Passage: If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Journal: I find it telling that James uses the word "religious" instead of terms such as sanctified or holy. He seems to be getting at the outward act of religion as opposed to the inward practice of religion. This past week, my quiet time readings were in the Book of Amos. The prophet Amos brought a similar message to Israel, rebuking God's chosen people for the exercise of religion (such as daily sacrifices) over offering justice and mercy to the oppressed and needy.
Through Amos, God said this to His people: "I hate your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:21-26)
James and Amos strike the same tone. Amos notes that God abhors the insincere act of religion. Conversely, God demands "justice and mercy to the oppressed and needy." James focuses on the identity of those in need, by admonishing the children of God to "look after orphans and widows in their distress." Amos implores that God demands our "righteousness." James admonishes that a child of God should "keep oneself from being polluted by the world." Today's church measures righteousness by the numbers in attendance and the relevancy or cutting edge nature of its religious presentation. I wonder if God "cannot stand [our] assemblies." The orphans cry out from their abandoned beds, and the widows weep at their lonely tables.
My wife Jill sent me the following link the other day. It is timely for our message today.
Heard 'Round the House:
I was working in the yard over the weekend pulling weeds. Song (age 9) and Anna (age 7) dropped by to lighten things up while eating popsicles. Song was looking at the wrapper when --
Song: Daddy, why did the driver throw money on the road?
Daddy (looking up from his toil): What?
Song: This is a joke. Why did the driver throw money on the road?
Daddy: I don't know. Why?
Song: So he could stop on a dime.
Daddy: Oh, I get it. That's a good one, Song.
Song: Thanks. What does it mean, stop on a dime?
Daddy: That means you can do something really quickly. Think how small a dime is, and then think how fast you would have to stop to be on top of it.
Song: Alex is really fast. He could stop on a dime easy.
Anna: Yeah. If Alex was driving, he could hit a dime I bet.