September 9, 2018

    Series: September 2018

    Category: Faith

    Speaker: Rob McClellan

    James 2:14-17

    14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD. THANKS BE TO GOD.


              Think of the last good book you read. It could be serious or more simply for pleasure. What about the last good film or art installation, play, vacation spot, favorite hike. Pick one. Who did you tell about it?

              Who have you told about Westminster?

              Last spring I was at a middle school graduation party for someone in the church and found myself standing in a small circle of people talking. Gwen Mauvais, a member here at Westminster introduced me to a woman in the group, and said, “This is one of our pastors from the church. You should come some time.” It wasn’t “You should come some time.” It was unloaded and friendly, pure invitation.

              Twice in the last few weeks I’ve met people with whom Jeff Heely plays tennis at a church event, one in worship and one in a class. I don’t know how many people turned Jeff down’s apparent invitations, but it is evident by his presence here this morning that nobody has yet bitten his head off. I’m not sure the woman Gwen invited has come to any Westminster events, and yet Gwen seems no worse for the wear. If what is happening here is good, worthwhile, something we care about, isn’t it worth sharing? And, if we are the kinds of people our friends know us to be, wouldn’t they respect, even appreciate, us sharing something with them that is important to us? Otherwise, what kind of friendship is it? I put myself in their shoes. If someone invited me to something and I wasn’t interested, as an adult it’s pretty easy for me to say politely, “No thanks,” or “It’s not my thing,” or “I’m scheduled for a root canal every Sunday.”    

    I understand the reluctance. We’re all too aware of pushy Christianity. Some of us have come here to escape that—though that would seem to me to be all the more reason to tell people about this community. We know that religion, like politics, is touchy, but I’d be willing to bet as in anything, it’s our anticipation of how badly something will go, not the actuality of it, that prevents us from doing something. Give your friends a little credit. I’ll tell you what, if anybody responds negatively to an invitation you offer, I’ll buy you lunch. If nothing else, it will be a great chance for us to connect.

              Some people say we should have a “bring a friend to church day.” Well, we have that day. It’s called “Sunday.” It’s also called Friday, where I know men gather week after week who don’t attend worship. For some that is church. Or, on the Tuesdays when Women Connecting meets or our weekly education class. Or, Mondays at yoga. In fact, the church is doing something almost every day of the week, and as I go through the roster of events and groups, I’m mindful that many include people who do not worship here, but are otherwise involved. That’s not failure. That’s success! Some come for fellowship, others to engage on a community issue, others to serve meals. Don’t get me wrong, Sunday worship is important, but it’s all church, and these other offerings may be easier ports of entry into deeper community for some.

              I am not trying to offer you a commercial for the church as some kind of ego trip. I’m happy to tout the spiritual leadership of Bethany, Jeff, RuthE., Alla, our volunteers, teachers, leaders and so forth. I’m happier still to boast about you, for all the things you do and for how you live your life out there. In fact, one of the things the Stewardship Commission is lifting up for our annual campaign is all the good work people from Westminster do in the community. To do this, they have created a board that says, “WPC is at the Heart of Volunteerism.” There are cards there you can fill and post to tell the rest of us where you volunteer. As this takes shape, take note of just how many good causes are served because people are encouraged, equipped, and inspired to support because of their faith which is fed at Westminster. At the very least, what an amazing thing to have a community that gathers all of these people together, all in the care and guidance of the Spirit, inspired by Jesus Christ.

              I almost wish there were another board for stay-at-home parents, whose gift to the world is the child or children they are shaping with intention and sacrifice. What about a board for the wage-earners in the congregation, who cannot volunteer because of the demands of their paid work, and yet who do that paid work differently somehow because of what their faith calls them to do? You may never utter the name Jesus at work, but because of your faithfulness, the boardroom or operating room or classroom or whatever room is tangibly different. If all good and faithful people worked in nonprofits, I shudder to think what would happen to the business world or government.

