September 8, 2012

Nothing Left to Prove



 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, "Have a seat here, please," while to the one who is poor you say, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
- James 2:1-7,14-17

Some people (and by people I mean mostly Lutherans) get nervous when they read James.  They worry that this text undermines the good news that we are good with God because God loves and chooses us, and we don't have to do anything to earn it or prove it.  When they read James, they think it sounds like James is saying this:  Prove your faith by doing good things for others.

We all know how much we want to prove things.  We don't want to trust anyone's word.  We don't like too much risk so we require contracts and legal repercussions.  It's a bit like this song Proof from Paul Simon:
Proof
Some people gonna call you up
Tell you something that you already know
Proof
Sane people go crazy on you
Say “No, man, that’s not
The deal we made
I got to, I got to go”
Faith
Faith is an island in the setting sun
But proof, yes
Proof is the bottom line for everyone

Faith seems like an island in the setting sun.  I think Simon is being ironic here and critiquing our reliance on proof.  It's how we all work, so that must be how everything is.

Except, when we hear the good news of God in Christ who works wonders through mercy and grace and love that surrounds and fills everything.  Then we hear the real bottom line:  We have nothing left to prove.

This, I think, is how James is speaking.  We have nothing left to prove.  We have faith, that is, a deep, life-transforming trust, in the good news of God's endless grace in Christ.  So when we know we have nothing left to prove, our faith lives out freely in acts of mercy towards others.  In fact, it is when you think you have to prove something that your faith gets self-centered and loses all power.  It is dead.  And nothing good comes from it.  Certainly not love of your neighbor.

When you know you have nothing left to prove, you also know you have life to live.  And living this one human life means loving others in all their need, making sure they don't have to prove anything to us in order to be worthy of mercy. 

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