Moving from “Yes, I believe” to “Here am I, send me”5th Sunday after Pentecost
Why are you here this morning? Most of us might say we are here to worship God. But how does that impact the way we live our daily lives? Is there anything you will do differently tomorrow because you were here today? I’ll give you a moment to answer that for yourself.
The scripture we read from James had one objective: to assist the churches who would read his letter, to work out their faith in good deeds and holy habits. This straightforward approach might challenge and confront those of us who are comfortable with certain patterns of worship and service. James encouraged: “Be doers…not hearers who deceive themselves” (1:22). “Understand this” (1:19). “You do well If you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” (2:8). James’ directives reiterate the ancient words of the prophet Micah: “He told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
James asked the church a powerful question: “Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom?” James remembers Jesus’ commandment that you shall love your neighbour as yourself. Instead, the faith community he was addressing showed great partiality in who they welcomed into the church. The bottom line in the verses we read is that If you say you have faith but do not love our neighbours, what is the good of that?
We have always struggled with our understanding of faith and works. Some have said that once you trust in Jesus, that is enough, you have no other responsibility in living out your faith. James challenges this perspective, saying that living the Christian life is not just faith or not just works but the combination of those two.
James proposes that faith cannot be a passive function. Faith cannot be something we claim as only part of our life. James asks, “What good is it to have faith without works? Faith without works is dead.”
This story in James starts with how people with faith can be fairly blind regarding how they live out their faith. He describes how the church discriminately welcomed people of different backgrounds. The question for us is how we will be opened and stretched beyond our comfort zones. Our response to God and others is often based on our comfort rather than their needs. What James would say is that faith knows no boundaries.
How often do we really listen to the views that challenge ours? Is it possible that we scorn views that are contrary to ours or only applaud those who agree with us? How long since we listened carefully enough to actually change our minds, even a little? These are challenging questions during this particular time.
Where is the power of God at work among us? Where and how is our faith being challenged to move us from “Yes, I believe” to “Here am I send me.”
We now turn to the Mark passage. A Syrophoenician woman, a gentile, usually shunned by Jews, comes to Jesus in a private place. I had not previously noticed in this scripture that she states her need before we learn who she is. Mark writes, “A woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.” This woman did not come on her own behalf. She knew the risks of being a woman, an outsider, that sought healing for her daughter.
Jesus offers an abrupt response. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
Walter Brueggemman writes that Jesus is challenged by “a nobody of a woman who would not let him off the hook with his racial-ethnic bias that masqueraded as a religious scruple.” She forces the issue by saying, “Even dogs under the table eat the children’s bread.” Brueggemann continues.
Notice that something powerful happens to Jesus in this narrative because the woman is persistent. She is the outsider who instructs the insider. She explains to Jesus his larger vocation that he has not yet embraced. He is willing, in turn, to be instructed by her… We can watch while Jesus rethinks his vocation and his mandate as Messiah. He learns that full faithfulness means reaching beyond one’s comfort zone to care for the other.
So how does Jesus’ experience with the woman relate to James’ lesson of faith and works? Jesus was confronted on several levels: first, the woman was a gentile and an outsider who had the audacity to approach a Jewish male and ask for healing for her daughter. Jesus was stuck on his mandate, that his ministry was directed toward Jews first. He had to be stretched out of that boundary. James likewise challenged the community of faith that showed partiality to those from whom they could benefit– the wealthy– and shunned the ones who had little to offer.
What does it take for us to recognize the power of God’s work among us that moves us from “Yes, I believe” to “Here am I send me?”
We, too, have set boundaries for our faith. What both passages say is that faith knows no boundaries.
All of us, to some extent, protect our boundaries. All of us, to some extent, know that our faith calls us beyond our comfort zones. How do we move from what we say we believe to actually living out that belief? In both scriptures, James and Jesus show us how to merge “faith and works” in our daily lives. How do we show that we love God? How do we show that we love our neighbours?
I ask again, How does our encounter here with God and one another impact the way we live our daily lives? Is there anything you will do differently tomorrow because you were here today?