Sunday, March 15, 2009

Neighborly Faith

Sermon: Neighborly Faith
Scripture: James 1:22-27

What are we doing? - a story about a small, rural, traditional, almost perfect Roman Catholic community. They observed all the laws. They ate only fish on Fridays. But one day, a Methodist moved to town. Everything went well until the townsfolk realized he loved to barbecue steaks on Fridays. He was a nice enough man, but the Friday menu violated Catholic doctrine. What to do? The townspeople decided to convert him; that made the most sense.
In time, their plan worked. Although it was summer, the church was Easter filled, with people standing in the back of the sanctuary. At the moment when he joined the Catholic church, the priest looked at the former Methodist and said, "You were born a Methodist. You were raised a Methodist. Now you are a Catholic!" The church erupted in applause. Everyone was happy.
Until the next Friday evening, when the neighbors again smelled the aroma of barbecued steaks. They couldn''t believe their noses. They got the priest and together they walked up to the former Methodist''s fence. He was looking down at the steak on the grill and said, for all to hear, "You were born a steer. You were raised a steer. Now you are a fish!”

Some conversion stories just don’t have happy endings, do they!?! While this is obviously a joke, there is a serious question of warning underneath the humor: What makes us who we are? Is it what we say we are? Or is it how we live our lives?

Why do we go to church?
Why do we read the Bible?
Why do we believe in Jesus?

Mirror, Mirror...
Doing - Almost 1600 years ago, St. Augustine wrote, "Correct interpretation of the Word of God always increases the love of God and neighbor."

What we read, and what we hear in the gospel must be lived out.

James offers an illustration to help us with this crucial point. What would happen if every morning we looked in the mirror, saw our reflection, and then as we went off to face our day, we forgot what we looked like? It would be a mess, that's what. We wouldn't know if the ID card we were holding in our hand belonged to us or not. We'd go into important staff meetings looking like we just woke up, or we'd go to the ball courts in our best suits.

The same thing happens to the people who attend church week after week but never allow the word of God to penetrate their lives enough to lead them to action. These people listen to the scripture and nod their heads in agreement, but then fail to act according to what they see.

Phillip Brooks told a story about some savages who were given a sun dial, in order that by the casting of the sun's light and shadow on it they might know the time of day. So desirous were they to honor and keep it sacred that they built a roof over it. Sometimes people regard their religion as something to be sheltered and used only on the Sabbath. Religion must be utilized continually to be of real help in life. Ours should be an everyday faith and practice. We should expect our religion to provide us with a wholesome and helpful understanding of God and humanity's relation with him. It should help us to recognize the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. From these concepts we are enabled to develop social consciousness and group responsibilities. This helps us to establish communication and personal interaction between God and man, and man to all mankind.

Avoiding Corruption - James gives us the wonderful image of a mirror held before us which enables us to see who we are in the light of God's love. Then, he cautions, after looking at ourselves in that mirror we should not go out into the world and forget what we, as Christians, are supposed to look like. We are to be engaged with the world, but we are supposed to reflect our true Christian selves instead of the world's persona. We must so live that our Christian reflection is commensurate with what we reflect to the world.

The persona was the mask which actors in Greek drama wore during plays. One character could play many roles. By changing the persona, the mask, a character changed personality. One could easily slip into another role and be a different self. James is arguing for a self in which beliefs and behavior within the church are consistent with one's actions and attitudes beyond the doors of the church.

We’ll get into this more next week, but it is essential to the life of faith that our lives remain pure, unsullied, and holy: Given to God and washed in the blood of Christ.

Neighborly Faith – Last week, we heard Jesus teach about loving God, the primary commandment. And part of that commandment is loving our fellow image-bearers of God…loving our neighbors, which is the 2nd greatest commandment.

The life of a Jesus follower is different from a church-goer. A church-goer goes to church at the right time. A Jesus follower is loving people at the right time. A church-goer knows what a good sermon SOUNDS like. A Jesus follower knows what a good sermon LIVES like. A church-goer listens for good music. A Jesus follower makes good music with their lives. A church-goer knows how to hold a plastic smile for an hour: A Jesus follower knows the Joy of Christ in times of blessing and times of sorrow. A church-goer knows to love their neighbor. A Jesus follower loves their neighbor.

Jesus is calling us to a neighborly faith: A faith that loves God and loves neighbor. Are you willing to follow Jesus? No really, are you willing? Am I willing?

It’s easy to say, but hard to do. I will follow Jesus…I’d like to play a song by Chris Rice. The words will be on the screen, and I would like for all of us to look and listen as he encourages us to live neighborly faith…right here….right now.

Life Means So Much
What are you writing? - The British essayist, G. K. Chesterton, got it right back in 1910 when he wrote in What's Wrong with the World?: "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried." We know the scriptures; we are aware of what is necessary, right, and wrong. We, too, often talk the talk but cannot adequately walk the walk. We say all the right things, but too often we cannot put into practice what we know is right and proper. Our failures make us hollow shells that need to be filled.

What are you writing? Is your life a witness to the story of God? Is your life a page in a book that stretches back throughout time? Or are you too buys doodling to actually put down something significant on your paper. Casting Crowns sings a song called “Father, Spirit, Jesus” that says, “God the worship we bring is more than the songs that we sing, it’s a reflection of our ever changing lives...the best we have to offer.” True worship, real faith is living your life for Jesus: Giving it all up for him...and not looking back!

Make your days count! - So what are you doing with each set of 24 hours in your day? The days are short...And our lives are only 70+ plus years. Not that long. It’s easy to say, “Tomorrow”, but what if tomorrow never comes? Or if tomorrow has it’s share of “tomorrow’s”? Will we ever truly live if we keep putting off God’s calling for our lives?

Sundays are for celebrating together...the 6 days between are where your faith is lived out, sharpened, spent, grown, stretched, encouraged, challenged,...and it’s where it counts. Count your days...and may Jesus teach you to truly make your days count!

40 For 40
Compassion/World Vision
Visit Nursing Home
Volunteer with Children

Eric Butterworth tells the story of a "college professor who had his sociology class go into the Baltimore slums to get case histories of 200 young boys. They were asked to write an evaluation of each boys'' future. In every case, the students wrote, He hasn''t got a chance.'' Twenty-five years later another sociology professor came across the earlier study. He had his students follow-up on the project to see what had happened to these boys. With the exception of 20 boys who had moved away or died, the students learned that 176 of the remaining 180 had achieved more than ordinary success as lawyers, doctors and businessmen.
"The professor was astounded and decided to pursue the matter further. Fortunately, all the men were in the area and he was able to ask each one, How do you account for your success?'' In each case the reply came with feeling, There was a teacher . . .''
"The teacher was still alive, so he sought her out and asked the old but still alert lady what magic formula she had used to pull these boys out of the slums into successful achievement."
The teacher''s eyes sparkled and her lips broke into a gentle smile. "It''s really very simple," she said. "I loved those boys." (2)

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