Faith In Action

Introduction

Below is an edited version of the sermon I preached on January 29. It’s loosely based on James 2:14-26. “Loosely” because it’s not the sermon I had originally prepared. Events of this past week gnawed at my conscience, and led to a complete re-write Sunday morning, beginning around 6 AM.

Message

Sermon notes for James 2:14-26
A friend was visiting and took notes for my sermon on his iPad.
I had a sermon. It came in as a rather hefty (for me) 1300 or so words, but I was able to trim it down to around 1200 with some skillful editing 1. The presentation was ready to go, and I was all set to preach it. But my conscience was bothering me last night.

You see, there is a troubling shift going through our country, and the world, at present. The rise of nationalism. Now some would say it’s a surge of patriotism, but this would be incorrect.

Patriotism, which can be problematic for Jesus’ disciples, is born of love. A love of country, an embrace of positive cultural ideals, and and an appreciation for a shared history (both noble and not-so-noble) so we can learn and grow together.

Nationalism, is born of fear. Fear of “the other.” Fear of power being usurped. Fear someone else might “get us” before we can “get them.” This fear is destructive in and of itself, but when someone comes along and harnesses its energy it often transforms into anger and hatred. The last time nationalism had been harnessed so prevalently throughout the world the end result was World War II. It brought to the world horrors like the holocaust, the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent in the US, Pearl Harbor, and the atomic bomb.

So what’s this got to do with James?

Well, over the last week our President has signed a number of various executive orders ordering the wall to be built, calling for the deportation of all undocumented immigrants, and what amounts to a muslim ban.

The ban itself is a rejection of American ideals. But what made it worse is there were no provisions for people with Visa’s, literally in the air. People who got on planes hoping to escape the horrors of war were detained and ordered to return home or risk losing any chance of ever having their visas honored. This included people who had worked for the US armed forces in Iraq, families whose only crime is being born in certain countries, and (lest you think this is only hurting people who don’t share our religion) Christians. A Syrian Christian family arrived in Philadelphia, having escaped a war in which they are hated by everyone, and were denied entry and told to return home. They weren’t allowed to contact a lawyer or their in-country family members while on the ground. They were stuck back on a plane and returned to war.

Friday also saw Ronnie and Family return to Brazil to get a green card. We hope they’ll be back, but in this climate who knows? After all, he’s pastoring among a community in which there are many undocumented immigrants, and the way things are going that alone could be a cause for denial. Undocumented immigrants are not “faceless rapists” or “illegals,” some of them are our brothers and sisters, worshipping alongside us and contributing to this ministry. Can you tell who is who when hanging out with our Brazilian family?

So what’s this got to do with James?

Well, on Friday I saw this quote,

It’s not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come, that’s not a Bible issue.

I have three comments on this.

First, allowing people with legal refugee status, visas and green cards (which supposedly offer legal permanent US residence 2) to enter the country is not letting “everyone in who wants to come in.”

Second, finding a way for people who have been in country for decades as members of our community to have a legal path to citizenship is also not letting “everyone in.” It’s called compassion.

Third, while a country has a right, and a necessity, to protect it’s borders — the notion of caring for “aliens and strangers” is very much a Bible issue. The Parable of the Good Samaritan answers the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats (https://www.bible.com/bible/70/MAT.25.31-36) declares to the Lord’s “sheep,”

Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me (NLT-SE).

And when the “sheep” in the parable ask, “When did we do this?” The king answers,

I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me! (NLT-SE)

So what’s this got to do with James?

This week I translated these verses,

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” —but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? (James 2:14-16, NLT-SE)

What’s happening throughout the world goes beyond muslim bans and deportations and insane border walls. With the rise of nationalism, the flame of compassion itself is being doused. And in times like these we, who claim to be disciples of the one whose compassion was so great he died on a cross for our sake, must heed his example and refuse to allow it to be extinguished.

A country has every legal right to say who can and cannot enter it’s borders. But it’s in dark times like these, when the world is becoming angrier and more dangerous, we must resist the urge to be swept up in the tide nationalistic pride and and remember who we are. We are ambassadors of a kingdom which is not of this world, and servants of a lord who commanded us to take care of “the least of these.” May we rededicate ourselves to that noble end, and in so doing become the conscience of a world succumbing to fear and hatred, to the glory of Jesus’ name. Amen.


  1. Insert “self-congratulatory pat on the back” here. 
  2. So much for that
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