Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Circle of Love, the Circle of Life

[A sermon based on James 2:14-26]

In Christ, we have the opportunity always to be moving toward who we are supposed to be; in Christ, we have the opportunity always to be developing greater and greater integrity; in Christ, we have the opportunity always to be becoming more whole and complete.

What does all of that mean?

Well, it means a lot.

It means, for one thing, that our spirit—the essence of who we are—is becoming more and more a trusting spirit, a loving spirit, a hopeful spirit, and a gracious spirit, because it is a spirit being formed in the image of God that we see most clearly in Christ, who was full of trust, love, hope, and grace. It means, for another thing, that our actions are coming more and more to reflect the trust, love, hope, and grace of our developing spirit. It means, for a third thing, that our spirits are growing in trust, love, hope, and grace as we carry out trusting, loving, hopeful, and graceful actions.

In Christ, then, we have the opportunity always to be becoming more and more whole and sound; we have the opportunity by the grace and Spirit of God to have our heart and hands, our attitudes and our actions, on the same wavelength—and for it to be a Christ-like wavelength.

James wanted his readers to understand that “faith without works is dead” (v. 17). We need to understand what he meant, especially since we know that Paul said that we are “saved by grace through faith and not by works.” We get a clue to James’ point when he says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (v. 19). So the “faith” that James says is not enough is “mind faith”—it is believing that there is a God; such “faith” is not saving faith. Still, though, James also teaches that real faith—the saving faith that is trust in God—leads to action. When Paul railed against “salvation by works” he meant the futile effort to keep enough rules and do enough good to be saved. But Paul agreed that real faith leads to acts of real love and devotion and that real acts of love and devotion come from hearts filled with God’s love.

Now, there are times when words are said that are a blessing in and of themselves. There are also times when words are not said and that is a blessing in and of itself. Words of blessing are good and not bad.

But James says that words without actions can be a sign of a “faith” that is really “no faith” in that is does not affect how we treat other people—and especially people in need. He says that if there is someone in need in the church family and we speak sweet-sounding words to them (“Bless you.” “I’m praying for you.” “God will take care of you.”) but take no action to help them out, then our failure to act in love to help them shows that our so-called “faith” is just that—“so-called.” Why? Because real faith leads to real love that leads to real loving actions.

Don’t hear me saying that we have to do more to prove our faith; don’t hear me saying that if we’d just have more faith we’d show more love. But do hear me saying this: because of the love of Jesus Christ that is in us, we can be growing more and more into a love that consumes our entire being and that shows itself in our entire lives—in how we think, in how we speak, and in how we act.

Perhaps it’ll always be hit and miss, but wouldn’t it be great to hit much more than we miss?

Sometimes our heart is better than our actions; sometimes our actions are better than our heart. In Christ, we can be growing into people who have loving hearts that inspire us to loving actions and who carry out loving actions that confirm and grow our loving hearts.

Just a few sentences earlier, James had said, “You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (2:8). And so we are back to that: we are, as Jesus said, to love our neighbor as ourselves; behind that and along with it, we are to love the Lord our God with everything we are.

Are we living in circles of love? Are we loving God in ways that lead us to love our neighbors? Are we loving our neighbors in ways that lead us to love God? Are we trusting God in ways that lead us to help people in need? Are we helping people in need in ways that build our trust in God?

Prayer: “O God, help us to grow in Christlikeness. Cause us always to be growing in wholeness and in integrity. Let the love in our hearts show itself in the love of our actions; let the love of our actions grow the love in our hearts. Amen.”