This sermon was written as a result of a very hard week, probably the hardest I have had thus far as Pastor of my church. I had problems with my utilities, problems with my members, and I was ready to give up. The previous week I had re-preached a sermon entitled "Belief Through Prayer", (I'll post it later) and it came to me to follow up on that sermon, remembering the age old saying Practice What You Preach. Sadly, the most interesting parts of this sermon are not caught here, and I don't tape my services right now, so I can't even re-capture what I said. But I did go on at length about having a vision, and I challenged my members to work with me to build the church, emphatically saying at one point "I'll do it with or without you." That was a bit harsh, I realize now, but I was a bit frustrated. I'll try not to do that again.
James 2:14-26, but I will only read the 14th through the 17th verses.
"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
Let us consider the topic:
Last week, we talked about faith, belief and prayer. We talked about how these are integral parts to the Christian ethic. How without these three items, being a Christian will be difficult at best.
So working from the understanding that we must have faith, that we must believe and we must pray, in spite of everything, in spite of all of the obstacles and roadblocks in our way, if we just have a little bit of faith, our Christian Journey is made a little easier.
Preachers are often told to practice what they preach. We are told that if they preach something on Sunday morning, that we ought to live it in our daily lives. And while it has always been my effort to do just that, this week I found it hard to do.
For I admit to you that this has been a trying week. It was one of those weeks that everything that could go wrong, did. Not only did everything go wrong, but I began to question myself, wondering what in God's name did I get into.
Some of you know the problems we have had this week. Problems with past due bills and the like. This was one of those weeks that, to quote Lou Palmer, "was enough to make a nigger turn black."
Tuesday I was at my wits end. I wondered to myself, why me? What did I do to get placed in this situation. Then I remembered the sermon I preached Sunday, and I came here in the sanctuary and knelt down to pray. And I tried to keep the tears from running down my face as I made my application to God, asking him for the answers to questions I didn't even know how to begin to ask.
When I got up from the altar, I remembered some thoughts that were running through my mind last Sunday morning, and something that Sister Madison reminded me of Monday night and that was what Frederick Douglass said, "Without struggle, there is no progress."
Then I remembered one of the things our founder, Richard Allen was fond of saying. "Without vision, the people perish." Then the words that are quoted here by James came to me. "Faith without works is dead." In short, this week, I lost sight of my vision, lost a little faith, and didn't know what to believe.
Before I go any further, let's talk about the scripture. We have a letter from James, the half-brother of Jesus. These set of scriptures are just prior to the ones we read earlier, where James is talking about the necessity of using faith. In very plain and simple language, James tells us that unless we are acting on our faith, unless we are doing something with it, then our faith is useless.
James asks us the question, what good is faith without works? How can you have faith and not act on it? How can you say you believe in something, yet you do nothing to support it? These are all questions that are contained in James statements.
We see the parallel in the scripture to with the believers who give lip service, and the sinners who actually are out practicing their faith. James talks about the fact that a believer may notice a person has no food or clothes, but do nothing to aid that person. That, James says in short, is not faith. However, Rahab the prostitute, was justified in her works when she provided shelter for those who were spying, then advised them to go in another direction, lest they get caught.
What James seems to be saying in this scripture is that you can say whatever you want, you can sound as holy and as pious as you want, but unless you are willing to back up your thoughts and words and good intentions with actions, everything you do is for nothing. To paraphrase, either put up or shut up.
This is an interesting position for James to take because it was somewhat of a departure from Paul. While Paul was also a believer in good deeds, Paul never said anything in such blunt language. But James, not the prolific writer that Paul was, says how he feels.
But there is another thing buried in between the lines of this scripture that we must pay attention to. We know that faith without works is dead, but how can you perform those works if you first do not have the vision. For in order to truly have faith, we must have a vision. We must be willing to follow through on the vision that we have been given, because God has inspired us with the vision.
It is the vision that we receive through the grace of God, often through prayer, that assists us in our faith, and aids us in our belief. We get visions from many different means. Now I am not talking about the type of visions that tell you exactly what to do, when to do it and where, though those are certainly covered in this. But I am talking about the kind of vision that helps to give you a little clarity, a little focus on something you may have thought of yourself.
When we speak of visions, I also am not talking about clairvoyance, the kind that predicts the future. What I am really speaking of is when you get a small idea, and you don't know where it came from, but you know it is a good one. I am also talking about the kind of visions that help you to imagine something in a totally different state that it is currently.
