"The Church You've Always Longed For - (6) Serves a Broken World"
June 5, 2011 50-Day Spiritual Adventure Wk.6
James 2:14-17 (with material adapted from Dr.Jan Donovan, Villa Park, Illinois)
THE INCREDIBLY FAITHLESS FAN
There are two kinds of faith, as James the brother of our Lord sees it: "deed-faith" and "dead-faith." Deed-faith is commitment that follows through with actions, with deeds; faith-that-works. Dead-faith on the other hand is not faith at all, really; it's more like just intellectual assent, an idea in your head that never really influences your behaviour.
The Stanley Cup finals have at last begun. Hockey fans across the continent are demonstrating their faith, their commitment or allegiance, their loyalty, by cheering for the Vancouver Canucks (the only Canadian team to make it to the finals) or the Boston Bruins. Let's take the Vancouver team for an example. What would you think of a Canucks fan you interviewed who answered your questions like this:
Q: So, you a Canucks fan?
Q: Been to Rogers Arena in Vancouver lately?
A: Never been there.
Q: You watch the Canucks on TV, then?
A: Never do.
Q: Must on the internet, right?
A: Nope, never have.
Q: But--you ARE a Canucks fan, right?
A: Oh, definitely.
Q: So, who do you think's a candidate for Most Valuable Player in the playoffs this year?
A: I'm not sure who's on the team.
Q: Well, what do you think of the job the manager's doing?
A: I'm not sure who he is.
Q: OK...What do you think of Roberto Luongo? Think he'll get any more shutouts?
A: Roberto who?
Q: How can you be a Canucks fan? You sure don't act like one!
That's pretty ridiculous, isn't it? How can someone be a true Canucks fan and know absolutely nothing about the team? But what if the questions were changed and you were talking to someone who claimed to be a Christian?
Q: Are you a Christian?
Q: What makes you think so?
A: I prayed a prayer to accept Jesus when I was a kid.
Q: So, what church do you go to?
A: Oh, I don't go to church.
Q: Well, do you give any money to God?
A: I really don't think he needs any of my money.
Q: OK...Do you read your Bible?
Q: Well, then, do you pray?
A: Of course. Whenever I run into trouble, I call to God for help.
Q: How do you show Christ's love to your neighbours?
A: Those pigs! I try to avoid them at all costs. I hit the button on my garage door remote and slip right into the garage. I don't even have to look at them that way.
Q: Haven't they ever had any problems that you could have helped them with?
A: Beats me. That's not my job. That's why we have social assistance -that's the government's responsibility. Besides, they can always go to a counsellor or a bank or something. What they do is really none of my concern.
Q: Are you sure you're a Christian? You sure don't act like one!
Just as it doesn't make sense to claim to be a Canucks fan and not act like one, it doesn't make sense to claim to be a Christian and not act like one. Similarly, James says that faith without works to demonstrate that faith, is dead, v17; and v20, "faith without deeds is useless." In other words, it has no eternal value. Part of the "works" that demonstrate faith is to care for those around us who are hurting. It involves feeding and clothing those who lack necessities in those areas.
As we begin Week 6 of "The Church You've Always Longed For," we are going to see that the church we've always longed for serves a broken world. Please open your Bibles to James 2:14-17. We'll look at three things today:
MOUTHING THE WORD
James is concerned that people understand what real faith looks like. Earlier in his letter, 1:22, James wrote, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says". Later, in verse 26, he said that religious people who can't keep a rein on their tongue are deceiving themselves and their religion is worthless. In chapter 2, James challenged the church not to show favoritism to the rich over the poor, and reminded them that even in the Old Testament it was commanded, "Love your neighbour as yourself" (James 2:8, quoting Lev. 19:18). Showing favouritism - giving preferential treatment to those who are powerful in wealth or beauty - makes us lawbreakers.
In today's passage, James continues the thought that true faith impacts how we live. He writes about people in the church who have "fake faith." In other words, some people in the church claimed to have faith. They mouthed the words and could say all the right things - they made the right noises. They had given intellectual assent to the doctrines of Christianity. They probably could pass all the elder board interviews for membership. There was only one problem: Nothing in their lives gave evidence of the faith they claimed to have.
One commentator notes: "It is a good thing to possess an accurate theology, but it is unsatisfactory unless that good theology also possess us" (Douglas Moo, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Eerdmans, 1993, p. 107). It is good to know the facts of Christianity, but those facts need to impact how we live. My computer "knows" every Bible verse, but it is neither a Christian nor spiritual!
In v14 James asks about someone who claims to have faith but doesn't have matching deeds, "Can such faith save him?" He asks his question in a way that expects a negative answer. No, such faith without deeds cannot save.
