Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 2, 2012, Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin
James 1: 17-27
Faith in the Public Square
LORD OF ALL POWER AND MIGHT, the author and giver of all good
Things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus our Lord, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
This morning we move from the reading of the St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to the epistle of James. James was a half brother of Jesus. He knew Jesus as only a few could. He was a man of great piety. The historian Eusebius (263-339) writes about James, “that he used to enter alone into the Temple and be found praying for the people, so that his knees grew hard like a camel’s because of his constant worship of God, kneeling and asking forgiveness for the people. So from this excessive righteousness he was called the Just. The epistle of James is written before the famous Council of Jerusalem in A.D. 49. It makes James the oldest book of the New Testament of 27 books. James enlarges our practical understanding of faith. The dominant theme in this letter is faith that is real works practically in one’s life. That is, true faith is a faith that works.
The question of faith in goes back to the founders of our country those who penned the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. They reminded us of our belief, shared by most Americans, that there is God. This is an election year and there will be questions about whose religion is the right religion. Is President Obama Christian or Muslim? Is Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s religion part of a cult? Does Paul Ryan’s budget proposal have moral value for men and women, the rich and the poor, the youth and the elderly for now and reaching into the future? Americans are abuzz with the whimsical spirit of politics and debating all manner of domestic and world issues.
Jim Wallis founder of Sojourner recently released a video titled “Standing Up For a Moral Budget,” in which he laid out his philosophical and theological views of the federal budget. His first assertion was: “A budget shows who’s important, who’s not, what’s important, what’s not.” Wallis argues that what the government spends money on determines what the nation and politicians consider to be important. Let us look on this issue through the lenses of the Scripture.
What is a true religion and what does God require of us? The prophet Micah answered it in these words:
But to do justice and to love Mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8))
And James in today’s reading writes to his church:
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. (James 1:27)
“Orphans and widows” were the most helpless people in Jewish society of that time. Often a leader in his community did not pay much attention to the needy in his community. James uses their example as they represent all who are in need in society.
He is reminding us today that we may participate in a magnificent liturgy with fine vestments with smells and bells. We may sing the Gloria Patri, solemnly repeat the Apostles Creed, join together in a grand hymn, reverently pray the Lord’s Prayer, and listen attentively to the Word preached. Most religiously partake in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist, but if we ignore the needy our worship is ashes on the altar. The prophets of the Old Testament repeatedly warned their congregations:
The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me? says the Lord. I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and Lambs and goats…Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me…When you spread out our hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:11-17).
God’s people have had to learn this lesson over and over. Jesus calls his church to be present in the public square. We are living in a culture of a shrunken gospel and widespread apathy which drives the gears of big business, big government, and big media; all that seems to be choking us. The voices of the poor, of 23 million jobless and underemployed, of those who lack medical care, and of the unwelcome strangers in this land of immigrants. It must not cause us to lose hope in the American justice and compassion which guarantees the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Politicians are not going to provide it for us. It is the gospel people who are reminded to live and practice the gospel to show kindness and compassion—helping the victims of injustice through our lives, mission and ministry. Brian McLaren in his book Everything must Change says, “Depending how you look at it, that could be an indictment or an opportunity.”
James is reminding us that true religion means hands-on caring for those who need our advocacy for justice. Faith communities are to making a difference by getting involved in our own local communities such as our involvement with Salvation Army, St. Clare health clinic, Meals on wheels, food bank, providing grants for education for the poor in Haiti, Sudan and Kenya. Raising funds to dig a well to provide water in the desert of Garissa- Kenya and other faith/gospel based community actions.
My dear brothers and sisters: Mountains can be moved and lives can be changed, beginning with our story here at Christ Church, beginning now, beginning
 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 1, trans. Kirsopp Lake, The Loeb Classical Library Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965. p.171 (11.23.3-9)
 Religion and Democracy Institute: Jim Wallis - Juicy Ecumenism by Pat Hamilton
 R. Kent Hughes, James-Faith that Works, p.83.
 Brian D. McLaren, Everything must Change, p.247.