Credo: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only."
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"Credo: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only."
Proper 18B 2003 (September
7) James 1:17-27; Mark 7:31-37
"Welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But
be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves."
With these words, Saint James, by tradition
the brother of Jesus, sets the right perspective on the practice of our Christian faith. The introduction to the letter of
Saint James in the Oxford Annotated New Revised Standard Version puts it, somewhat paraphrased, this way:
the sayings in the letter seem to echo the sayings of Jesus in the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke the synoptics.
This letter is ascribed to the authority of James the brother of the Lord, a powerful authority indeed. In this letter, James
is trying to correct the false understanding of the relationship between faith and works that those who were quoting Paul
out of context were using as their authority for faith alone, divorced from works. Quoting out of context doesnt that sound
familiar today in the aftermath of General Convention? The more things change, the more they are really the same.
any case, Saint Paul would certainly agree that Christian life and practice of faith should be expressed in works of charity,
what Paul wrote to the Church in Galatia about the importance of faith working through love For in Christthe only thing that
counts is faith working through love.For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, You shall love your neighbor
as yourself. It was Paul, who with Barnabas, after all, who took up a collection for famine relief to take to the besieged
and poor Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem and Judea. What James was doing was to correct a distorted and sloganizing Paulinism
which influenced Christians to neglect their obligations to aid their poverty-stricken and suffering brothers and sisters
all their neighbors.
It is the word doers from the verb form to do that is the powerful part of this passage from
James. It is true, I think, in English that this simple two letter word has powerful impact. It is like be. To be is to have
the capability to do; or more succinctly, to be is to do. In concept they are intertwined. In the beginning, because God is,
he could do. "Let there be light," said God. And there was light. And when all was done, God saw that it was good.
verb to do, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, comes down to us through several sources from the ancient Sanskrit
and Indo European sources of most language. The Old English form was don in the Germanic line of descent which originated
in the Old Teutonic forms of verbal stem dae- and do- from the indo European stems dhe- and dho-., meaning to place, put,
or set basic forms of doing.
The parallel stem from the Indo European verbal stem forms is the Latin verb do. D O.
Among many other meanings such as to offer, give, grant, bestow; to hand over, commit, devote; do also means to hold, to put,
to cause, to bring about. All of these are forms of doing.
It is interesting that with regard to Saint James' doers
of the word versus hearers of the word only, the Latin colloquialism Do verba, literally to give words only is colloquial
for cheating. As those hearers only in James time cheated by hiding behind faith alone and not doing for their neighbors who
were in need.
Most interesting to me is the way in which doing and doers of the word -- and faith -- are so closely
intertwined with being in the Latin word credo. From credo comes our word creed. The Nicene and Apostles Creeds are the most
basic summaries of our faith, the earliest codification of what the Word meant in terms of belief or faith. Credo means I
believe. And in the Latin Vulgate of the Mass of the Middle Ages in the West, the three parts of the Nicene Creed began with
Credo: Credo in Deo Pater. Credo in Hiesus Filius. Credo in Deo Spiritus Sanctus.
But what about being. Ah, interesting.
The Cre part of credo comes from the Indo-European forms of Cra and cre, extremely ancient language forms that mean heart.
From cra come the more physical English words for heart: cardiologist. Cardiac arrest. And so forth.
But from cre
comes that which is not physical but reflecting the belief that one's being and beliefs were in the heart. Hence taken in
its most primitive meaning, credo means to hold in the heart. To put in the heart. To place in the heart. To give in the heart.
To devote in the heart. To commit in the heart. All things which are of the essence of being as believing and hearing Christians.
And of the essence of doing as practicing Christians.
Saint Paul heard the Word of the Lord on the Road from Jericho
to Damascus and was knocked down and blinded by its power. He was sent on to Damascus where his sight was restored. From that
moment on, Paul went about the Greco-Roman world preaching the Word to all who would hear and doing the task that had been
set before him.
Jesus was a doer. "He has done everything well; he even causes the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak!"
The Reverend Robert Salzgeberger tells this story about a friend of his who lives in an area of the country where
there are many Native American Indian reservations, attended a church conference years ago. One of the workshops that the
friend attended at the conference concerned the plight of the Native American Indian population as a minority group and how
they have been completely forgotten. He decided to attend this particular workshop because he happened to live in an area
where there were many reservations. His attitude at the time was that he simply wanted to learn more about the issue. He did
not necessarily desire to do anything about the problem.
Then, right smack in the middle of the seminar, a well-known
member of the American Indian Movement AIM -- entered the room where they were gathered and threw a brick in the center of
the meeting table. The crashing monolith startled the assembly. The man from AIM said to the people that all they did was
talk and study, study and talk, but they never really did a darn thing about the prevailing issues.
