15th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 18 – B)
James 2:1-10, 14-18
September 6, 2015
Faith and Works
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
I’m sure that most of you are familiar with the phrase “You can’t judge a book by its cover”. It’s a reminder that what we see is not always the full story. A homeless woman appears to be lazy or mentally troubled, when in fact, she’s simply lost one job and couldn’t find another. An actor who seems to have it all with the fame and fortune he made as a comedian commits suicide because he’s so depressed he can’t endure living anymore. A faithful Christian TV star reveals that he’s adulterer. When we look at people we just don’t know what it going on behind the pictures they display. When it comes to our faith, the saying is also true, to a certain extent. When I look at you, or you look at me, neither of us can know for certain that the other one believes in Jesus. We may say we do, but nobody can look into the heart of another. And yet, it is possible to give evidence of our faith, and we do this by letting our faith show in our lives.
As many of you know, I am a huge Vikings fan. If you didn’t know that, well, I guess you do now. I have jerseys, t-shirts, a magnet on my car (next to my Jesus fish), several cups, a little storybook, and a door mat. Just by looking around my study, or by stopping by on a Sunday afternoon, you’d know for certain that the Vikings are my team. Now if I were to tell you that I was a Viking fan, but I didn’t watch any games, know any of the players, or have any memorabilia, would you believe me? Probably not, right? At the very least, you’d wonder what kind of fan I was. If I claimed to be a Viking fan, but never showed it, you’d be justified in thinking that maybe I really wasn’t a fan after all. Now, if you’re wondering where I’m going with this, you’ll see pretty quickly. If we claim to be Christians, but nobody knows by looking at us, it’s highly possible that our faith in Jesus might not be real, it might just be a sham.
James writes, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” James raises a good point. If you ask someone how they’re doing and they break down crying and you reply with “Glad to hear it” they’ll question you sincerity. So also we can’t see our brothers and sisters suffering and just ignore them and claim to be Christians. Instead we show our faith through acts of mercy. Are they hungry? Naked? Unemployed? Sick? We help people where they are, and we do whatever we can. Can we bake? Employ? Comfort? When we do these acts of kindness, when we show them the love that Christ first showed us, we’re actually doing them for Jesus. Did Jesus say that? Sure He did! He says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
The other side of this is that Jesus says, when you didn’t do these things, you didn’t do them for Him. And if we’re not willing to do them, our faith is rightly questioned. We may say we have faith, but in reality, it could be lacking. The problem, if I can call it a problem, with the Lutheran Church is that we focus a lot on salvation by grace through faith. There is nothing you should do, or can do, to earn God’s favor and be taken to Heaven. Your salvation, the forgiveness of your sins, is yours purely through the grace of God. Since we know we don’t have to do works to be saved, it’s easy to slip into believing that if works don’t save us, we don’t need to be concerned about doing them. If this is how we live, if we ignore the needs of others, our faith may be nothing more than knowing about Jesus, and not really saving faith. James writes, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
Martin Luther said, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” You see, we’re not saved by our works, nobody is, but faith always produces good works. Our faith is not just something that exists, rather it is a living and active thing. It’s at work in our lives and in the lives of those around us. James says, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” The works that we do show others that we are Christians, and that we do love them as Christ loves us. Do you remember the song, They’ll Know We are Christians by our love? It’s cheesy, but there’s a degree of truth to it. We may say we’re Christians, but the proof is there in the way we love and care for one another.
Now you may be asking yourself, am I not a Christian because I don’t do good works? If you are asking that question, you most certainly are a Christian, a beloved child of God. And whether you have a strong faith or weak faith, all faith is accompanied by good works. It’s possible that maybe you don’t realize that good things that you’re doing. For the Christian, the things we do just flow out of us. We don’t make a conscious effort to help others, we just do. In Matthew 25, Jesus quotes the Christians as saying, “When did we see you hungry and feed you, sick and visit you” and so on. And Jesus says, when you did it for others you did it for me. They didn’t realize they were doing good works, they certainly weren’t keeping count, they simply loved and served. And that’s what we do as well. We just love, and we’ll naturally do what Christ calls on us to do – show acts of mercy.
What you need to remember is that good works aren’t limited to visiting prisons, building homes in Mexico, or working in homeless shelters. Faith will show in an infinite number of ways. A mother caring for her children. A father working hard at his job. A child caring for their elderly parents. All of these things, and more, share the love of Christ. Our only duty is to let our faith express itself in how we carry out our duties wherever God has placed us.
And not only that, all the things we do that show the love of Christ, give us the opportunity to tell the person that we’re not doing these things to be nice, we’re doing them because Jesus loves them. To steal a phrase from our circuit’s Lutheran Early Response Team trailer, we ae the hands and feet of Jesus. We want those whom we help to know that Jesus cares for them, loves them, and wants them to know it. That is ultimately why we do good things – to bring people to the knowledge of Christ’s death and resurrection for them. This is why we serve, because Christ first served us.
So you can’t judge a book by its cover is true. I’ve bought books that look fantastic only to find them to be horrendous, and I’ve bought beat up old books that I loved. I’ve also, I’m ashamed to admit, made judgments based on appearances that turned out to be very wrong. Maybe you know that feeling too. But when it comes to our faith, we want people to make judgments. We want them to see what we’re doing and wonder why we love and care for others so much. We want them to see our acts of mercy and through our witness come to faith in Jesus. There is a world of hurting, needy people out there, and by what we do, they’ll have no doubt that we are Christians, that we love them, and most importantly, know that Jesus loves them.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen