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Faith in Action: A sermon on James 2

church at communion 2Faith in Action
James 2:1-10, 14-18


In Jesus Name

May the Grace, that mercy and love that God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ cause you to respond, depending on them in everything you do!

Faith isn’t invisible

In the Letter to the Hebrews, the author makes a radical claim,

1  The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. 2  The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. Hebrews 11:1-2 (MSG)

The fundamental fact of existence is found in our relationship with God.

We trust in Him, know and depending on His faithfulness that we just praised will never be broken, that it will never fail. So we trust in Him, in His promises, in His presence in .with us.

That faith makes life worth living, As one pastor I read in my devotions yesterday.

And that faith, my dear friends, is seen in how we live.  It is visible, even in the midst our struggles, in the midst of challenges, in the midst of our pains, our faith, our trust in Him, and in His presence becomes clearly visible,

it is how we exist, it is what we do…in everyday life,

Our faith takes action, it underwrites what we do, and how we do it.

So it becomes so much part of who we are and what we do, that people realize it.

so let us look at how Faith in Action means something.

Believe in Something, even if it means sacrificing everything

Nike started an ad campaign this week.  Some think it is controversial because of the people in it, especially the narrator.  Yet the slogan, I think is one we need to re-teach In the church,

This is their new slogan,

Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,

I would phrase it slightly differently, but I really love the idea.

Have faith in Someone, for nothing else is worth it.  And act on that faith.

The example James uses in our epistle today is helping the poor or treating them as nicely as you would treat the famous or the wealthy person. Even if it means sacrificing, giving up what you need to help them.
That’s contrary to the nature this world has, to put number one first, to take care of yourself, That is where sin blocks our ability to trust in God, for if we trust in God, we can help anyone, we can sacrifice what is needed to help

In the ad, the narrator noted the problem isn’t that our dreams are desires are crazy, He said our problem is that our dreams aren’t crazy enough.

I’ve got some dreams for you, tell me if they are crazy:

How crazy is it that a broken church could realize that its strength is found in its brokenness, for there it encounters Jesus.

How crazy is it that a group of people praying that God’s kingdom would come in this world then would find itself making the stoles for pastors in a far off place, and building a bakery there, which underwrites all the cost of training pastors. knowing that God is faithful.

How crazy is it that a small church would help people in Sudan, and Turkey, and Papua New Guinea, and in Long Beach and Pico Rivera, and who knows where else next?

How crazy is it that a group of older people, who meet together, make sacrifices so kids can learn about God, then get to see a five-year-old that is so excited to get baptized in front of them he dunks his head in the baptismal font?

How crazy is it that an older smaller church that has become home to young gifted people who are encouraged (and feel safe enough) to share their gifts and grow in use of them?  A church that would be called “my church” by someone who mentors them, and our of all the churches he serves, finds himself home there

How crazy is it that a church, which has seen God at work, grows two and three times its size, not because they are focused on growth, but because they care for other people whom they encounter, who are poor in spirit, and desperately need to know the love of God.

O wait, you are thinking that the last one is crazy?  Well, if I described the other crazy dreams ten years ago, you would have thought them more than just crazy.

But these things aren’t crazy… they are simply what happens when we see Faith in Action.

Have faith in Him who sacrificed everything, our glorious Lord

When we trust and depend on God whose faithfulness is so great!.

These things and far more happen, things that are crazy, things that add to the praises we sing and speak of the God who is with us.

For ultimately, it is His faithfulness that matters, His belief in a dream that He was willing to sacrifice everything, His place in heaven, His comfort in this life, even His life that makes the difference,

Jesus died on the cross because He believed He could save us from our sin, and bring us home to the Father.  That our lives were worth His life, no matter how messed up, no matter how broken, no matter how much guilt and shame we bear.

It is Jesus we have faith in, not just His promises, not just His word, not just in the sacraments, but in the One whose love for us is we need to explore, its incredible width and breadth, height and depth!

A love that changes us, as we begin to trust in Him because of that love. As that trust, that faith leads us to walk with Him, not matter where He leads, no matter what we endure, a faith that acts, which makes itself visible, as it draws people to His side.

For there, in Christ, we find God’s peace… a peace that, like His love is beyond all understanding, as He is our rock, our cornerstone, our safety… AMEN!

A paradox: I needed to be Broken to Find Hope and Peace.

cropped-will-new-camera-12-2008-167.jpgDevotional Thought of the Day:

18 A ruler asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 “Why do you call Me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good but One—God. 20 You know the commandments:

Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not bear false witness;
honor your father and mother.” 

