Today’s second reading is from the Epistle of St. James. Martin Luther had a particular disdain for the book of James, for a number of reasons, but especially because it so clearly contradicted his theology of sola fide, or faith alone. The epistle is almost entirely an exhortation about how we ought to live as disciples of Christ. He called the epistle, “an epistle of straw,” because it didn’t contain the doctrine of say Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. More than anything, James is writing to a community and reminding them, during a period of great difficulty, what is a top priority.
He famously says, “faith, if it does not have works is dead.” He says, “Show me your faith without works, and I’ll show you my faith by my works!” He also compares the human tongue to a ship’s rudder–it’s so small, but has the power to change the whole direction of the ship. He also says, “The tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell….with the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.” We who come to church on Sunday, can certainly be guilty of saying things to others, or about others, that are quite inconsistent with the love we are called to have for God and neighbor.
James’ whole epistle, which is our second reading today, focuses on Christian unity, Christian love, and the way we speak to and treat others. I think that’s important in today’s church. More and more we are a nation divided, and that can begin to create divisions in the Church as a whole, but even among the families that are seated right here in the pew. In today’s reading, James is addressing divisions in the church. Not among mask or no-mask (that’s what our country is dealing with today), but instead about the wealthy and the poor.
He reminds the church, “show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” When times are good it is easy to be generous and kind, and even loving to others that we disagree with, who look differently than us, think differently, and maybe even act differently. I’m far more tolerant when life is good and when I’m at peace. But when I worry about safety, security, health and well-being, my ability to love greatly, as the Lord commands, can be dulled. This is Satan’s great tool. He scourges us, tests us, divides us, and wants to bury us with him for every. St. Francis of Assisi said, “By the anxieties and worries of this life Satan tries to dull man’s heart and make a dwelling for himself there.”
I invite you just for a moment to reflect. Reflect on your thoughts in these past few hours, days, weeks, and year. Have you lost your peace. Has COVID 19 and the anxiety over health, loss of loved ones, safety, finances, and the constant question of whether or not this mask is really doing any good, and how I’m ever supposed to wear glasses and the mask together. Has anxiety and frustration caused us to lose our love for people in the pew? Leaders in the church? Maybe even family or close friends?
I want to tell you, we will get through this. This is our current struggle, that is it. This struggle is natural and human, but we are supernatural because the Spirit of God lives within us. Call on the Spirit’s wisdom to hear and to discipline this fire of a tongue. Ask Jesus to place his fingers in our ears and to touch our tongue so that we might truly hear what our brothers and sisters are saying, and then speak only in kindness, generosity and love–regardless of whether we agree or not. We can love and disagree
Isaiah painted a beautiful picture of God’s faithful coming into a brighter day. Our God comes with vindication for his faithful. Remain faithful, loving God and neighbor, with kind words and kind actions, for those with whom we agree, and even disagree. In that way, they will know we are Christians, and even in this difficult time they will be exceedingly astonished and say, “he has done all things well, his God lives.”