It is arguably one of the most
beloved books of the Bible—the Letter of James is
one of the most useful and practical books in the
New Testament. Did you know it was once (and in some
communities still is) an unpopular book, thanks in
large part to Martin Luther. In fact, Luther
considered the book of James to be an “epistle of
straw.” Luther was in good company with his
disparaging comments, especially since the book was
considered disputed (that is to say, it wasn’t
widely accepted) until the 4th Century. History has
not been kind to the book of James.
I know you’re thinking, “But why, pastor? James has
all the good stuff about
God’s faithfulness, persistence in prayer, and the
importance of looking out for one another.” You’re
not wrong. The theological issue for most
Protestants is how the letter is short on grace and
long on works, which puts it in direct contrast to
what the Apostle Paul preached. However, when you
study the text, which we will do in worship
throughout September, you will see James is
addressing a different issue than did Paul. While
Paul addressed how the young, Jewish church welcomed
Gentiles into the fold, James was concerned with how
the life of faith is rooted both in belief and
action. Indeed, as James claims, true faith does not
separate the two; ultimately, there’s no such thing
as “faith alone.”
Here is the reason why James wrote this letter and,
subsequently, why we are reading it in ordinary
time, during this season of exploring what it means
for us to “take hold” of the good news of God: James
is not trying to convince folks to join the Jesus
movement; instead, his letter is calling faithful
disciples to live the Christian life.
How do you live out your faith? Where
do you see “the rubber hitting the road” in the ways
you embody what you believe to be true about God?
Remember—though we are in a season between the high,
holy days—these “ordinary” weeks reveal the Spirit’s
activity in the common and routine rhythms of daily
living and weekly worship.
Throughout this upcoming month, as we read James and
further enter into this short letter of exhortation,
I invite you to consider the following questions:
Where do you experience power and energy in your
Where is the Spirit working beyond and within you?
In what are you confident and fulfilled?
Ordinary Time, or this season of our “Taking Hold,”
is a good time to listen to those voices we may not
usually give much attention, like that of James. As
we move from the turbulent history of David toward
the grace-works lessons from James, may we learn new
narratives, discover new tools, and allow the story
of God to take hold in new ways!
Adam Quinn of First
Presbyterian Church in Lincoln