My name is – James. And you just heard part of my letter proclaimed as your second reading — and you will be reading parts of the short letter I wrote for the next four weeks. So, just think of this September as the month of James!
For those of you who know your Apostles – let me just say I am not James the Greater, nor am I James the Lesser — rather, as the Acts of the Apostles refers to me — I am the James known as the “brother of the Lord” – which just means I was a relative of Jesus – as in our day almost any male relative was known as someone’s brother. As in, “hey, bro – how’s it going??”
I was in charge of the Jewish-Christian community in Jerusalem – and I end up writing this letter because so many in my congregation left Jerusalem after the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. So I am writing to those I describe at the very beginning of my letter as the “12 tribes in the dispersion” – that is Jews who are away from their home: especially those now living throughout Palestine and in Syria.
So, I am writing them because they are now out on their own – but they are far from mature disciples – so they are still struggling with the issue of how to live as a faithful Christian in the midst of a very secular Roman empire. . .
Sound familiar?? I’m just saying you might be able to make a connection as YOU struggle with the issue of how to live as a faithful Christian in the midst of a very secular American society. Never think the Scriptures are just about someone else – and don’t have anything to do with you!
I mean that’s why you have the Scriptures read to you in your liturgy – to give you some insight – some guidance and direction – in how to live your life now that you are Baptized – or as your man at the ambo has recently been saying: once you receive the Eucharist – and carry Christ within you – you have to live differently than before — but how is that done?
That’s what his preaching should be about Sunday after Sunday – helping you figure out the HOW of living the Christian life – but I digress.
So what insights and guidance and direction was I trying to give my posse as they struggled to live as Christians?
Well in what you heard today – I was simply telling them, asking them really – to be constantly open to the “gift” of God’s word that has been “planted” within them – and to ACT upon that word by works of generosity and compassion. “Be doers of the word – and not just hearers” as I bluntly tell them.
Does that sound like something you can do also? Let me just say, it is a little more difficult than what it sounds like: be doers of the word and not just hearers. . .
Next week, builds on this principle. If you are doers of the word – than one thing you have to do is not show favoritism to those who try to impress you with their wealth or status. The gospel of Christ calls us to see all men and women as equal sons and daughters of God – with a clear preference given to “those who are poor in the world” which God has made “rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.”
Then after that — really comes the heart of my message: the relationship of faith to good works. Faith that is alive naturally shows itself in action. Dead faith produces no good works, inspires no loving response to the Word we hear – and possesses no power to save. It is not faith at all. It is dead. Living faith, on the other hand –
rejoices in God’s word and celebrates that presence in acts of compassion and reconciliation. Now a little advice – use this to judge only yourself – not others — is your faith dead or alive?
You obviously should recognize a theme building from one week to the next – as I then exhort my dispersed Christian community – which would include all of you – to put ones’ own individual passions and interests aside –
for that which is good for the whole community. Conflicts and disagreements and arguments all tear down the body of Christ rather than build it up – our Christian faith calls us to “cultivate peace & unity” – first among ourselves – but then radiating out to the world.
In my final words to the twelve tribes in dispersion that you will hear read —
I give harsh criticism to the rich – those same people I talked about earlier who may try to impress you with their wealth of status – but those who have defrauded workers of a just wage, who live lives of luxury at the expense of the poor – don’t know anybody like this – do you?
My intent was to echo many of the prophets – who my Jewish audience would know so well – warning them that riches will one day decay into nothing and that God will judge us all on our exploitation of the poor. . .
So my time is running out – let me just say a few more things: 1st your faith and mine is all about relationships – our relationship with God and our relationship with those around us —-
it is NOT about rules and regulations as Jesus tries to point out to the Pharisees today. Rules and regulations are a means to an end –
they are meant to guide us in our relationships – not determine them. My letter is meant to also guide you, my dear friends, in your relationships.
Also the words in your celebration of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the sick come directly from my letter: “If there are any sick among you, then let them send for the priests of the Church. The priests will pray over them and the prayer of faith will raise them up. If they have committed any sins their sins will be forgiven them.”
Be sure to take advantage of this sacrament when it is offered again. . . It simply calls the grace of God into your life during a time of hardship or affliction.
So, just remember that being a Christian isn’t all that complicated: do your best in loving God and loving your neighbor. Strengthen yourself through the Eucharist, read and meditate on the words of Scripture so that you can be doers of the word and not just hearers — and then remember one of my great one-liners:
“Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.”
Oh, you will have trials as a Christian – but you will also know great joy!