Be Doers of the Word, and Not Merely Hearers

Homily for The Parish of St. Timothy’s and St. Paul’s, Hatchet Lake and Terence Bay, Nova Scotia
2 September 2018: Book of Alternative Services, Proper 22; Song of Solomon 2.8–13; Psalm 45.1–2, 7–10 ;
James 1.17–27; Mark 7.1–8, 14–15, 21–23
Audio for this homily may be found here:
St. Paul’s Anglican Church of Canada, Terrence Bay, Nova Scotia

Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers.

In the name of the + Most Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

It sounds good. But, what is James talking about? Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers. What does it mean to be a doer of the word? Further, whose word? Or, what word?

James’ letter is to a community of first century Jewish converts to Christianity. Coming from the Jewish tradition and being followers of Jesus — as Jews, they were familiar with the word as being Torah, the law of God according to Moses; as newly converted followers of Jesus, they understood Jesus to be the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. So, they would have heard the text this way: “…the one who looks intently into the perfect Word — Torah, [the law of God according to Moses], this is the word that has been fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus — the word continues through us in Jesus name. Jesus is the word that gives freedom to not become a hearer who forgets. Jesus is the word that gives freedom to a doer who acts. The one who hears and does this word, Jesus, is blessed.”

Putting the word into practice looks like this. Live a life of love. Practice the life of obedience that Christ calls us to. Do this and avoid the entrapments of self-deception. Do this and be protected from false worldly values. Live a life that reflects the love of Jesus. Practice the life of obedience that Jesus asks of us as his followers.

We will know that we are living faithfully, James says:

  • when we find ourselves quick to hear and slow to speak, controlling our tongues (listening deeply to others, listening to God’s voice speaking to our hearts)
  • when we find ourselves putting aside anger (anger is not a sign of God’s justice — get out of the way and let God do God’s work)
  • when we find that we are concerned enough with the pain, sorrow and needs of others to tend to their needs

When we do these things as doers of the word, we reflect Jesus to the world. James says that when we look at Jesus, the one perfect law (the living word), it is just like looking in a mirror and remembering our reflection when we walk away. To remember the reflection when we walk away from the mirror is like doing the word of Jesus that is in us.

When you look in the mirror, can you see the image of Christ that is in you? When you look at another, do you see the image of Christ reflected in that person?

I think this is what Jesus is getting at in today’s Gospel. The Pharisees and scribes are critical of the disciples for not following traditional purity customs…Jesus followers are reflecting something different than the status quoof human traditions and assumptions.

What is Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and scribes? Jesus claims some great news! God’s commandments override human tradition. Obedience to God’s commands are matters of the heart that are more important than keeping up with appearances. Keeping up with the appearances of the world are like walking away from the matters of the heart. The matters of the heart are these: Do justice, have mercy and walk humbly with God.[1]  Love the Lord God with your whole heart, mind and soul.[2]Love your neighbour as yourself.[3]

Just this past week, a friend shared a post on Facebook. It was about a study conducted a few years ago to find out what 16-29-year-old nonbelievers in the US think about Christians. It makes me sad to think about, and sad to think that the responses won’t surprise you.

Here are the findings. Christians are  judgmental, hypocritical, anti-homosexual, too political, insensitive and boring. Fifty percent based their responses on encounters with folks who identify as Christian. David Kinnaman and David Lyons, the authors of the study, said that “those outside of Christianity…reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christianity.” The writers conclude that what they discovered about what passes for contemporary Christianity is unchristian.[4]

Something isn’t adding up here. Fifty percent of the nonbelievers based their responses on encounters with folks who identify as Christian. As our reading from James suggests, those respondents were encountering something in another that was not mirroring Christ in the world. Perhaps they had forgotten what they had seen in the mirror. Or, as the authors of the study suggest — they rejected the  reflection. They then imposed something else on the world — something that prevented others from truly seeing the image of the living word who is Jesus.

With all of the words that are constantly coming at us these days, with all of the voices competing for our attention — those voices all claim to be truer than the rest — it is critical that we be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who walk away, forgetting Jesus the word (or rejecting it) and picking up where they left off.

Thomas Cranmer, an early reformer of our Anglian tradition, sums this up well. Though written a few hundred years ago, his words, like those of James’ letter, are especially relevant to our lives today. The Holy Spirit working through James, and Cranmer, continues its work through us, today.

When you “feel and perceive…faith [welling up] in you [that’s the Holy Spirit!], rejoice in it, and be diligent to maintain it, and keep it still in you; let it be daily increasing, and more and more be well [in your] working [do the good that Christ is doing within you!], and so shall you be sure that you shall please God by this faith…”[5]

My hope for us today is that we are being encouraged in our faith as followers of Jesus. I give thanks for this Parish of St. Timothy’s and St. Paul’s where we all get to practice what we preach with our lives. May what we practice and share, our faith and our love, bring sure confidence that as we love and know God — that faith and love will increase. As faith and love increases, may we continue the good work that began with Jesus, the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, the truest word we can know.

Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers.


[1]Micah 6:8

[2]Deuteronomy 6:4-5;

[3]Leviticus 19:17-18; Luke 10:25-28

[4]this study is published in a book by Kinnaman and Lyons, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters (Baker: Grand Rapids).

[5]from Thomas Cranmer’s misc. writings came this piece entitled “A True and Lively Faith”