Living in the Way of Jesus

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

James 2:1-17

A group of Christian leaders – priest, pastors, nuns and lay leaders gathered in New York for a conference. They had come together to discern the meaning of the Gospel in the world. During the meeting, an American Indian stood up. He looked out over those assembled and spoke some harsh and challenging words that would make James proud but would have made me squirm: (maybe even mad- sometimes the truth does that to you)

He said:
‘Regardless of what the New Testament says, most Christians are materialists with no real experience of the Spirit… Regardless of what the New Testament says, most Christians are individualists with no real experience of community.’

Then he paused for a moment and said quietly:’Let’s pretend for a moment that we’re Christians, just pretend.’

Now, remember,  this was quite a respectable group of devoted priests, nuns, pastors and lay leaders.  

But he said to them: “If we were Christians, really Christians, we would not accumulate; we would share what we have with one another and with the poor.  We would actually love one another and we would treat each other as if we were a family.’

And then he asked:‘Why don’t we do that? Why don’t we live in the way of Jesus Christ?”

There was a long silence after he spoke. No one had an answer to his question.

“If we were Christians… really Christians… Why don’t we live in the way of Jesus Christ?”[1]

I think that is the question James is asking his fellow Christians in his letter.  When he looks at the church… he sees a church full of Christians who are hardly acting in the way of Jesus Christ…

He describes what at best could be called a lack of hospitality… he notices that when  people come to worship dressed up like they belong in GQ or Vogue… dressed by Chico’s and Joseph A Banks… everyone   just steps over themselves to make them feel welcome. When a prominent politician or business leader visits the church— they make room in the pew for them to sit… maybe invite them to the fellowship time.

That’s okay… until he notices those who are dressed in clothes that came from Good will or the Dorcas shop – or who come to worship from WIHN-    are not treated in the same way.

In fact people start whispering: —is she a bag lady… did he sleep under a bridge… did they sleep in our church this week?  Is there a whiff of body odor? The usher checks them out and asks them to sit in the back. And though they don’t say it, more than one person is wondering, “What are they doing here?”

That’s what James sees happening among the Christians and he is not pleased.  He is not pleased at all– because the way they are thinking and acting is so far from the way Jesus thought and acted.

James begins to wonder: “If we were Christians… really Christians… Why don’t we live in the way of Jesus Christ?”

So he offers hard instruction… reminding them of the royal law… the second part of the great commandment taught by Jesus himself:  (did they have to be reminded… didn’t they know this?)

“You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

And he goes on to compare that sin of partiality to the sin of adultery and murder… He has already told them that if God does play favorites—it is the poor who he favors…

At the end, James slams his message home in clear and harsh language meant to shock them and us:“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith, but do not have works? (if you talk the talk but do not walk the walk)… 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, (faith by itself) if it has no works is dead.”

Which is what I think the American Indian was saying… if we say we have faith but do not live in the way of Jesus… what good is it?!

The passage raises serious questions about authentic faith versus artificial faith.  For James, there is much more to faith than a series of statements or beliefs we profess on Sunday mornings when we say the Apostles’ Creed. For James, true faith is revealed in how one actually puts faith into practice- how one loves your neighbor…Especially how one relates to those Jesus loved… the poor and the sick …

James knows that people actually act on the basis of what they believe to be true.  So if people say one thing but do something else, James would say their actual faith is the faith that is the basis of those actions.

The hard question for us from James is this: Is the faith that is actually shaping your life and guiding your actions and your choices and how you treat others… is this based on Jesus Christ or something else. [2]

For James, when faith is based on Jesus Christ—you will see it in the way we treat each other… and those most in need.

James knows that when Christ was inviting, calling and training disciples…  he wasn’t doing so only to lead us to heaven… no, the reason he called the church into being, the reason we are called by Paul… the body of Christ… is so that we might be the heart, hands, voice and love of Christ in the world…

And when we show partiality and treat the poor poorly, it is hardly Christ like. And we fail to follow Christ.

But when we do… James knows the light of Christ shines a bit brighter. To paraphrase former President:  we become a 1000 points of light!

So I want to invite you to think about where you have seen the light of Christ shine brighter… thanks to people who have put their faith in Christ into action…

James would have us begin with hospitality- how we simply treat each other in the church…

So first,  I think of those of you with the gift of hospitality… who welcome people to the Kirk no matter how people are dressed… how old, how young… how rich or poor…  no matter what social or economic or national or political or ethnic background… When you welcome one another and open your hearts to the stranger… Oh, how the light of Christ is shining…

Of course, sometimes we get challenged… do you remember a couple of years ago when we had this guy into church to the front row in the middle of the service… If you weren’t here… let me tell you.

We had a guest preacher from the Seminary… Paul Galbreath  who was leading a retreat on worship and the sacraments. We were celebrating communion that day. And just as we are about to take communion, in comes this shirtless young man in jogging shorts… and he just sits in the front row. (I’m sitting across from him in the other pew.) It was strange… and I have to confess to you I was wondering… what is going on here? How would you respond? Was he dangerous?

I cannot tell you that every thought was a Christian thought… I think there had just been a shooting in a church during that time. So, I wondered if he had a gun.

But with the jogging shorts… there was no place to hide a gun (whew!).

(I began to think about who I could turn to to gently usher him out if needed)

So what do you do? This is what we did… nothing… no one came to escort him out… which was good…  When time for communion came, he came up to take communion just like everyone else. (He took a big chunk)

Then he left. Almost like fast food communion!

It was an odd moment-  Paul Galbreath even thought we set him up.  Others did too. No set up… just the church being the church…. Doors open to anyone who comes here.

Do you want to know about the faith of a church… think about hospitality… watch how they treat others.. says James… If you are blessed, and they are faithful– you’ll see their faith in Christ shining… through the way they treat and care for one another. No matter if you are rich or poor.

One of my favorite stories told by Preacher Fred Craddock is about a baptism he experienced while serving a small mission church in a small town in Tennessee.

He said, “It was the custom in that church at Easter to have a baptismal service, and it was held at the lake on Easter evening at sundown. After all the candidates had been baptized in the lake, everyone changed into dry clothes and gathered around a fire.”

He said, “ Once we were all around the fire, one parishioner always introduced the new people. He gave their names, where they lived and their work. The newly baptized people stayed close to the warmth of the fire. Then the rest of the church members gathered around them in a circle. The next part of the ritual was that each person around the circle gave her or his name and said,

“My name is …and if you ever need somebody to do washing and ironing, call on me.”
“My name is …If you ever need anybody to chop wood, call on me.”
“My name is …If you ever need anybody to babysit, call on me.”
“My name is …If you ever need anybody to repair your house, call on me.”
“My name is …If you ever need anybody to sit with the sick, call on me.”
“My name is …If you ever need a car to go to town, call on me.”

And around the circle we went. We cooked dinner and at together. We sang. Then we had a square dance.

“Finally . . . a parishioner named Percy Miller, with thumbs in his bibbed overalls, would stand up and say, ‘It’s time to go.’ And everybody left.

He lingered behind, and with his big shoe kicked sand over the dying fire. . . He looked at me and said, “[You know], folks don’t ever get any closer than this.” In that community, their name for that kind of togetherness is “church.” They call that “church.”

We call that Church.

This is the kind of Church James had in mind… a gathering of Christians who cared for one another—who didn’t care if you were rich or poor… or what you wear… or where you came from- because in Christ we are all the same. We are all the beloved children of a loving God… and it would be good if we would treat each other that way. When we do, we are living in the way of Jesus.


[1] Gathered and Scattered, readings from Iona- Month 1, Day 11

[2] From Textweek notes


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