A Homily for Rogation Sunday
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
May 6, 2018
Text: James 1:22-27
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen
This morning as I was preparing for our time together to worship the Lord, I was struck by the beauty of the world. I’m not sure whether it was the way that the sun pours into my my apartment the first thing in the morning, or seeing the joy in friends’ faces who have recently gotten engaged, or are delighting in holding their new child in their arms, or or simply the knowledge of how deeply beloved I am of the Lord.
For me, one of the most compelling pieces of evidence that God exists is the beauty in the world around us. If everything is random – the world may very well have become a hideous mess, in fact, if we think about man’s desire to make everything subservient to himself, we see that in his obstinacy he makes things hideous.
Yet, God persists to create beauty – beauty in His creation, beauty in our creative powers, and beauty in our relationships. There are, I think, a plethora of reasons to believe, yet beauty is more compelling to me than any intellectual argument, even the intellectual arguments that brought me to my knees before Christ. Beauty, so often, brings me home.
Alas, I would love to talk all morning about beauty, but I must digress, as we turn to the epistle lesson. The lesson which is taken from the first chapter St. James’s epistle starts out with a particularly poignant statement: be ye doers of the word. This reminds us that we are to be men and women of action, that the Christian faith isn’t merely a spectator sport or something to be received and left on the shelf to gather dust, but something from which once we receive, we are to do something about it.
Last week we explored the nature of humanity, our fallenness, how we are dead in our sins. Yet it isn’t our good works or self-righteousness that makes us alive, but our sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection that raises us spiritually, and at the end of time will raise us physically from the dead. This worldview, this recognizing how we, like all people have sinned so grievously that we, without Christ, are separated from God, and yet in the grace of Christ have come to know God as our Father – and Christ as our savior changes how we live. It changes how we approach our own human frailty, but not only that it changes how we approach those around us. We do not desire to hold our own righteousness over others, but rather, we long to show them the immense mercy that we enjoy. No longer do we live in fear of the other, but actively seek to love them as Christ has first loved us.
It is in coming to this new understanding of our own brokenness, our own frailty, and our need for Christ in our lives that we then come to St. James’s bold statement: be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
I have talked considerably about two dangerous modern movements in Christian theology. Both misleading, both tempting ideas to adopt because, I think, they make the reward of this life more tangible. I know that in revisiting this I am repeating myself – but it is important that we understand these two beliefs, so when we hear them we can flee, or when we see them cropping up in our hearts we can reject them, and run back to orthodoxy.
The first of these ideas is the prosperity gospel. In the most oblivious form of this, the preacher or leader swindles the followers out of their money, with the promise that if they tithe, or give more that they will be blessed with more money. It is easy to see the fallacy here, I think, there is a more insidious form of this tells the believer that if she behaves as she ought the Lord will pour out earthly blessings, or give the believer his heart’s desire.
Of course, this latter form is insidious because it isn’t untrue, it just leaves out the kicker – when we come to know Christ, when our heart is converted to knowing him – our hearts desire – our desire to be doers of the word – becomes this: that we would follow Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of the Father. That means that sometimes we have to give up our worldly possessions, move across the country, or to the other side of the world, sometimes it means that we have to follow him through the darkness of the valley, sometimes it means that we grow old, see our strength removed from us, and die in the depth of the grace of God and that our hearts rejoice to be finally resting in him.
Please do not understand this to be making light of suffering or even death, for to lose one we love is hard but hear this: a good death that brings us home to the warm embrace of our Heavenly Father, or walking through the valley of darkness with the Lord as our comforter, who is by our side, correcting us, is a far better life than a life of empty aloneness spent in slovenly, cheep delight of what the world can offer. No, we reject the idea of the prosperity gospel that promises worldly blessings for a far better life of eternity in Christ.
The other belief that is far more heterodox and subtle is this idea that we live in grace alone. This is often referred to as “Free grace.” It teaches that, once we have received Christ we can go out from this place and live however we’d like. This one is more subtle because we are saved by Christ’s grace alone. There is no works righteousness, no magical prayer that can make us more worthy of Christ’s grace, but His grace is given to us freely, and in it our lives change. We are to not only be hearers of the word, we are not to be those who say “yes Lord, I believe!” And then go out and continue to live as the world lives. No, when we say that we believe, when we come into a relationship with him we change.
This change can be hard, we may very well wrestle with our sins, we may very well struggle to repent of certain sins, we may very well find others in the Christian family insufferable and hard to love. We may struggle to see the goodness of the Lord when we say good-bye too soon to one whom we’ve loved our whole lives. Yet, we are assured of the goodness and sovereignty of our Lord and it is in this fact that we rest.
We see from the earliest days of the church that she has struggled with this concept of being doers, and not hearers only. We see that those whom St. James is writing to must have struggled with his, certainly the church at Corinth was struggling with this when St. Paul wrote them, and throughout her history she has struggled to be a doer. We see her fits and stumbles as she attempted to do what was good and true and beautiful. We even see this today, and I see it within my own heart as I struggle with my own sin, my own doubt, and my own desires that I must crucify with Christ, that he would be glorified.
It is far easier to sit here in our church, and think “ah, yes, yes, I know Jesus is Lord, let’s get done with this so we can get on to coffee hour, and then I can go home and get back to my life as I like it,” than it is to pour out every aspect of our lives as an act of worship. It is far easier to give platitudes to the Lord and then go on without a care than it is to live in constant repentance, desiring a closer walk with the Lord, even if it means giving up that which we hold dear, or walking through a dark valley.
