West Point Grey United Church
Jun 23, 2024

Deeds Not Words

James 2: 14-20

James 2: 14-20

We hear, in the lesson from the book of James that was read today, the startling phrase

faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead”.

What are we to make of this? 

Isn’t our faith the thing that mark us as Christians? 

Doesn’t faith, however we understand it, save us?

Can’t faith provide us with all we need,   allowing us to live as we are meant to?

Is faith just not enough?


James says NO, it doesn’t, and it isn’t enough, and he offers an example that makes it very clear why that is so.

What good, he asks, would we be doing if we tell someone who has no shelter, is without food, that they should just buck-up,      keep themselves warm and eat their fill?

The answer is obvious – it would do no good at all.

Now that is an example that resonates, for it seems hauntingly familiar to those of us who live in a city where many hundreds live on the downtown streets, cold, ill-clothed, badly fed, and needing more than just the encouragement of faith and prayer.


James’ admonition simply points out that our faith, rooted as it is in a commitment to God’s love, and our love of and for one another, is barren . . . . unless, or perhaps until, it is put into action,  unless it is translated into practical results that speak to real worldly needs, and makes a difference.


Later in the New Testament, this point is driven home in what sounds like a more familiar phrase when John writes: “let us love not with words . . . but with actions . . . Your actions will speak much louder than any words you will ever say”.


Actions speak louder than words – now that seems to have an awfully familiar ring to it:

Dale Carnegie said “pay less attention to what men say. Just watch what they do.”

Confucius put the essence of the idea in a somewhat different way, claiming that: “The superior man acts before he speaks,     and afterward speaks according to his actions.

Mark Twain reminded us that there is an important other side to this old truism,    one that is sometimes ignored,  when he said:    Action speaks louder than words,   but not nearly as often.”

And Matthew Good drives the point home for us saying: “Actions speak louder than words. 

And sometimes inaction speaks louder than both of them.

Good’s comment surely echoes James’ claim that if we are not translating our words into action we are betraying of the most fundamental principles of our faith.


For us then, a challenge of living and working together in a Christian community is to consciously reflect on how both our actions and our inactions, reveal how we understand and articulate the core principles of our faith. 


Actions first . . . 

It seems to me that the commitment and support of refugees, led with passion and grace by Cathie Perry and many members of this congregation, is a wonderful example of faith supported by works and deeds. We don’t spill lot of words about it, we don’t loudly proclaim how virtuous our involved is.  

There is just a steady, consistent engagement with people we hardly know, from places we have never seen, but whose stories call out to us.  


James knew who they are. They are too often the naked and the hungry of the world. 

Offering them our hands, our time, and our resources – rather than platitudes and words of unsolicited free advice — is surely faith in Action. Action that make a difference to real people.

Surely this is what we are meant to do and be   when we are called to love one another – that is to love all the anothers of the world.


Now Inactions . . . and here I am conscious that I may be speaking only for myself.

We have now, for a couple of years started every service with an acknowledgement of the land and a commitment to reconciliation through various activities. 

These kinds of acknowledgements have become rather commonplace at many public meetings and events in recent years. 

But I wonder – do we too often recite them in a rather rote way that express a set of ideas or values which are then not being translated in works and deeds? 

Are they in danger of becoming what James might describe as a rather barren offering?

Do we allow ourselves to believe that words of acknowledgement are enough? 


Are they really a kind of inaction that we persuade ourselves are real actions? 

Are we actively doing enough of what it really takes to advance reconciliation? Are we engaged in the work that will move us towards a society in which indigenous peoples can genuinely find themselves at home?  If not, how are we to face up to our inactions?


It is hard to balance Actions and Inactions – Our Actions, for good or ill, are often obvious and recognizable. Our Inactions lurk in darkness, often unrecognized or simply ignored.

But a commitment to a Christian faith impels us to be aware, and accountable for both. 


Today this congregation stands on the beginning of a new journey, one with new leadership, one with new resolve for our future. 

Let us make it a journey of Actions, actions that breathe love into our neighbours, whoever and wherever we find them in this world.

Let it be so.