Religious Reflection

James Facebook-Week 1“Religious Reflection”
Sunday, August 30, 2015
14th Sunday after Pentecost

[First in series: “James’ Facebook Page”]

James 1:17-27, CEV)


Social media seems to dominate our culture today.  Nearly everyone is connected in some way to a social media site.  You may be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or Snap Chat…Whatever your media of choice, most of us are sharing way too much on social media outlets.  When you throw in Email and texting, you find an epidemic of over-sharing and words that are published without thinking first.  Every day I see something new that goes beyond all the boundaries I would think are appropriate and each day the boundaries get pushed further out.  I have to wonder what people think when they post things to social media and how they expect others to react.

Here are a couple of mild examples that speak to the stunning forethought of the writers.

  • Somebody angry about the Latinization of L.A. just wrote to tell me he fears the city itself might end up with a “Hispanic sounding name”.
  • “Sometimes when I close my eyes, I can’t see.”

More often than not, I imagine that some of these posts would not be made if people really thought about them BEFORE they hit <POST>.  What’s sad is – once it’s out, it’s out there forever.  What does all this chatter reflect about the people who post it and what is the reflection we would prefer to display?

The Letter of James is widely believed to be from James, the brother of Jesus. His writing brings us once again to the reality that Christians participate as citizens in this world AND we endure all things as aliens/foreigners to this world.  This is a tension we hear all too often in Scripture and one we experience even now in our contemporary culture.  The letter talks about problems related to our status as believers in the world, the tension and challenges of living “in exile” apart from God, and the identity of God’s people.  James begins his letter by reminding believers everywhere: God is the only true source of life.  He tells us that when you experience trouble, when you need wisdom, or when you face temptation, look to God first.  The reading we are considering today begins:
“Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father who created all the lights in the heavens.”  And he says, “He wanted us to be his own special people, and so he sent the true message to give us new birth.”   The “true message” is Jesus, the Word of God made flesh.  These are comforting words to a people living in the midst of tension in the real world.  These are words that give us hope and assurance.

From this point on, James wants to offer instructions for how we might reflect God’s perfect gift into the world, in which we live in such great tension.  It is here that many Christians begin to have problems with The Letter of James.  He spends much of the rest of his letter expounding a series of imperatives – more than 100 in all – that have led some to accuse James of being devoted to “works righteousness.”  Again, tension exists between the idea that our salvation is a free gift of God’s grace offered without price to all those who believe in Jesus.  James seems to contradict this when he insists in Chapter Two that “faith without works is dead”.  We’re going to talk more about that next week.  For now, let’s talk about what it means to be a reflection of what we believe.

“If you hear the message and don’t obey it, you are like people who stare at themselves in a mirror and forget what they look like as soon as they leave.”  Do you really think James is talking about forgetting your own face when you leave the mirror?  I think it is more likely that he is referring to forgetting who we are supposed to look like when we walk out into the world.  I believe James is cautioning us to be careful what people see and hear when they encounter those who claim to be followers of Jesus.  If social media had existed back then, I wonder what kinds of things James might post.

  • Woke up this morning and thanked God for another beautiful day.
  • Meeting at church today…Trying hard to be the person God wants me to be.
  • Join us on Saturday for a Mission Project at the Capernaum Food Bank

You see, I think if James had been able to share his message on social media, he would have posted the same things he wrote in his letter…If you really believe that God is the giver of every perfect gift, then show it by sharing what you have with others.  I believe that social media has tremendous power to spread the gospel and provide uplifting hope and encouragement for people.  The problem is that too many people abuse these outlets and, rather than reflecting their Christian beliefs, they reflect their self-absorption and disregard for living their faith and even for common decency and good manners.  It is not difficult to find social media posts that criticize and belittle specific individuals and whole groups of people.  This example is silly, but it is one of the few that I can actually show in church.  “Canadians think the Titanic was a real event and not just a movie, how dumb can you be.”

On any given day you can read the private business of a school, a corporation, or a church meeting being discussed online.  Posts are often unflattering, embarrassing, and downright cruel.  People seem to be willing to say almost anything in a social media post; sometimes saying things they would never say out loud in public.  The worst of these posts cannot be shown here this morning, but believe me when I say there is a lot of really nasty stuff out there.  The same is true of Email and texting…It seems that the anonymity of the media allows people to speak with impunity.

James, like Paul, cautions us to be quick to listen and slow to speak.  We do not reflect our faith when we speak or write in ways that demean us or someone else. We do not reflect our religion simply by saying that we are Christian, if we do not follow-up with appropriate behavior.  “Religion that pleases God the Father must be pure and spotless,” James says.  The kind of religion James seeks takes seriously the commands to:
Love God and Love Others.  

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker is quoted as saying:
Don’t speak to me about your religion; first show it to me in how you treat other people.  “Don’t tell me how much you love God; show me in how much you love all His children.  “Don’t preach to me your passion for your faith; teach me through your compassion for your neighbors.  “In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell, as in how you choose to live and give.”  This statement is from the same man who, as a Newark City Councilor chose to live in an apartment in the middle of the downtown projects.  As Mayor he reduced his own salary two times in response to a city budget crisis.  As U.S. Senator, Booker continues to make his home in a rental apartment in Newark’s South Ward, an area described as “a drug- and gang-plagued neighborhood of boarded-up houses and empty lots”  This is a man who lives as he believes.  What do our lives reflect to others about what we believe and in whom we believe?  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.