Category Archives: Year B

No works? No faith

Reading
James 2.1–17

 

(Re Hebrews 11.1:) …by means of pistis [faith], the true people of God are willing to act decisively in the visible world not for reasons that are immediately apparent but because an unseen yet even more genuine underlying substance (hypostasis), God’s reality, compels the action. This willingness to act on the deeper, truer, but nonetheless hidden reality is ‘faith’ for the author of Hebrews. — Matthew W Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King, Kindle Ed’n, p.19.

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Faith without works is dead.

A while ago, I was listening to a friend of mine. She was talking about someone she knows, someone who had given up on her Christian faith.

My friend found some consolation by reminding herself that years ago, her friend had once accepted Jesus as her Saviour. That never goes away, right? Once you do that, you’re going to heaven whatever happens, yes? 

That’s a very common idea. It’s what I was taught when I started my Christian walk, at the age of fourteen. You pray a prayer in which you confess you’re a sinner and you accept Jesus into your heart. And when you die, you go to heaven.

And if you ever fall away, that doesn’t matter because Jesus is in your heart. 

Millions of people believe it, but it’s hardly in the bible at all. What is there is some awkward bloke called James who has the hide to say

Faith without works is dead.

The great Reformer Martin Luther didn’t like the Letter of James. He called it ‘an epistle of straw’. When he translated the bible into German, he put James right at the very end. After Revelation. James annoyed him so much that if he could, he would have deleted it from the New Testament.

Luther didn’t like James because he found the centre of his theology in the Apostle Paul. Paul wrote

…we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. (Galatians 2.16)

When Martin Luther read Paul, he saw that faith in Jesus Christ saves us, and not works. James seemed to be saying the opposite:

Faith without works is dead.

Who was right? Paul or James?

Did James think Paul was wrong? I would say this: James did think Paul was wrong, but the version of Paul that James knew was a distorted one.

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The Body is Basic

Reading
1 Corinthians 6.12–20

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.

Psalm 139.13–16

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I recall having a moment of conversion as a young man. Not conversion to Christ, that happened earlier when I was fourteen. This was another moment of conversion, one of several others.

This moment of conversion came about from reading the Bible. (If you want a safe, comfortable life, don’t read the Bible!). But it was too late for me. I was already reading it.

This moment of conversion was about what the word ‘you’ means.

You might wonder what I mean. You means you means you. But it doesn’t.

Sometimes, ‘you’ means one person. Sometimes, it means more than one person. Some Aussies say ‘youse’ when they mean more than one person. We say that it’s bad English. But it’s great communication. I wish it were good English—I’d love to use youse. So I think I shall. I hope youse won’t mind.

Let’s look at our 1 Corinthians reading with this in mind.

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Bad religion (8 November 2015, Year B)

Readings
Ruth 3.1–5; 4.13–17
Mark 12.38–44

…spiritual brokenness affects our lives and the lives of others. We have found, however, that God is eager to bless us even in our spiritual brokenness. (from Soul Repair)

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

That’s the opening line of a 1953 novel called The Go-Between. It’s a brilliant opening line for a novel and for a sermon. We must always remember when we read the scriptures that the past is a foreign country. They did things differently there. We’re going to see that as we look at our scripture passages today.

Firstly, widows: in an age with no social security, no pension, they could be in a precarious position.

The readings for this week and last draw our attention to the plight of widows in biblical times. We have Naomi and Ruth, husbandless and childless, forced to eke out a living gleaning grain from the fields that hadn’t been gathered by the men working there; and also forced to plot and plan to ensure that Boaz noticed Ruth. This is more than a romantic story; it is a matter of life and death for Ruth and Naomi.

And in today’s Gospel Reading, we have the widow who had fallen on hard times, whose offering is two small coins, each worth only about six minutes’ work. Her offering is practically worthless. But it was all she had.

And don’t forget that last week we heard Psalm 146, which proclaims that

The Lord keeps faith for ever,
giving food to the hungry,
justice to the poor,
freedom to captives…
comforting widows and orphans,
protecting the stranger…

The scriptures of the Old and New Testaments proclaim that God seeks justice for the widow, the orphan and all who are being failed by the society they live in. Continue reading

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