The readings today seem to be about true religion. Pearl Maria Barros suggests that to determine the will of God we should ask ourselves: Who are the widows and orphans of our own time? Who are the vulnerable in our world? Well, finding God in dark alleys.
James was telling the early Christians to consider putting action with their faith. There is something here that gives us insight into unity with God--the thing our God desires most of all--to be part of our lives, the big 98% or more if we will give it.
Eugene Peterson paraphrased it this way: “Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of his creatures. Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God-the free life!-even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action. … Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.”
From our baptismal vows: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” This is what we said we would do when we took our baptismal vows or said we would train our children to do when we answered for them.
God wants our time and our hearts. James tells us when we get just a glimpse of God that will be it--we will be focused on God and others as God would like us to, we need to see ourselves as we really are. If we recognize our own strengths and weaknesses, our gifts and our brokenness, our talents and our neediness; then we can serve others without judgment. We can recognize our need to act and to persevere in that action even when systems and people are corrupt and the odds seem insurmountable. Because we are corrupted and holy at the same time, this is the value of looking at ourselves long and honestly. We are not perfect, and neither is anyone else, but we can work in the world to make it better and we can improve others’ lives at the same time. [Adapted from Reverend Martin Smith.]
Jesus applied the same concept to the Pharisees as James did to his readers. Jesus suggested that the Pharisees should take a good look at themselves. They were into ritual washing (which wasn’t as accessible to the poor). Jesus quotes Isaiah to them: “These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it. They act like they are worshiping me, but they don’t mean it. They just use me as a cover for teaching whatever suits their fancy, ditching God’s command and talking up the latest fads.” Jesus told them and the disciples that the bad actions that came out of them were the polluting influence. The actions that arose because they were hard of heart towards those who needed them. In verses that were left out, that included their own parents. Some apparently would give money to the temple and tell their parents they couldn’t help them in their old age.
All of us here care deeply about serving those less fortunate. Many of us volunteer out in the community. Corby serves on the library board and our public libraries are a haven for street people and for those who can’t afford internet in their homes and who can’t afford to buy their own books. Several of us work in some capacity with kids in our schools. We support Camp Victory financially and I serve the community of children who have been abused.
All of us are more aware than we used to be about folks living rough and what they need from the community at large and we try to fulfill some of that by supporting Chaplains on the Harbor. We know much more about drug abuse, housing issues, and poverty than we ever imagined we would because Sarah told us what we needed to know. In all of these cases we are not assuming that we are perfect and those we serve are less than, we know we are imperfect but with God’s grace we tilt at the windmills and hope that we can make a difference in one person’s life--today.
I have learned, as an extravert, that James is right: it is best to use the ears first, then speak and keep anger at bay--straggling in the rear. So much can be gained by listening to someone--really hearing them, really seeing them. And, oftentimes, that is all someone really wants--to be heard and seen.
I am my beloved’s and he is mine. I cannot sit still while people suffer. I must inform myself and take action. Let us all listen and learn about ourselves and others and the systems we live under. Then we can persevere in God’s will for us--to be beloved and unified with God’s desire for the world. That is true religion.