Faith That Works: Body and Soul
Rev. Leta Arndt Behrens
Sermon Scripture: MARK 7:24-37
24[Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice,25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
I have spent time the past few years studying a spiritual tool called the enneagram. This spiritual tool’s primary purpose is to help the individual understand and recognize their inner motivations, what drives them and how to engage in the world with a measure of self awareness and presence. The very basic beginnings of knowing the enneagram is to know that there are three main categories that we may fall into by nature of our personality– Head, Heart, and Hands. All three are in each of us and all three are needed. We each find one to be a strength even as we know we draw on the others as well.
Some lead with their heads–find thinking and processing and analyzing to be a strength and a way to engage the world and therefore a way to engage with God. I fall into this category and I remember getting to seminary and thinking–wow! All these books and papers and I found myself feeling more connected to God through them. A friend of mine, Linden, is more from the heart category–she knows and experiences the world through the heart, through feelings and knowing that feelings are a big part of who we are and how we interact with others. So for her, seminary was a bit overwhelming in the thinking department and she sought out depth of relationships–which was perfect because she organized the study groups! Then there are those who lead by doing–symbolized by the hands. These people get things done and see action and service as a primary strength for engaging spirituality.
James was definitely a doer. He saw the world around him and knew that there were things to be done, that God was active and alive and moving in his world and that people of faith had a gift that needing to start getting to work. Something to know about the book of James is that he was writing to 12 churches who were people who were already gathering together in their communities, had chosen to follow the way of Jesus and were at this point disconnected from their roots in the Jewish faith as well as the dominant culture of the time. James was not writing to convert people. He was not writing to convince them of the grace of God and the love that came into the world through Jesus. These were people who had already chosen to walk forward in faith. They were gathering in worship, passing along stories to their children, struggling with how to live in a world where they were not the mainstream culture. James was writing to these people to encourage them, tell them about how to live the Christian life they had embraced and to keep putting in front of them that the Holy Spirit was leading them into action–leading them to respond to the gift of grace they had embraced.
In this chapter of James we have one of the most well known statements that he makes. Faith without works is dead. James is not saying that faith has to be earned or that in order to live in the grace of God there is something to do. Faith does not save you, Jesus’ love and mercy has already done that. He is saying that because they already know they are held in the love and grace of God first, that they now get to respond to this gift by fulling embracing their world with their head, hearts, and hands. At the beginning of this chapter, James is also calling them to be teh body of Christ. See they were worshipping together and the wealthy were getting the good seats and the poor were coming but being cast aside. James here says no. This is not the body of Christ. When you gather, when you lead, the very way you live matters and you are called to treat one another as a loved neighbor.
The gift of this letter from James to us is that we are in a similar place and time. Christianity is not the mainstream culture anymore. Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings used to be guarded and protected for families to engage in learning, practicing and living faith. This is not true any longer. School schedules, days off for businesses, sports practices and games at one time would not conflict with Christian holidays or celebrations. Media and news and conversations would happen around an assumption of a faith based mindset. While this is no longer true for our culture and we may mourn that loss, we also have an opportunity to go more deeply into our practice of faith, pay attention more closely, make choices that lead us to practice our faith even when it’s not easy. We have the freedom to focus in our faith while looking out with faith and response of grace to the world around us. We can be lead to not allow faith to become stagnant but instead engage more intimately in conversation with family, friends, and our faith community. This also gives us the grace and openness to see the gift of diversity, the joy of knowing the spirituality of others, and the desire to know our own so that we can share, practice, and engage our heads, hearts, and hands around the love of God that is present in so many ways in this world.
This weekend we celebrate our youth who are affirming their baptisms. Our confirmation process focuses in on the head–learning about Christian history, the Bible, and Luther’s teachings; the heart-building relationships with mentors, peers, and the community, and Hands–serving, praying, living out the knowledge of our heads and hearts and it become especially important as we navigate the many facets of Christianity that are apparent in our world today.
A question we ask parents at the final confirmation class is–how have you seen your child grow in faith? As we gathered this class together last week, we heard this time words like compassion, kindness, reaching out and having a contemplative spirit. And it is true, this class together is a group of some of the most mercy filled young people I know. They are quick to help a friend, patient with those who are in difficult times, gracious to their teachers, pastors, counselors, and one another. Their confirmation projects reflect this as well. Take a look at them and you will see photos, words, works of art that are full of how wide open their eyes are to how God dwells in this world and with and in other people. The students in this confirmation class have been ones who created a mother’s day of pampering for moms and kids who were here in for faith family hospitality, they are youth who have traveled to other countries to learn and serve, they are young people who have won awards for kindness and created space for compassion in their friend groups, sports teams, and musical sharing. They have stuck together and created space for newcomers since they were little. They have embodied what it means to know faith is a gift in their mind, body and hearts and they have responded and will continue to respond in the ways of mercy and grace.
And isn’t it fitting that this is also what James offers us today. He says mercy triumphs over judgement and that faith without works is dead. And Jesus proclaims that faith is a gift and we see that in our stories from the gospel today. Both are true. Our actions, whether they be spending time in prayer or meditation, serving someone in need, listening to a friend, engaging in taking our thoughts, feelings, and doing deeper and further; are how we live out our faith and how we continue to see God connected to us through grace. When faith wells up in you the works–the actions are a response to that faith and mercy that is infused. We see that in our young people, in our mission together as a church to welcome all to the love of Christ through worship, learning, and service together, and in our own callings from God. As we celebrate today/this weekend, the youth of our congregation affirming their baptisms, let us also remember that we affirm our baptisms each day simply by being willing to respond to and in this world with our heads, hearts, and hands knowing that the waters of the promises of God have washed over us and will bring us each day and always into new life.