forget.
My dad played the guitar when I was a little kid and I always thought I'd like to play, too. When I was a young teen he gave me his guitar so I could take lessons. I took those lessons for awhile. I practiced and I could play some simple chords and songs out of my lesson book. But the time came when he was ready to have his guitar back and I didn't have another one to play. Today, I might be able to strum a chord or two, but to learn how to do something you have to practice. You have to "do".
Winter before last, Dominique and Olivia invited me to go ice-skating with them. That was a couple of months after Olivia had hosted her birthday party at a roller-skating rink. I roller skated a lot as a child, and did my share of ice-skating, too. I wasn't "good" but I was proficient at all the essentials like starting and stopping and turning around and I could even skate backwards in a fairly awkward kind of way. But then I stopped doing it. Until a couple of years ago when Dominique and Olivia invited me to go with them. I ended up falling and cracking my head on the ice so hard that I scared those people around me who heard it even more than I scared myself.
My family doctor told me later that the only way she wanted me to ever step on the ice again was if I secured several pillows around my hips and would maybe wear a helmet so I don't break anything. In other words, don't do it.
It would have been fine if I would have kept skating over the years, but I didn't.
Kind of a use it or lose it situation. The practice, the doing is important.
I've gone to workshops and seminars where I've learned some really cool and exciting stuff. I'd think about how I could make use of what I was learning once I returned home… how this could benefit the church. How it could serve the community. But then I'd get home and decide—maybe while talking to a church member—or after weighing the effort it would involve—and thinking, we'll do this later. Next year will be a better time. When I can get some others involved, when the climate will have changed a bit, when we've got the money to invest in the resources that can help make this happen.
But the next year comes and the enthusiasm has died down. You roll along with the same thing you've been doing because it's easier, it doesn't require as many people, it's less expensive.
You don't do it, and the opportunity ends up passing you by. For no good reason.
Taking a chance, trying something new, moving doing, is important.
The text in James doesn't talk about Jesus, but let's include him in the conversation. Do you remember how he approaches people? How he talks to them? When he speaks, he pretty consistently tells people to DO something. To the disciples, he tells them to "Come, follow me." And then he tells them to "go out and proclaim the good news…cure the sick…raise the dead…cleanse the lepers." "You give them something to eat." "Do this." To the weary he says, "come to me, and I will give you rest." When he learns of the boy with the demon, he says, "Bring him here to me." To the man on the mat, carried by friends, he says,"Get up." To the blind man in the pool, "Go." He doesn't say, "Now that you know who I am, take a load off, rest, chill." Instead, he says, "Go…do…now."
I wonder if the call to "do" makes us less anxious to follow him?
Being an observer is easier, isn't it?
When you and I go to a show, most of us, I think, would prefer to sit in our seats. We want to watch the action rather than becoming a part of the action. Scott and I have been to the Wagon Wheel and to shows in other places when the performers have come up into the audience to pull folks up onto the stage to be a part of what's happening. There are those of us sitting back, doing our best to look invisible, not making eye contact, so we're not chosen. I was once chosen out of a group to sing something—all I had to do was repeat the tune the other person was singing. I did my best, but I knew I was singing flat…no Grammy nominations for me.
Most of us would rather just sit and watch the action and not take the risk of looking foolish…rather than trying something we've never done before. Ugh.
We are at that time in the church year when members of the lay leadership team begin making phone calls to members of the church, inviting you to serve. You and I get so many unwanted roto-calls that we don't answer unfamiliar numbers, so members of the team spend a fair amount of time leaving voice messages. I can imagine you picking up your voice message and hearing the invitation to serve and responding with whoops of joy, high-fiving your spouse and exclaiming—"Today I get to serve! That's just what I was hoping for!"
And yet James challenges us to "do." To show our faith through our action.
I read a book awhile back that I found to be inspiring by Shane Claiborne called Irresistible Revolution. I highly recommend it to pretty much anybody who is a young adult or who cares about young adults, which is pretty much everybody. In sharing about his experience with Jesus, Shane writes, "I met Jesus and he wrecked my life. The more I read the Gospel, the more it messed me up, turning everything I believed in, valued and hoped for upside down. I am still recovering from my conversion."
He was "cool" in high school. Elected prom king. Popular. Wanted to go to graduate school and find a job where he could "do as little work as possible for as much money as possible."
Shane was a part of a United Methodist Church where people talked about the Gospel but didn't seem all that interested in living it out. The youth would sit in the balcony for worship, and sometimes slip out for snacks at a convenience store down the street. He remembers thinking if God was as boring as the worship services, he didn't want anything to do with him. He had heard about John Wesley, this man whose heart was on fire with devotion for God, and then he watched his church spend $120,000 to buy a stained glass window. Shane was convinced that God wouldn't be happy with the purchase. He looked at the window and longed for Jesus to show up and start raising the dead again.
One night in college, Shane was hanging out with two buddies who said they were going to the city to hang out with their "homeless friends." He went along with them—over and over again. Even though it was winter time and they were in Philadelphia. The homeless guys became his friends. He listened to their stories.
The college student and his friends started sleeping on the streets. He and his friends read the Bible and talked about taking good care of strangers.
One night they met a 7 year old girl who was homeless. They asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up, and she said she wanted to own a grocery store. They asked her why. She said, "So I can give out food to all the hungry people."
These college guys, who were trying to hang out with Jesus, heard about 40 homeless families who were being evicted from an abandoned cathedral in North Philadelphia. The people in the old church were mainly homeless mothers and their children who took care of one another. So the families moved into Saint Edwards. But the authorities announced they were going to have to leave. The families hung a banner at the front door of the church and the banner said, "How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday?"
The college boys looked around. Listened to the people. And, Shane writes, they "went back to their college disturbed (and) aching." They wrestled, they prayed, and they began planning. The next day they ran all over the campus of the small Christian college they were attending telling people about what was happening to the homeless families in the abandoned cathedral.
Dozens of college students converged on the cathedral and announced, "If they come for you, they'll have to take us, too." It was a crazy thing…a messy thing…a risky thing.
That was the beginning of a new way of living for Shane Claiborne and others. A life they call "The Simple Way." You can read more about it online.
We don't live in the big city with an old cathedral in town that houses dozens of homeless families. But, wherever we are—even in Plymouth, we discover the same kind of thing: when we start listening to Jesus, we discover that there is always a "get up and go" kind of follow-up. There's a "do this" coming.
You and I don't have a "sit down, hold on and watch" kind of Savior.
We have one who says to us, If you love me, follow me. We have a Savior who tells us there's work to be done, and we're the ones who are going to have to do it.
So, are you ready?
May we be doers of the word, and not merely hearers.