September 2012 – St James of Jerusalem

By Unknown Russian icon painter of 1809 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There’s this little book tucked in at the end of the Bible. It’s title is “James.” You may flip past it, on your way to more familiar passages, but you miss out. James was an important figure, the head of the church in Jerusalem, also known as “the brother of our Lord.” He speaks of the faith in fresh and sometimes unusual ways.
Of course, what’s unusual can make us nervous! James is famous for being the book that Martin Luther found to be nothing but “straw.” He felt there wasn’t enough “Christ” in it (Lutherans don’t revere the Bible because it’s “holy” in some general way – but because it proclaims Christ, good news). So James has been neglected, almost like a banned book – and now you really want to read it, don’t you!
Why the judgment against James? Paul says “we are justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” James says “faith without works is dead.” Is he contradicting Paul, whom Lutherans love? Another thing about James: he quotes Jesus, but doesn’t talk about Jesus much. James speaks more of “God.” At times, you wonder if James is Jewish, or even a Greek teacher of wisdom. And this makes him all the more interesting today as we learn to “speak” faith – of Jesus, God, religion – in our religiously diverse society. James says: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” And when James says “unstained by the world,” he means not caught up in the all too prevalent envy and rivalry that leads to poverty and violence. James doesn’t talk about being “Christians” but “friends of God,” our lives open to and gifts shared with others. Because God is for James (in the words of L. T. Johnson) “that open system of giving and reciprocity into which humans have been invited.”
A common New Testament word for such sharing is “koinonia,” which we translate as fellowship or communion. In this ‘red and blue’ polarizing election year with much at stake, let’s celebrate the way God knits us together into a “communion of saints.” Maybe there could be a “saint of the month” or week, beginning with James. We’ll hear the book read and preached on in worship this month, with opportunities for further discussion.

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