"Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only." (James
The lessons for this fifth and final Sunday of the Easter season lead
our Easter meditations on new life in Christ to a very practical conclusion.
Last Sunday's lesson from the Epistle of St. James reminded us that "every
good gift and every perfect gift is from above," and comes down from God.
(James 1.1 7) And his best gift is the gift of our new life in him. "Of
his own will he brought us to birth by the word of truth, that we should
be a kind of first-fruits of all his creation." (James 1.1 8) That is to
say, we have new life, because we know "the word of truth," the immeasurable
good will of God, revealed to us i n the Passion and Resurrection of our
Saviour, Jesus Christ. And we know that the unshakable, eternal good will
of God, "with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning,"
(James 1. 1 7) is the fundamental law of human life, and indeed of all
creation. To know that "word of truth," that word eternally true, and now
revealed to us in Christ our Lord, to know the love of God as the basis
of all existence, is to be born again, to see ourselves and all creation
with new and different eyes. "The former things have passed away: behold,
all things are new," (Isaiah 42.9) for we have seen the truth of God in
Christ. That word of God, implanted in our hearts, is our salvation, life,
But now, today's Epistle lesson, also from St. James, adds a further,
necessary note: "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only"; for if
we are hearers only, we deceive ourselves. "For if any be a hearer of the
word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face
in a glass. For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway
forgetteth what manner of man he was." The word of God, the "Perfect law
of liberty," is not just words, but something to be remembered, and something
to be done, and something to be lived. Our religion must be our living
of the word.
"If any man among you seem to be religious," says St. James, "and
bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion
is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this,
To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." The word of God is like a mirror. It is
the reflection of God's charity. We are to see ourselves in that, and to
frame our speech and all our deeds accordingly. By the word of God implanted
in our minds and hearts, we are to be mirrors of the charity of God, mirrors
unspotted by the ways of worldliness.
This is a very practical conclusion: "Be ye doers of the word."
And yet, its practicality is perhaps not very obvious to us. Bridling the
tongue, for instance; how practical is that? "Behold, we put bits in the
horses' mouths," says St. James, and later in his Epistle,
Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may
obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which
though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned
about with a very small helm .... Even so is the tongue a small member,
and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
And the tongue is afire, a world of iniquity. . . it defileth the whole
body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of
hell. (James 3.3-6)
By malicious words, or even just by careless, thoughtless words, we sin
against the charity of God. But that is only an example. In countless ways,
in thoughts, and words, and deeds, we sin against the charity of God. We
look into the mirror, and forget. How can we be doers of the word of God?
How can that be practical?
"Jesus said unto his disciples, Verily, verily, I say unto you,
Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you ...
ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." The practicality
of new life in Christ, the new life of charity, is only possible by prayer.
Therefore this final Sunday of the Easter season is the Sunday of "Rogation,"
which means "prayer." And it is crucial that we understand just what this
prayer is all about. For many, I suppose, prayer is just a matter of asking
God for this or that, according to particular occasions, or particular
emergencies. But really, prayer is something much more basic than this
or that particular request. It is a much more radical sort of asking.
It is the habit of relating, the habit of referring all our thoughts and
words and deeds, and all our circumstances to God through Jesus Christ.
It is not just particular petitions; it is thanksgiving, it is adoration,
it is penitence and intercession. Prayer is not some magic charm employed
to change the will of God. Prayer is looking into the mirror of the charity
of God, and remembering, and being changed by what we see.
The practicality of Christian life is not the practicality of
rules and standards, good as those might be. The practicality of Christian
life depends upon the practicality of prayer. And I don't mean just "saying
prayers," though that is a beginning, a sort of method of prayer. By prayer,
I mean habitual, continual awareness of our life as being plainly in the
presence of the Father, in every instant and in every circumstance, and
a steadfast willing of the will of God. The perfect pattern of such prayer
is the prayer our Saviour taught us. We place ourselves in the presence
of our Father, and adore his name: "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed
be thy name." We place our wills and every earthly circumstance within
his will: "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
We recognize our immediate dependence upon the charity of God: "Give us
this day our daily bread." We relate our life of charity to the charity
of God: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against
us." We ask that all of us may be delivered from temptation and the evil
one: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." And finally,
we refer it all to the all-sustaining, all-encompassing will of God: "For
thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever."
That is the pattern of Christian prayer, not just as a form of
words, but as a state of life. But for most of us, I think - for me at
least, and perhaps for you as well - that state of prayer, that union of
the soul with God, is not easily attained. It requires a thousand disciplines
of discouragement and disillusionment to wean us from our worldliness.
It requires a thousand repetitions of the lessons of the Gospel and the
grace of sacraments, a thousand tribulations of the world, until we come
to believe the word of God in Christ and to wait upon his Spirit.
The disciples, in the Gospel for today, are confident that they
have grasped the word of God.
Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no parable.
Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe? Behold, the hour cometh, yea is
now come, that ye shall be scattered every man to his own, and shall leave
me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. These
things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world
ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
And in the providence of God, that tribulation has its place, for only
in that tribulation would they come to understand his word, and learn to
share his overcoming of the world. Only then could they be truly doers
of the word; and so it is with us.