St. Matthew's Episcopal

Enough Talking Already!

Posted on: February 12th, 2014 by Robin Jarrell

Michael Nailor

Michael NailorI’m delighted to post a homily Michael Nailor wrote for one of his assignments in the Diocesan School of Christian Studies for his “Exploring Your Ministry” class.  Please keep Michael, Mother Robin, and Michael’s St. Matthew’s Discernment Team (Mary Hollenbach, Nathan Blanchard, Charlie Schlegel, Taylor Fazzini)  in your prayers as we continue to support Michael on his journey!

Put the message into practice, and do not merely listen to it — deceiving

yourselves. For, when anyone listens to it and does not practice it, he is like

a person looking at his own face in a mirror.  He looks at himself, then goes

on his way, but the person who looks carefully into the perfect Law, the Law

of freedom, and continues to do so, not listening to it and then forgetting it,

but putting it into practice — that person will be blessed in what he does.

 

 

My friends, what is the good of a person’s saying she has faith, if she does not

prove it by actions? Can such faith save her? Suppose some brother or sister

should be in need of clothes and of daily bread,  and one of you says to them —

“Go, and peace be with you; keep warm and eat well!” and yet you do not actually

give them the necessities of life, what good would it be to her? In just the same way

faith, if not followed by actions, is, by itself, a lifeless thing. Someone, indeed, may

say — “You are a person of faith, and I am a person of action.”

 

“Then show me your faith,” I reply, “apart from any actions, and I will show you

my faith by my actions.”

                                                            James 1:22-25; James 2:14-18

                                                           (Hal Taussig, A New New Testament)

 

I immediately went to James’ letter when I was asked to pick a scripture because his words keep creeping in to my reading, stalking me in my discovery of gifts and slipping in to my recent writing.  He really makes me think about what it means to LIVE like a Christian – where the rubber meets the road.

My problem is that my high-performance tires tend to skid off the road pretty frequently.  Two Sundays ago in my own church I was confronted again with how, in moments where action could most make a difference, I freeze.  As often as I have talked about the right response to street people begging…  As often as I have read Jesus’s direct advice… As often as I have read James these past few weeks… On the way out of my own church, I was greeted by a fellow who asked me for a $20.  Well, not directly, but he said that he couldn’t remember who my church’s priest had told him would give him a $20 if he asked.  He looked me right in the eye and asked, “Do you know?”  I mumbled something inaudible and but very much akin to the words from James’ letter:  “Go, and peace be with you; keep warm and eat well!”  My faith, devoid of actions to help others, is at times a fairly lifeless thing.

But James seems not to be troubled by intricacies of faith.  Not that he didn’t practice.  Legend has it that he spent so much time praying in the Temple on behalf of the people that his knees acquired the hardness of camels’ knees. I identify with his devotion to a way of living—not necessarily to a way of believing.

Towards the end of this passage that I selected, I hear (and enjoy!) a tone of snarkiness in James’s voice when he says: “Then show me your faith apart from any actions, and I will show you my faith by my actions.”  Of course, they can’t show him faith apart from works.  Can I?  If Christianity were against the law, would there be enough evidence to convict me?  Sadly, I think not. I am concerned that I am passively Christian—a Christian by default.  And why exactly haven’t I put my faith into action? “Do you know anybody who can give me $20?”

The Dominican author Albert Nolan suggests that on the whole we don’t take Jesus seriously, regardless of whether or not we call ourselves Christians.  There are some remarkable exceptions, but by and large he says that we don’t love our enemies, we don’t turn the other cheek, we don’t forgive seventy times seven times, we don’t bless those who curse us, we don’t share what we have with the poor, and we don’t put all our hope and trust in God.

Part of the answer is:  I have spent a lot of time in my life talking, as a teacher and as a debate coach—and that’s OK—but the part that is just not right is that I have spent a lot of time complaining about things and people the way they are.  I’ve waited for God to do the work.  “Fix that kid, Lord!”  “Can you just get a little Justice to roll down like water over here?”  I expected God to do the heavy lifting, to solve the problems, to create a miracle while I went on complaining. Now, it’s my turn, according to James. Quit talking and get to work.

Another part of the answer is: The Spirit is alive, but have I failed to recognize Her.  Like that quick peek at James’ mirror, I am not really open to seeing Her in my daily life.  If I don’t study Her ways intentionally, I’ll never see Her at work.  Ice cubes are created in my icemaker.  I take them for granted and basically ignore them, knowing that they’ll be there when I need them.  It’s not till I study the amazing ways that ice crystals form—eighty different forms of ice crystals in any given snowstorm—that I truly appreciate them. I’d never know that if I hadn’t looked into the process.  And there are so many things that I don’t even know that I don’t know. So I think I have cut myself off from acting, simply by being inattentive.

A final part of the answer is that I am afraid of what might happen to me if God’s Spirit is really fire and wind.  Like the Pentecost story, you know?  It seems as if I have always over-controlled and over-planned.  Like I planned for retirement.  Like I planned to take this course.  Like I wrote a too-long draft for this homily.  The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of adventure and risk in my overcautious and controlled life.  According to Anthony Gittlins in A Presence that Disturbs, “Every disciple of Jesus is first called to an encounter with God, and then sent by the Spirit to bring hope and to restore meaning to other people’s lives.”  I want that last part the most.  But in order to help bring hope and restore meaning for others, I need more of those unplanned encounters with God.

I simply want my default reaction to be to follow James’s advice:  Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only. I want to be able to say “I’ll show you my works or at least my efforts towards them, and then you can see my faith.”  Without having to shove my faith in anyone’s face, without having to quibble over the veracity of the virgin birth or the feeding of the 5000.  Faith for me is the easy part.  It is the action that’s the hard part.

 

W. Michael Nailor

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