Pentecost 16B 2018
Fr. Dale Matson
Be Doers Of The Word
My homily is based primarily on our Epistle lesson from James.
James is one of my favorite books in the Bible but it was not one of Martin Luther’s favorites. In fact it didn’t fit well with Luther’s reformation theology. “Luther made an attempt to remove the books of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation from the canon (notably, he perceived them to go against certain Protestant doctrines such as sola gratia, (grace alone and sola fide faith alone), but this was not generally accepted among his followers. These books are ordered last in the German-language Luther Bible of 1545 and remain so to this day.” Our Lord said in Matthew, “You shall know them by their fruits.” The book of James underscores this point.
Today we heard in part, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act-they will be blessed in their doing.”
How many have had this conversation with your child? You said something like this. “Please pick up your room”. Your child replied, “I don’t want to.” or “I don’t feel like it.” What was your immediate response? “Do it anyway.”
Doing is where the rubber meets the road. Doing is walking the walk not just talking the talk. Ultimately, loving our neighbor means being willing to help them, to do something for them. Listen carefully to what St. James says here. Those who act will be blessed in their doing.
Our readings are quite consistent in their message today. God rescues, heals, protects, administers justice, encourages, sustains and provides. God is a Doer. In our Gospel lesson today Jesus is a doer. His Disciples stated, “"He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."
Having compassion for others is great but compassion alone is disconnected, it has no legs. It is God Who breaks the inertia of inaction and moves us to act.
When three heroic young American men risked their lives to subdue an armed terrorist on a train in France. The train crew fled and locked themselves in a compartment to protect themselves but the three Americans charged the terrorist and were able to subdue and disarm him with one American Spencer Stone receiving several stab wounds. Where did Stone’s courage come from? It came from God. Where did his protection come from? It came from God. “Stone's mother, Joyce Eskel, told ABC affiliate KXTV in Sacramento, ‘I really feel like they had a divine intervention and they were saved. Because the gun was at Spencer’s head and [the suspect] tried to shoot twice.’" The Reverend Anthony Sadler Sr. said this about his son. “"He's a strong man of faith, but because he works Sundays, he doesn't attend church quite as often as I would like," says his father, laughing. This is an example of Christian doing.
Sociologists have demonstrated through research that we don’t do things for people we love. We love people we do things for. We change our attitudes via our behaviors. Jesus understood this very well in his sermon on the mount. (Matthew 5) “But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Jesus also stated, “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” Have you ever prayed for an enemy? It eventually becomes impossible to hate the person you are praying for. Praying for your enemies is Christian doing.
“For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.”
What does James mean by this statement. Perhaps my background in psychology will help explain what he means. By doing something, you are utilizing a different memory system. You may have heard the phrase tactile learner or we learn by doing. When people learn how to perform a task, that activity is stored in procedural memory as a special kind of memory different than our episodic memory. Episodic memory is where our own personal biography and history is stored. That is why a person can suffer amnesia from a blow to the head and not remember who they are or anything about their past but the person can still remember how to ties his shoes or drive her car. In other words procedural memory is much more durable than other memories. That is why when we quit smoking, we still continue mechanically reaching for our shirt pocket to grab the cigarettes that are no longer there.
Doers of the Word are making the Word a part of themselves not just storing the Word in the closet of our minds where it will be forgotten and covered with dust. Doing the Word is how we inwardly digest it. God is a Doer and we are His disciples Doing His will. An action reinforces a thought. From a behavioral perspective, every time we do an action and it is positively reinforced, it increases the probability that we will do that action again. Christians who do good deeds will be blessed in doing those deeds. Do we act because we want God to reward us? No, that is the mantra of the Prosperity gospel advocates. We act because that is our reasonable service and spiritual worship as unprofitable servants.
Now that I have made a case for doing, behaviors can also be a double-edged sword. So far, I have been talking about how behaviors change our attitudes and put legs on our compassion for others. Our behaviors make us the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. The problem is that sinful behavior can change our way of thinking, harden our hearts and harm others. Sinful behaviors can become ingrained also and cause our thoughts to obsess about ungodly activity.
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Timothy 3:1-5). I emphasize the danger of pride. As is stated in our opening collect, “Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength. We have all met someone like that. Sometimes we ourselves are the proud who confide in our own strength.
When we learned that a dating site that promoted adultery had been hacked and the names and other information of those married folks seeking an adulterous relationship were published for all to see. Ashley Madison is only one of ten online sites. Its motto is “Life is short, have an affair.” What is also shocking is that there are 37 million email accounts for this site that have been exposed. The fallout includes the possibility that participants such as bankers, government workers and others in leadership positions could be vulnerable to blackmail. In the military, adultery is a punishable offense with possible discharge. How did we get to such a place that one of the Ten Commandments is so openly challenged? Did these people realize how much they had harmed both themselves and others?
When I first heard of this, I thought of this passage from Hebrews. (Another of Luther’s lesser-liked books) “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Initially, I had rather self-righteous thoughts about this. It is only too easy to be judgmental about such an outcome. Please don’t be like the Pharisee who said, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Scripture tells us that evil cannot be hidden, that evil will be exposed in the light of God.
Running the good race is so often the case with God's help of resisting the urge to do naughty things.
Perhaps some are so evil that being exposed is of no matter to them. Others were so ashamed that they ended their lives in suicide. For many their lives as they knew them were over for good. How can we be doers of the word in this case? I would pray that all those who were ashamed would ask for forgiveness and stop this behavior. I hope they saw it as a wake up call that what they did in private negatively affected others whether it was made public or not.
Our behaviors whether those behaviors are good or bad change our way of thinking, talking and acting.
Two weeks ago, I heard a phrase I have heard hundreds of time but it got my attention and I have been thinking about it for some time. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. That is us brothers and sisters. We come in the name of the Lord.
Let us redouble our efforts to be doers of the Word. “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Finally, As we say in our Rite II concluding prayer, “And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.