Saturday, September 08, 2012
James 1: 17-27
I was reading an article last week from a magazine called The Christian Century. In it, the author was writing about a childhood memory, one that meant a lot to him growing up.
In it, he says that he remembers her offering envelops in her church having six boxes to check each week. They were: worship attended, Bible brought, Bible read daily, Sunday school lesson studied, prayed daily, gave an offering. For him, growing up, faith was a matter of making sure each box could be checked every week.
He writes in the article that as he remembers this fact from his childhood, he also thinks about how many adults, people who have had every opportunity to have a living, organic breathing faith, still live their spiritual lives as a matter of making sure their boxes are checked every week?
How many of us live our lives with the belief that; if we have read our chapter of the Bible every day, or read today’s Upper Room devotional, or some other sort of devotional, that we can now go on with our days? "Whatever else happens to me," we may think, “I’ve prayed, I’ve read, and I’ve had my coffee.”
What James is telling us in this Scripture passage is that it is not enough to be able to check the boxes. If you read a chapter of Scripture, read your devotional, maybe even sit in silence for a bit, and then go on with your day, it is not enough. It is, he says, like looking at yourself in a mirror, and when you step out of its view, immediately forget what you look like.
It may seem hard to believe, but it can happen. You can be distracted with worries about children, or money, or other matters, and absent mindedly look at yourself, and miss the bit of omelet that stuck to your beard after breakfast, and walk away. You may not feel it either, so then you literally end up walking around the rest of the day with egg on your face!
What James means by this is that it’s going to happen to the best of us, the deepest of us. We all lose momentum. We all can forget, sometimes, who and whose we are. If we do our devotions, but do not take that lesson or idea into the day with us, we are forgetting who we are.
The old Benedictine rhythm of prayer 7 times a day was a corrective for this. If monks, spiritual giants as we see them, needed 7 times a prayer a day, balanced with work and study and rest, how much more do we need that reminder?
James says that the best way to remember who we are isn’t to go back and pray again and again; prayer is important. Reading Scripture is important. But just as you do not keep yourself healthy merely by going to the table again and again and again, because we need food, reading Scripture and devotional texts alone does not keep us spiritually healthy.
In fact, if it is our only practice, it will actually make us unhealthy, just like eating too much, even if it is the best organically produced, complex carbohydrate, lean protein food you can buy. Yes, the monks prayed seven times a day, but they also worked in the fields or in support of the monastery creating items for sale. And they also studied.
James is calling on us to do the same thing. We need balance. Reading about it isn’t enough. I subscribe to Runners World magazine, and it is a great source of inspiration, food tips, training ideas and injury treatments. I could rub the magazine all over my legs and everywhere else, but unless I am running, it isn’t doing me a whole lot of good.
We need to be experiencing ministry, working for it, finding the setbacks and then returning to our devotional lives to see about how to handle issues.
We are not Christians because we read. We are Christians because we do.
We are Christians because we serve, we share. Religion that is pure, according to James, is that which serves widows and orphans. Not what we read. What we do.
You hear sometimes the phrase “spiritual, but not religious”. It’s a reaction to religion being seen as an exercise in standing up, sitting down, giving money, singing boring songs, whatever. That’s just not what brings them to God.
But what religion really is, when it is good, or “Pure”, to use James phrase, is spiritual practice that works for people.
Church in many ways, is like going to the gym. It in itself is not the point of the game. Neither is a devotional. All of it is like practice, or training camp; what we hear in here and in these books prepares us for what is out there. For where our Christian identity really means something.
Church isn’t the goal, it isn’t the point. Church, bible, prayer, they are all the means, they are all the preparation for what we are truly called to do.
To share God’s love, to share the good news.
Sept. 2, 2012