January 27, 2015: #Skip the creeds – look at the deeds.

Posted on : Jan 27th, 2015 | By | Category: Still Speaking

This past Sunday we began a new worship series focusing on understanding Islam as a religion, and specifically our need to differentiate the religion of Islam from those who have hijacked the religion in support of their political and/or terrorist beliefs.

In my first sermon in this series, I focused our attention on Religious Pluralism. Religious Pluralism is a newer concept in American religion that recognizes and names that there are many religions in our world, not just the one we practice. One of the hardest religious principles for many to accept is that “my religion” – whatever that be – is not the only one, nor the only one that is right. Worse yet is when we believe that only the religion I practice is correct and acceptable to God.

We’ve been through that struggle in Christianity many times; and we’ve never come out the better for it. Hitler tried that to justify his creation of the White Aryan race.   Same mess is happening today in Islam. The outcome is just as horrific.

For years I heard the religious pronouncement: “gays are going to hell.” Whenever that was said to me, I’d ask, “On what authority do you say that?” Well, sometimes the person would say “the Bible says it,” and sometimes they’d say “the Apostle Paul says it.” And I’d say, “And what does Jesus say?” There’d be dead silence.

If you read the Gospels very carefully there is only one group of people that Jesus condemns and they are the religious leaders, the religious zealots, the religious legalists of his day. The only reason Jesus comes down so hard on them is because he saw that they were literally cutting people off from God. Jesus’ entire life was dedicated to getting us closer to God. He broke down every wall, every barrier, every belief that separated us from God.

Religious orthodoxy isn’t what leads to authentic religion. Just look at the difference between the church’s and the world’s embrace of the two living Popes. Pope Benedict thought the way to lead the Church forward was to become more orthodox and thus, more legalistic. Pope Francis believes the way to lead the Church forward is to be kind, compassionate, loving and ACTIVE in doing or living the Gospel. Which of these two men are more listened to and embraced by Catholics and others throughout the world?

James, who was a faithful servant of God and of the Risen Jesus Christ, wrote a letter which became one of the books of the New Testament.  Some traditions hold that James was the brother of Jesus; but that is hard to substantiate. Brother or not, James knew Jesus well; and James and the Apostle Paul had differing views and beliefs about the practice of Christianity. James preached that it’s not what you believe but what you do with your life – it’s the good works you do that matter. He held nothing back when he proclaimed: “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion means caring for orphans and widows and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” – James 1:26-27 (New Living Translation; bold emphasis mine.)

Kenneth Samuel wonderfully picks up that theme in this week’s meditation, when he says, “The real crux of our Christian witness is not about our creeds but our deeds. Caring for orphans and widows – the vulnerable among us – doesn’t require many words, but it does require moral initiative and ethical responsibility.”

In a religiously pluralistic world, we will focus more on our deeds than on our creeds. We all need to think and pray about that, and then get down to the business of doing the work of Christ for and with the people of our world.

Grace and Peace to you,

Dan

 

 stillspeaking

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Somebody’s Watching You

Kenneth L. Samuel

“If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion means caring for orphans and widows and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” – James 1:26-27 (New Living Translation)

Have you noticed that the people who have the most to say about the orthodoxy or correctness of Christian doctrine are often not the people who actually do the work of Christ?

The religious rulers of Jesus’ day had a lot to say about the law and the legacy of the prophets, but the Good Samaritan whom Jesus urged us to emulate spoke no words of religious rhetoric. The Good Samaritan’s witness was only spoken through the care and compassion he demonstrated to a wounded traveler along a hazardous road.

The religious friends who came to see Job as he laid upon his bed of affliction had a lot to say about human condition and divine retribution. However, none of it was helpful to Job. If they could have remained reverently silent but lovingly present in the face of Job’s inexplicable pain, their visit would have meant so much more to all of us.

The real crux of our Christian witness is not about our creeds but our deeds. Caring for orphans and widows – the vulnerable among us – doesn’t require many words, but it does require moral initiative and ethical responsibility.

Dr. Fred Craddock, my seminary homiletics professor would tell us: “Preach Christ. And use words if you have to.” Words really can get in the way of those of us who really need to see Christ.

Prayer
Dear God, please let what we say be a brief commentary on what we do to demonstrate your presence. Amen.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kenneth L. Samuel is Pastor of Victory for the World Church, Stone Mountain, Georgia.

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