On this Faith in Action Sunday, we have the opportunity to learn about the many ways we can serve the wider community. Come worship with us and consider: How do we know we have faith? What are signs of a healthy life of faith? And how are our works tied to our faith?
All are welcome, really!
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 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? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
When our first child was just a newborn, I remember worrying an awful lot about just keeping him alive. I think most new parents have some anxiety about that. And there would be some days and nights, when the baby would be so quiet and still in his crib, that I would start to wonder if he was okay. It was rare, but it did happen from time to time. So, I would sort of quietly go into his room and start checking for signs of life.
Was he stirring or moving at all? Was his chest moving up and down?
Usually, I’d notice one of those things, and I’d just tiptoe back out of the room. But sometimes, I just couldn’t seem to tell. So I used this trick that a veterinarian once taught me about how to check if our dogs were still breathing. And that was by taking a little hand mirror and putting it right by their nostrils, and if the mirror fogged up a little bit, that meant there was breath coming in and out. So, maybe once or twice, when our first-born was brand new, I would use this mirror test to make sure he was okay while he slept.
Granted, I never did this with our second child, but maybe at its most basic, parenting can be boiled down to “checking for signs of life.” And I wonder if sometimes God as a Parent comes up to us, quietly checking for signs of life in our life of faith. And perhaps that’s part of what we do on Sunday mornings, as we come together for worship: to make sure that the breath, wind, spirit of God is still moving within and among us, to make sure our faith is still alive and beating, and to connect with God and with others to keep our faith healthy and active.
Some signs that our faith is alive and well are found in the letter to the Galatians. Paul writes that the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are “ways of being” in the world can show us the health of our faith. They’re like vital signs, taking the temperature and blood pressure of our faith. And in today’s reading from James, the writer really takes that first fruit of the spirit, love, and expands it even further.
You see, that word love in Greek is agape. And agape is not a sentimental or romantic or even romanticized love. Agape is love in action. A love that manifests through what we do and how we live. Agape is the most hands-on, practical way to love. So when James says, “What good is it if you say you have faith but do not have works?” He’s saying, if love is at the crux of our faith, but that love, that agape is not shown through our actions, we have a problem. He says, that kind of faith, “faith without works is dead.”
So how do we know we have faith? How do we know our faith is alive and healthy? It’s through our actions; what we do and how we choose to live. Rob Bell, a prolific Christian author and write says, “What we do comes out of who we believe we are,” meaning, all of our actions and what we do point to a deeper truth of who we believe we are and how we believe our world is or should be ordered. For example, when we choose to walk to a trash can or a recycling bin rather than littering on the ground, we are showing a certain kind of commitment to, perhaps, the environment or to our neighborhood streets. And when we hold the door open for people coming in after us, it shows a willingness to acknowledge the presence of others in our lives, no matter how brief the encounter, and to respect and accommodate who they are. And how we choose to live reveals what’s important to us. Our actions and choices indicate who we are and who we want to be, they are telling of our character and our priorities. And according to James, they are telling of our faith lives as well.
The author of James goes on to name some ancestors of our faith who came long before Jesus, Abraham and Rahab, who were justified not necessarily by their faith, but by their works, what they did and how they lived. This kind of understanding of faith that we find in James is called orthopraxy. Usually, as Christians, we are focused on orthodoxy; that’s correct belief or belief in the right doctrines. The idea behind this kind of faith is that: If people would just have the right kind of faith, and believe in the right things, then actions and right behavior should and will follow. Orthopraxy, on the other hand, is focused on correct actions, or belief in the right practices. Orthopraxy is actually how many of our Jewish sisters and brother approach faith. It’s an emphasis on what we do and how we live. And the understanding that if we live faithful lives, focusing on the right practices, such as caring for our neighbor, feeding the hungry, lifting up those who are oppressed, then faith can and will follow. Our actions, what we do, lead to faith.
So what comes first? The chicken or the egg? Orthopraxy or orthodoxy? Faith or works? I think for different people, the answer will be different. The good news is, that either can come first, but both must exist. Faith and works. And both are able to feed the other.
Today, we focus especially on our faith in action, orthopraxy, living an action-packed faith, demonstrative of that agape love that we are called to have for one another and for the world. But some of you may have gone to Saturday’s Spiritual Retreat, or to this morning’s contemplative prayer where the focus is your spirituality
and developing a healthy inner life of faith. I love what the spiritual retreat said: that contemplation and action are two sides of the same coin. What’s wonderful about a community like Calvary is that there are plenty of opportunities for both.
Today, I hope you will take that table guide in your bulletin that highlights the partners who are here this morning in Calvin Hall and go talk to at least one of them. Find out about what they do; sign up for more information or to volunteer! And this is not just for those who have their faith completely figured out. In fact, if you are struggling with faith, especially if you are struggling with faith, maybe some orthopraxy is exactly what you need! Some works to put your faith in action. And let’s face it, none of us have our faith completely in order, so some action can only help. Today, it is a great honor and privilege to witness this “faith in action” in a variety of ways. I hope to see many of you in Calvin Hall, committing to put your faith in action. But earlier, in the service, we elected Eben to the Joint Budget Committee. That, too, is faith in action; in fact, some would say it takes a huge leap of faith to talk about and set church budgets! And later this morning, we will commission our Adult Mission Trip Team who will be Christ’s hands and feet in Tijuana, Mexico.
We have so many individuals among us, who give of their time and their talents to the greater community. And they are helping make a difference in our city and world, but their participation in giving back, is also transforming them. And so this morning, I’d like to invite Eric Rimmke who will share about his own experience putting his own faith into action through his time with the SF Achievers. Please join me in welcoming Eric!