Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 2, 2012

2012.09.02 “Be Doers” – James 1: 16 – 27

Central United Methodist Church

“Be Doers”

Pastor David L. Haley

James 1: 16 – 27

September 2, 2012

        Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

          You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” – James 1: 17 – 27, The New Revised Standard Version

 

Whatever happened to Labor Day? How ironic that a holiday devoted to work and the working class, should evolve into a “day off” and the last long weekend of summer?

Over the last week, as I worked on the September Link and this weekend’s service, I googled “Labor Day” looking for suitable pictures and graphics. I found it frustrating that the majority of pictures which came up were “Happy Labor Day” or BBQ grills or girls in bikinis or Labor Day sales, but very few showing – much less saluting – workers.

“Labor Day,” said Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor, “differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country.” “All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man’s prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day … is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation.”

I’ve thought about this since my vacation last month, when I suspended my own labor for a few weeks and drove around the country watching other people labor. I even told Michele that maybe this is what I should do when I retire someday, just drive around the country and talk to people. And I’m not running for anything!  For example:

Construction workers. Even though there were times I wanted to yell and make rude gestures for shutting down a lane of traffic and backing up traffic for two miles, it would be hard to do so, considering the nature of their jobs, laboring in the sun, in concrete and asphalt and dust and 90 degree heat, almost always at danger of being hit by drunk or reckless drivers.

The service industry. As we know, when we travel, we are served by whole teams of people: cooks, waitresses, busboys, desk clerks, housekeepers, maintenance people, only to name a few. As all of us have experienced, how they do their jobs can make the difference between rudeness and hospitality.

Transportation. Out there on the road with all those truckers, hauling our Amazon goods and UPS packages – not to mention almost everything else we need – from one end of the country to another, it’s a whole different world. Or the airlines: those people who use their knowledge and skills to transport us around the country, when we need to get there quickly, if not comfortably. While I don’t have a lot of sympathy for management, the job of the people who do the work – often under difficult conditions – is not an easy one, and for most of them I have a great respect.

Security and Safety: I’m not talking here about the TSA agent who commandeered my toothpaste, but police, paramedics, firefighters, the first responders, the people who protect us or assist us when things go wrong, they have my respect. For example, in Maryland, about an hour out of Washington, traffic came to a stop, due to a crash not far in front of us. Fire engines and ambulances passed, blocking the road. A helicopter landed. Turns out, what happened was a woman didn’t hit her brakes, and drove under the back of a semi. She was killed instantly; her husband, airlifted out, died two days later. Having done that job for two decades of my life, I have deep appreciation for these people, who do that job, wherever they are.

I could go on, about others, such as the medical people who take care of us, of whom we have many in our congregation. Public and private employees, who run our cities and provide our utilities and pick up our garbage. People may complain about ComEd, but I have great respect for those guys who climb those poles around high voltage, in the worst weather, to restore electricity. Farmers, who this year better have signed up for crop insurance. School administrators and teachers. For some of us there is not enough money in the world to pay us to do what teachers do. What would civilization be like without teachers, often paid less than they deserve for the jobs they do, the education required to do them, and the dedication they bring?  (Here’s the answer: there wouldn’t be any!) Most of us understand clearly it was not public employees or teachers or medical workers or the working people that caused the financial crisis in our country, so why are they getting blamed for it?

I confess – coming from a working class family, I do have a bias. My dear departed Dad was a factory worker at the Tappan Stove Plant in Murray, KY, which he began in 1948, three years after World War II and three years before I was born. Of course in time it closed up and moved away, taking those jobs with it.

But before it did, in 1979, after 33 years on the job, a 4 1/2 ton roll of steel shifted and fell on my father’s foot, resulting in a crush injury that took off three toes. He received a settlement, which by current standards would be considered a pittance, and went on disability. In his later years he was deaf, partially as a result of the noise in that factory. My father’s sacrifices gave our family a good living, at a regrettable cost to himself. I can understand why any worker, any husband or father, whether here or abroad would want the same thing.

Sadly, we know too well what has happened to working people in our country. Just when American workers were the best in the world, just when they were well paid, just when the work force was more integrated by race and gender than ever before, the ground shifted with the entrance of a global work force. How long would the American worker get their salary and benefit package when a worker in Mexico or China was willing to do the same job for 17 cents an hour and no benefits? We all know what has happened since to jobs, wages, benefits, and pensions.  Meanwhile, prices for housing and gas continue to rise. I have visited communities in our country where the price of housing was so high, the community’s labor force could no longer live there, and had to live in communities far away.

