The Epistle of James is one of those books in the New Testament referred to as a General Epistle -- not written to a particular church but freely circulated to all the churches at that time. Believed to have been written by the brother of our Lord, it is one of the books that was placed in the New Testament by the ancient church much later than many of the others. Martin Luther didn't like it at all, stating publically and frequently that he didn't think it should be in the Bible at all.
Yet here it is, and its message is direct and strikes at the heart of all of us who like rules and regulations. We like boundaries and knowing what we can and can't do. We like enforcing those rules and regs on others far more than upon ourselves. And it is that kind of rule keeping and enforcement that James addresses. He speaks to all of us who are so willing to be faithful to the spoken testimony of our faith, but the doing of God's will is far more in question.
This past Sunday, the Epistle lesson spoke of our penchant for behaving favorably toward the rich and privileged of our communities, while acting as if the poor are invisible. James reminds us that God is the Creator of us all, that Jesus came to die for us all, that God's love is poured out on the poor just as graciously and generously as on the rich. In fact, he reminds his readers that it is the rich and privileged that are the ones who so often bring difficulties into personal lives, dragging people into court, demanding payment of debt without mercy, etc. Yet almost without exception, we are seeking out the company of the privileged and the famous, as if their accomplishments or financial excess makes us better or more important.
James reminds us that those who would seek to serve the Lord faithfully and would keep their focus on God's will, would provide for the fatherless and the widows, keeping one's heart and mind free from the priorities that drive the greed and excess of the world around us. Jesus' words seem to echo through these passages: "Forasmuch as you have done unto the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done it unto Me."
And now Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witness of Christ our Lord. To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever, Amen.