Living the Life

Be doers of the word, James says – and not merely hearers of it.

This sounds like powerful, 21st century practicality to me.

Take your faith to the streets – put it in to action – show others what you are made of.

The Hebrews had their priests and prophets; the early church had apostles and missionaries;

history is full of fine examples of people who,

often at great personal cost, lived out their belief in God and their hope in Christ.

But that was then – the world has changed –

and for us the very real (and often troubling) question is “How do we live faithful lives?”

We need a word to act on…one that makes sense to us – one that speaks to us in our turmoil.

Here is the ‘word’ – handed down by generations of the faithful:

thou shalt wash thoroughly before every meal – hands – utensils – food – everything.

This is how faith is proved and lived.

This is how we offer service and reverence to God.

This was the tradition of the elders – and it is just the beginning…

Except Jesus and his upstart friends pay no attention to this particular detail of faithful living. They have certainly heard, but they refuse to act in accordance with tradition –

with the accepted practice of the day.

The faithful have been living out their faith – in good faith –

for so long, they have forgotten their curiosity.

The questions have been asked and answered so often

that there is no more energy for exploration:

“this is the way we’ve always done it!” becomes their defensive creed,

and that is the attitude that gets Jesus’ back up:

“This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;

in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

For Jesus opponents, the law of Moses was fixed in stone –

a recipe for righteousness that must be followed –

but Jesus suggests that they have misunderstood;

that somehow they have taken righteousness out of the mix.

Does Jesus mean that all traditions are bad?

That the old ways keep us from God? That nothing of the past has any value?

This seems to be a struggle that the church has not yet settled.

From early in our history,

Christians have tried to preserve the faith which comes to us from from a mysterious past,

with habits and practices that need to be examined and explained for each new generation.

Efforts at reformation have been underway for nearly a thousand years,

each seeking to explain this ancient faith to ‘modern’ people in practical terms.

Yet we continue to fall into tradition’s trap.

Afraid to explore our faith beyond the safety of the sanctuary.

Desperate to hear the message – to be assured that God is with us; in control,

we shut our eyes to any new development – any activity beyond the familiar –

any suggestion that God might also be at work outside our comfort zone.

This great reverence for the things of the past has is both blessing and curse.

It does create a strong sense of community and fellowship among those who treasure the same things, but it also means that we can see the future only fearfully.

When the old methods fall short in this brave new world –

when simple rituals and familiar practices are dismissed

by a generation of computer friendly, black-berry using whirlwinds,

who have no time for “the way we’ve always done things”,

how do we continue to live faithfully?

Well, maybe it is as simple as acting as Jesus did. Perhaps it is as simple as James’ suggestion.

Don’t just listen – act.

Don’t let your questions and your confusion with the way things are (and always have been)

get in the way of your living.

Know what the rules are – understand the history of our rituals and habits –

and if those actions still glorify God,

if the habit builds up the body of Christ

and offers a glimpse of God’s Kingdom of love, then continue, for heaven’s sake.

But if it doesn’t;

if we have been clinging to habits out of fear, or ignorance, of selfish ambition,

then it’s certainly time for a change.

The world is changing faster than we can imagine.

It’s changing in ways we (I) don’t really like, and hardly understand.

We would keep ourselves apart from this change –

doesn’t James’ indicate that to be truly ‘religious’

we must keep “unstained from the world” –

but we find this increasingly difficult.

The church has become our refuge, but more than that, our hiding place.

God will never change, we say, and that is wonderfully comforting…

because God does not change – –

God continues to reach out in love to this broken and rapidly changing world.

God’s mercy and grace continue to surround and protect us.

And the gospel continues to call us out –

demanding that we meet this changing world head on,

full of God’s grace – agents of God’s mercy –

witnesses to Christ’s choices that aim to set the world back on God’s own path.

Let us, then, be doers of the word, and not just hearers who deceive themselves.

Let us meet the challenges of change head on

with methods both strange and familiar,

that by our living out the promise of grace Christ has given us

we might truly be known as the people of God.

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