I remember sitting in the train station in York when the Flying Scotsman arrived, smoke belching, steam hissing and the train whistle shrieking to let us know it was approaching the platform. It had been out on an excursion, and I was just lucky enough to be sitting there when it arrived. These old steam trains are designed to run on two tracks. Remove one of the tracks and while it may still look good, in reality the train is stuck, going nowhere. Our Christian lives, like a train, run on two complementary tracks – faith and works. Love may power the boiler, but if either faith or works are missing, we are stuck and going nowhere.
I suppose most of us have played paper, scissors, rock. It is a simple game where two people synchronise their hand movements and on the count of three they form their hand into the shape of either paper, scissors or a rock. In the rules of the game, paper always wins against rock, scissors win against paper and the rock wins against scissors.
Many might think in God’s version of this game, judgement is the big winner when in fact mercy always wins over judgement. This is because God delights to be merciful. However important judgement might be, God in love offers mercy. Indeed, if you love your neighbour as you love yourself, you are more likely to be merciful than judgemental.
When I was at high school in the 1970’s, I had a teacher from England who was concerned that the pristine rivers of New Zealand might in time become like the polluted rivers back in his homeland. So, with a couple of friends and a canoe, I decided to look at the water quality in our local river and search for sources of pollution. Really, we had no idea what we were doing but it seemed important. In those days it was easy to find runoff from businesses, leather works and factories. I didn’t know what the coloured water oozing from the drains was, but it was obviously polluting the river. If you were to think of your life as a river, and sin as pollution; is your life running clear as crystal or is there all sorts of muck floating along with you? In our reading today James writes, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)