Doers of the Word

SaintMaryMagdalenRCChurch(BrightonMichigan) MotherTeresaiconWhen I was in college, my roommate and best friend Chrissy said, “Jillian, you can be mean when you want to be.” And I was like, “Uhhh…okay.” She said, “No no no, I want to go on a diet and I need you to help keep me accountable.” So even though it turned out to be funny and not a big deal, it made me think.

I can be mean. I’m not the best person sometimes. I’m not the kindest, the most caring, or the most loving. I don’t always act like a Christian should. I’m not the best at being, as it says in today’s lesson from James, a “doer of the Word.” I constantly deceive myself. I hear the WORD and I’m like “Totally. This is super. I’m all about this.” And then I leave the pew or the class and I…forget. Either consciously or subconsciously, I forget.

So let’s back up. We hear this phrase a lot as Christians: “the Word.” And I’ve always wondered, what the heck is the Word exactly? Is it the whole Bible, is it Jesus’s teachings, is it the 10 commandments, what is it? Or could it be many things (which is probably the case)?

We read in John’s Gospel that “the Word was God.” Thanks, author of John, not vague at all. And while God is so many things, one of my favorite verses comes from 1 John: “God is love.” So while God represents so much more than that, love is my interpretation for the day. So to be doers of the Word, we are to do love.

But it’s hard to love, right? It’s a simple idea that’s difficult to execute. It’s hard to be doers of the Word, particularly when other people mistreat us and aren’t really being doers of the Word, either. And sometimes, we just flat out ignore what we know we should be doing and how we should be treating others.

I get it. We all do it. We’re all guilty.

We’re all deceivers of our hearts. I’ve patted myself on the back for being a loving Christian and then talked horribly about people I’ve called friends, dehumanized homeless people by refusing to look them in the eye, and turned away in the face of blatant injustice when I should said “NO MORE.” I should have loved my neighbor. I should have been a doer of the Word.

Because when it comes to being doers of the Word, doers of love, truly enacting what God calls us to do, it’s a lot easier to claim that we’re Christians and that loving people, our neighbors, is a priority, and then to just…not.

It’s easier. And because we’re doers in so many other ways, often for other people, why not take the easier route on something as emotionally and spiritually taxing as being doers of the Word? I know it’s who we want to be in our hearts, and we know we should do it…

But life is demanding. We have a lot to do. And somewhere along the way, we forget what it means to be doers of the Word. What it means to love.

So a few years ago, I was playing Ultimate Frisbee. In the middle of the game, this giant dude and I reached up for the disc at the same time, and upon coming down, his entire body weight landed on my thumb. I ended up spraining it so badly that I couldn’t use it for several months, and my muscle atrophied.

Embarrassingly enough, I had to go through physical therapy for my thumb.

I had exercises I was supposed to do every single day, multiple times a day, and sometimes, my hand was so sore that I just wanted to quit. I didn’t want to do it and it was certainly easier not to. I whined to my mom and my physical therapist, and they reminded me to keep going.

They were right. I mean, this was my thumb! I couldn’t even imagine what people with worse injuries had to go through. Some people have to literally relearn to use their muscles. But even still, it was hard some days, and sometimes, I didn’t do my exercises, even though I knew it was best for me.

I think remembering how to love and to be doers of the Word is very much like physical therapy. For instance, it’s easier not to some days. It’s easier to stay in bed. We see what we need to do, what we should do, how we should treat people, but it’s difficult. Uncomfortable. And sometimes, we just don’t want to.

We’re jaded by the world. Why bother being a doer of the Word? Why love in the face of so much hate? Why not stay in bed?

But society isn’t always as keen on reminding us about all the good in the world…all the examples of Christ’s love that happen before us every day…love that we, too, are capable of showing and doing.

Even still, being “doers of the Word” can feel like an impossible standard. A Buddhist monk once described sin as the “failure to do concrete acts of love.” So Christ, our example and teacher, lived a life without sin, meaning every action was motivated by love. Even his final act, dying on the cross, was just one giant act of love. No big deal or anything.

How in the world can we possibly do that? Just like the end result in physical therapy, it may be what we want and what we know is best, but it’s daunting. It seems like too much.

But imperfect as we are, we can do it. We just have to try. My friend Chrissy from earlier taught me that small acts of love, like smiling at your cashier at the grocery store or putting yourself in someone’s shoes, still matter.

We have to start somewhere. We aren’t going to run a marathon the day after our legs are broken. It’s a process. We are in need of therapy. And like a doctor or a mom, I think God is standing right beside us saying “You can do it! You can be the Doers! You can love!”

And, as Mother Teresa said, “God does not require us to succeed. He only requires that we try.”

We have to try to be the doers of the Word.

We have to try to love with our whole hearts and to pray with our feet, to live out the Word through our actions, which will always speak louder, to recognize that church is not a building and being Christian isn’t just the Sunday mornings we decide are worthy enough to be church days, and that when we leave, we can’t just forget what it means to be followers of Christ and doers who act and love, even with all the other things we have going on.

We can start small. It will not be easy. Some days we will want to stay in bed, and some days we will. And we may never fully get there.

But we must try. We are capable of so much more than we realize, and God believes in us so much more than we know. God is beside us, all the time, reminding us that we can and should be doers of the Word…that we can love. We just have to be quick to listen.

