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The book of James

If you were in worship this past Sunday, then you know that we are spending the month of September in the book of James. It all started in a worship planning meeting several months ago, when Nancy Hill, who knew by then that she and John would be naming their baby boy James, suggested that we study the book of James after his birth. We all chuckled. Then we realized that James is actually assigned in the lectionary for this month! It must have been meant to be.

James is a short letter, only five chapters. I’ve read it through several times in recent weeks, and it only takes fifteen or twenty minutes. So, as I said on Sunday morning, take some time to read it. When you find yourself drawn to play Angry Birds or surf the internet or do a crossword puzzle, pick up a Bible and read the book of James.

One of the things that James helps us to see is that following Jesus Christ means living our faith out every day. He pointedly asks the question, “How can you say you have faith if you don’t have works to show for it?” His voice helps balance our understanding of the Christian life. We know from the letters of Paul that it is God’s grace that saves us. We don’t deserve or earn God’s love by what we do. God’s love is already given. God’s forgiveness is already offered, even though we’ve done nothing to deserve it. But James asks us, “So, God loves you, forgives you and claims you. Now what are you going to do in response?”

James forces us to look at our commitment to Christ. How committed are we to following him? Are we committed enough to take time each day to pray? Are committed enough to tithe (give a tenth of) our income away? Are we committed enough to step out of our comfort zones and place ourselves alongside the poor, the needy and the marginalized, wherever and whoever they might be? Are we committed enough to speak the truth in love to one another and to be held accountable by other disciples? Are we committed enough to be in worship every Sunday that we are not traveling or sick? Are we committed enough to give of our time for the work of the kingdom?

Over the next few weeks, we are all invited to examine our commitment to Christ. Our society today is not very good at commitment. We want to be free to do what we want, when we want . We (and I’m speaking for myself here, too) don’t want people to expect anything of us, especially if we’re afraid that we’ll be “tied down” or that we will disappoint. But life with Christ demands commitment. In fact, all we have to do is read the gospels to know what Jesus expected of his followers: nothing less than their whole lives.

So, over the next few weeks, as we listen to our brother James’ teachings, let us each consider what God is asking of us. Let us examine our schedules, our budgets, our plans. And let us be looking for ways to follow Christ more faithfully each day.

But let us not be afraid. Behind the demand is a promise: “Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”