Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Tuesday of Easter 6

Pure and Undefiled Religion

Acts 9:36–43 (ESV) Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.

James 1:22–27 (ESV) But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

You probably know that I'm not a huge fan of the word "religion," since in our pluralistic age, people approach religion like one might approach a buffet in a cafeteria: you can pick and choose as you whatever you like. I prefer not to describe Christianity as "a religion" but as "The Truth." The earliest Christians considered themselves part of "The Way" (Acts 9:2) as in, Jesus is "The Way, and the Truth, and the Life" (John 14:6).

But since St. James uses the term "religion" in our Easter 6 Epistle reading, I shouldn't disparage the term. As we learned last week, we Lutherans can learn a lot from James! What James is talking about here might better be translated as "piety," that is, the daily practice of one's faith, especially in regard to sanctification. He says "pure and undefiled" religion is to care for those in need and avoid being corrupted by the world.

It sounds like Tabitha (aka Dorcas) practiced this pure and undefiled religion as a "disciple" of Christ. She took care of widows, and their appreciation is shown in their coming to mourn for her. They had not forgotten the good works Tabitha had done for them! Neither does God: "And I heard a voice from heaven saying, 'Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' 'Blessed indeed,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!' ” (Revelation 14:13).

But the Lord wasn't quite done with His servant Tabitha that day! He sent Peter to her house to raise her up in order to testify to the power of the Risen Christ and so that she could continue to practice pure and undefiled religion for a while longer, until she would die again and await the final Resurrection, along with all the saints. And it is this hope that undergirds all of our religious practice as Christians, all of our daily piety: 

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed... Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52, 57-58).

Prayer: Lord of all power and might, author and giver of all good things, graft into our hearts the love of Your name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of Your great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.