Sermon text: James 2:1-10 (11-13), 14-17
The little book of James doesn’t play very well to the masses. It hammers away at us … challenging us in ways that may not be very popular right now. In fact, over the course of its journey as part of our Canon, the debate has raged as to whether or not it should have ever been included in the Bible. Leading that assault most notably, Martin Luther. His claim was that faith is understood as trust in God’s steadfast love, and is the only appropriate way for human beings to respond to God’s saving initiative. The bumper sticker on Luther’s carriage would have been: Salvation By Faith Alone. Luther believed that we could get so caught up in all the “doing” … the “good works” … that we’d miss the fact that salvation comes only as a free gift of God, received only by grace through faith.
James 1 states:
26If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Luther didn’t like that. Luther didn’t like the church telling him what he had to DO in order to be saved and James only reinforced this theme for Luther, saying it contradicted the biblical doctrine that faith alone is the only necessary means for salvation.
I can understand why he was disturbed by its implications.
Scholars aren’t even sure who the author of James really is. Was it one of the two Apostles, James, the son of Zebedee or the son of Alphaeus? Could it possibly be James, the half-brother of Jesus? John Calvin goes with James, son of Alphaeus. I’m not going to get caught up in all of that, though. Luther and others have their opinions … they are entitled to that. My heart just kind of tells me that whoever James was, he knew what we … as followers of the Way … should be about.… Read full sermon here (PDF)