One of the phrases heard frequently when traveling by train in Europe is “Mind the Gap.” It is a phrase that is repeated every time the train door is opened. “Mind the Gap,” in other words pay attention to what you are doing so that you do not fall or trip as you maneuver the steps to the landing outside the train. There is an open space, a gap, between the outside of the train and the sidewalk. “Mind the Gap.”
Last weekend’s readings in worship included the first of five weeks where our second reading is from the book of James. This book has been attributed to James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem church. Other scholars are skeptical of this and see it as a work of another unknown author, but in either case, there is a message to be gleaned then and now.
James is a book of wisdom, and one of the points being made is for us to mind the gap, meaning to pay attention to what it means to be a Christian and then use what you know to be the way of following Jesus in your head to live out in the world the behavior and actions that correspond to what you know. Christian lives on Sunday and our lives during the rest of the week ideally should be without a gap. They should be alike. Our faith informs our actions.
Now it is worth mentioning that Martin Luther has a famous criticism of this book, calling James the epistle of straw. Luther was concerned about the focus on doing good works instead of on the more central topic of God’s grace. Although Luther would also admit that the book of James has value.
Our era of living is similar to that of James. Human nature does not change that much. The gap remains between what we know about being a disciple of Jesus and living out that life. Granted, we are sinners, and no matter how much we try to live godly lives, we fail and are always in need of God’s grace. But the key word for James is that we try to live our faith. He believes we can all do it because we are all children of God. God has given each of us life and chooses us as the crown of all God’s creatures. We are loved, we are valued, and God is with us and in us through Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit. God is also generous in giving us the gifts of truth and wisdom. These gifts are not hidden from us but are with us through the indwelling of Jesus. These gifts lead us to live life in an alternative community, God’s beloved community instead of the world which tells us we do not have enough, and that we are not good enough. A world that tells us we need to keep up with the Joneses.
The famous Mr. Rogers from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood is an obvious example of living his faith. Although he was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, this identity was never a part of his television show for children. He lived his faith each day as he let all children know they are worthy of love and they are valued. He taught children that they are part of a neighborhood, a community that can live together in peace and love all our neighbors.
“Mind the Gap.” Where is the gap in your life between your knowledge and understanding of God and living wisely as a child of God? When you look in the mirror, what do you see in yourself as a disciple and as a child of God?
As we move into the fall, new learning ministry opportunities are available to help you tend to your adult learning needs through Pause Groups, small groups, Wednesday night adult classes. Maybe, it’s time to get back into regular worship and devotional practices. How can you mind the gap?
James gives us some starting points for living as followers of Jesus. He encourages each of us individually and as a community to dwell in wisdom and allow it to take root in us. It is like the phase, “Bloom where you are planted.” If you take root in the alternative world of Christ, that is where you will bloom, and live by God’s wisdom. If you take root in the world that says you are not good enough and you do not have enough and that money is that key to all happiness, then that is the world in which you will bloom, but never be satisfied.
The book of James holds up a mirror to that so we can see whether our actions reflect or betray what is in our head and heart. And so, as we move into fall, James offers some crucial advice to each of us who want to live in a better world. Mind the gap. Mind the gap in your own life. James names the gap as greed, selfishness, covetousness, the pursuit of personal pleasure and comfort. But there are things we can do to reduce the gap. Listen to God’s word, truly listen. James cautions us not to let it go in one ear and out the other. Be doers of the word, not simply hearers, bridle our tongues so they do not deceive our hearts. And live your religion by caring for those in need.
Wisdom from James. My prayer is that God will humble me and use me to live my faith in ways that please God and help share God’s love with all people. Maybe I can fill that gap with God’s help, grace and direction.
Pam Schroeder, Pastor for Care & Community