September 2, 2018 — Rev. Paula Norbert
In our reading from James today, we hear some great advice about how to live out one’s faith. He writes, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” And he continues by adding that the doers who act will be blessed in their doing. James is providing insight into what it takes to live in faith and he understood that it is a process, as so much in life is…a process of weaving into our lives the kinds of practices that enable us to listen to the spiritual insights from Scripture and other important sources, to listen to our own life experiences, and to reflect on who we want to be and then seek to live that out day to day. Many people over time have embarked on the spiritual quest as they sought to discern where the Spirit of God was in their lives and how to best live that out. And for each person, the answer is likely different, because certainly we all bring with us different experiences, but embarking on the spiritual journey can be an important undertaking that gives meaning and substance to our lives. Let us pray, Gracious God, we ask that you be with each of us this day as we continue the journey of our lives. May your spirit inspire us, encourage us and provide the wisdom that we need to grow in faith and compassion. Amen.
As many of you know, George Harrison was the most spiritually inclined of the Beatles whose quest for love and peace throughout his life extended far beyond the borders of Great Britain. Some years ago, Martin Scorscese created a documentary film about George, called Living in the Material World, which takes its title from a George Harrison song. We learn that it was George who was perhaps the most profoundly disillusioned with the Beatlemania phenomenon early on. It was George who first looked to Indian music as a form of spiritual expression by taking sitar lessons with Ravi Shankar. And it was George who invited the other Beatles to reject drugs and attend their first encounter with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement in the West.
George was also the most excited and the most gratified by the practice of going inward to find the peace the external world so often violated. George wrote songs that openly celebrated his spiritual awakenings. One of his most famous songs “My Sweet Lord” is a reminder of George’s authentic desire to connect with the divine.
Shortly after the Beatles broke up, George’s friend and sitar teacher Ravi Shankar came to him with news of a terrible civil war occurring in Bangledesh, then a territory in East Pakistan. George immediately agreed to help and his response became the first international relief effort funded by a rock concert and live album, all of which resulted in millions of dollars of relief being sent directly to refugees in Bangledesh. Thousands of starving children’s lives were saved by George Harrison and those who supported this cause.
George continued his spiritual journey by turning to gardening and nature as a means of centering his soul. He continued to create music, of course, but was especially known at social events for passing out ukuleles and playing with everyone present as a form of communion with his fellow beings. George Harrison exemplified the reality that we are spiritual beings living in a material world.
The Rev. Kathryn Matthews reflected on the passage as she wrote, “The Letter of James is Christian wisdom literature, the voice of a teacher who wants us to live our ordinary, everyday lives with integrity, aligned with what we believe. “Faith” and “works” are not opposed; they’re not even disconnected. James’ talk about being doers and not just hearers is not about earning our salvation but letting our lives be wholly transformed by a God who is active in our world, continuing to bless God’s people and calling us to a dramatically new way of living, a dramatically different worldview not shaped by the culture around us but by the word of God. “
For example, our culture rarely highlights the quality of humility as a strength in those who want to shine. Scholars believe that James was referring to the stars and planets in the sky, but there’s more than one way to experience this metaphor. For example, there is certainly a contrast between those who often need to be the center of attention and those quiet individuals who have a different kind of radiance, as they shine with an inner light born of love and peace. We know the difference when we meet them, and often we are drawn to the people who seek to live lives of light and love.
Years ago, I had the opportunity to read The Active Life: A Spirituality of work, creativity and caring which was written by Parker Palmer. In it, he shares his personal exploration of a spirituality for the busy, sometimes frenetic lives many of us lead. In the book, he shares stories from a variety of religious traditions, including Taoist, Jewish, and Christian. In his own journey, he came to understand that for him, the spiritual life did not mean abandoning the world but engaging it more deeply through life-giving action. He celebrates both the problems and potentials of the active life, revealing how much they have to teach us about ourselves, the world, and God.
Year ago, the author was on a spiritual quest, seeking deeper meaning and direction on how best to integrate spirituality into his life. He spent an extended period of time in a contemplative community but ultimately decided that what he was truly drawn to was a life of action, of engagement and so he explored how he might weave together spiritual practices with the busyness of his life. Through the various stories included in the book, he comes to believe that the journey lies in being deeply involved in the world while also making time to nurture one’s spiritual life. He realized that it is a balancing act that changes frequently and that there are different models of how to make this real in our lives.
I trust that most of us can relate to his journey on some level. We have chosen to live within the activity of life while also seeking to grow in faith and our spiritual journeys. It’s a challenge now as it has always been. It takes commitment and discipline to really carve out the lives that work best for each of us. And we need different things at different times. The hope is that we continue to have as a priority this spiritual journey and that we pay attention to weaving together the kind of balance that seems to fit with our lives, to listen to our hearts and minds, to our very spirits and to attend to the things that bring peace, joy, and deeper meaning. There are times when we give priority to the demands of work and family and find little time for prayer or reflection. There are other times when we alternate between the two…working hard and then taking time for rest, retreat and reflection. Ultimately, Parker Palmer decided that for himself, an integrated model worked best…to integrate into our daily lives times of activity and times of reflection on that activity and to follow where our hearts lead in terms of purpose and hope.
Tomorrow is Labor Day, and it is always a good opportunity to consider the value of purposeful work in our lives, whatever that work may be, from work in our careers to the tasks required in our everyday lives, and we may realize that in the efforts we make in expressing our creativity and in caring for others, we are enriched in as we continue on the path of wisdom and love.
The founder of the Shakers, Ann Lee, had the wonderful expression, “Hands to work, Hearts to God” that helped frame the foundation of their spiritual enterprise. May we find time in the days ahead to reflect upon how our work has brought meaning as well as expression to this journey of life.
James 1:17-27 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.[a] 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
Hearing and Doing the Word
19 You must understand this, my beloved:[b] let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves[c] in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.