Read Scripture: James 2:14-26
One of my spiritual heroes, or saints, is my grandmother, Alice, who passed away five years ago. Perhaps more than anyone else I’ve known, Grandma Alice exemplified for me what it looks like to live out one’s faith. She had an active prayer life, meeting regularly with a prayer group from her church. But she also started most mornings talking with God from her favorite chair as she watched the birds outside at the feeder. When I’d come to visit, we’d squeeze into that chair together, and she’d remind me that she prayed for me every day. She was active in her local UMW (United Methodist Women), and was committed to an annual trip to Red Bird Mission in Kentucky. Grandma also cared deeply about justice issues. She stayed informed about hate groups around the country and she even participated in marches and demonstrations for peace and inclusion in her small town in Michigan. Grandma Alice’s deep spiritual life found expression in faithful activity.
This expression of faith through faithful activity is what James calls the completion of faith in James 2:22. But we who are in the Wesleyan tradition might also call it growth in holiness or sanctification. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed that we can be sanctified, or made perfect in love, through God’s sanctifying grace. Christian perfection doesn’t mean that we don’t have flaws, face temptations, or make mistakes. We aren’t expected to be super-human. Rather, it means that through the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, we come into a maturity of faith in which we become so much like Christ that our hearts are “habitually filled with the love of God and neighbor.” In the words of Bishop Kenneth L. Carder, we are “made holy and whole.” Or in the words of James, our faith, expressed in faithful activity, is made complete.
John Wesley believed that all of us need support and accountability on this journey toward sanctification. We weren’t meant to go it alone. For that reason, the early Methodists gathered in small groups to support one another and “watch over one another in love.” They also held each other accountable to three rules, which were to “do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.” Wesley believed that practices such as public worship, family and private prayer, Bible study, Christian conversation, and acts of mercy and compassion are ways by which Christians can be “nourished in grace and grow in love for God and neighbor.” In other words, they are faithful activities through which our faith can be made complete.
One of our hopes for you, as you journey with The Vine, is that you will cultivate a small group of people who will watch over one another in love and support one another in growing in grace. We hope that you will worship together, pray together, study the Bible together, and engage in Christian conversation. We also hope that you will find ways to “do good,” by serving together in your community as an expression of your faith. Maybe you already have such a group. If so, wonderful! But if not, perhaps you can begin by thinking about a few people in your community who might be interested in such a group. Invite them to your home and participate in our worship experience together. Or meet at a coffee shop and share in conversation about what it means to put faith into action. Maybe you could invite them to serve with you one Saturday. However you go about it, we hope that you’ll seek out a group of people with whom you can offer mutual support and accountability for the journey of faith.
John Wesley never claimed to have reached Christian perfection, and neither did my Grandma Alice. But both of them had deep faith, nurtured in the context of Christian community and expressed through faithful activity in the world. May their legacies, along with so many saints, inspire us to grow in love of God and neighbor–on toward perfection!
Questions for Reflection
Who are the saints in your life whose deep faith found expression in faithful activity? What was that faithful activity? How did you see God’s grace at work in their lives?
Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
List five things that bring you deep gladness.
Now list five places where you see the world’s deep hunger.
Are there places where your gladness and the world’s hunger meet?
How might God be calling you to faithful activity?
If time and money were of no consequence, what would you co-create with God?
Have you ever felt like you weren’t doing enough? What made you feel that way? How did you (or could you) let go of critical voices and focus on being a co-creator with God?
Reflect on your experience(s) in Christian community. Did they watch over you in love and nurture your growth in love of God and neighbor? If so, how? If not, what could they have done differently? What could you do to help cultivate a Christian community of mutual support and accountability?
_________________________  See Matthew 5:48.  See John Wesley’s Sermon 40, Christian Perfection: https://nbc.whdl.org/sites/default/files/resource/book/EN_John_Wesley_040_christian_perfection.htm  These are a modernized version of the “General Rules of the United Societies,” popularized by Bishop Reuben P. Job in his book, Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan way of Living (Abingdon, 2007).  Carder, Kenneth L., “A Wesleyan Understanding of Grace,” from the Resource UMC website, accessed 8/10/23: https://www.resourceumc.org/en/content/a-wesleyan-understanding-of-grace.