Wednesday, September 5, 2018

"Just Do It!" - Sermon, Sermon from September 2, 2018

Americana Bluegrass Festival, Plumas-Sierra County Fairgrounds
“Just Do It!”
Rev. Andrew Davis, Community UMC, Quincy
September 2, 2018
James 1: 17-27

            Being a child of the media and into pop culture, one of the more endearing slogans of our time that I can remember is Nike’s “Just Do It!” Although I haven’t seen Nike’s slogan as much in print, on television, the internet, or radio lately, the words of “Just Do It!” were a call to go out and do our best in everything we do.  Go out and do your best whether you’re climbing a mountain, running a race or marathon, riding your bike, even playing music, writing a novel, and so on and so forth.  Just do, and be your best!! 
When I was working in the concessions at Raley Field and then in my nine years at Raley’s, self-confidence was not always my strongest gift, yet I would get this reminder quite frequently from friends or family to just do it…just do your best, even though it may not always be the best in others’ minds.  Well when it comes to matters of faith and how we live and act as followers of Christ, how are we doing our best in God’s eyes?  How are we speaking with?  How are we acting?  And how are we being doers of God’s word and not just hearers? 
            Our text from James this morning is not exactly the easiest text to work with.  Then again, as I tell my congregation, Jesus never said the way would be easy, so it’s fitting that we have a text from the early Christian church from James that is giving us moral advice on how to live, or to go out and just do it, not just merely hearing the word.  So, what is James saying in order to live more holy, to live as a Christian?  As we see in our text, James is encouraging Christians in the early church to give generously; listen more carefully, not speaking too soon; being slow to anger, and showing a sense of humility.  While James was instructing the early church to act in such a way, we too can act in such ways today, some nearly two thousand years later. 
            As I read the text, I’m reminded of the Spiritual, “Lord, I want to be a Christian, in’a my heart…” then the verse, “Lord, I want to be more Holy, in’a my heart…” James’ epistle is encouraging us to live more holy in our hearts by not just listening to God’s word, but by rolling up our sleeves and putting that faith into action.  Although it’s from another epistle, last week in the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians in our worship series the UMC, “in Love,” we were encouraged to move in love by letting our actions speak louder than our words.  We can show and tell the love of God and neighbor all we want, but it’s through our actions that people will know us, just like the song “they will know we are Christians by our love” and will hopefully see that we are Christians by our love.  People want to see people of faith being generous in their time and service; listening empathetically and non-judgmentally, which means we are slow to speak; and not letting our anger getting the best of us, as we see enough anger and hostility in our world today as it is each time we read the newspaper, turn on the tv, or scroll through our social media newsfeeds. 
            To get another perspective on our text, I would like to read for you another version of James 1: 19-27, this time from The Message, which I find helpful in understanding the epistles a little better:
19-21 Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.
22-24 Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.
25 But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.
26-27 Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world (James 1: 19-27, MSG).

            I believe that the works that James talks about here is more like what John Wesley, founder of Methodism calls ‘works of mercy,’ which in this particular translation says to “reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight.” Or as it says in other translations, those works of mercy include taking care of the widow and orphan, although could include the sick, or the imprisoned.  In his sermon, “Justification by Faith,” John Wesley talks about how our works should be done with love by saying, “all our works should be done in charity, in love, in that love to God which produces love to all [humankind].  But none of our works can be done in this love while the love of [God] is not in us.”[i]
            In order for our actions to speak louder than our words and to be doers of the word, we need to have the love of God in our hearts, just as God loves each and every one of us who is gathered here this morning.  We might not exactly live perfectly and God may still be working on us; we may be quick to speak, quick to anger, while some of us may be dealing with things within our control and out of our control, yet God loves us anyway and still calls us into action and to be doers of the word.  One example of being doers of the word that comes to mind is a friend and colleague of mine in Denver, CO, Rev. Jerry Herships and his church, AfterHours Denver.  AfterHours Denver puts their faith into action each week when they serve Holy Communion to the homeless and anyone else who wishes to partake at City Center Park by sharing the love of God with everyone they encounter.  One of the things that Jerry tells each person during Holy Communion when he hands them a piece of bread that “this is a reminder of much God loves you” and has had some powerful responses, because some of those who partake of Communion have been convinced to believe that they don’t deserve God’s love.[ii]  Jerry points out in his book, Last Call: From Serving Drinks to Serving Jesus that he has seen God’s love in action through people we would least expect, including the homeless.[iii]
Yet Jerry’s church is not your ordinary church, as they meet in a bar each Monday and many are people who are searching for God’s word to be put into action.  The people of AfterHours spend a good portion of their gathering time each Monday evening making sack lunches for the homeless, while engaging in conversation around God’s word.  Although AfterHours is not a church you would ordinarily find, being doers of the word by their feeding the hungry and sharing a word of hope with the homeless, the lonely, the impoverished, drug addicts, prostitutes, and the like is a strong value for them because being doers of the word means showing the love of God and neighbor with everyone they encounter. 
            Even here in our own community in Quincy, we have ways to be doers, not just hearers of the word.  Starting with us, it takes each of us listening to each other, listening to our neighbors, sometimes even having to take a long look at ourselves in the mirror when we have been quick to anger or quick to judge.  We have ways of putting our hands to work by feeding the hungry by helping with the weekly community supper on Wednesday, by volunteering with CAN or other social service organizations in our town, in our schools.  Just do it!!  But regardless of what we do, let us have the same love of God and neighbor in our hearts when we are doers of the word, because there are people around us who need to not just hear, but to see how God’s love is in action through each of our own actions.  However, it does take a change of heart and allowing God to enter into our hearts and transform our lives for the better.
            As we enjoy the rest of this Labor Day weekend and as summer gives way to the shorter and cooler days of Fall, how are you putting your faith into action?  How are you sharing a message of hope and God’s love not just through your words, but through your actions?  As we prepare our hearts for the sacrament of Holy Communion, we have this opportunity to come to the table of love, grace, and hope, and we have the opportunity to be nourished, so that our bodies and our hands can go out and do God’s work.  So, don’t just hear the word today…go out and show God’s love in everything you do.  Just do it!!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, Amen!!   

[i] John Wesley, “Justification by Faith” in John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, 111-121, ed. Albert C. Outler and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991), 117. 
[ii] Jerry Herships, Last Call: From Serving Drinks to Serving Jesus (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 152
[iii] Ibid., 141-145

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