In the earliest days of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, many churches closed to protect their members and slow the spread of the disease. It was a time of danger and anxiety. Health authorities discouraged public gatherings of even a handful of people, and individuals and families were told to shelter at home. The danger of the highly contagious virus required separation and isolation, even as we sought ways to connect during this vulnerable time.
The church I attend set up a call list of older members and ones in fragile circumstances who might benefit from a check-in. Many were lifelong members who had played a vital role in shaping the congregation’s ministries. It soon became clear that one of their biggest problems was being separated from activities they were part of through and for the church. Without the ability to be of service they were cut loose from their moorings. Their “works” were a crucial expression of their faith, embodying what it means to follow Jesus. Often, those we called to check on volunteered to become callers themselves.
“What good is it . . . if you say you have faith but do not have works?” James writes. “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 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?”
In one of the most controversial verses in the New Testament, he concludes, “Faith, by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
The fight over whether salvation comes through faith or works has raged for centuries, but it usually misses the kernel of truth in James’s observation: “Works”—day-to-day caring for and about other people—is an outgrowth of deep discipleship. When our church building was closed, we found how central “works” are to faith.
O God, may our faith be evident in all we do. Amen.
It is sometimes an uncomfortable subject for many, but God does have ethical standards. The author of Proverbs declares that those who act unjustly, particularly if they oppress the poor, will provoke God’s judgment. The psalmist repeats the refrain that God blesses the righteous but is not pleased with those who choose a consistent lifestyle of rebellion against God. James challenges us practically on this point. Do we judge people by their wealth or status? This is not from God. True faith shows no partiality and prompts action. Jesus models this in Mark when he heals two Gentiles. Jews and Gentiles generally remained separate (an ancient form of racism), but Jesus did not discriminate based on their ethnicity. He cared only about their hearts.
Read Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23. How has God shown you that there is no difference between persons who are rich and persons who are poor? How does this affect your actions?
Read Psalm 125. When have you seen righteousness in someone the community (or the church) has labeled “wicked”?
Read James 2:1-17. How do your works support your faith? How does your faith in God move you to action on behalf of others?
Read Mark 7:24-37. God calls us to love all our neighbors. How can you be a good neighbor to those your community has excluded?
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