In the Lectionary

August 29, Ordinary 22B (James 1:17–27)

Hearing the word and doing it aren’t as far apart as Martin Luther thought.

A wise pastor and mentor who spent a significant amount of time in Kenya once shared her favorite Kenyan proverb with me: “When you pray, always remember to move your feet.” If there is a book of the Bible that embodies this exhortation, it is the epistle of James.

Any decent study Bible’s introduction to James will mention its emphasis on moral action and attention to the social justice issues of its day. It will also mention Martin Luther’s displeasure over the epistle’s inclusion in the biblical canon. The Reformer considered James’s insistence on good works to be a detriment rather than an asset—an affront to Paul’s assertion in Galatians 2:16 that “a person is justified not by the works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ.” Luther questioned the letter’s apostolic authority and famously referred to it as “an epistle of straw.”

As a Presbyterian minister, I am an heir to the Protestant Reformation. My colleagues, congregation, and I espouse the priesthood of all believers, affirm that we are the church reformed and always reforming, and hold fast to the sacraments as visible signs of an invisible grace. We sing Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” with gusto on Reformation Sunday, and we sing the same hymn with lumps in our throats when we gather to bury a beloved saint of the church and to witness to the power of the resurrection: “Let goods and kindred go, / this mortal life also; / The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, / His kingdom is forever.”