Pastoral thoughts from a United Methodist in Western Kentucky (USA)
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Faith Without Works Is Dead
Yes... it's a cheesy cartoon. It was also the only one I could find.
I've read the Book of James and often quoted it in the spirit of voting in Chicago: early and often. But it was really hit home to me when I read Eugene Petersen's translation of part of it in The Message:
Dear friends, do you think you'll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, "Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!" and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup--where does that get you? Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?
I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, "Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I'll handle the works department."
Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.
Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That's just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands? - James 2:14-20, The Message
I am admittedly a workaholic, and that often has me working at the office late, carrying work home with me, or finding various hiding places to work with a laptop or pad of paper. Part of pastoral work is administration, part of it is teaching, pastoral counseling and visitation, part of it is planning worship, sermons, and liturgical/sacramental actions. And... part of it is working with the poor in pocketbook and/or spirit. I don't do the last one very well. Yet, "Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand and glove." I can't be handling the faith department and allowing others to handle the works department and call myself an effective shepherd. It has to go beyond token efforts, too.
So yesterday I went to Dyer Co. Tennessee - just 30-some miles from when I grew up - and did some disaster relief work. Several of my church members have been there several times already, and it's painfully obvious that there is much yet to be done there. This afternoon, I will help a few of our United Methodist men complete a wheelchair ramp at a residence. In theory, Thursdays are my day off. But sometimes, we get behind. I've gotten behind on my works of mercy. And to be honest, being outdoors as opposed to indoors has always been restorative to my soul.
Is it hard to find the balance? Puzzled on how to do it? As Master Po once said to Caine on Kung Fu, "That is not a puzzle, Grasshopper. It is only something you do not yet understand."