Today is Day One of our physical therapy. I want to take that first small step, with God’s help, to being a true, imperfect doer of the Word. I hope you’ll join me so we can all live as we were meant to live: loving each other.

Because, otherwise, what are we doing?

Amen.

  • Jillian Smith

Excitement

I love being excited.

It’s the best feeling. I can be reserved and keep to myself, depending on the situation, but when I get pumped about something, you probably won’t get me to calm down. Especially if someone surprises me with good news that gets me excited…I’m basically beside myself.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I auditioned on cello for the Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts. It was a five-week program in the summer for rising junior and seniors, and they only took six cellists from across the state. You got to stay in a dorm at a college and spend a little over a month immersed in your discipline. One day after swim practice, probably in late January, I went out to the mailbox for a routine check.

Inside was my acceptance letter. I read it again and again in the middle of the street, in the freezing cold, with my soaking wet hair, still in my bathing suit. I screamed and jumped up and down with excitement. I’m sure the neighbors thought I was absolutely insane.

I was excited then, and totally beside myself, but think of the rush of emotion that the people in today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke must have been feeling. Picture it: They had just witnessed the most surprising and beautiful thing, potentially ever, Jesus himself, risen from the dead. Seeing him in the flesh, feeling his wounds…all after they thought he was gone.

How exciting that must have been? We cannot know, and I even find it a little hard to imagine the true level of joy they were feeling. It must have been out of this world.

But Luke tells us that, “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering…”

Now, I don’t know about you, but those are some emotions I don’t have to try as hard to imagine: Disbelief, wondering.

You see, the people in Luke’s Gospel were so lucky. They got to experience the joy of Jesus’s resurrection first hand. They got to see him, to touch him, to know. But it says, even in the midst of that unfathomable joy, they were disbelieving and still wondering.

Talk about getting the short end of the stick, right? We were born a couple of thousand years too late. For us, as modern followers of Christ, it is far more about faith.

Faith is something that has been a part of me for as long as I can remember. I’ve been an Episcopalian my entire life. I started acolyting at age 6, and went on from there to be active in Sunday School, my youth group, the Episcopal Church camp in Tennessee, and various other church retreats for many, many years. I even went on to be in the Episcopal Service Corps, and now (I know this is news), I work in a church!

Some of the greatest moments in my life have come from my experiences with my faith…with Christ…with God. I am overwhelmed with joy by the power of Jesus’s story, his teachings, how he treats others…his whole life, including his death and resurrection.

But even in the midst of that overwhelming joy, I sometimes find myself in an overwhelming state of disbelief…and I am still wondering.

I ask myself all the questions I’m sure those in today’s Gospel were asking: “Are you kidding me? No way. This is crazy, right? Is this for real? Is he for real?” And maybe you ask some of your own questions, too.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe in the story of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. It’s just plain difficult to be a Christian. This is a safe place, so let’s not pretend.

It isn’t always easy to trust. It isn’t always easy to have faith. We do not have the luxury of getting to see Jesus’s flesh and blood. For us, it is a matter of finding meaning and truth in a story that is, well, really old and investing our beliefs and our lives in it. Even with all the joy, that’s really hard. Naturally, we have doubts about all of it. We’re human.

And then comes Jesus’s immediate response to those who were disbelieving and still wondering. He’s showed them his wounds, his flesh, and then he’s just like, “Yo, I told you guys this would happen. Can I can get some food now, please?”

Okay, I joke, but think about it.

They were all both excited and unbelievably uncertain, and Jesus’s reactions in the rest of the reading are so steady. They touched, they saw, and Jesus told them what would happen. He opened their minds and they witnessed the resurrected Christ, so the faith and the action will come. It seems so simple, laid out plainly for us in scripture.

Honestly, though, I don’t know if it was simple, or if it will ever be simple for any of us. But the really exciting thing about Jesus’s resurrection and Easter is that it means that God forever has our backs: loving us, forgiving us, and waiting to help us engage in a joyful, faithful relationship, even when we disbelieve and wonder and life is anything but simple.

In spite of all that, it’s still all too easy to forget about the excitement of Easter and resurrection once all the eggs have been turned into egg salad or left too long in the fridge. It’s easy after a while for that excitement and joy to be overshadowed by our disbelief and our wondering.

And you know what? I think we should still be wondering. Every day.

Because it is kind of unbelievable, right? Jesus’s entire story? It’s messy and it’s complicated and hard to swallow sometimes. But that doesn’t make it any less important or any less magnificent.

I hope that — even in the midst of our disbelief, our wondering, and any difficulties that life throws our way — we are always able to feel that absolute joy when it comes to our faith, the same joy we have already felt in our own meaningful experiences with God and with others, the same joy we feel at the celebration on Easter morning, and that very same joy felt by those who were able to touch and to see.

Because, in a way, we have touched and we have seen.

So, just like them, when we remember Jesus’s life: his teachings, his death, his resurrection, and what all of those mean for us as a faithful people, I hope we are always, always able to think: “How crazy. How beautiful. How…exciting.”

Amen.

– Jillian Smith

Jillian Smith, a former member of Deaconess Anne House in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, is the Director of Youth Ministry at St. Peter’s/Ladue.