Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and the New Castle area.

This Sunday’s Sermon

9/19/21 – Pastor Donna Doutt – Faith Without Works

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters,[a] if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

My friends, I’m doing something today that I rarely ever do. You have heard 4 scriptures today that basically follow the lectionary. That’s because they all have something in common: Being a good person and doing what’s right.

Our Proverbs reading today is known as the story of the “Virtuous Woman.” Just a little side note for you ladies that purchase purses from “31,” the name of that company is based on this scripture of the upright, Christian woman.

The Psalter reading today is from Psalm 1, it praises those who walk in the way of Christ and live a righteous life.

Our James reading is a lesson in faith and good deeds.

Our Gospel lesson from Mark tells us that whoever wishes to be first must be last and a servant to all.

All of these scriptures encourage a righteous life and provide examples in living for Jesus.

Now let me introduce my sister, she’s a sweetheart. She’s also a faithful Christian. There’s only 14 months separating us in age, so we were always close. Shared clothes, shared friends…you get it. Now my sister refuses to see the worst of anyone. While I may sometimes be cynical and sarcastic, she never is. No matter how bad someone treats her, she always (and I mean ALWAYS!) says:…but I bet they have a good heart!”

Her heart is always open and she only sees the power of positivity and good in others. Our apostle brother James would just want to give my sister a big hug because she personifies everything that James is teaching in this chapter. She also personifies the woman that we heard about in our Proverbs 31 reading today, the “Virtuous Woman.”

So let me tell you a little story. A few years back, my sister, her husband and a group of friends went to New York City. Now my sister and her friends are from Punxsutawney. They’re not cosmopolitan in any way. We jokingly referred to their foray into New York City as “Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town.” 

One day while this group was waiting for their charter bus to pick them up, a panhandler approached them asking for money. My sister, being who she is, never missed a beat…reached into her purse, pulled out a $20 and gave it to him. You might think she may have argued with herself, “Oh, he’ll just drink it up or buy drugs with the money,” and then turn away. But she didn’t.  

Instead of just saying, “I’ll pray for you”, and walking away, she walked the walk of Jesus. She brought to action the popular phrase “What would Jesus do?”

In that moment, every person in her group (except her husband, bless his heart) immediately…and I mean IMMEDIATELY…began to ridicule her for her generosity.

Their scorn of her generous gesture continued for the entire trip. Each time someone in the group saw a homeless person, they would start heckling her. “Aren’t you gonna help this guy out too?”  The incessant mockery from her travel partners hurt her and ruined the trip. When they returned home, she vowed never to travel with that group again.

But also, referring back to being who she is, she forgave them as well for their ridicule. She told me she felt sorry for them because they didn’t understand that she was only doing what Jesus would want us to do.

And that’s where James is here. 

James sees our service as an expression of faith. To live without discriminating, to live without violence, to serve others…is what we are called to do. This scripture COMMANDS us to care for the needy.  Proverbs 29:7 The Message (MSG) 7 “The good-hearted understand what it’s like to be poor; the hardhearted haven’t the faintest idea. “

In James, faith is a set of specific practices – created in the congregation – that make disciples walk in a different direction than the world’s way.  In today’s modern churches, being a Christian is often presented as a technique for happiness and prosperity, a helpful way of getting what we want.

In James’ day, Christians suffered BECAUSE they were followers of Jesus. It’s true. In much of the church, salvation is something that you believe or feel. In the book of James, salvation is when you talk and walk like Jesus.

And so this is where my sister comes back into the picture. She’s not from the certain kind of mindset church where people come to BE served instead of serving OTHERS. You will never hear her say, “I didn’t get anything from the pastor’s message today”.  She’s not like one of the Pharisees that talks the talk. But she is like the followers in James and as such a follower of Jesus.  If she must suffer the humiliation and scorn of others for being a follower of Jesus…so be it.  After all…It’s Biblical!

From the Message Bible, hear this text of Deuteronomy 15:7-11 

7-9 When you happen on someone who’s in trouble or needs help among your people with whom you live in this land that God, your God, is giving you, don’t look the other way pretending you don’t see him. Don’t keep a tight grip on your purse. No. Look at him, open your purse, lend whatever and as much as he needs. Don’t count the cost.

Don’t listen to that selfish voice… and turn aside and leave your needy neighbor in the lurch, refusing to help him. He’ll call God’s attention to you and your blatant sin.”

10-11 Give freely and spontaneously. Don’t have a stingy heart. The way you handle matters like this triggers God, your God’s, blessing in everything you do, all your work and ventures. There are always going to be poor and needy people among you. So I command you: Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbors in trouble, your poor and hurting neighbors.

Many of you are holding in your hand, right now, a life lesson that could have been ripped from the book of James. Our opening hymn, “Living for Jesus”…I’ve been singing it to myself all week. Take it home. Each morning this week, when you’re having your morning coffee or breakfast, before you start your day, take this out and read those lyrics again. 

“Living for Jesus a life that is true, striving to please him in all that I do, yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free, this is the pathway of blessing for me.”

And all God’s people said AMEN!