Many people start to get a little uneasy at this point, supposing he's suggesting that works are needed for salvation, but we need to look at the whole picture. James is NOT saying we achieve salvation through deeds. He agrees with the apostle Paul that salvation is by faith, not works. Romans 10:9,10, "That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." And even more to the point, in Ephesians 2(8f): "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast." (Eph 2:8-9)
But even Paul, in the very next verse, says we are "created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:10). Good works of any type do not commend us to God for salvation. However, if we have true faith - the genuine article, faith that follows through - then good works will come afterward as fruit, as evidence that we have faith. James illustrates his point with the example of Abraham the patriarch in vv20-24. V23 quotes Genesis 15:6, after God told him to look up and count the stars if he could: so would his offspring be; "Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness." The clincher comes 7 chapters later, when God tests Abraham by instructing him to sacrifice his only son Isaac as a burnt offering (to be saved from the knife at the last moment by divine intervention). God didn't require that at the start; but as Abraham gazed up at the heavens and trusted God's promise, God saw a mustard-seed or kernel of real faith that would before too long follow through with much tougher demands. Abraham was committed.
DOING THE WORD
Verse 15 introduces a situation in which a brother or sister (other people in the church) lack life's necessities. "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food." It doesn't necessarily mean that they were naked, but that they lacked sufficient clothing to stay warm. Matthew 25(36), "I needed clothes [and you clothed Me]." Most likely, they lacked the outer tunic worn in those days. Today we might say they had no winter coat, just a shirt and pants. They also lacked sufficient quantities of food to maintain health. This is similar to some situations today in which people have only one bowl of rice each day. They are not entirely without food, but they're not getting enough calories or food groups to adequately sustain health.
Verse 16 imagines the response that might be given by a person who has 'dead-faith' not 'deed-faith': "If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" The response James supposes those who have faith without deeds might give is a traditional farewell. It includes "Shalom," a Jewish wish of God's peace and blessings. A modern equivalent could be, "God bless you.Good luck!"
One way of understanding the response to "keep warm and well fed" is that the people were told to feed and clothe themselves. "Warm yourselves - feed yourselves ...[perhaps under one's breath: Get a job, ya lazy bum!]" If this were possible, wouldn't they already have done it? Another possibility is that the "prayer wish" is given in hopes someone else will feed and clothe them. James implies that "someone" should have been the Christian who claimed to have faith but didn't prove it by reaching out. Their heart remained closed to their neighbour's distress.
James asks, What good is this faith? V14&16, "What good is it...What does it profit?" How does this help anyone? In what way could this response to the needs of a brother or sister be called "Christlike"? How does this response show Christ's love? Could it be said this response fits with the command, "Love your neighbour as yourself"? James's reply is that it just doesn't match up! Later in the chapter, v26, James equates a "body without the spirit" with "faith without deeds." Both are dead!
What James is telling us is that it isn't enough to claim to have faith if there aren't actions in our lives to back that claim up. Later, in verse 19, James offers an example of another group that have 'dead-faith': "Even the demons believe [that there is one God] - and shudder." Do you really want to be lumped in with demonic spirits as your heroes?! The idea is that the demons at least had some kind of response to the one God. The people giving lip-service to faith in verse 14 seem to have no actual response.
This passage specifically mentions meeting the needs of our brothers and sisters in the faith. In this instance, the absolute minimum evidence of the presence of true faith would be meeting the physical needs of our fellow believers. How does this relate to serving a broken world?
MAKING THE RUBBER MEET THE ROAD
In a classic passage in Luke 10(25-37), an expert in the Law asked Jesus what must be done to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked in turn, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" and the law expert answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,' and 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'" The guy was right-on, in his head. Doctrinally he scored 100%. Jesus told him to do that; but the man's come-back shows there was a disconnect between his head and his heart, for he asked, "Who is my neighbour?" That's the wrong question - trying to limit the circle of my responsibility, of those who could possibly have some claim on my resources, to as small a circle as possible. Christ then told the story of the Good Samaritan ('Good Boston Bruin'?! No, that's pushing it too far!) to illustrate that our neighbour is anyone with whom we come in contact. Anyone at hand who needs us. We are to do good to all people.
Taking this understanding of who our neighbours are and combining it with James' challenge to clothe and feed our brothers and sisters helps us see that we're to assist more than just those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:10, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers"- not "only to those who belong to the family of believers." The principle clearly goes beyond food and clothing. Elsewhere, the Scriptures speak of dealing with issues of injustice and oppression (Lev. 25:8-55; Isa. 58:6-14; Isa. 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19; Luke 14:12-14). For instance, Isaiah 58(6-7,10): "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?...If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday."
