You preach God at me, the least you could do is your job.
The sentence hung in the air like a bell rung, it’s pitch lingering long before it is silent. Then she said it again:
You preach God at me, the least you could do is your job.
Though muttered under her breath, it stabbed deep inside my soul as if she said it straight to my face. A co-worker of mine was struggling with someone in her department and was halfway venting to me and halfway to herself. It was a powerful judgement to bring forth in that moment and though I do not know the whole story, it’s a warning we should all heed because faith resiliency leads to faithful work. This is where our insides, the values we uphold and the beliefs we cherish, match our outsides, the actions we take and the words we speak. During this season of ordinary time we have been addressing the topic of faith resiliency. What keeps us believing in Jesus and engaging in our faith? So many voices have answered this question, encouraging and challenging us thus far in this blog series. I would encourage you to read previous posts. And as I address this topic myself, I couldn’t move past this profound moment at a simple grocery store job that speaks to this very thing.
It would behoove us then to take a moment to read James 2:14-26 in its entirety:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
At some point along my faith journey, it became taboo to talk about acts. Even taking into account the slippery slope of believing our actions can save us which could then lead to self-righteousness and pride, we can’t full-stop our call to action. The mere exercising of our faith moves us to act, if it does not, then we are to question if our faith is real. This may feel harsh because it is. It’s an exhortation which is different from encouragement. Biblical exhortation is about calling us up and forth, toward a greater walk of faith that includes discipline and correction. We don’t like to be corrected. Instead, we want to be given the next popular study or spiritual growth program to continue our inner work. The last thing we want to hear is, “do your job.” I am just as guilty of this as the next person. My current work at a grocery store is hard work at times and mind blowingly boring in others. The opportunity to slack off is immense and daily I hear of the lack of workers actually doing their job well. Though James is not specifically addressing those of us in vocational, tent-making jobs he is however still addressing how our faith is expressed and completed by our actions.
This word completed in the greek connotes the finishing of something or to bring it to its fullest end. As in the crossing of a finish in a race, the work of running has come to a conclusion and the race has been completed. I don’t want us to confuse our “work” with the work Jesus did for us on the cross. He is the ultimate perfecter of our faith. Our faith and actions does not void out of imperfections and sins, only that is found in Jesus alone. We do not also, conjure up more faith by mere actions or inner growth. Jesus is the Source, the Fountain of faith from which we drink. Any other source outside him is a cheap mirage and we’ll end up drinking sand in the dessert. As the author of Hebrews perfectly states both the Source and the challenge:
let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.Hebrews 12:1-3
As my co-worker’s complaint hung in the air, I contemplated how actions are outpourings of a faith becoming a physical representation of belief in the person of Jesus. I will show you my faith by my deeds. We can, by our very actions, make Jesus known. Martin Luther called this way of being as “little Christs”. By this we are bringing our faith to its fullest possible point. A completion. This takes nothing short of radicle, steadfast faith that is able to endure the journey to the very end. Thanks be to Jesus, we don’t have to conjure up this enduring faith from within ourselves. Faith remains a gift given to us by Jesus himself. By faith, we are then enabled to nurture and deepen its roots through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our work in this race is Triune in nature. We are not left to run alone.
We have the power of the Holy Trinity running alongside and within us. Yet, how does this translate to doing a job well? Even the most mundane, boring job? Because we are completers. By our new nature that is founded in the Completer, we have the wherewithal to complete what is set before us. Whether it be a simple task to our very faith, there is no difference between them. Faith and deeds, deeds and faith. There is no separation, only completion.
Listen up though, I am however not saying perfection.
Completion does not imply that our completion is to be perfect. We are at best, clumsy completers, stumbling through our faith, leaning only on the power of Christ which turns our imperfect actions into divine encounters with the Perfect One. Only in him can the mundane become mystical. Though there may be room for growth, there is no ominous goal of perfection. At times, our completion may feel like we are crawling over the finish line, sweaty and exhausted. Let me say it louder for people in the back – We are not aiming for perfection, only faithfulness! – What we have to offer can only be imperfect, because we are imperfect and yet it can also be faithful, an outpouring of the Perfect Faithful Presence pressing us onward in this race.
This is the warning James is stating: If there is no (imperfect) faithful action with the wind of Jesus at your back, perhaps you should wonder if you are in the race at all.
This challenge should make us shudder a bit. For faith in Jesus calls us to action and that action calls forth faith in Jesus. If action is missing, perhaps Jesus is too. Faith resiliency isn’t hidden from the eyes of the world. It is a light set on a stand giving others the ability to see the world more clearly. We are completers, commissioned by the living God to do the work of the Gospel which includes both preaching and tent-making. May our faith be known by getting the job done.