Monday, September 07, 2015

From The Letter Of James

I like to do this on Sunday, but hey, it's a holiday weekend so even though this is a Monday, it still feels like a Sunday.
Anyhow, one of the readings at church yesterday was from the letter of James and while in our tradition, the sermon is usually on the Gospel reading, I like this reading as it is part of the classic Protestant-Roman Catholic divide.
The reading:

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord, Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice the one wearing fine clothes and say, "Have a seat here, please," while the one  who is poor you say, "Stand there," or "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen by beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? 
You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. (For the one who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder," Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become transgressors of the law. So speak and act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement. 
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say we have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill," an 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.

This is one of the favorite passages of the Christian modernist. For the Social Justice Warrior types. There is so much there that seems to back their assertion that Jesus Christ was an SJW. To a point, maybe he was. But that is nowhere near all Jesus was, as the Son of God and the savior of the world.
However, that is not what I want to explore at this point.
It's the last paragraph that I want to talk about.
Works vs. grace.
One of the great theological divides between believers is the importance of works, expand that to good works, and whether or not one is saved by grace alone.
It is essentially what Martin Luther thought. It is what now most what we refer to as evangelical Christians believe.
What indeed are good works?
Is it not the many examples that Jesus himself lays out in the multitude of parables? One that comes to mind is that of the Good Samaritan. Or are good works including and especially robbing those of means to give to those who do not?
Remember that in the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus reminds us that the poor will always be with us in physical form. But that he (Jesus) would not.
Many a politician will use the above to justify higher taxes and social welfare programs. This passage is apparently one of the current secretary of state, John F. Kerry, favorites.
But I advise that the whole passage be read.
Which is what so many for whatever reason choose not to do.
It is by grace that we are forgiven for our sins. Out of that grace is the ability to do good for people. So instead of giving the best seat in the house to the best dressed, give it to someone that is not the best dressed. For Jesus wants us to be the best that we as his followers can be. And don't just make a comment about someone in need, help 'em out to the best of one's ability.
What if it that person's fault they are in such dire straits? So, find out why. Say one is a businessman and takes the time to deal with a person in such a condition. That could be a future employee. An awesome employee.
Jesus is saying, through this letter that we not only should but must take a chance on any one.
Also, I should note that it is clear the Ten Commandments are being used to make the broad point. Remember, Jesus did not come to change the law but to fulfill the law.
I think that sometimes the greatest sin we commit is not reading  a whole passage. There are certain ones that we like but forget what comes before or after what we like.
The bottom line of this reading is that works cannot happen without the grace of Jesus Christ in a believer's life.

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