More Than Words, James 2:17b-18
Plymouth First United Methodist, September 30, 2018
Pastor Toni Carmer
I've had two really good friends over the years who have been quilters. I used to sew, but now I only sew to mend. But at one time, I thought I’d like to quilt. Both friends said they'd teach me.
Carol and I went out and we both bought the things we needed for each of us to make a simple Christmas quilt to hang on our walls. It was a good first project. It was beautiful and I looked forward to doing it with her. But things got busy. My kids were little and there was always something else that needed done. Then, as I ended up getting around to go to seminary she said—"just give your stuff to me." I did, and a couple of weeks later she presented me with my quilt, all finished.
My friend Mindy told me to go to the store in Shipshewana and they'd help me gather what I needed, and she'd help me with the rest. A really nice lady looked at the pattern I’d selected, and I had fun going through the store picking out all my fabrics with her help. I bought the tools she said I'd need, too. Kept thinking I'd get to it, but I never did.
When we moved to Leo, a friend in the congregation opened a quilting store. “Bring your things down anytime,” she said. “I’ll help you.” I thought I would. I didn't.
I still have all the stuff. But I'm not sure I even like the fabric so much anymore. It's kind of dated. I bought it years ago.
So, I'd like to say, "I'm a quilter." I have 3 beautiful quilts: one made by my grandma and given to Scott and I when we were married. One, a gift from Scott, hanging on our wall. The third is on our bed, pieced together by the ladies of the church in Shipshewana, and given to us as a gift when Scott was appointed to a new church. I love these quilts. I've admired quilts for years. I've thought about learning how to quilt, made some general plans. I've talked about it with people. But if I never get out my scissors and start cutting, or my needle and thread and start sewing—then, I'm not a quilter. I'm (just) an admirer of quilts.
James talks about faith in the same kind of way: “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” I may read the stories of Jesus. I may admire him and be moved by his teachings. The disciples may impress me in their willingness to set everything aside in order to follow him. I may come to church, listen to the message, and sing hymns. I may enjoy the fellowship of the people who gather together alongside me. But knowing about Jesus, learning all I can about my faith, doesn’t make me a disciple. The next step is missing: the responding…the doing…the living the life of a disciple.
We’re continuing our conversation on the book, Shaped by God's Heart: the Passion and Practices of Missional Churches. In Chapter 5, Milfred Minatrea writes, "faith possessed must become faith expressed if God's purpose for each believer is to be realized" (p. 53). Missional practice number 3 that we're talking about this week is "teach to obey rather than to know."
We’ve heard it said: Knowledge is power. That's not a recent quote, it's first attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, back in 1597. It still makes sense to us today. But what good is that knowledge if we don't use it to do something? To make a difference? To make things better? I can be a real brainiac, but what difference does it make if I never make use of what I've come to know? The knowing is a good start…but it’s only the beginning. The first step.
As Christians, in order to be who God calls us to be, we need to move beyond the knowing: there needs to be some kind of action. It's important for us to practice our faith, to live our lives as disciples, to love like Jesus, to welcome the stranger, to love our neighbors, to fish for people, to serve one another, to wash one another's feet, to love our enemies, to forgive one another, to proclaim the good news, to count the cost, to worship God and serve only him…(and so on). Those are all doing kinds of things. Knowing God is one thing, but doing, following—living the life of disciple—that's where the rubber hits the road. That's what it's all about. That's what makes the difference. The point isn't in the knowing, it's in the responding: the living, the doing, the being a disciple.
Maybe that’s hard for us to do on our own. I need an example: a picture in my head because I'm a visual person. Some of you learn to do by reading "how to" articles. The words do it for you! But for others of us, that doesn't work so well. It takes me forever to learn that way. But when someone shows me, when I watch and follow along and do it alongside them, I've got it. After seeing you do it, after practicing a few times, I'll remember.
