James 1:17-27

Doers of the Word

By The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel


Helen Keller was born blind and deaf. After a long struggle, she comes to understand the power of words. It was the climax of the play and movie, The Miracle Worker, about the young Helen and her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Anne Sullivan records the moment in her memoirs: “This morning, while she was washing, she wanted to know the name for water…I spelled w-a-t-e-r and thought no more about it until after breakfast. Then it occurred to me that with the help of this new word I might succeed…We went into the pump house and I made Helen hold her mug under the pump while I pumped. As the cold water gushed forth filling the mug, I spelled w-a-t-e-r in Helen’s free hand. The word coming so close upon the sensation of cold water rushing over her hand seemed to startle her.

She dropped the mug and stood as one transfixed. A new light came into her face. She spelled ‘water’ several times. Then she dropped to the ground and asked for its name and pointed to the pump and trellis and suddenly she asked for my name. I spelled ‘teacher’. Just then the nurse brought Helen’s little sister into the pump house and Helen spelled ‘baby’ and pointed to the nurse. All the way back to the house she was excited and learned the name of every object she touched, so that in a few hours, she had added thirty new words to her vocabulary.”

I know of no better example than this story of the power of words. The same excitement, vigor, enthusiasm comes to us when we are touched by the Word of God. When we come to understand the message of God’s love for us in Jesus, how God sent us a Savior to be with us, lifting us up, bearing our burdens, dying for our sins and promising us new and everlasting life, we are transformed. Martin Luther said, “Faith makes us joyful and at peace with God and makes us love God.” Real faith makes us love God and other people—sometimes even folks we don’t like very much. Faith is active in love.

James, in our second lesson for this morning, gives us good and strong advice to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. His book is perhaps the best in the entire Bible for how we should live our lives as Christians. James does not write much about God’s action for us in Christ—and that has troubled many Christians through the centuries. Luther even debated whether it should be in the Bible at all and called it a “straw epistle.” But James is an important book for how we should live out our faith. It is written for people who already know and love the Lord. The book is a guide for us as Christians to remember to be doers and hearers of God’s Word.

“Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” That is good advice for daily living. Ben Sirach in the book Eccliasticus which is found in the Greek Old Testament but not the Hebrew says much the same thing: “Be quick to hear and be deliberate in answering.” Shammai, a great rabbi who lived at the time of Jesus, cautioned, “Say little and do much.” The American Indians have a proverb, “Listen, or your tongue will keep you deaf.”

We all know people who can’t stop talking—we know some who are quick to judge others, who complain and gripe and carry-on and we know that same of these people may not be ready to pitch in when there is real work to get done. It’s quite an indictment when it’s said that he or she is “all talk and no do.” James is telling us to not just be hearers of God’s Word but doers of the Word. He also writes about those who let their tongues get away from them: “If anyone considers himself or herself to be religious and does not bridle their tongue, their religion is in vain.” James writes to remind Christians that the tongue can become a source of mischief and hurt, the member most in need of being bridled. We know how quickly words can wound and hurt others. The tongue can praise God and tell others the Good News of Jesus. Our words can commend and encourage others in their life’s journey. Yet we can also use our tongues to curse, swear, lie or deceive.

There is a Japanese fable about a man who went to heaven and to his surprise he saw a shelf covered with human tongues. The heavenly guide told him, “These are the tongues of people who spoke sweet words of virtues, who said what was right, but never did anything to follow their words. So their tongues have come to rest in heaven and the rest of them are somewhere else.”

James also tells us in this Epistle what it means to be a doer of God’s Word: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: To visit orphans and widows in their affliction.” To visit in the biblical sense means more than a friendly social call, but to bring every blessing. I think of Central Lutheran Church and how richly we have been blessed to be blessings in our community. People have been giving and working to build a Habitat for Humanity house this summer. People sign up to cook and serve the second Friday of each month in the family feeding program. People volunteer with the Eugene Mission and Fish. Our new senior fellowship, GEMS, delivers baskets to shut-ins each quarter to remind these folks who can no longer worship with us that they are valued and appreciated. We have people visiting the hospital every day to make sure that people are seen, others bring Holy Communion to those unable to shut-ins. We make our facility available for Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and many community programs. We have a group signed up to return for the fourth year in a row to the Kids Alive orphanage in Guatemala and another group has signed up to return to Jamaica for a second mission. We support India Partners. Our young people worked this summer in Texas building housing for the elderly. We at Central Lutheran Church are committed to living out our Christianity. It is not an easy task to live out your faith in the places where you work, go to school, on the golf course or Autzen Stadium, in your neighborhoods and communities. I commend you for walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

I was reading recently of Sister Antonio Brenner, a nun who voluntarily lives with the inmates of La Mesa prison in Tijuana, Mexico. Sister Antonio tells this story, “A woman stopped to see me after she had visited her husband in prison. I was tired and had only $15. I thought to myself, here goes my money! I knew that wasn’t a good attitude. Even so, I said, ‘Hello, Bertha, what do you want?’ That was uncharitable because I knew what she wanted.

‘I don’t have anything to eat,’ she said. I handed her $10. Just then the Lord said clearly to me, ‘Is this the way to give away what’s mine?’

‘I’m sorry, Lord,’ I said, then called to Bertha. ‘I’m sorry,’ I told her, ‘my head was in the clouds. How are you and your children? I’m so glad you thought of me. Do come here whenever you need anything.’ And I took my last $5 and gave it to her. Then I asked the Lord, ‘Now are you happy?'”

We hear the Good News of Jesus and rejoice in God’s love for us. We claim God’s power to live and do God’s will. We share what we have. Doers of the Word are different people, changed people. Faith in Jesus makes a difference for our daily life. God works in us the fruits of faith—peace, joy, love. What seems hard—sharing with others the good news, giving of our time and resources to help others–becomes a joy and not a burden. In giving to the widow or orphan or refugee or homeless youth, we receive much in return. When we become encouragers of others, rather than critics, we are blessed. When we are doers of the Word we change our priorities and care less about what others think of us and more of what God thinks of us. As we are doers rather than hearers only, we grow in faith and knowledge of God’s presence in our lives.

C.S. Lewis once compared our situation as Christians trying to live out our faith in our daily life as something like a child trying to make his first letters. The father puts his own large hand over the child’s small hand and traces the letter with him. Christ comes into our lives and works great miracles—we hear God’s Word and we allow God to use us to live out that Word. We use our ears to hear God’s message. We use our tongues to glorify and praise God, to tell others of the wonderful things God has done and is doing for us. We use our lives to glorify and praise God, to live out our faith in daily life. We are hearers and doers. Amen.
Copyright 2006 James D. Kegel. Used by permission.