This morning we heard what is probably the most often quoted New Testament verse not written by St. Paul, “ faith, if it is without works, is dead.” Perhaps many of us are more familiar with the Pauline statements in which he often suggests that works without faith are meaningless. The problem we face when comparing these two writers side by side is the fact Paul and James are discussing two very different realities. When Paul addresses works, more often then not, he is discussing works in relation to the laws of Moses or Torah. In this case, Paul often argues that faith is greater than works.
St. James is addressing a totally different form of work, here he addresses works in relation to charity or the caring of one’s neighbor. In this situation, St. James works off the life and teachings of Jesus as he insists that as we grow in faith and union with God, our natural response is to look out for and provide care to the marginalized members of society.
Examples James would use to defend his assertion could have included the healing accounts we heard in today’s Gospel. As I have mentioned before, the healing stories of the Gospels are not just about the physical restoration of the individual. The act of healing goes much deeper. Let’s not forget, in Jesus day, all maladies were perceived as the result of sin. A man born deaf suffered for the sins of his parents. An individual afflicted with mental illness or a neurological disorder were possessed by demons. Therefore, no matter what the chronic malady may have been, the result always included not just physical suffering, but also physical and emotional isolation, banishment from the community, and the inability to participate in any meaningful employment.
When Jesus heals, he not only heals their physical realities, but also restores the individual to life within the community and with God. Because of this, since the beginning of the Christian movement, one of our primary focuses has been to care for the sick and the marginalized members of society with the desire to restore all people to unity with God.
On page 855 of the Book of Common Prayer, the Catechism states, “the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” The Catechism goes on to state, “ the Church pursues it’s mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel and promotes justice, peace and love. At Baptism we vow to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as our self, and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”
In the early years of the church, the desire to restore all people to unity with God was so important that the role of the deacon was created to assure that the poor and the marginalized were not forgotten as the burdens of the institution became more than the original Apostles could handle. To this day, it is the role of the deacon to keep before the body of Christ the ongoing physical and spiritual needs of the world. Liturgically, it is the deacon who bids us into the prayers of the people, to confession and at the end sends us into the world to love and serve Christ.
But it seems the institutional church keeps running aground when it comes to being faithful to its mission. There is no doubt, the maintenance of an institution requires a lot of time and energy, not to mention financial resources as we struggle to keep the lights on, the air conditioner working, and our staffs’ salaries and benefits paid and provided for. It takes a lot of person power to keep the basic ministries of music, worship, Christian formation and hospitality running smoothly each week along with keeping our buildings in good repair. With all of this necessary activity needed to maintain the institution, it becomes easy to justify reducing our missional outreach to the token efforts of a few.
This is not to say St. Luke’s doesn’t do wonderful outreach. There is no doubt our generosity is second to none in Camillus as we prove this every year through our donations to St. Charles’ Food Pantry, and Echo Meals on Wheels. It seems whenever there is a need within the community at large, the community can count on this congregation to generously help fill that need. And, there is no doubt, individually we are generously giving of our time to various organizations. As members of this community like Ed Kaish, Bob Cudworth, Mike Green, Dick and Shirley Chrisfield as well as Susan Mayer, Cheryl Young, Priscilla Edwards and many others donate their time and talent to the Red Cross, Meals on Wheels, The St Charles’s food pantry , the Galisano Children’s Hospital and to a number of animal rescue agencies.
All of the time, resources and energy each of you give as an out pouring of your faith is participation in the balance of faith and works that St. James’ call us to.
However, there is a time when we as a corporation need to band together and make our presence known in a way that demonstrates the incarnate love this congregation holds for the world.
Last year I asked Eileen Robertson and the Outreach Committee to explore opportunities where St. Luke’s can serve those in need here in Camillus. After months of discussion and exploration with Meals on Wheels, it was decided that a half day help-a-thon . . . focused on the needs of our homebound neighbors would be the best way for we, as a community of faith, to physically reach out in Christian love to our invisible neighbors. This summer a questionnaire went out to all who participate in Meals on Wheels, thirteen people responded and to our surprise, the most frequent request was to have exterior windows washed. Eileen is now looking into a way to wash windows with a spray system so no ladders will be needed and most anyone can participate in the Help – a – thon.
I can imagine many are thinking, “washing windows. . what’s the big deal.” For us and for many the act of washing windows is a simple, menial task and on the surface . .that may be all it is. But when we gather, at each home, our presence will be about more than some nice folks willing to wash another’s windows. As the church, we will be the physical incarnation of God to those whom we serve. A reminder, that despite their physical limitations and isolation, they have not been forgotten by God. Our presence, however short the time maybe, will remind them that they are still considered an important and wanted part of our community. Our presence, however brief it will be, will serve as an act of restoration, for those we serve, to God and to our community.
The Help-a-Thon is a vital event for this congregation and I encourage everyone to participate in it on Saturday the 22nd, and to be part of this congregation’s demonstration of how we put our faith into action and works.