I think of the people of Israel in the Old Testament. How hard they tried to be faithful. It seemed they would do so well for awhile, and then, they'd veer off course…they'd do things completely contrary to what God called them to do. They’d listen to their leaders, to the prophets for a while, but they weren’t consistent. They’d get distracted.
Then God offered a new way. In the Gospel of John, we read, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (1:14). More than words, God's people needed an example. The Word became flesh so people could see/so we can see—through Jesus—God's desire for us and for our world. As you and I read scripture, we walk alongside the disciples, we listen and we watch as Jesus talks to people, as he heals people, as he reaches out, as he loves…and we begin to learn, to know, to understand who he wants us to be, what he calls us to do.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Jesus came to us—the Word made flesh—as one of us, to teach us, to show us, to invite us, to call us into acts of discipleship that can touch hearts, change lives, and ultimately, transform our world.
Jesus came to us once, and still comes to us, in the people who live out his call…
Think of the people you’ve known…the experiences you’ve had…the activities you’re involved in today. Where have you seen the Word made flesh? In whose face have you seen the face of Christ?
Two years after I graduated from nursing school, I came home from Colorado for a visit and went with my mom to church at Altarstar UMC, a church of about 50 members. Marilyn Bales was the pastor there, and I had never experienced a female pastor in worship. Her warm and welcoming manner touched me, and I think sparked something that contributed to my call to ministry some years later. In Marilyn, I saw the face of Christ.
I remember a 26 foot truck that our church rented to hold all the canned food and other items we had collected for the neighborhood center. There was all this food, and all these people helping to load it. We then drove it downtown and unloaded it…in a driving rain. We were soaked and smiling and it felt good to know we were doing something that would make a big difference. In all those friends working together, I saw the face of Christ.
Craig Fulmer was a successful business owner in town who knew how to get things done. He was a mentor and a friend and one who knew how to ask the hard questions. You needed to have all your ducks in a row when you presented your plan to Craig, but once he got behind a project, you knew you were going to get the job done. He was tough: men feared him; kids loved him. My favorite memory of Craig was in the back parking lot with a whole stream of Vacation Bible School kids hanging onto him and onto each other, dancing around in a conga line with Craig’s arms flapping away like a big butterfly. I don’t know what they were doing exactly, but they were all laughing and having a great time. In Craig and in those children, I saw the face of Christ.
I’ve been a part of work teams from Oklahoma to New Orleans to Haiti to Guatemala, and I’ve seen men and women and teens willing to give up their comfortable beds and familiar food to work hard in some of the most interesting conditions to clean up, repair, construct, connect and extend God’s love to people who couldn’t do whatever it was we were doing on their own. In the faces of people so thankful for a helping hand, and in workcampers whose purpose is to extend Christ’s love in places where it's been most needed—I’ve seen the face of Christ.
I’ve seen the face of Christ in members of this congregation working to make a difference in the lives of people in our community through your work on Social Concerns, in the things you’ve done in the past through the Grace and Peace Alliance, and what you’re doing now at the Neighborhood Center, in our Community Meals, the Clothesline Project, Heminger House, Link to Hope, and more…
I’ve seen the face of Christ in beloved friends that you’ve known here, people like Donna Lamb, who’d love on me and try to keep my stole straight so I’d look my best in front of you and on Facebook. I’ve seen the face of Christ in the friends who showed up at the Hogsett’s and the Gee’s and in other places around town to clean up, and then offered a place for them to stay until things dried out or a new place became available….in each of these, and so many more, you and I have seen the face of Christ.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. The Word became flesh and continues to dwell among us, taking action, reaching out, sharing God’s love, and doing the work of a disciple, and along with others, making a difference.
It’s not just a head thing…a knowledge thing. Being a disciple requires doing. It’s an action word.
Sometimes, just starting out, the action we take is awkward. Maybe we don’t quite know what to say or do…but we can learn from one another, we can gain skills, gain experience, become more confident…
And we can do good things in the name of Jesus.
And perhaps in us, someone might see the face of Christ. Amen.