Faith-Filled Christians Do Good Works!
This sermon was presented at Resurrection by Pastor Jim Kniseley on September 9, 2012, the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost. The text for the sermon is James 2:1-17.
Dear Friends in Christ,
We Lutherans get a bum rap when we are accused of saying that we don’t need to do good works. Anyone who thinks and says that, be they life-long Lutherans or members of other denominations, are greatly misinformed. We believe and practice what the Bible says, and the Bible says quite plainly, “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” You heard those words today in our second lesson, in James 2:17.
Luther and the church reformers railed against the idea that what you do or don’t do (good works) is the key to whether you get into heaven or not. Catholic priests seemed to reinforce this idea by hearing confession and then saying to the person in the confession booth, “go and say 10 Hail Marys (and so forth” and your sins are forgiven.”
In the Adult Forum Class we are soon to be studying the classic Lutheran document, the Augsburg Confession. Article 20 of that document, written in 1530, talks about faith and works. It says so plainly, “Our people teach that it is necessary to do good works.” Why is that statement there since Lutheran Christians emphasize so much that “we are saved by grace through faith and not by works?” Here’s the explanation, and we take our inspiration from the Bible. Look at vs. 14 in James, chapter 2: 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 no supply their bodily needs, what is that good for? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
Article 20 of the Augsburg Confession (what I have sworn to abide by as I teach the Bible), explains that faith in Jesus saves us and then we “live out God’s will” in the works we do. Our ELCA slogan tries to capture this idea: God’s Work. Our Hands.
I am struck today by what else is in our reading from James. It has to do with prejudice and hospitality, or lack of hospitality to certain kinds of people, in the church. Chapter 2 of James reminds us that all are equal in the church, whether rich or poor. Have you ever experienced favoritism here at Resurrection for certain kinds of people and inhospitable treatment for other kinds of people? If that has happened, I would pray that we here and now would make it a priority to treat all people with love and acceptance, as we want to be treated. I hope that each of us will treat others as we would expect Christ to treat us now and in the kingdom to come.
What are some opportunities that we have at Resurrection these days to practice what we preach, about faith leading to good works and doing God’s will in the world? Let me name some:
· Greet everyone you encounter here at Resurrection, whether you are the official greeter or not. Be genuine and especially greet and share the peace with newcomers and folks you don’t know.
· Look for opportunities to use your hands to do God’s work. In our News You Can Use today I see some opportunities to reach out: to help a family need; to bring food for Christ Lutheran’s Food Pantry; to bring food for feeding the homeless at the Thurman-Brisban Shelter on September 23; to help with other activities that are good and wholesome for the sake of the community.
Let me conclude with words from a beautiful hymn that is the hymn of the day for our 8:30 service:
Let justice flow like streams of sparking water pure,
Enabling growth, refreshing life, abundant, cleansing, sure.
Let righteousness roll on as others’ cares we heed,
An ever-flowing stream of faith translated into deed.
So may God’s plumb line, straight, define our measure true,
And justice, right and peace pervade this world our whole life through.