Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost—Year B—September 2, 2012
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Tomorrow, this country observes Labor Day—the mark of the end of summer for many, the beginning of a new school year for some, a shopping day full of sales, one last chance to escape to the Cape for a long weekend, or a national Birthday reminder for someone in particular. But the holiday was actually first observed nationally in 1894 as a time to celebrate the “economic and social contributions of workers.” A whole day to not work as we celebrate that work that has been done; it is basically a secular Sabbath.
This is why I find the lectionary texts for today so ironic. All three texts talk about the “work” of religion—the regulations, the laws, the traditions.
It is this same theme that makes these texts seem so anti-Lutheran. Lutherans, among other denominations, preach that humanity is saved by God’s grace through faith, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. We do not believe in works righteousness—the thought that we have to earn our way into a right relationship with God in order to gain forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life.
Today’s reading from James can be read with that slant—one can hear them as saying that works are required for salvation. But I believe that the text can be approached from the other direction as well—and it happens to be one that I am much more comfortable with as a Lutheran. “Generous acts of giving” do not get your closer to God, but they come from God. They are not what make us good Christian, but are simply a result of God working through God’s people in the world. When God is active in your life, who can you keep from doing these good works?
That is why Sunday is not the only, or even the most important day of a Christian’s week. Yes on Sunday, we are called to gather together to give praise and worship to God, hear God’s word, share in the Lord’s supper, but, after all of that, we are also sent out to live among God’s people all week long.
It is only because God has claimed us as children of God and works through us that we are capable of good things. Unfortunately, Sin is still at work in the world and us too, so more often than not, we fall short of the ideal “Christian life.”
But we are daily renewed through the promises we receive in Baptism. Even though we fall short of the glory of God on Monday, we are no less baptized, claimed, and loved by God on Tuesday, and the same is true on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So there is no need to beat yourself up so much about what you did yesterday, that you do not give yourself the opportunity to do God’s work today.
Just like recovering alcoholics take their newfound life one day at a time, so too should we as Christians.
Just like people who are working to eat better and exercise more, just because you cheated from your plan today, do not give up on tomorrow.
I have found that it is much easier for us sinful humans to impede faithful works, get in God’s way, then it is for them to try to them on their own.
At my former home church in Virginia, there were index cards taped to every mirror above sink in the building. Each had the same quote on it, one that is attributed to Martin Luther. The quote is: “every time you wash your face, remember your baptism.” The same could apply to washing your hands or taking a shower. It is the physical contact with water that is important, because it reminds us of the new life that was promised to us at Baptism.
When we remember that it is God who is ultimately in charge, not us, then James does not sound so much like a check list of how to live the good Christian life, but instead is simply a reminder of the truth. We are “a kind of first fruits of God’s creatures.” We can be God’s hands and feet and voice in this imperfect society in which we live. We can be the doers of God’s generous acts of giving. Faith and life is not about what you or I can do on our own. It is not about we can read, and understand, and try to live out. It is not about following all the right rules and traditions, and it is definitely not about making up our own list of rules and traditions for others to follow. Faith is not “a head-trip” that we have to figure out, but “a way-of-life” that God inspires and moves in us.
So as we prepare to celebrate the “social contributions of workers” in this country tomorrow, why don’t we let this be our reminder, each and every day, to celebrate and be part of the social contributions of God’s work in the world, accomplished with our hands. Amen.