For instance, in order for an architect to design a building, he must first envision what he wants us to look like. Then he must figure out whether or not it is practical. Then he has to believe that someone will want to build that building. Then, he finds someone who will.
In each instance, the architect has to utilize each one of the principles revolving around faith. He is well aware that even though he may have the vision, the building is not going to draw or build itself, no matter how much he believes it will. He has to have some type of action to realize his vision.
We as Christians are so different. We run into so many people who say so many things, who know all the right scriptures to quote, who know all of the right things to say, but they hardly ever really do things themselves. They pick and choose what scriptures to follow, thinking that just knowing the Bible is going to get them into Heaven. James said early in the first chapter that we are to be doers of the word and not just hearers of the word. We have to act, we have to do something, we have to have works that measure up to our faith.
When it comes to acting on your visions, it is important to remember something that was told to me last night. God will give you as far as you can see. If you can only see as far as your nose, that is all you will get. If you can only see are far as your finger tip, that is all you will get. But if you can see and envision things that you never dreamed of, if you can think of and envision the impossible, then God can and will give you that as well.
We come from a long line of visionaries. Richard Allen had a vision where men and women of African descent could come into a place and be safe from all hurt harm and danger while they worshiped the Lord. His vision evolved into the A.M.E. Church. Dr. King envisioned a place where blacks would be free from oppression and racism, and while that has not been realized yet, he at least worked to try to fulfill his vision. There are a thousand, maybe even a million other men and women who have acted upon visions given to them by God, which worked for the uplift of all people.
For remember that black people by our very nature have had to be visionaries. In order to escape slavery, in order to combat racism, in order to escape from the oppressive nature that has plagued our society, we have had to be visionaries just to make it day to day. And we have always had people like King and Allen, but also like Malcolm and Garvey, and Rosa Parks, and DuBois, Washington and other who have shared their visions with us, even if it was just a piece of a vision.
And today, looking at the shape of our society, we see that people are in need of a vision. A vision to conquer the ills of our several communities. For don't think that just because we are University Park that we don't need a vision. We may need it more than some people in the roughest neighborhoods, because it is easy to fool yourself in the suburbs. But just as we need visions around the world, we also need visionaries right here.
Coupled with vision and faith and belief must also be patience. For your visions may not be fulfilled today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year or even in this lifetime, but if we have the faith in God, and believe in His word and believe in what God has made it possible for us to do, then we will truly have faith with works.
We must also remember that none of this is easy. It is much easier to tell someone to do something or tell them how to do it than to do it ourselves. Faith coupled with hard work are the only ways we can succeed. Faith coupled with action are the only ways we can live up to God's word. If we truly believe in what has been given to us, if we truly have faith, if we pray in earnest, then our walk with God becomes closer.
So this morning I challenge you to be a visionary for Christ. Remember that God himself had a vision. God had a vision for mankind. He created us in His image and in His likeness. He gave us the ability to think and love and hope and believe. Then he sent his son. He sent his son in order that we might have a better life. His visionary action came when his son was killed upon that cross, then rose three days later. And when he rose from the dead, he continued in his previous actions. He continued to be active and involved in our life, touching our minds, our souls and our bodies.
So if you believe you have a vision this morning, I challenge you to act upon it. If you believe God has put something on your heart, then be a doer of his word and not just a hearer. Don't let the people who only give lip service stand in the way of your vision. Don't let those who would rather talk than act affect your walk with God. If you believe in that God has placed something upon your heart, then pray on it, then believe in it, have faith in it, then act on it. Because remember, God is a God of action. He is a pro-active God. He is a God that believes in progress, in forward motion and forward thinking. He is a God that is able to give you whatever you envision, be it small or large.
This morning, I tell you that I have a vision for this church. And it is a vision of progress, of hope, of faith and of love. It is a vision of growth, of new ministries, of new people. A vision of children running up and down the aisles, of people getting married, babies being baptized, of families coming together and joining God's kingdom as one.
I have a vision of success. Of progress. Of success. A vision where people's souls are saved. Where their lives are turned around. A vision that Miller Chapel will be able to change people, to make their lives better, more secure in the fact that Jesus is Lord. That God is able. That nothing is to big or small for God to handle. My vision is for this church to overflow with the Holy Spirit. For the angels in heaven to sing when we bring another soul to Christ. For God to smile upon us as we build his kingdom here on earth.
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