By dear friends – if we are hearers only we deceive ourselves. I was listening to a sermon on this the other day – the preacher made the statement that if we fall into the category of hearers only, when we come before the Lord he will say to us “I never knew you!” even though we once confessed “Lord, Lord.” So, I say again – friends be ye doers of the word, not hearers only.
St. James then gives us an analogy “For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man be holding his natural face in a glass; for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetter he what manner of man he was.” This again, brings us back to our subject of last week, of sin and death, resurrection, and new life. If we see in the mirror our own sin, shrug our shoulders and walk off what good has it been to see our sinfulness? What good has it been to see the areas that we need to cling to Christ all the more in?
No, let us be the one that looks in the law of perfect liberty. What is this Law? It is the law that the Holy Spirit is writing on our hearts. That is to say that instead of knowing the Lord externally, that the spirit dwells within us to teach us how to grow, and know the Lord in a personal way.
Please do not understand this law being written on our hearts as if to say that the new law under Christ is some how subjective or changing. The Lord has not changed but rather all of creation, all of scripture testifies that the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Yet, no longer do we need someone to tell us to repent, but rather the spirit prompts us, no longer do we need someone to offer sacrifices for us in the temple, but Christ has been the sacrifices once offered for all who believe. It is this that sets us free, that we might know the will of the Lord, that we might follow him with faithfulness, and that we might be doers of the word.
It is in doing the word that we are blessed – this blessing is not a worldly blessing – but the blessing of knowing the Lord more and more intimately. The blessings that the apostle talks about – is that we would be walking with the Lord daily, and looking forward to an eternity in worship, service, and love of Him.
What then does it look like to be a doer and not a hearer? Each apostle has a different way to say this and in doing so they paint a beautiful picture if Christian life – on this St. James’s first warning is particularly poignant: “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his own tongue, but deceive the his own heart, this man’s religion is in vain.” We think he starts with in an odd way – we are to be slow to speak and quick to listen. Not ones that are given to gossip, not ones that are given to slanderous statements, but rather ones who listen, who is measured in what he says.
It is easy to be a grumbler, to complain about this or that, to gossip about your neighbor. It is harder and better to listen in love. There was this saying that people told children, probably when you were growing up, as well as when I was growing up – and perhaps even now – “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt.” On one side, teaching young people grit, to not be bothered by what others say is a good thing, but the fact of the matter is words can sting us in our very core. No, as we teach ourselves what to say a fair better saying is – “sticks and stones do break bones, but words can break the heart.” We must take care to choose our words wisely.
There is a time and place to correct with words, there is a time to be critical, but even in doing this we must do so with love. Our desire to correct someone must come from a love for them and for their soul, a true desire that they would be growing in their walk with the Lord. We must be careful that our words of correction and criticism doesn’t come from a place of anger, hatred, jealousy, or a desire to rule over the other. We can see the difference here yes? We see that one comes from love, a love to help the other have a closer walk with the Lord, to do better at that which they are called to, while the other seeks to glorify ourselves? Be conscious of your intent before you speak. Ask yourself – is this a good thing that I intend to do?
This brings us to the final statement of St. James: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” This merits being broken into pieces that we can understand more clearly what it is to be doers of the word.
First and foremost – this acting out of our faith is done before God – it is to be done with a pure and undefiled heart. That is to say our intention matters. This doesn’t mean that we can be a jerk and then turn around and say “well, I just wanted Jonny to know that he was wrong.” No, it means that when we correct or criticize, when we speak, in fact it means in whatever it is we do we do it as though we are doing it before the Lord. Our intention must not be to our own glory – but to the glory of the Lord. Our intention must be that we seek the Lord in all we do.
Next: we are to do good for the least among us. We remember that when the saint is writing there were no 401ks or social security, or welfare system. The welfare system was the family, it was typically a hard working father, who was to provide for his family. If he died and there was no mature male to take care of the children or the wife, they were tough out of luck. What he is saying, then, is that we must be constantly aware of the least among us. Whether they be widows, orphans, the poor, or the marginalized.
We cannot shrug off the hurting, we cannot simply shrug off the pain that our brothers and sisters in Christ tell us of and go about our day. No, if one among us is hurting, let our hearts hurt with them, if one of our brothers has been denied justice, let us yearn for justice with him, if one of our sister’s voice has been taken away, let us be her voice. We must care deeply for the least among us and care deeply for their affliction. Whether they be orphans, widows, or some other form of marginalized in our society. If we intend to be doers of the word, we must care for the least among us.
Finally – we are to keep ourselves unspotted in the world. What does this mean? It means to follow the commandments of God, it means to live in Christ’s righteousness. This brings us back to the idea of free grace – to the idea that once we have received Christ we can do as we please. I hope that we have seen sufficiently that this is not what we are called to.
No, we still sin, we still fail, but in that sin and failing, our heart breaks, we repent, and we come running back to Christ. While grace is given freely our reaction is not free. We do not accept a cheep grace, but a grace that says, come into my life Lord and change my heart and change my desires that I would know you fully and serve you always.
So we devote ourselves to knowing the Lord, we devote ourselves to seeking him in all things, we devote ourselves to reading the scriptures, breaking the bread, to praying, to loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to loving our neighbors as ourselves.
May our lives and by extension our Christian community be defined as doers of the word, not hearers only, that we would be ones who simply believe that pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. May we be known as a Christian community that is compassionate and cares deeply for the hurting, the suffering, the pained – not that we would glorify ourselves but that God the father would be glorified.
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.