              Sisters and brothers, I believe this is what the Epistle of James is saying to us when it says, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?” (James 2:14). Have you heard that line before? It has troubled some Protestants. Martin Luther despised the James, calling it an “epistle of straw,” because he thought it taught we earned God’s favor by racking up good deeds for a scorekeeper God. I appreciate that about Luther, who was tormented by his own self-doubt, even loathing, and wanted people to be assured by God’s gracious love.

              Maybe there is another way to look at James however. Another way to think of works is embodiment. Embody your faith. It’s not about a scorekeeping God. It’s about not confining our faith to exclusively to the confines of our heads. Or, as another metaphor, think of a seed kept in a box versus a seed planted in soil, nurtured, allowed to take root, grown and blossom. James simply wants to remind us that the gift we’ve been given is meant to grow into something that gives life and beauty, and it doesn’t have to look the same across people. In fact, it shouldn’t. A healthy garden or ecosystem takes all types, and so we will embody our faith differently.

              Now I mentioned for Luther James was the epistle of straw, and I said another “s” word earlier. Stewardship, which is the concept of taking care of what you have and nurturing its growth. It also signals our annual fundraising drive. As the church enters a season in which it asks for your contributions, I simply want to say three things. The first, and most important, is thank you. Thank you. In the past couple of years, a lot has been asked of you, and you have risen to the occasion. We have had a capital campaign in which we outraised what even our feasibility study indicated we could. While constructions costs have gone up and there is a gap between what we have and what the project will cost, we can feel good about where we are and where we can be. Remember, this came on top of a significant increase in the annual operating budget, another challenge you met generously. Thank you.

              Second, it should go without saying, but I hope it never goes without saying, we recognize contributions come in many forms and in many sizes across different people and seasons of life. When I was younger I was involved in children’s theatre and the director always said, “There are no small parts, just small actors.” Perhaps the same could be said of gifts. You’ll notice the emphasis is especially on growing participation, sharing the cost (and wrapping it up by Thanksgiving so everyone can enjoy the holidays). Part of the reason stewardship encourages everyone to grow in their giving every year is because they know some won’t be able to. Some may have lost their job. Some, their spouse. Some will need to be supporting adult children or aging parents. We give not only thinking of ourselves, but of our neighbor’s capacity.  

              Third, I can attest to the discipline the elders have shown in their budgeting.  They are and will be responsible with how they manage your money.  The annual budget simply supports the cost of doing ministry on a day to day basis, and some of those costs necessarily go up from year to year, whether it’s cost of living adjustments for the staff or other expenses that grow in the natural course of things.

              If I didn’t believe in Westminster I wouldn’t join Stewardship in asking you to support it.  I know we may have visitors today with it being our annual Ingathering and so some may be nervous about us talking about money.  However, if the way we talk about money, the stewardship of what God has given us, in a way that turns people away, then we have a much larger problem on our hands.

              What I see on our hands are the marks of service, as you’ll see on our stewardship board.  What I see are open hands reaching out to care, offer mutual support, or clasp in prayer.  What I see is hands extending invitation to be a part of something that connects us to one another, our deepest selves and a God more wonderful than we could possibly name.  This kind of invitation will feel not so much like an introduction between strangers as a reunion among family.

              I saw a wonderful video this week.  I can’t stop watching it.  It’s of a man with Down Syndrome, 55, in an airport returning to his father, 88, after the two had been apart for a full week for the first time in his life.  As he comes to the bottom of the escalator, he makes his way past a woman who looks to be his traveling partner (practically elbows his way by her), and rushes into the arms of the waiting father, and proceeds to kiss him all over his father’s face, the father whose grin is as present in his eyes as anywhere.  The son, as if to assure him it’s real, touches various parts of the father’s face before settling in comfortably at his father’s breast in his father’s arms.

              Sometimes I think God’s the father, welcoming the son home.  Sometimes I think God is the son, the man with Down Syndrome, barreling toward the father.  Sometimes, I think God is the smiling woman who traveled with the man, particularly in his time of being separated, and then watches with joy at the reunion.  Maybe God is the whole scene.  If so, isn’t that the kind of loving relationship to everyone should be invited.  At the heart of it, that’s what we are about here.  As we endeavor to support this beloved community this next month, let us with equal zeal endeavor to share it.  Amen.