21 “I have kept all these from my youth,” he said. 22 When Jesus heard this, He told him, “You still lack one thing: Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, n and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”   Luke 18:18-22

Creation exists for the sake of worship: Operi Dei nihil praeponatur, Saint Benedict says in his Rule: “Nothing is to take precedence over the service of God.” This is not an expression of exalted piety, but a pure and practical application to our own lives of the story of creation and its message. The genuine center, the force that moves and orders from within the rhythm of the stars and of our lives, is worship

888      You tell me that you want to practise holy poverty, you want to be detached from the things you use. Ask yourself this question: do I have the same affections and the same feelings as Jesus Christ has, with regard to riches and poverty? I told you: as well as resting in the arms of your Father God, with all the confident abandonment of one who is his child, you should fix your eyes particularly on this virtue to love it as Jesus does. Then, instead of seeing it as a cross to bear, you will see it as a sign of God’s special love for you.

The devotional part of my blog originated as a journal, the writings that summarized my devotional readings for the day, that helped me process what I encountered in the Bible readings and other readings I do.

Originally those readings started out as a discipline, and the writing was something I did because I realized that otherwise, I would go through the motions,  Reading, and maybe even slowly changing, but not with any real desire.  I read because that is what a “good” Christian should do, what a pastor “should” do because then I am an example for my people.

It has become more than that, partially because of Lutheran theology, partially because of St Josemaria Escriva, but mostly because of needing to cope with my own brokenness, and the darkness that would overwhelm me otherwise. I don’t like talking about it, I don’t like even dwelling on it, but it is there… lurking with every click of my heart.

In my devotional reading, in the writing I do that comes from that, there springs hope, I find not only the light at the end of the tunnel but the light, the glory of God, the love of Christ is not at the end of the tunnel, it is there, with me, guiding me, comforting me, protecting me.

The rich young man, (some say it was Saul, years before Damascus Road) couldn’t see his own brokenness.  He couldn’t see the need to be with Jesus, and more importantly, to know Jesus was there, with him.  The man had the same invitation the apostles did, “come, be with me,” and he turned it down.

Likewise, the poverty, the detachment that St, Josemaria describes is a form of the brokenness I have encountered, as things I loved dearly ( sports, martial arts) were stripped away from me, as who I was drastically and painfully redefined. So painfully, that I can easily acknowledge the only comfort that helps is finding rest in Christ, especially in His word, and in the peace, I find in the sacraments, especially Confession and Absolution, and of course the Eucharist, the Holy Supper where Christ gives us Himself.  ANd in the midst of the brokenness, the pain of body heart and soul, I find something more precious, the love of God.  That doesn’t mean I like the pain, but it doesn’t mean I can be thankful for it, and even praise God for it.  For in the pain, I find His comfort.

Which leads me to a third reading, the one from Benedict XVI, where he talks about Creation is worship.  So it is, I find.  Not because I am a particularly pious person, or because I want to be considered holy.  Take my word for it, I am not, not even close!  Worship isn’t just about upbeat praise or ceremonial splendor, it is about finding yourself in God’s arms, held, comforted, healed. It is about being able and free to weep until there are no more tears.  It is there that we find the reason we worship God.

He loves us.

And as we realize this, as it is revealed, nothing else seems to matter, all the brokenness falls away… and worship and adoration is what we do, in response to that love.

Why do I spend the time I do, reading scripture and works of others God has ministered to?

I have to… it is the only way I can survive.  And yet, the beauty revealed, as I see how much God loves us, reveals that such reading and prayer and meditation is not sacrificial, but something that is life.  with Him.  It is exploring the length and width, the height and depth of the love of God, the love I cannot understand, but I can experience.  I pray you can as well.

Know this, He loves you…

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 3131-3137). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

We Need to Make the Time for the Miracle…

church at communion 2Devotional Thought for our Day:
“No, my lord,” Hannah replied. “I am a woman with a broken heart. I haven’t had any wine or beer; I’ve been pouring out my heart before the LORD. 16 Don’t think of me as a wicked woman; I’ve been praying from the depth of my anguish and resentment.”
17 Eli responded, “Go in peace,  and may the God of Israel grant the petition you’ve requested from Him.”   1 Samuel 1:15-18

Does our daily anxiety about life seem so important to us that we can find no time to look above it? There is the daily anxiety about food and lodging for ourselves and for those who are dear to us; our profession, our work; there is our responsibility for society in general, for its improvement, and that injustice may cease to exist in it so that all of us can eat our bread in peace and freedom. Does not all that seem so urgent that everything else seems of no consequence? And is that the whole problem? Today more and more individuals are of the opinion that religion is a waste of time, that only social action can make a significant contribution to man’s well-being. As a result, it will require a kind of miracle to make us let ourselves be lifted up to what is higher. But God be praised, such miracles do occur even today.

