So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead. – James 2.17-20, 26
Lindsay and I recently hosted the youth group from our former congregation, Church of All Nations, in our home. They were up in Duluth for a retreat weekend with the theme of ‘Spiritual Disciplines: Prayer, Forgiveness, and Service’. The youth pastor asked if I would like to speak on one of these themes and I snapped up the Service component. It was a great opportunity to put some thought into this aspect of our spiritual lives.
Honestly, I had been giving this some thought even prior to being asked to talk to some youth group kids about it. Much of that came from my reflection on our Annual Congregational Meeting. I was struck by some of the comments and questions that we as a congregation may have a problem.
While in San Deigo, I befriended a Rabbi. He and I developed a close friendship and began recording podcasts together. Neither of us were brave enough to ever publish the recordings online but through the course of the conversations, I broadened my understanding of the Jewish roots of our faith. As we all know, Jesus was a Rabbi. All the disciples were Jews. The early church started in Synagogues. Most of the early writing of the New Testament was about how the Gospel must expand outside Judaism. My Rabbi friend, throughout all our conversations, reminded by that Judaism is a faith of action, not belief. Jews express their faith through action and the belief is secondary. I don’t get how this works but fortunately, I don’t have to understand it as I’m not Jewish.
If we see faith as a pendulum that swings between faith alone on one side and works alone on the other, one can begin to see why the James text is included in scripture. Much of Jesus’ ministry and that of Paul’s was correcting a Jewish faith overly focused on works and action. They were working to swing the pendulum back towards the center away from works alone. Belief is essential. However, fast forward 2000 years where few, if any, of us are coming to Christian faith through a Jewish framework and now the New Testament swings the pendulum hard toward a faith alone perspective. Scripture is attacking a problem we don't have in the same way the church did when it was written. This is what James was attempting to address when he says faith without works is dead.
So returning to our problem here at First Presbyterian. I sense an underlying understanding that if we believe hard enough everything will return to the glory of 1955. While prayer and belief are essential, we are all going to have to put some hard work into this body if it is to be resurrected. We are rapidly coming up to Easter and I suspect Christ’s resurrection was no small thing. Why should we think it will be any easier for us? If the broader community is going to find our faith compelling it will occur by us putting the rubber to the road. We will not grow through armchair, Monday morning quarterbacking. We will grow through the unnamed, mud covered offensive linemen pushing forward a yard or two at a time.
Those you have called to leadership in this congregation are putting in this hard work. They are getting muddy, bruised and bloodied leading this congregation. And yet, they can not carry us across the line alone. If this congregation is going to become a beacon of light in our community once again it will be because every single person who commits to this congregation has put in the hard work of getting us there. If you are reading this and you are not an Elder or Deacon, I’m talking to you! Roll up your sleaves and figure out a way to provide blood, sweat, and tears to the ministry of First Presbyterian Church. Follow well as you have called leaders who can get us to the promised land. As the Home Depot commercial says, “Let’s DO this!”
In Christ’s Service,