Faith and Works: We live in the age of the 'sound bite', the taut text and the one-word catch phrase. Communication to the corners of the planet is a matter of microseconds. Getting our message across is simply no problem at all. They had no such luxury in Biblical times.
If you had something to say, out came the parchment and reed pen and you wrote a letter - carefully considered and closely argued. Today these magnificent pieces of scholarship resonate down the Ages to us. So it is with the Letter of James.
On the second Sunday (May 7th) of our month-long study at the Triangle of James's message to the scattered tribes of Israel, Revd Hilary Howarth closed in on 'Faith and Deeds' (Chapter 2, 14-26). "If Faith really matters", she said, "it will radically change how we live. Faith drives us, moves us and motivates our actions. The Faith that saves us should create a yearning to do things for others". She quoted the American Evangelist, Billy Graham who likened Faith to breathing - "Faith takes the Gospel in and breathes it out."
Hilary then took two examples from the Letter of James. 'Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food' he wrote. 'If one of you says to them, "Go in peace: keep warm and well fed", but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?' "Put simply", Hilary said, "they didn't need a sermon, they needed a sandwich!" The second example illustrated the importance of obedience to God, and told the harrowing story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his precious son, Isaac, on the altar (Genesis 22).
This is a controversial passage of scripture, Hilary told us, advocating what is known to scholars as 'demonstrative justification'. Martin Luther even argued that the Letter of James should be excluded from the Bible. "The real test", she said, "is not in our public acts, but how we are obedient to God in our private lives; not how we live when things are going well, but how we handle testing times." In a period of silence, she asked us to consider what Jesus is saying to us through James's words.
Thought-provoking stuff! But there was a lot more in the service, too. Holy Communion was celebrated by Hilary with one her delightfully simple introductions, and accompanied during the giving of the sacraments by the choir, in excellent voice. In Prayers of Intercession Worship Leader, Denis Kirkham, picked up on what Hilary had been talking about by including the reprise "It isn't only about talking, it's about doing, as well". And, of course, there were the hymns. 'See what a morning' (309) in praise, perhaps, of the glorious sunshine; 'Now let us from this table rise' (596) after Communion; 'When I needed a neighbour (256), and Hugh Sherlock's beautiful, gentle arrangement of 'Lord your church on earth is seeking' (410).
We rounded off with 'Give me the faith which can remove' (661), urged on by Hilary to "really give it some welly". Charles Wesley would have approved!
Kindly provided by Astley Jones