Through Stained Glass: From David to James—Practical People of Scripture

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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 life?
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


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