Reflection: Faith and Works

Do you remember James 1:17-18? As a reminder, these two verses inform every sentence in the book of James: “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” God-as-Father/God-as-Mother/God-as-Parent/God-as-Guardian gave us a new birth and so we get to live a different way.

We are sometimes an anxious church. We are, currently, learning to live with being a church that is smaller than it used to be. This anxiety isn’t new. As I prepared for a congregation meeting in June, I read church council minutes from the late 1990s. The same worries today are the same worries the church had back then: the lack of youth and young families in the pews and our financial giving was not where it needed be. In fact, there hasn’t been any steady and meaningful membership or worship attendance growth at CLC since the early 1980s. We grew because we were a suburban church that followed the wave of people who moved out of NYC in the 50s and 60s. We ebb and flow just like the people in our neighborhood do. And since the wider culture is retreating away from any kind of religious affiliation, no longer finding value in having an active church life, we (along with most religious communities in the US) have shrunk. That shrinking has given us a certain amount of anxiety that influences how we worship, how we serve our neighbors, and how we care for each other.

Inside this anxiety are fears we don’t always articulate. Some of those fears involve the future of this community and what this community will be able to do once we, ourselves, are in need. We wonder who will give their time and their resources so that CLC can keep being a faith-filled community at the corner of Church and Pascack Roads. When we see a young family visit the church for the first time, we can sometimes act like the characters in this part of James. We project all our fears and hopes onto them, not noticing who they are but, instead, who they might become. Maybe they’ll join a committee, help with our Sunday School, sing in the choir, and increase our weekly revenue. We need their help so we ask them to save this faith community. This is a lot of baggage to give to a visitor, and it’s the kind of baggage we don’t always evenly give to everyone who comes through our doors. But, whether we realize it or not, we are asking others to save us because we are afraid we can’t save ourselves.

Which is true! We can’t save ourselves which is why Jesus lived, died, and rose to save us all. James, like much of our scriptures, is inviting us to keep our eye focused on who we are. We’re Christians which means we don’t need anyone, but Jesus, to be the one to save us. James invites us to live, as individuals and as a community, by staying focused on Jesus. That doesn’t mean we won’t be anxious from time to time. And that doesn’t mean we don’t have to do the hard work to figure out what God is calling this community of faith to be and how we can make that a reality. Instead, James 2:1-17 invites us to remember that all this hard work is something we get to do. We are baptized; we are loved; we are God’s. So we get to love, serve, and spread the faith to everyone in this church, neighborhood, community and world.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, 9/9/2018.