THE WORD James 1:17-27
Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures. 19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act–they will be blessed in their doing. 26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
MESSAGE “Hearing … and Doing” Rev. James Renfrew, Pastor
I was in the grocery store on Friday, and I happened to see a man walk right in front of me wearing a T-shirt. The T-shirt had a simple message, in big letters for all to see, but I am sure that the message was aimed at me. “Just do it!” I decided that the man must have been an angel sent from heaven to speak directly to me! I wish I had thought to take a photograph, to prove to all of you that not only had I seen an angel, but that he was clearly sent with a message directed right at me! If you had been there, watching, you would have agreed that the angel wearing a T-shirt had a message aimed at me.
He didn’t really look like the kind of angel I would have expected. No wings, no halo, no white robe. In fact, the angel was an African American teenager. So not at all what I expected, but totally understandable that God would send an angel that looks nothing like the kind of angel I might have expected. God is like that, the message delivered to you and me in the most unlikely and unexpected ways.
In fact, I’ve seen other angels, and none of them have looked anything like angels we see depicted in traditional art. One time it was man with a range of serious addictions, but he told me something that I consider angelic. One time it was a frightened native woman from Canada, in-between her weeping and begging for money, she did something that only an angel could have done. Another time it was a homeless woman on a New York subway who said the exact thing I needed to hear. Angels, every one.
This angel that I saw in the grocery store on Friday didn’t actually say anything to me, not a single word was spoken, but there the message was, emblazoned on his T-shirt. The angel had a message, “Just do it”. I’m sure it was directed at me, and me alone. So since Friday I’ve been overjoyed to think that of all the billions of people in the world God had a special message for me!
But now the problem. Do it! What is the “it” I am supposed to do? Larry’s going to offer a song by Cole Porter at the end of the service “Let’s Do It”. I decided I better look it up and, well, let’s get this out in the open, but if you read the lyrics, it’s pretty clear what the “it” is that Cole Porter is talking about, it has to do with sexual intimacy, not the usual subject of a Sunday sermon.
But that’s not at all what the message on the angel’s t-shirt was telling me. It’s a puzzle that I have to figure out. In a way I was glad that the t-shirt didn’t explain exactly what “it” is. I actually don’t like matters of faith to be easy, I like to struggle a bit to figure things out. In that way it feels like uncovering a treasure, or like breaking a code, or like suddenly figuring out the meaning of a song. So instead of the T=shirt telling me to “Do the dishes” or “Do the vacuuming”, I knew it was going to be more cryptic than that.
Just Do It. What could that “it” be for someone like me?
Could be that God is instructing me to take better care of my health? I’m diabetic, so there are always better ways of living, watching what I eat more carefully, making more room for exercise. Stop procrastinating, get off your rear end and just do the things that you know you need to do to take better care of yourself. Though, I think if “Just Do It” was about diabetes, the message might make more sense if it was “Just Don’t Do It”. Don’t eat that potato chip! Don’t eat that cookie. Don’t eat that cake.
There’s a sporting goods company that uses the “Just Do It” phrase in its advertising. I think it means, stop dreaming about adventure, just put on our $150 shoes and go run around the block, climb a mountain, ride a bike, jump rope, get active. Just do it. That’s probably good advice for diabetics in particular, but is there anyone here who doesn’t need more exercise?
But I don’t think that’s what the “it”. It seems selfish of me to think that God would take the time to send an angel to tell me to take better care of myself. I think the “it” is something on a grander scale, something that will touch many more people than just myself.
When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, the message wasn’t advice about Moses’ personal problems, about his diet or his running shoes, it was a message all about the liberation of a half million slaves in Egypt. I like to think that when God speaks through angels it’s going to be very important, it’s going to be a world-changer.
Is that what the “it” is that I need to be acting upon? It’s not about me at all, though of course it involves me. It could be I need to do more to protect our environment. I need to do more to end torture as an element of American foreign policy. I need to do more to help children living in poverty. I need to do more to speak out against corruption in government. I need to do more to help the incarcerated. I need to do more to help our neighbors at risk for deportation.
So now I’m very sure that the angel with the T-shirt in the grocery store had a very important message for me and it got my total attention. Yes, God I heard you!
I have to admit that I enjoy reading the Epistle of James, and not just because his name is the same as mine. James addresses the topic head-on – not the cryptically concise “Just Do It” I saw on the angel’s T-shirt, but more eloquently: “Be doers of the word, not just hearers of the word”. That’s a lot of words to fit on a T-shirt, so the angel reduced it down to three words. In large enough type that I couldn’t miss it.
So the “it” according to James, is the Word. Do the word, act on the word, live the word, be the word. Listen to this word and then bring it to life. By doing the word the word lives, by not doing the word it dies.
And of course, it makes perfect sense, you can listen to the preaching, you can read the detailed theologies and doctrines, you can listen to the songs, you can enjoy the music, but it comes down to one thing: don’t just hear it, let’s do it!