Christ as a light illumine and guide me.  Christ as a shield overshadow me. Christ under me; Christ over me; Christ beside me, on my left and on my right. 
This day Lord, be within and without me, lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak, in the mouth of each that speaks to me.  This day be within and without me, lowly and meek, and yet all-powerful.  Christ as a light, Christ as a shield, Christ beside me, on my left and my right.

Joseph Ratzinger’s words this morning, written perhaps 20 years ago or more, ring so true today.  We see so many things that need to be done, so many things that need to be corrected, so many things that cause anxiety, so many things that have to be addressed, otherwise, we cannot find the time to eat our bread in peace, truly free. 

These things are so urgent that everything else seems. not to matter, not to be of importance.  Including our religion, our walking with God, our taking the time in prayer, to pour out our hearts like Hannah did.

Last night in our church service, I saw something I have long dreamed of and encouraged.  People staying at the communion rail, emptying themselves, even through the tears, finding the freedom that comes as we, having received the Body and Blood of Christ, find that we cannot leave until we have emptied ourselves until we are confident that God has heard us.

Do I like the fact that these people’s lives are so challenged, so anxious that they must look for comfort, for peace there at the rail?  No, but I do love that they have come to recognize that it is the place where miracles begin. Where they can unburden, where they can drop the stuff that oppresses them and find hope, where they can find the peace they need. 

We need to pray, we need to know what the ancient Celtic Christians reveled in, the presence of God in every moment of our lives.  God so intimately involved, so compassionate that He will bear our burdens, that He will help us cope with anxieties, (whether we know what we are anxious about or not) 

Prayer isn’t about duty, it isn’t just another task in our calendar, it is where we find the miracle of peace, where we are reminded He is there, where we can pour out our heart, and ask for the faith to leave the burdens behind. 

God is with you… prayer makes that truth come alive!!!!  

So take the time, see the miracle begin and lead in freedom and peace!  AMEN!

(and anytime you want to come and prayer… you are welcome too!)

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

from the daily office: morning prayer of Celtic Daily Prayer:  Book 2

Is this why the American Church is paralyzed, and of no effect?

St francis at the crossDevotional Thought for our days…
1 God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him.  We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in seastorm and earthquake,  Before the rush and roar of oceans, the tremors that shift mountains. Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, GOD of angel armies protects us.  River fountains splash joy, cooling God’s city, this sacred haunt of the Most High.  God lives here, the streets are safe, God at your service from crack of dawn.  Godless nations rant and rave, kings and kingdoms threaten, but Earth does anything he says.  Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, GOD of angel armies protects us.  Attention, all! See the marvels of GOD! He plants flowers and trees all over the earth,  Bans war from pole to pole, breaks all the weapons across his knee. 10  “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” 11  Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, GOD of angel armies protects us.  Psalm 46:1-11 (MSG) 

Sometimes the impression arises that behind our hectic hyperactivity there lurks a paralysis of faith, since in the last analysis we have more confidence in what we ourselves contrive and accomplish. But we are effective by no means only through what we do but also through what we are if we become mature and free and genuine by sinking the roots of our being into the fruitful stillness of God.

These comforting sayings are all true and surely do not deceive us: Psalm 46 [:1], “God is our refuge and strength, a great help in the trouble which besets us.” Sirach [Ecclus. 2:10], that wise man, said, “What man who has put his trust in God has ever perished?” And [I] Maccabees 2[:61], None who puts his trust in him will lack strength. Again, Psalm 9 [:10], “Lord, thou hast not forsaken those who seek thee.”

If I were to believe those who study the church in America, God must be on vacation in Africa.  For this generation is lost to us ( although I remember them saying that about my generation as well)  The church develops this program and that to reach them, they have conferences to ponder what might be effective, and there are days I believe there are more church consultants and coaches ready to help advise pastors, or if you can’t afford an hour or two of advice, send you the video’s of their training seminars.

Yes, church attendance is down, but I think a major part of that is that our calendars are too jam-packed, that they are too hectic.  Pope Benedict was right – our hectic hyperactivity caused by our anxiety has resulted in a paralyzed faith.  It’s paralyzed, not because God is on vacation, but because we are looking to ourselves for the solution, what we can accomplish.  