The friend was
certainly not impressed by this man's overt action. In fact, he was a bit offended. But when he returned home he couldn't
get the incident out of his mind. He kept on asking himself, "Well, what can I do about it? I'm only one person." Gradually
his ears were opened and one day he decided to speak. In fear and trepidation, he drove his car north to one of the nearby
reservations to visit with a local chief. And that was just the beginning of a 25-year ministry to Native American Indians
in the area of the country in which he lives.
Salzgeberger notes: My friend has been very instrumental and active
in the planning and implementation of WIRC (the Wisconsin Indian Resource Council). He has also been involved in Operation
Black Dirt, a corporation established to incubate Native American Indian-owned small businesses. Today, my friend tells me
that Christ caused his deaf ears to hear and then gave him the courage to speak on behalf of the American Indian population.
It has not been easy for my friend. As you can well imagine, his inclusive actions have caused him to be ostracized from former
friends and associates. But he tells me that it has been worth it because, as he puts it, "I was dumb but now I can speak
Is this not how things like the Northern Neck Free Health Clinic, the Interfaith Service Council of
Lancaster and Northumberland Counties, Virginia Quality of Life, Home Delivered Meals, Habitat for Humanity, the Haven, and
the short term mission teams from Richmond who came here to work with us and with Hands across Matthews is this not the way
these things come about are caused to happen, the carrying of Sundays word into Mondays world? We hear, we believe, we do
we become doers of the Word. We keep our eyes on Jesus and our minds on mission and we get on with the tasks God has given
us to do in our own time in this place.
One last story from Salzgeberger: Telemachus was a monk who lived in Asia
Minor about the year AD 400. During his life the gladiatorial games were very popular. The gladiators were usually slaves
or political prisoners who were condemned to fight each other unto death for the amusement of the crowd. People were fascinated
by the sight of spurting blood.
Telemachus was very much disturbed that the Christian Emperor Honorius sponsored these
games and that so many people who called themselves Christians went to see them. What could be further from the Spirit of
Christ than the horrible cruelty of the gladiatorial games? The church was opposed to the games and spoke out against them,
but most people would not listen because they were deaf to God's unbounded message of love.
Telemachus realized that
talking about this evil was not enough. It was time to do something. But what could he accomplish - one lone monk against
the whole Roman Empire? He was unknown. He had no power. And the games had been entrenched in Roman life for centuries. Nothing
that he could possibly do would ever make a difference.
For a long time Telemachus agonized about the problem. Finally
he could not live with himself any longer. For the integrity of his own soul he decided to obey Christ's Spirit within him,
regardless of the consequences. He set out for Rome.
When Telemachus entered the city, the people he met had gone
mad with excitement. "To the Coliseum! The games are about to begin!"
Telemachus followed the crowd. Soon he was seated
among all the other people. Far away in a special place he saw the emperor.
The gladiators came out into the center
of the arena. Everybody was tense. Everybody was quiet. Now the two strong young men drew their swords. The fight was on!
One of them would probably die in a few minutes. Who would it be?
But just at that moment, Telemachus rose from his
seat and ran into the arena. He held high the cross of Christ and threw himself between the two combatants.
name of our Master," he cried, "Stop fighting!" The two men hesitated. Nothing like this had ever happened before. They did
not quite know what to do.
But the spectators were furious. Telemachus had robbed them of their anticipated entertainment!
They yelled wildly and stampeded toward the center of the arena. They became a mob. With sticks and stones they beat Telemachus
Far down there in the arena lay the little battered body of the monk. Suddenly the mob grew quiet. A feeling
of revulsion at what they had done swept over them. Their once deaf ears sensed a stirring. Emperor Honorius rose and left
the coliseum. The people followed him. Abruptly the games were over.
Honorius sensed the mood of the crowd. His ears
too were opened. He issued an edict forbidding all future gladiatorial games. Honorius' ears had been opened to the violence
and dehumanization of the games. As a result he was able to speak.
So it was that in about the year A.D. 404, because
one individual, filled with the love of Christ, dared to say no, all gladiatorial games ceased.*
"Welcome with meekness
the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves."
* The two Robert Salzgeberger stories are from his sermon, The Spiritual Organ of Corti. He credits
the story of Telemachus to Peace Be With You by Cornelia Lehn, Faith and Life Press, Newton, Kansas, "What Can One Person
Accomplish?" p. 27. Previously adapted from a story in Courage In Both Hands by Allen A. Hunter (Fellowship of Reconciliation,
21 Audubon Ave., New York,