Reflection: James and What We Get to Do

Martin Luther was not a fan of the book of James (today’s reading is James 1:17-27). For him, the entire book was too focused on what people do rather than on what God has done for us. The gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, is how God has already done the hard work needed to make us faithful and faith-filled. The gifts of faith and grace are given to us through the Jesus who lived, died and rose for us. The gospel isn’t a list of things we have to do to get God to love and help us. Instead, the gospel is about what Jesus has already done and how Jesus changes everything. Since God has already done the work to keep us close to God, there’s nothing we have to do. There’s no trick to get God to love us more than God already does. The Christian life isn’t about what we have to do. Instead, it’s about what we get to do. And the book of James is part of the conversation trying to figure out what the Christian life looks like.

As we read through James, keep 1:17-18 in your mind. These verses are full of vivid metaphors describing who we, as baptized Christians, truly are. God’s gifts, such as faith, grace, mercy, and the specific spiritual gifts we looked at during these past seven weeks, are good. These gifts are made real when we gather together in community and these gifts are meant to be known to all. God is our “Father of lights” who, through baptism, gives birth (as a mother) to a new you. Since we are new, we need to look at ourselves in a new way. Instead of looking into a mirror and assuming everything we see is what’s holy and true, we’re invited to always return to scripture, prayer, and our faith community. These tools help us discover who we are meant to be.

Throughout James, we’ll see behaviors that are called proper and others that are not. We might even see James tell us to “not” do something. But instead of turning James into a book of rules, we’re invited to see James as a book of what we get to do. You get to live as a new you through this Christian community that loves and serves each other and the world. Knowing what this new you looks like is hard and even James will not be able to explain what the Christian life totally looks like. But James will, over and over again, return to the basics: as Christians we get to care for the orphans, the widows, the vulnerable and the marginalized. In other words, we get to be people who, at all times, just love.

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 15th Sunday after Pentecost, 9/2/2018.