Now I have always liked the book of James. I know that Martin Luther famously described it as an ‘epistle of straw,’ but, I simply can’t agree.
One of my favourite verses is James 1, 27 ‘religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself undefiled by the world.’ (NRSV).
The Message Bible puts it is as follows: ‘Anyone who sets himself up as religious by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and the loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.’
So there we have it: religion defined. So if we know what true or pure religion is, from a New Testament perspective, we can also begin to perceive what an irreligious church / society / individual looks like: Full of hot air but, no action?
In Kabubbu, rural Uganda, this week I have been privileged to meet and pray with many widows and orphans and, believe me they understand terms like ‘distress,’ and, ‘plight.’ They know what it is to feel ‘loveless.’
I met a lady who is regularly beaten by her grandson, despite the fact that she, a widow, looks after and cares for him. This afternoon I visited another elderly lady, a widow, who is paralysed from the waist downwards. She likes to shuffle, on her bottom, to her front porch, where she can watch younger, able bodied neighbours go about their daily chores. Frequently she is prevented from doing so, because her ‘daughter,’ locks her inside. She believes her daughter wants her dead.
Sadly, the daughter proclaims a strong Christian faith, as a ‘born again.’ To be fair she has undertaken acts of kindness in the community, yet, seems unable to exercise compassion within her own home.
The daughter also regularly belittles her own girl, and, leaves her to look after grandma. When we arrived Grandma tried to shuffle out of her room on a foam mattress, when she could no longer move her granddaughter, who loves her deeply, pulled he along on. . Whilst we prayed with, and for, the family Grandma had an ‘accident.’ We were able to leave food and clothing, which her granddaughter pledged to hide from her own mother. A stark, but sadly not atypical, example but, which of these family members was practicing religion ‘pure and undefiled?’
For our part how seriously do we take James pastoral epistle within the context of our own communities and, the world at large? We should do so if we are serious about the plea ‘thy kingdom come on earth, as in heaven.’