We are guilty of polluting our environment. God left us as stewards or managers of his creation, and we have not done a very good job. One way the church can serve a broken world is by working to clean up the environment. One congregation I served in northern Ontario adopted a stretch of highway to keep litter-free. Our consumption of the world's resources is disproportionately high, based on comparative populations; we can do our part to reduce that. In the news this week, Germany moved to kick its nuclear dependence: part of that will be accomplished through renewable energy sources. An obvious factor would be using less electricity to start with! If your computer tends to be on a lot when you're not at it, use the 'hibernate' function. Make better use of lists so you can consolidate your shopping trips. Let's tune up our cars so they are as efficient as possible. Try to get by with fans when it's hot or at least ease off on the air conditioner. Take a walk or ride a bike on occasion instead of driving. That's good for the environment--and your heart.
HAVE REGARD FOR HOW OUR WORLD IS BROKEN
Deed-faith has follow-through; it also has focus, it SEES the need. To many, those who lack food or clothes are practically invisible, like the priest or Levite passing by the man in the ditch without really taking note of him. Ask God to open the eyes of your heart to become aware of others' needs - like the "Listen with the ears of Jesus" prayer.
On our continent today, for example:
- Over one million children are being raised by their grandparents, without a natural parent in the home.
- Fourteen million Americans are attending Twelve Step programs.
- Bullying is a big problem in the classroom, and cyber-bullying online.
These statistics only deal with brokenness on this continent. The rest of the world is has worse problems: disease, refugees, catastrophes.
So what can we do? We can volunteer time to help tutor disadvantaged students who can't read or write properly.(In Youth Group, several of the Grade 6 to 8 participants had trouble reading basic English.) We can help out at Crisis Pregnancy Centres, like 'Room2Grow' or 'BrighterFutures'. We can get behind service agencies, especially Christian ones, like the Salvation Army or our own church's new 'Good Food Box' program. We can get involved with the agencies and municipal boards that our communities depend on for leadership.
Some of you may feel overwhelmed. You're thinking, "How in the world can I do all that?" Well, no one of us should do all of that. But all of us together can begin in these ways to serve a broken world. All you have to do is look around and start in your own neighbourhood. Has a neighbour recently had a baby? Drop off a note and a casserole. Has someone been sick? Maybe some chicken soup or just a friendly visit to relieve the loneliness would be nice. Is a friend going through a difficult time, at work or in her family? Why not just sit and listen?
"But, Pastor. How am I supposed to know if my neighbours are having any of these difficulties?" Ah - that's part of the 'focus' of deed-faith, paying attention. Be involved in their lives on a regular basis. Don't just run into your house when you get home. Wave to your neighbours. Get to know their names. Make an effort to talk "over the back fence." Suggest a joint barbecue, or even plan a block party. Just showing that we care makes all the difference.
One of the greatest ways to serve a broken world is to introduce people to our Lord Jesus: only He can truly heal their brokenness. But it's hard to tell them about Jesus if we never talk to them about anything else. When you've built the bridge of a relationship with them - real ongoing interest and caring - they are much more likely to listen to someone tell about what God's been up to in your life, or to accept your offer to say a short prayer with them then and there on the spot. They will have seen deeds that back up your faith. If they see that you care about them and their hurts, it will be easier for them to believe that God also cares.
We - the church - are now the incarnation of Christ. That's the beauty of God's plan: person-to-person. We are Jesus' hands and his feet reaching out to touch hurting people. Christ doesn't shout the gospel down from heaven: He tells it through us. That may be risky - we kind of fumble around and get embarrassed, and our words may sound unpolished and clumsy - but that's the way God chose for Good News to be shared, heart to heart.
"The Church You've Always Longed For" serves a broken world. Because our Saviour is a Server. In Matthew 20(28) Jesus said that "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." If HE served, then so should we, who claim to follow Him and be keeping in step with His Spirit alive in us.
Week 6 of the Adventure is a good week to make sure we are still working at Action Step 3: "Connecting with Individuals Outside Your Circle." This week, let's each examine our regular circle of friends and try to broaden it a bit. If you're like most people, your friends are very similar to you. After you've clearly identified your regular circle of friends, think of someone you may have met, but don't really know. This person could be of another ethnic group, or a neighbour several doors away from your house. Walk across the bridges of the networks you already have. Creatively identify some specific ways that you can reach out to get to know this person, then do it. If he's having trouble starting his mower and you're a Mr.Fix-it, offer to help. Ask her in for a cup of coffee. It'll take some time, and you'll have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. But you may be a friend they need. Building a bridge to others is the first step in reaching them for Christ. But don't become a friend only to share the gospel and then "drop" them if they do not respond. If they never come to church, that's not a total loss: you've brought 'church' to them. [NOTE OTHER IDEAS IN HANDOUT]
GET OUT FROM UNDER THE BUSHEL BASKET
Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt 5:13F). We can't have the influence or the preserving power of salt if we're not in contact with people. Our light can't shine if we keep it hidden 'under the bushel' of our homes / churches / our routine busy-ness. The light only shines in the darkness when we get out there with people in need - yes, in the ditch sometimes, bloodied and bruised and half-dead - and serve a broken world that Christ loves.
Will you touch someone's life with the love of Christ? Let's pray.