A sermon on  James 2 v.14 -16 first published in the Baptist Times on 22nd October

The Sermon

 

As winter approaches, people are quite justifiably worried about the onset of influenza, especially in its ‘swine-flu’ variety.  However, in the Western world there is a disease from which we have been suffering far longer.  We could call it ‘affluenza’ – or having so much it makes you sick.  Graffiti artist Banksy summed it up in his picture of a starving child wearing a Burger King hat above the words ‘sometimes I feel so sick at the state of the world that I can’t even finish my second apple pie’. With an estimated 200 million environmental refugees by 2050 the situation can only get worse.  What hope is there for the world’s poor?

 

Their hope will be found in a faith which risks the best. James cites the example of Abraham, (a giant on the landscape of three major world religions) who made his mark by acting upon what God told him to do.  As long as there are Christians prepared to be ‘nudged’ out of the familiar by the hand of God and risk their lives in His service, there is hope for the world’s poor.

 There is a faith which believes the best too.  Unusually, James holds Rahab the prostitute up as an example to us.  She shows faith in the God of whom the Jewish spies had told her and believed that He was good.  The world’s poor will have hope as long as God’s servants can look at the worst and see the best.

 Scriptural issues

 It is James’ emphasis on the importance of works which have made it hard for some to accept his teaching. Martin Luther famously described his letter as an ‘epistle of straw’.

 There were times when Abraham lied to protect his own interests, and Rahab earned a living through prostitution.  When James holds them up as paragons of virtue – is this grace or rose-tinted spectacles?

 

Current issues

 How do we maintain a belief in the pre-eminence of grace, whilst also affirming the value of works?

 Where do we draw the line between taking reasonable steps to provide for ourselves and unnecessary indulgence?

  

“What hope is there for the world’s poor?  There is a faith which risks the best and believes the best.  It is a faith which looks at a heroin addict, her skin a mass of old needle scars and her eyes dull and listless.  It looks at her and sees an image of God – like an old master showing through a cheap watercolour.” 

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