Thursday, March 4, 2010

Do the Word: Faith@Work

Listening and Doing

"My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it— he will be blessed in what he does. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:19-27 NIV

Do the Word: Faith@Work

The Jewish roots of the James 1:19-27 begin in the Torah where God commands his children to provide for all his children—including the impoverished and defenseless. Even agnostic Thomas Huxley recognized the Torah as “the Magna Carta of the poor and oppressed.”

In biblical times, widows were women who lost both their husbands and other males charged to socially and economically support them, including men who were unable or unwilling to fulfill their obligations. “Widow” and “widowhood” derive from the root Hebrew word, alman, meaning “discarded, divorced, forsaken.”

When forsaken by my minister husband’s adultery, like Hagar, I cried out to God, “I’m terrified. Who will take care of us? I don’t have anyone to call in emergencies.”

Sermons often emphasize James 1:19–26, neglecting verse 27’s practical application. How does this passage apply to modern-day widows and the fatherless?

Quick to Listen: In the Hebrew, Exodus 22:21-22 repeats three words, “oppress,” “cry out,” and “listen.” "Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him...Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan." What heart cry does God want us to hear concerning society’s oppressed? The prophets running theme—warnings that God hates injustice towards the “least of these.”

I lacked $37 to pay my utilities, humiliated, I asked my pastor for help.

“Go get another job or two,” my pastor advised.

The power company cut off my electricity.

No heat.

No hot food.

No warm water to bathe my preschool sons.

Slow to Speak and Anger: Mistreating widows sparked the first church fight in Acts. What angers God? Religious rhetoric. Ignoring the needy. Does what enrages God’s heart, infuriate you? Unkindness. Injustice. Mercilessness.

Don’t Deceive Yourself. Faith in “name only” talks big. Actions reveal volumes about heart beliefs.

Reign in Your Tongue: Someone asked me, “Was your divorce biblical?” I thought, “What if it wasn’t? What does your tongue divulge about self-righteous attitudes towards vulnerable, hurting individuals? Is your mouth a weapon that pierces or an instrument of healing? Do your words draw people towards God or push them away?

Do What the Word Says. “Doer” in Greek means “good deeds” glorifying God. Hearing without action is worthless religion. Jesus’ example mirrored God’s law and compassion. He came so we’ll see the marginalized through God’s eyes, hear people’s cries with God’s ears, and feel with God’s heart.

A Mirror of Faith@Work

How does James describe someone whose religion God accepts as pure—faultless? Unpolluted faith-in-action, benefiting those in emotional and economic distress.

I’ve adapted what an unknown author captured regarding how religion falls short of Christ’s commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.”

I was hungry. You formed a benevolence committee to evaluate my hunger.

I was imprisoned and oppressed. You crept off quietly to pray for my release.

I was naked. You debated the theology of divorce, single-parent households and my sons’ futures—doomed.

I was sick. You thanked God you weren’t like me.

I was homeless. You preached, “God’s love is your spiritual shelter.”

I was lonely. You alienated me. You said, “We’ll pray for you.”

But…my children and I are still hungry, lonely and cold.

God sees.

In Genesis, the first person to whom God revealed El Roi, the God who sees, was to a discarded Hagar, the first recorded single mom. The Epistles conclude with Paul entrusting the body of Christ to a man who some believe was raised in a single-parent home—Timothy.