What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2)
It’s easy for me to get all caught up in the wonder of thinking about God, in turning to Him, and in pious prattle… gazing at my spiritual navel and reflecting on my relationship with God…. oh, it’s so grand walking on the sand with my hand in God’s….. it’s a bit harder when walking with God means putting my own life on hold for a day, or cancelling some anticipated ‘treat’ to enable someone else to have one.
Whenever it’s not about me, there’s a cost. The question is, am I willing to pay the cost, and not to count it, and to do so with a happy and loving heart? Am I willing and eager to enjoy that cost, celebrate it, be really really thrilled about it?
I live in a town where there’s a high percentage of elderly people (her Madge isn’t one of them) . Many of them have moved here for their retirement so their families are elsewhere and my church probably has an even higher percentage of those elderly people than in the community at large. I’ve just counted up those I know who are in need of physical support right now, and in our little congregation I’ve counted 15 people who need various degrees of support. That’s a whole ward full! And that’s just the ones that I know about – and, as I’m a pretty unsociable creature, there will be loads more.
What are we supposed to do about the needs we see all around us? The book of Acts suggests that they knew what to do – they held a common purse and looked out for each other, and their love and care shone out, bringing new followers, feeding the passion for Christ, spreading the word by their example. If a single person in our church has an unaddressed need, a need that we know about but ignore, shame on us. Really, really, shame on us. What sort of example of Christ’s love is that? How will that attract anyone to come and find out more about the One who empowers and encourages us?
I know that we have busy lives, most of us have livelihoods to earn, many are married and it’s tempting to be snug and comfy, not looking outside to the messy world, but there must be a way to serve our brothers and sisters without neglecting our own families. There must be. There has to be a way to show the frail and vulnerable the care that they deserve. Not sloppy empty sentimentality – there’s nothing wrong with the thoughtful gestures of a card or a bunch of flowers, but it can’t stop at that. That’s just window dressing and, if that’s all we do, it’s exactly what James warns against. We need a real determination to get in there, sleeves rolled up, willing to get down and dirty for Christ and for each other.
I’m not a fan of aphorisms (they’re a bit clever-dick) but here’s one I love ‘Preach the Gospel always, and when necessary use words.’ Here’s a true story – I came to believe in Christ when I was about 35. Three things brought me to the Word, one was a friendship from two people in the church, one was seeing the way these people lived, and one was being accepted by them although I was very very different. These three things brought me to the Word and the Word brought me to faith. Thirty- rotten- five years later, having been less than tepid in-between, I again saw people who lived out the love of Jesus. I saw simple faith, obedience and trust, and I saw that life could be Godly, and I realised all over again, that there was a way to find peace and joy. I saw it before I believed it.
I saw it before I believed it.
One question brought me back and back to this little church of ours ‘We are called to lead a holy life. Are you leading a holy life?’ I wasn’t, but I wanted to. I didn’t really know what it would look like for me now, single, crotchety, isolated… I didn’t know if it was possible, but week after week I was told that it was. And gradually, as I observed these people, I saw what a holy life looks like. Not pious, not sombre, not dull and worthy…. down and dirty! Full of laughter and frustration, honesty, effort, rebellion, forgiveness, obedience, washing-up, dressing down, moving aside, perking up, serving, being served…. personality, teasing, being teased, disagreeing, sulking, moaning about stuff, being silly, singing flat… all life is here.
That’s the Christian life I want. I don’t want your retreats and your ‘thin places’ and your sanctuaries and ivory towers, and masses and blessings and statues and rituals … all that stuff. I had all that as a child and it stinks. It’s a manhole cover on a sewer, hiding the reality beneath. I want to be part of an honest, messy family that opens its arms to the vulnerable, that says honestly ‘Flip me, this is going to be really difficult’ and then finds a way, with God’s help, to overcome the difficulties.
Hard work. I think that looking after an ageing population is going to be really bloody hard work, but that’s what families are. Families are hard bleedin’ work!
And families are love.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3&4)
Bring it on.