Weekly Bible Devotional
Change the World: Rescue Those in Distress
October 13, 2019
Change the World Quest:
What are some groups in the community who rescue those in distress? How are you called to help?
Scripture for Sunday: James 1:19-27
“You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act, they will be blessed in their doing. If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Notes on the Text:
In our Bible reading for today we hear a call to put our faith into action. James is a collection of teachings about the way Christians should live and behave. It is concerned with practical Christianity, with “walking the walk” and not just “talking the talk.” Faith is not just about personal piety or doing good deeds in private life. To James, the church exists to be engaged in public life! The indication of one’s faith is action and not just speech. Anybody can talk about Jesus. But true discipleship comes from action. This action is specifically about helping those who are most needy in society or as James puts it, “care for orphans and widows in their distress.” Rescuing those who are in distress is an essential part of the mission of Christ and thus of our calling as his followers. The Hebrew Bible reflects a special concern for the care of “widows and orphans.” They should be the particular focus of the Church’s concern because God is so concerned with them (Deut. 10:18; Ps. 9:18; 68:5; 146:9), and ancient Israel was also commanded to be concerned as was God (Deut. 14:9; Ezek. 22:7). But we must understand what the biblical writers meant by “widows and orphans”. In the ancient Near East from the time of Moses to the time of Jesus, the most vulnerable people in society were “widows and orphans.” If a husband died, the woman had nothing. She lost his estate, she had no “protector” before the Law or before the ravages of her relatives. She didn’t even have the option of marriage, because the decision to marry was made on the part of the man, not the woman. A widow was totally helpless! The same was true of orphans. Orphans had no legal and economic protection. An orphan was totally helpless in society, and only the compassionate willingness of a relative or neighbor to take that child into one’s own household could save that orphan from starvation, slavery or destitution. “Widows and orphans” was the Hebrew way of talking about anyone who was among the most vulnerable, marginalized, exploited and oppressed of that society. Yet, they had one force in their favor. They had the Law of Moses that commanded that the nation, its systems and its people be compassionate and work for justice for the “widows and orphans”.
This week’s discipleship challenge is rescuing those in distress. It is not an easy challenge when we live in a world that believes in power and materialism as the way to happiness. The words of James have not always been welcomed by Christians over the centuries because the world often lures us to believe that we need to focus on taking care of ourselves and of our own. But rescuing those in distress in our society is not something we do only when it is convenient or comfortable. It is part of God’s dream for our world. Sometimes Christians limit faith to being a good person and to having the right beliefs about God. James is a good guard for us when we reduce faith in Christ to personal piety. For many Christians, faith is about making sure that when they die, they will go to heaven. With the letter of James, we are strongly urged to pay attention to what we do right here and right now.
God calls us to respond with love and care to those going through a time of distress. Whenever disaster strikes in our world, whether it a mass shooting or a natural disaster, I often go to the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance website for resources or ways to help: https://pda.pcusa.org/. It is a national ministry of our church where we rescue the distressed. Here is a video about their ministry:
When I Pray the Prayer of St. Francis by Alan Paton:
When I pray his prayer, or even remember it, my melancholy is dispelled, my self-pity comes to an end; my faith is restored because of this majestic conception of what the work of a disciple should be.
So majestic is this conception that one dare no longer be sorry for oneself. This world ceases to be one’s enemy and becomes the place where one lives and works and serves. Life is no longer nasty, mean, brutish, and short, but becomes the time, not only for others, but indeed also for oneself.
We are brought back instantaneously to the reality of our faith, that we are not passive recipients but active instruments.
Prayer of St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.