This Sunday we again delve into the Book of James. His simple reminder is that you really don’t believe something until it shapes and forms what you do and how you live. “Faith without works is dead,” he said. “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?” It calls to mind a Peanuts comic strip where Charles Schultz draws Charlie Brown and Linus trudging through the snow. The wind is blowing; the snow is falling. They are bundled up in their snowsuits with fur hats and scarves and gloves and boots. They encounter Snoopy, shivering, naked — as dogs left out in the cold for too long tend to do. Snoopy is in front of his doghouse, his dish is empty; he looks cold and hungry, eyes droopy, and just miserable. Charlie Brown says “Be of good cheer, Snoopy.” Linus echoes: “Yes, Snoopy, be of good cheer.” And off they go leaving Snoopy with a wonderfully quizzical look on his face.
“What is the good of that?” James asked the church. Often we see faith as an intellectual exercise – faith’s focus is upon an assent to belief. Faith is reflected in our speaking. James reminds us that faith is a behavioral exercise – faith is reflected in our practices. Faith is reflected in our doing.
Listening to the news this week and thinking about this church’s purpose in light of James’ writings is leading me to affirm that our purpose as a church is to meet human need: needs like food and shelter and clothing, also needs of the human spirit, like encouragement and hope and love. Here in Brentwood, I am aware there is a whole other set of needs, for those of us who are not physically hungry, or cold or naked or alone: needs for meaning and purpose, connection, and authenticity. The need to live and act and have being in a way that honestly reflects the best of who we are and what we believe. The church is here for us to put our faith into practice; to do what we believe: to become what we hope for. It is my hope that this we can be a guide to one another, helping each other live and act in a way that may reflect the best of who we are and what we believe.
On the one hand, hearing James’ exhortation to action and doing may seem out of step with Labor Day weekend and the invitation of Sabbath’s day of rest. (Then again, I know for most, your Labor Day weekend will be crammed full of soccer games, household projects, and generally busy weekends.) But on the other hand, hearing on this Labor Day weekend James’ exhortation that true religion is that which gets into our minds, hearts and hands – our behavior and how we live with authenticity and integrity – is what most of us are looking for these days. On this Labor Day weekend as we transition from summer to a busy fall and the handling of demands that are placed on us from every direction, this word from James comes to us as a needed reminder.