Three, quite tough and dogmatic readings this week and all seeking to tell us what to do and how to do it. They are the sort of readings that might make some of us rebel, especially those of us that don’t like being told exactly what to do or believe. These readings are a bit like a stern parent saying:
“Just do as I tell you!”
When what we might want to say is; ‘Why?’
‘Why?’ is a good question. These three readings are just gob-bits from larger texts of the Bible and we really can’t take them as they are without trying to see them in context. The context from which they come and were written in.
For a start in the Deuteronomy reading God is telling the Israelites to follow his ways; ‘to the letter’ and not to follow the ways of other gods or peoples. This reading has all the tone of an exasperated but loving parent, one who has repeatedly seen their child or children run astray. The Israelites were good at going off the rails and following their own desires rather than the ways of God. In this passage God is trying to give them a few guidelines as to how to live their lives in ways that take note of the community as well as the individual. God says:
“Take care and watch yourselves closely.”
God is advising them to look at how they live their lives and we too can learn from his words. For it is all too easy for us, like the Israelites, to follow our own devices and desires and to forget the needs of others as we seek to fulfil our own wants and desires.
In the Epistle of James the author is at great pains to point out that we cannot be passive receivers of God’s word:
“22 … be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25But 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.”
Be doers of God’s word NOT just listeners. I know that some translators have problems with this epistle as it can at times seem to contradict the concept of ‘Justification by faith alone’. Personally, I have never been able to comprehend that doctrine for unless our faith acts as a basis for our actions towards others then what do we mean by living our faith? I can see that faith alone is enough for salvation, but if that means you can say that you believe something and then ignore the needs of those around you and fail to live by the ways of God. You, then, I think, become simply a hearer of his words and not a doer. Faith for me is something one lives and lives out in practical and humanitarian ways; helping others as you follow the ways of God. So the command to be a doer as well as a hearer of the Word of God speaks more deeply to me than simply the command to hear God’s word.
This theme is picked up in Mark’s Gospel account where he says:
“This people honours me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.”
It is very easy to; ‘talk the talk’ but a lot harder to live the talk. God is aware of this but we are encouraged to try and live his ways and to do so in non showy or ostentatious fashion. We are called to do what God expects of us quietly and naturally, day by day, helping and encouraging others gently along the way. Our faith is shown by the example we set.
The Christian faith is not about individual pietism alone but about the Christian community and our way of life. British Society was founded and influenced by our collective Christian faith and philosophy. It led to the welfare state, free education and the NHS wonderful institutions available to all. But, I do now wonder how much of our faith influences successive governments and their polices. Can we claim today that we are a Society based on Christian principles? I would like to think so but I am aware of rather too much ‘honouring by lips alone’ and not enough of living and doing God’s will.
We Christians and other people of faith and goodwill who believe that our Society needs to be founded on Christian or God’s principles need to speak up and speak out a bit more. Perhaps some of our favourite hymns should become our battle cries?
Our faith has repeatedly changed the world in the past and can do so again today and in the future. What we need to do is to live an active faith and not just a lip-service faith. What small step could you take to put your faith into action? You might give a donation to a charity or sign an on-line petition or volunteer to do something to help others. Whatever you do live your faith and never be just a hearer but a doer as well.