Reading James 1.22-end
Preacher Canon Robert Titley
It looked like Nigel Farage and the Romanians next door might have become a nastier version of Harold Wilson and the pound in your pocket, a saying that hangs, albatross-like, around the neck of the one who says it. In the event, it seems to have done him little harm.
Martin Luther’s equivalent was when he described the Letter of James as an epistle of straw (a jibe he later withdrew). For him, the chief article was that we don’t earn salvation by our works but receive it as a gift when we have faith in Christ. So says Paul in his letter to the Romans. James, by contrast, says that faith without works is a dead faith: ‘Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.’
The contrast is not total, though. Paul was in fact rather keen on what Christian people do, and it may be that James was written because some church people were misunderstanding Paul (perhaps on purpose) and saying that as long as you had faith in Jesus it didn’t matter what you actually did – or failed to do. No, says James: if your ‘faith’ has no effect on how you live, what kind of faith is that? Faith is about trust, about taking risks because you know you can rely on someone; it means beginning to live in new ways. If there’s no sign of that, no desire for that, then what is your faith worth?
Reading between the lines of this letter, we can surmise that the church James writes to is not so different from many of ours. Some people who come are well off, others are poor. And what seems to be happening is that the leaders of this church are taking the values of the world outside and importing them, unchanged, straight into church. Out there, if you have money, people like you and want you. If you don’t, then often people aren’t quite so obliging.
So James says to the church leaders:
You have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? Well, where’s the evidence? He was interested in people on the edge of society. Are you? He noticed the quiet person, the fearful person, the guilty person. Do you? All these people were at the centre of Jesus’ attention. Who is at the centre of yours?
It is understandable to have favourites and be preoccupied with important people. It’s just that it is the opposite of the way God sees the world. What, then, might James’ letter of straw be saying to us? This perhaps.
You have a faith? Good. At least, it may be good. It depends. Is your faith making you different? Or are you just the same as ever, only more religious?