Beginning this Sunday, April 8th, our small groups will be taking a grand tour through the Book of James. James, as we will learn, was the brother of Jesus – a man who did notbelieve that Jesus was the Messiah until after his crucifixion, when Jesus appeared to him alive from the dead. Paul makes special mention of James in his list of Easter eyewitnesses, which he recounts in 1 Corinthians 15: 1-10. This is the James who became pastor of the church in Jerusalem, a church that was very poor and threatened by persecution. For this reason, he was passionate about a religion that is real and relevant in the hard times…a faith that works and makes a difference in people’s lives.
The Danish existentialist philosopher and Christian theologian Søren Kierkegaard once said, “What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not [simply] what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act.” Hedistinguished between two types of religion. Religion A and Religion B. Religion A was what he called a religion of empty rituals and traditions that had no real impact on the believer’s attitude or actual practice. Religion B was a faith that was based upon an authentic relationship with the Living Christ, resulting in a transformed life.
It should be no surprise that James had little patience for Religion A, nor for people who said “I believe in Jesus” but then acted like He was still in the tomb. James saw the Risen Jesus, and he knew he could never live the same way again. His encounter with the Lord reformed not only his beliefs, but his entire way of life. If I may put it this way, his “Religion” was “B”- coming a religion that’s real. But if an encounter with Jesus can result in new way of living; it’s also true that the practice of living and acting more like Jesus can result in a deeper kind of believing.
Last Sunday, many of you know that we had to evacuate the sanctuary after a backpack was left by a man who wandered into and then out of the sanctuary. Several of you were uneasy when you saw the backpack left behind, including my wife…and after talking with her I decided to empty the building,which is what our church leadership had previously determined was the best response in this situation. That this backpack may have contained an explosive was a plausible interpretation of the facts – a sad commentary on our society. In the end, however, we determined that this individual was not a threat, but that he had been under the influence and was also homeless.
I was deeply encouraged by two things that day. First, the care and concern that you exhibited for each other by being vigilant, speaking up, calling 9-1-1, and calmly and orderly walking out of the building. The other thing that impressed me was what happened after many of you received the “all clear” sign from me. As quickly as you exited the sanctuary, you also welcomed this homeless man to eat lunch with you. That to me, was a prime example of a religion that’s real; a good example of Religion B. You diligently looked out for one another, but you also graciously loved someone in need that you could have dismissed in frustration.
May God help us to continue to do so as we study the book of James together – watching out for one another, listening well to one another, caring for one another and for the outsider, and all the while keeping real faith in our very real and Risen Lord. Hope to see you soon…