Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, September 2, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
It is a well-worn cliché about the disappointments that come our way when others fail to do our bidding or to meet our expectations. I learned it in Pidgin English at home, in the school yard, in the neighborhood, even at church.
Often it was said with frustration and disappointment; sometimes derision: “Ah, you only waha; only mouth; only talk! No can count on you.”
You may be more familiar with the well-known version of the cliché: “Actions speak louder than words.” Or “If you are going to talk the talk then you must walk the walk.” For the writer of The Letter of James they are much, much more than clichés.
The Rev. Dr. Archie Smith is a Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Psychology and Counseling who served on the faculty of Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California for many years. I walked into his class in the Fall of 1979 as a first-year seminary student and over the course of the time that followed, I came to appreciate his knowledge and wisdom.
I came across his reflections on our reading from James in an anthology of theological reflections. He writes, “James is keenly aware of the power of human speech both to build up and to destroy. (He) was a keen observer of human nature . . . ” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 14)
Dr. Smith points out that James “paid close attention to the details of everyday living. He noticed the generous acts, the small gifts, the gestures, and the words we use.” (Op. cit.) He contends that for James, words reveal the way we relate to one another. Words tell us something about our beliefs and our intentions. They tell us something about what motivates us and about how we feel.
James admonishes us to “be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19) He does not ask that we suppress or deny our anger, but to understand its effect on our lives. Still such an admonition is difficult for most of us.
James says that we must rid ourselves of “all sordidness, and the growth of wickedness” and “welcome with meekness” (James 1:21) the truth that “every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above . . . ” - from God. (James 1:17)
But he goes even further by pointing out that what we do matters. In other words, “Actions do speak louder than words.” Long before the phrases became clichés, James reminded the faithful of his day and he reminds us in our day that it is not enough for us to be “hearers of the word.” We must be “doers of the word.” We must “be love.” We must walk the talk.
It may be that the wisdom of James touched the lives of others down through the generations who provide us with a glimpse of the lesson for today. Consider the following:
“Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.” Peter Marshall, Chaplain, U.S. Senate, 1949
“Action is eloquence.” - Shakespeare
“Talk doesn’t cook rice.” – A Chinese Proverb
“Be content to act, and leave the talking to others.” - Baltasar Gracián y Morales, A Spanish Jesuit, 1658
“Do not be wise in words – be wise in deeds.” – Jewish Proverb
“Action is the antidote to despair.” – Joan Baez, Singer and songwriter
“When deeds speak, words are nothing.” – African Proverb
“We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.” Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States, 1923-1929
“Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold, but so does a hard-boiled egg.” – Author Unknown
“Aia i ka ʻōlelo ke ola, aia i ka ʻōlelo ka make. In the word is life and death. Watch what you say.” - Hawaiian Proverb
“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples . . . ” – Jesus (John 13:34-35)
In our reading this morning, James offers us a final word on “religion that is pure and undefiled before God” (James 1:27); of a faith that has value and worth and it is this: “to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)
So it is that we must demonstrate our faith in action. Our care for orphans and widows; for the downtrodden and dispossessed; for those on the margins of society require our compassion, our love, our aloha.
Such a demonstration of our care, of our faith is more easily said that done. That is something the religious leaders of Jesus’ day knew well. They questioned him one day about why it was that the disciples did not live “according to the tradition of the elders.” (Mark 7:5) Jesus responded by calling them hypocrites and reminding them of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.” (Mark 7:6-7)
Both James and Jesus remind us that we must not only be hearers of the word but doers. What we say are words that come from our lips; what we do are actions that come from our hearts.
May our souls be renewed as we gather to share in the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup. May we go forth into the world to serve God with gladness in rendering to no one evil for evil; strengthening the faint-hearted; supporting the weak; helping the afflicted; honoring all people; loving and serving God, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.