Paul Borden’ written a number of books about revitalizing the church.  I’ve read them and was amazed by his insistence on the role of prayer in the process.  Yet when I talk to revitalization specialists, what I find is that they omit this crucial step, and move on to steering committees and those who will do the outreach.  They only start with churches that are over a certain size, knowing the rule that says 20 percent will do 80 percent of the work.  They don’t think prayer is a major part of that, they don’t see the necessity for spending time in communion with God.  We paralyze the faith of our people by robbing them of prayer, of sacred times 

Why do we wonder why the church is shriveling up?  

Luther found great comfort in Psalm 46, in the role God reveals as His own.  He is our castle, the place we find safety and serenity. (it is the basis for his masterful ballad, A Mighty Fortress. Pope Benedict notes that we sink our roots, deep into this truth, that God is our God, as we are still in His presence, that is when the fruitfulness comes.

In awe of God, in awe of His love, in awe of the fact that He will lovingly wrestle with us, letting us struggle, so that we learn to trust Him, that we learn we can depend on Him. That the mission of the church is His mission, His work, that He does in and through us.

That is the difference between the church here, and the church that is exploding in other places.  The amount of stillness, of seeing God at work, of knowing His presence.

So know this, the Lord is with you, His church!  He is your fortress, your sanctuary, and He will give you peace.  And from there, in the stillness of His glory, we find that we are not paralyzed… that we aren’t drained… but rested and ready to serve at His side. 

 

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 43: Devotional Writings II. Ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 43. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999. Print.

The Lord Is With You! What Does This Mean?

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day

And from that day the name of the city will be ‘The LORD Is There.’” Ezekiel 48:35b (NLT)

12  Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13  Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15  And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15 (NLT) 

Being saved means being loved and only the love of God can purify damaged human love and restore the network of relationships that has been fundamentally alienated. (1)

7 First of all, there is in this article no disagreement among us concerning the following points: That it is God’s will, ordinance, and command that believers walk in good works; that only those are truly good works which God himself prescribes and commands in his Word, and not those that an individual may devise according to his own opinion or that are based on human traditions; that truly good works are not done by a person’s own natural powers but only after a person has been reconciled to God through faith and renewed through the Holy Spirit, or, as St. Paul says, “has been created in Christ Jesus for good works.”

In church gatherings following what is called the traditional liturgy(3)  there are two phrases, a statement, and a response, which I have come to treasure.

The pastor/priest/bishop says, “The LORD is with you!”  And the people respond, “And also with you”, or perhaps in some forms, “and with your spirit”.

As I write this, the 1001st blog on justifiedandsinner, I can think of no better phrase, nor better promise to explore. If justification is the core doctrine in theology, this statement is the heart of theology. In fact, it is the sole reason for justification.  Justification exists in order to draw and unite to God, a people who weren’t a people, to create His family, to give those who did not have a real god, but followed idols, a God that loves and cares who heals and forgives, who is merciful, and therefore just.

That is what it means; that is the bottom line promise throughout scripture.  It was the promise in the Garden, and the promise of the Exodus, the promise of the restoration of Israel, as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel foretold it.  Though we can’t realize it, this promise was fulfilled and made real at the cross.  The promise was restated as Jesus promised at the Ascension that He would never forsake us, and at Pentecost where the Holy Spirit came to abide in those God called and made His own.  In the people, God is transforming and making into the image of His son.

This freedom from sin God gives us has a dramatic effect.  It changes us into God’s workmanship – not just someday, but even now.  That is what repentance is, not just some heartfelt apology, but the transformation of our mind, the putting on of Christ.

Side effects of the Lord being with you are well described above, but  few highlights

  • We are clothed with love Paul says, not as a command, but as the promise of our Baptism, a love that flows out to others.  This isn’t some matter of force, or of obligation.  It is a transformation God works inside us, the effect of the Holy Spirit taking up residence in us.
  • We become those who walk in good works, as the Lutheran Confessions describe.  Again, it is not a matter of obedience of our will, but the effect of reconciliation and renewal.
  • We see relationships in a new light – that they are healing and healed by the power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead

These are incredible blessings, things beyond our ability to see and lay hold of perfectly.  That again proves it is not ours naturally, but still something that becomes more and more our transformed nature, the effect of the trust in God the Holy Spirit works in us.  It is part of what this idea that God is with us means.

But it is not the primary, glorious meaning to the Lord is with you….

The primary, glorious meaning of this simple phrase, is the phrase itself…..

HE is with YOU!

Revel in that, knowing that nothing can separate you from His love.  AMEN!

1)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 221). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

2)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 552). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

(3)  What traditional liturgy means fluctuates greatly over time and denominational affiliation -but the basic outline is similar.

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