So, in the midst of such disparity, here we sit in church on Labor Day weekend. We are retirees, white collar, blue collar, no collar workers, and those trying to find a job, any job. We have, and in some cases – still are – taking a beating. Today, at least, let us honor those who serve us with their labor. At the same time, let’s seek a perspective on whatever work we do, that we might see it as God’s work, an offering of our lives to God in service to others.

One place we might begin to do this would be from one of the most practical books in the Bible, the Letter of James, which we begin reading today through September. Though the Letter of James has not always been loved in the church, due to its lack of grand theological ideas, nevertheless James was a keen observer of human nature, and paid attention to the details of everyday life. He noticed the generous acts and the small gifts, the words we use and the deeds we do. James knew that such acts are the nuts and bolts of everyday life, and provide the scaffold on which we build order, civility, and community.

On this Labor Day weekend, James reminds us of two very important things: (1) Faithfulness to God does not have to be heroic; and (2) Because of this, Sunday is not the most important day of the week. (I am indebted for these points to Dr. David Lose, Professor of Preaching at Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, MN, for his commentary for this week, Ordinary Saints, posted on WorkingPreacher.org, 8/26/12)

First, faithfulness does not have to be heroic.  It does not have to be grand, bold, breathtaking deeds. You don’t have to halt global climate change or end poverty or bring about world peace or cure cancer.  On the contrary, James suggests that you can live a faithful life in the ordinary life you live and the work you do every day.

Did you hear the startling claim James makes in the opening verse of today’s reading? “Every generous act of giving . . . comes from above.” Not just some generous acts. Not only Christian acts. James suggests that all generous acts of giving are heaven sent, whether acts of mercy, advocacy, support, or friendship. Which means that such goodness is available to all of us: in our homes, place of work and volunteering, in our schools and communities. Wherever you find yourself, God can use you, to make this world a better place.

To do our best, as James points out, there are some behaviors better than others in bringing this about. There are some actions you want to avoid: being slow to listen, quick to anger, or engaged in sordidness, these will only get you in trouble.  There are others we want to do, such as: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and eager to care for those most vulnerable.” What parent doesn’t want to be slower to anger with his or her children? What friend doesn’t want to be a better listener?  And aren’t we all in a position, in some way, to help and support those in need?  James encourages us not just to think about faith, but to do it. “Be doers,” says James, “not just hearers only.”

Which brings us to the second point, that for these reasons, Sunday is not the best day of the week to practice these deeds; none of them are restricted to Sunday. In fact, being more patient with co-workers, friends, or family members, or working hard to listen better, or voting for candidates who support caring for the most vulnerable; all these deeds are best done not on Sunday, but Monday-through-Saturday.

Sunday is not the be-all-and-end-all of the Christian week, but was intended to serve and support our Christian lives the rest of the week. Sunday is the day we hear the Word, have our sins forgiven, receive guidance and encouragement, hear the good news of God’s goodness and mercy, and are called, commissioned, and sent forth into the world to serve.

This is why it is so important to participate in our congregation. Because, if – through such practical letters as James – we can turn our congregations into “vocational counseling centers,” places where we find our calling clarified and ourselves sent back into the world more aware of God’s presence and work through us, then we find ourselves more eager to come to church, to be forgiven, blessed, called, and sent forth into lives of meaning and purpose.
To think about this in this way gives us a vision of the sanctity and value of our daily lives. Because what this does is not only place great importance on our daily lives and work, it makes sacred the everyday routines and responsibilities that we often take for granted. For example, what might be one place in the coming week where God could use you to listen, to be patient, or to care for someone in need? Can you think of one?

I can think of an example, I just recently witnessed. Two week ago when my son and his father-in-law and I were on the road from Kansas City to Washington, we found ourselves in Columbus, Ohio, late on a Saturday night. There was a Hampton Inn there that we had decided to stay in. The only thing was, it was in a trendy part of the city, and my son forgot that we were driving a truck! So after some tricky maneuvering, they sent us a block east to the Columbus Convention Center. Just as we got into the parking lot and got backed into an appropriate spot, it started pouring rain.

The next morning, Sunday morning, after we ate our breakfast, and started out, the lobby was mostly deserted, except for the smiling African-American gentleman who was the valet. He escorted us to the door, held it open, and sent us forth with a blessing: “You gentlemen have a blessed day.” Honestly, I felt like I was leaving church. I almost said, “Shouldn’t you be in church?” (Of course, he could have said the same to me!)

What a perfect example of someone of the best kind of worker: someone who not only does their work and does it well, but does it as a doer of God’s Word, and with a blessing at that.

In whatever work we do, on whatever day in whatever way we do it, may we be doers of God’s word, no less than God’s gift from heaven.  Amen.

 

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