Sermon

James 1:22-25

Do What You Say

By Dr. Philip W. McLarty

I confess, I grew up on a steady diet of adages – little snippets of folk wisdom imparted to me mostly by my mother and by my grandmother, Pipi. For example, one day T. C. Ratliff, the neighborhood punk, came by the house wanting me to come out and shoot B.B. guns. I asked my mom, and she gave me a disapproving look and said, “Birds of a feather flock together.” I got the drift: Hanging out with T. C. was a one-way ticket to the reform school.

I used to go over to my grandmother, Pipi’s, house when my mother was busy. Pipi was a seamstress. She made dresses and did alterations for half the women in town. To keep me busy and out from under her feet, she taught me to sew. She’d thread a needle and give me a piece of fabric and a big wad of cotton, and I’d work for hours on end making her a first-rate pin cushion. Her two favorite expressions were, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” and, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”

Thinking about some of the adages from my childhood inspired me to poll the elders and members of the staff and those of you who came to the School for Christian Living Wednesday night. In no time, I got far more than I could use, but to give you the tip of the iceberg, here are just a few examples:

• A penny saved is a penny earned.
• A stitch in time saves nine.
• What goes around, comes around.
• You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.
• A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
• Haste makes waste.
• A fool and his money are soon parted.
• Too many cooks spoil the stew.

I even heard a few Wednesday night I’d never heard before. For example, Jim Jobling shared this old Scottish adage with me. It goes, “What’s mine’s mine, and what’s yours is me own.” And Judy Greer’s father told me that one of his favorites goes, “If brains were dynamite, you couldn’t blow your nose.” When it comes to adages, the list is endless.

What prompted me to think about adages was this verse of scripture from the Letter of James that says, “But be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deluding your own selves.” Though it’s not quite the same, that reminded me of the adage that goes: “Say what you’ll do, then do what you say.” I heard that a lot when I was growing up. “Say what you’ll do, then do what you say.” Make your words and deeds one and the same. Or, as some would say, “Talk the walk, then walk the talk.” In terms of faith, be who you’re called to be – a child of God, a Christian, a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We all have this tendency to say one thing and do another, to have good intentions, perhaps, but not follow through. When that happens, there’s a disconnect that undermines the integrity of our Christian witness. Why should others take us seriously when we talk about such things as love and forgiveness, if we’re not actually willing to love our neighbor and forgive those who’ve hurt us in some way?

Until we do what we say, it’s only talk. But when our words and actions become one and the same, others take notice and know we’re serious about what we believe.

I got an email from a friend this week. He said, “Faith is not a proclamation, but a way of life. Our testimony is living the living Word.” Jesus said much the same thing when he told his disciples,

“Beware of false prophets,
who come to you in sheep’s clothing,
but inwardly are ravening wolves.
By their fruits you will know them.
Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles?
Even so, every good tree produces good fruit;
but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit.
A good tree can’t produce evil fruit,
neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit.
Every tree that doesn’t grow good fruit
is cut down, and thrown into the fire.
Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.”
(Matthew 7:15-20)

This is both a reassurance and a warning: The good news is, you don’t have to be able to articulate your faith in eloquent words. You don’t have to know all the right theological terms.

Just doing it is enough, because, in the final analysis, it’s not what you say that’s all that important, but what you do – showing kindness to someone in need, befriending a child, comforting an older person, sharing a cup of cold water with one who thirsts – things like these speak volumes about what you believe.

St. Francis put it best when he said, “Preach at all times; if necessary, use words.”

When it comes to finding a perfect synthesis between word and deed, you couldn’t do better than turn to the life of Jesus. He said what he did, and he did what he said.

And it’s his actions that speak the loudest, like the time a woman who’d been caught in adultery was brought before him condemned to die. The elders wanted to know what he thought. But, instead of arguing with them, he doodled in the sand, then said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone at her.” And when everyone had slithered away, convicted of his own guilt, Jesus turned to the woman and said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way. From now on, sin no more.” (John 8:3-11)

Or, the time a blind man called out to Jesus, “Jesus, you son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said, “Rabboni, that I may see again.” And Jesus said simply, “Go your way. Your faith has made you well.” And immediately, the man’s eyes were opened, and he could see. (Mark 10:46-52)

One of my favorite stories of Jesus comes on the night he met with his disciples in the Upper Room. Without saying a word, he poured water into a basin and put a towel around his neck and, one by one, knelt before each of the disciples and washed their feet. To this day, there’s never been a more powerful symbol of what it means to be a servant to others in the name of Jesus Christ than foot washing.

Then, of course, there’s the Last Supper itself, where Jesus took an ordinary loaf of bread, gave thanks to God, broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “This is my body which is given for you.” And, after supper, taking a common cup, giving thanks to God and passing it his disciples, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

Jesus was one whose words and deeds were the same, and, though we may never achieve the perfection he did, we can try. “But be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deluding your own selves.” Take what you know about the love of God and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, however much or however little that may be, and put it to action. Say what you’ll do, then do what you say.

Copyright 2003 Philip W. McLarty. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.