Two weeks ago, a momentous thing happened in our family:
my son, Joel, cut his hair.
He had been growing it for three years, and it was as long as mine, with great curls.
He got a short haircut, a little longer on top, shorter on the sides.
The day after he got his haircut, Joel went to resident camp for a week.
There aren’t many mirrors at Calumet, but every time Joel looked into one that week,
he did a double take—who is that kid with the short hair??
He kept forgetting what he looked like.
That’s the metaphor the apostle James uses in our second lesson today.
He is describing the temptation to neglect backing up one’s words with action,
as if you have forgotten what it was you just said you stood for.
The mirror is the reflection of your actions, and it was clear that some in James community
found it easy to forget what they were supposed to look and act like.
Be doers of the word, James writes, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
James’ words reminds me of the old Nike shoe slogan: Just do it.
Nike’s motto was always paired with sports stars like Michael Jordan doing amazing slam dunks
as if merely by putting on these shoes you could leap tall buildings in a single bound, too.
Sometimes I have approached the Christian life like that, too.
When I was a college student, I took a bus ride from Rochester NY to Columbus OH
and found myself sitting next to a mentally challenged person.
You have a choice in these situations:
you can move to another seat, or simply put on your headphones and close your eyes.
After about five minutes of sitting next to this chatty young woman,
I was seriously considering those options.
She was already repeating herself, and I faced eight more hours in the bus.
But I knew the right thing to do was to pay attention to her and to talk with her.
Just do it, I thought.
That worked fine for that day.
It was tiring to talk to my seat mate, but also good in some ways.
I learned from her about her life, saw how she cared deeply for her small circle of family and friends.
It made me feel connected, like I was recovering a part of my humanity
that might be covered up if I had ignored her.
But other times ‘Just do it’ as a motto for my spiritual life has not been so effective.
With the woman on the bus, I felt pretty sure what the right thing to do was.
But often times in life, the situation is not so clear cut.
It can be hard to know what the right thing to do is.
On top of that, there were still many things I did know were right to do,
and so my spiritual to-do list grew very long, and it began to feel like a burden.
I had thought that living the Christian life would be like putting on a pair of shoes—
put on your Christian identity, and presto—you’re able to do heroic things
like work with inner city children and advocate for ending hunger and care for others’ souls
But I found I needed something more to sustain my action.
The apostle James wrote:
Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…
I think it is significant that James says these words first, before he gets to, Be doers of the word.
James first reminds his community of the source of their generosity--
It comes from God.
The Christian life is not about manufacturing good behavior, it’s not gritting one’s teeth and just doing it—
it’s about being connected to the God who is the source and seed of all giving
it’s about opening oneself to channel God’s goodness, not one’s own.
I think this is the difference between Just Do It and the Christian life.
Frankly, there are many people who lead good and generous lives who are totally secular, not religious at all.
We who claim Jesus, however, seek something to fuel our action.
That something is prayer.
It’s our connection to the Father of Lights, it’s opening the channel for God’s gifts to flow through us to others.
As a congregation have had a window on this kind of prayer.
Consider Family Promise.
Folks from our church have been attending organizing meetings for two years now.
Now it actually looks like the plan will come together—
there will be 13 churches to host homeless families in our area and help them get back on their feet.
there will be a day center where they can get job training and clean up their credit
there will be a van to transport these families to and from the churches where they will stay.
But in the beginning there was none of that!
Think of the perseverance that these people, our members and others, need to make this happen!
Think of the fuel that is needed to put that dream into the reality!
The fuel is prayer.
Just do it doesn’t work unless it’s got fuel.
As Christians, prayer is our fuel.
We need to bring everything in our lives to prayer.
Every problem, every question, every joy, every moment.
And in that prayer, we receive the ability to do the things James talks about.
In prayer, we see ways that we can listen rather than fill up the air waves.
In meditation, we let go of anger and find peace.
In confession, we open ourselves to God showing us the places where deadly weeds are growing
and receive the power to root them out.
Those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere,
being not hearers who forget, but doers who act—
they will be blessed in their doing.
In the end, this is where we depart from the Just Do It mentality.
Because Just Do It contains no joy.
As Christians we are not called to white knuckled goodness or forcing a smile onto our faces
we are not called to an endless spiritual to do list
Instead we are invited to become ever more deeply connected to the Source
so that what we do becomes a blessing not only to others
but also becomes a deep and abiding blessing to us.
Check this out: Day of Service Collection
Why might we have this in church?
Our second lesson from the apostle James says what religion ought to be about:
“Religion that is pure… before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress.”
In James’ day, the orphans and widows the most vulnerable in society:
they were the people who didn’t have anyone to love them and often didn’t have a home.
Who are the people who need love in our world today?
Who are the people who need homes?
On October 3 we are going to serve in the Day of Service, preparing things to give out to people who are homeless and then distributing them at Church By the Pond in Bushnell Park.
It will give us all a chance to live out our faith, which is caring for others in Jesus’ name.