I loved reading biographies when I was in school. I loved finding out about people and the things they accomplished. I still enjoy a really good historical novel for the same reason; I find it fascinating to think about what might have motivated people to act in certain ways. It’s obviously not entirely easy to understand people’s motives and reasons… but that’s what makes it interesting. But scripture is a different kind of reading, isn’t it? It’s not like reading a novel or biography simply because we are interested in the person or subject… Scripture certainly helps us to learn about God and about Jesus;. But for us scripture is a living story, where we find our own connections to what we hear and read. Scripture is our story; And hopefully, no matter how often we hear or read parts of scripture, we still find something new and different to inspire us.
We hear a great deal this morning about the law, and how important it is for those who want to live a Godly life, to follow God’s law. The letter of James even calls it the “law of liberty”. Kind of funny to think about following the law as a path to liberty, isn’t it? And yet, when we have a path before us that helps us to live our lives according to God’s desires, there is a sense of freedom that we can experiences by not having to think about some of the choices in front of us; it’s kind of like the person who has been sober for a while, who might think the occasional drink sounds good; yet he knows, that if he continues to remain sober, he will not fall victim to his addiction that keeps him imprisoned in so many ways…
“…be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But 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 the word… As I thought about this part of the letter of James this week, I had a few thoughts… My first, rather silly thought, was that whoever coined the term “actions speak louder than words” must have paid close attention to this part of scripture; I discovered that the term was first used in the U.S. by Abraham Lincoln, whose biography was the second one I read in elementary school. I knew I liked him! My second thought had to do with being doers of the word, and the word being the perfect law, and I began to wonder… So often, in the New Testament when we talk about the word, we are speaking of the Word as the second member of the Trinity, Jesus the Son. I think that James is speaking of the law, the Torah given by God to God’s people. For us, though, Jesus is the embodiment and the new translation of the law. In Jesus, the law becomes a living being that responds to God’s people and God’s world, and is the law reinterpretted and rethought. In Jesus, the disciples, and you and I are not just given someone to admire and copy, but we are given the one whose adherence to the law is perfect… We can certainly read all day long about what we are supposed to do, right? But written words by themselves, while important, don’t tend to make the kind of impression that knowing a person or knowing a person’s actions tend to make. It comes down to the relationship. If you and I have a relationship with Jesus by participating in the sacraments of the church where we receive God’s grace, if we read scripture and truly engage the stories we find there, I think we begin to see and to act differently. If we believe that the Holy Spirit lives in us through our baptism, and if we believe, as we have heard for many weeks now that Jesus is the living bread that came down from heaven, then, we cannot help but be changed. We can no longer sit by as observers in God’s world, but because the Spirit moves and prays within us, we long to be like Jesus, who reflects his law in the world… the law of liberty lives in us and we are not imprisoned by the death dealing desires of the world… but rather are moved to be in relationship with all of those whom God loves… our hearts become filled with the desire to do the things that Jesus does, things that look like the one who is the perfection of the law has walked on the earth.
May we always be doers of the law, no matter how difficult that may be. May we never deceive ourselves into thinking that God isn’t calling us to move beyond ourselves into the world that God has created… may we always know that God’s law is the law of love that moves us to live God’s law in all that we do. May we always strive to deepen our relationship with Jesus who is the Word and the Law, embodied, so that we may follow him in all that he says and does.