By Sarah Cornwell
A Reading from James 2:14-26
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and 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? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder. 20Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith without works is barren? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? 26For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.
Today we hear of that tricky relationship between faith and works. We cannot justify ourselves by works, somehow earning our salvation, like paying a fine and performing X hours of community service. However, faith that does not compel us to perform acts of love and service to our neighbor, if for no other benefit than simply to glorify God, is dead.
Imagine a person who says she has a dog. She loves the dog and goes to the dog park on Sundays and buys top-of the-line dog food. And then you find out the dog died years ago. If your dog is dead, going through the motions as if your dog is still alive and with you is a sign you might need some compassionate help. Maybe it’s a bizarre example, but carrying around a dead faith as if its alive and well, going through the motions of attending church and consuming top-of-the-line theology — well, it’s kind of like trying to take your dog for a walk, but not noticing the leash is empty. It’s a sign you need some compassionate help.
By contrast, a faith that is alive and well has all the energy, love, and enthusiasm of a young dog, eager to be of service and to meet and love others. No one who has a puppy (or a human child, for that matter!) full of life can help but make sacrifices in order to give them outlets for their enthusiasm and affections, and many times it doesn’t even feel like work. So it is with faith. If your faith is not straining at the leash to show the next stranger some love, or roping you into a project like constructing a lemonade stand to fight childhood cancer, it might be a sign that something is amiss. Your faith may be sick. Call a vet — or a priest — immediately.
Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Diocese of Sabongidda-Ora (Nigeria), the Rt. Rev. Augustine E. Ohilebo
Diocese of Dublin & Glendalough (Ireland), the Most Rev. Michael Geoffrey St. Aubyn Jackson
Diocese of Dallas