August 9, 2020

Adult Bible Study Online

A current connection to each week's session

Hearing and Doing the Word
James 1:19-27

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The book of James, according to Gordon Matties, teaches “embodied faithfulness” or the wisdom of “word-doers” who listen and live a God-seeking “love of neighbor.” James is a book of practical wisdom; it is teaching the right way to live rather than the right way to belief or profess. Closing the study this week, Matties emphasizes James’s call to a lifetime of God-seeking right action: “With deliberate attention over the long haul, believers become word-doers by humble immersion into God’s larger vision. . . . James’s advice is not simply something to ‘apply,’ but something to grow into” (ABS, p. 61).

Thinking about this “long haul” of right action, I cannot help but think again of Representative John Lewis, whose life we have been remembering these last weeks. Though no longer with us, Lewis spoke to us one last time on July 30 in a brief, quiet, and humble letter, wise in the way of James and echoing James’s language to the “brothers and sisters” (1:19). Citing the devastation of Emmett Till’s murder and the transformation taught by Dr. King’s preaching, Lewis remembered and affirmed the early call on his life:

[W]e are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. . . . [I]t is not enough to say it will get better by and by. . . . [E]ach of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community.

Lewis was a James of our time, tying together the necessary methods of justice work: holy listening, holy learning, holy speaking, and holy doing. He was a “word-doer” for more than 60 years, and he calls us to be “word-doers” as well—today, tomorrow, for our lifetimes.

Lewis was indeed a “long haul” practitioner of good and faithful action, but there are among us many who, though incredibly young, also practice James’s “embodied faithfulness.” I count it a gift to see the wisdom of James in the college and high school students I get to work with on a regular basis. Just this month, the youth of my Mennonite church in eastern Pennsylvania spent a week in service in our local community. Like so many other things, the COVID-19 pandemic changed their annual summer plans from the excitement of a bold trip to serve far away. Theirs was quiet and humble service right at home instead: staining cabins at a local camp, fixing rotting fenceposts in a local park, doing landscaping maintenance at a local retirement facility. Though less dramatic than the service they had planned, these were the actions of “word-doers” who saw need and took humble action.

There are models of these “long-haul word-doers” all around us. Some are the lions of our society and our faith like Representative John Lewis, and some are the young people of our communities and congregations who practice ordinary love around us each and every day.

  • Who are the long-haul word-doers in your community?
  • What inspires and motivates you to be a long-haul word-doer, even when it’s hard to keep going?

—Kerry Hasler-Brooks,

© 2020

1. John Lewis, “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation,” New York Times, July 30, 2020.

Kerry Hasler-Brooks is a professor of American Literature at Messiah College, Grantham, Pennsylvania. She researches and teaches at the intersections of race, gender, literature, and vocation and has written on diverse American women writers like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Maria Ruiz de Burton, Katherine Anne Porter, Toni Morrison, and Edwidge Danticat. She lives on an organic vegetable farm run by her husband, Nathan; loves to explore in the fields and woods with their two young children; and recently joined the 300-year-old community at Salford Mennonite Church, Harleysville, Pennsylvania, where she is learning to hear and practice anew the call of Jesus to radical peace, love, and welcome.

This article supplements Adult Bible Study, a quarterly Bible curriculum for adults. Adult Bible Study provides in-depth, challenging Bible study from an Anabaptist-Mennonite perspective, written by an intercultural group of pastors, teachers, professors, and leaders across Canada and the United States. Sessions include daily Bible readings, resources for additional study, and free downloadable resources.

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