Sermon preached today at Sunday AM in Carrigrohane as part of our James Sermon Series
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be now and always acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen
Over the course of these weeks we’re looking at the Book of James across all our services in the parish … we’re going slowly through the book and so picking up on the gems of wisdom, teaching and excellent advice contained with in. Its a Letter to a church who were trying to live out their new found faith but who were tempted to be returning to some cultural norms which were all about them and that they were so used to - They were as we’ve already seen in the first chapter That James was writing to a church with problems … the problem of persecution but also the problem and also of temptation…
Chapter 1 ended with the reminder that … “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.”
Quite a simple thing in theory but we do know … even after 2,000 years we still find it so difficult to do just that. So let’s see how James tries to unpack what the word (as far as he has received it) and how he tries to translate it for the people in the church(es) he’s writing to, what he’s urging them to do and in turn translating that for us today.
The health & safety warning of this passage ...
We could very easily fall down 2 potholes which are difficult to get out of … we could fall down the hole of condemnation and heap up a whole mountain of guilt upon ourselves which isn’t useful nor healthy - woe is me!
or we could fall down the hole of defence and say actually this doesn't apply to me at all or trying to justify our actions for a certain event which has happened and the walls of defence go up
with that warning given ….Let’s look at the passage for today … James 2
Simple Structure … when it comes to reading the letters
Who is he addressing here?
These comments are directed to those in the Church assembly … those who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory … in other words - ordinary everyday Christians who know the Lord and who are trying to live out their faith in their community … sound familiar?
People who know what it is to be in want and know what fantastic gifts he has given to his people.
Sometimes its easy to live out our faith … but … and its a big but … at other times its really, really difficult … We might understand it but the difficulty comes in putting it into practice … of taking it from the page into our minds but then also putting it into practice
So, What’s the problem here that james is trying to tackle?
v2 - In The assembly (their meetings) We’re assuming here their worship gathering which are made up of people of different people … Rich and Poor, Male and female, slave and free. People of different backgrounds but whats important for us to realise The culture of the day would be a hierarchy of all sorts upper and lower classes with various legal rights associated with being in a particular place - The thing with the church is that it was at its best it was to be a place of equality, a place where all were the same.
The key word here is Favoritism or in other translations partiality - The greek word used here literally means, “to receive the face.” The idea is taking people at face value. They may have said “they’re a good person to be around”, “they’re no fun”, “not going to get on with him” … perhaps this is as close as the Bible gets to the familiar saying - “Never judge the book by its cover”.
Favourites … we all have them - your favourite singer or band, football team, chocolate bar, meal, restaurant. But lets remember James wasn't writing about those … it was to a church community - a community where people are meant to be different … where all were valued for who they were not what they did or their position in life.
I was recently listening to a sermon from a pastor in a church in America who has written various books - francis Chan .. he was preaching on this passage and he decided to do a bit of an experiment with his congregation —-> I’ll let him explain what he did … VIDEO
This is challenging … we might not have the option that the First Century Christians had … in terms of seats verses the floor but there are things we can do to exclude, to put people down … probably not intentionally but we do do it
As with many things in the Bible … its not the necessarily action itself its the heart behind the action …
James zooms further in on the problem he gets to the heart of the matter … its not just favourites that are the problem but its deeper than that
In v4 we see a Rhetorical question - Have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
If thats the problem why is it a problem? - The basic problem is its inconsistentancy
Why should the rich get the best seats
Why should the poor be told to sit on the floor
- It’s Inconsistent with God’s Way of viewing things (5-6a)
- It’s Inconsistent with the way the rich are treating believers (6b-7)
- It’s inconsistent with the claims of the ‘Greatest Commandment’ (8-13)
Let’s take a look at these apparent inconsistancies
God’s way of viewing things
God has chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith … there are loads of passages. If you’re interested theres a fantastic study in looking at how much of Matthew’s Gospel James uses. But a quick flick through it shows us the beatitudes … blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven. Also Jesus’ teaching in luke’s gospel … its the poor, the outcast who respond to Jesus’ message
So if God says he has blessed the poor with the kingdom of heaven, and as paul has he has chosen the foolish and the weak and the despise then we need to rethink our pecking order and what we value
The poor here seem to be those who were both economically oppressed and spiritually inclined.
The way Paul says this …
1 Corinthians 1: …26For consider your calling, brothers and sisters, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,…
The way the rich are treating believers
Its clear to James that those who are sitting in the good places in the assembly are those who are the ones who are exploiting the poor … The word here is the same word used in Amos 4:1 exploiting the poor
in Ezekiel 22:7 for exploiting the widows and the orphans. Basically there are those among the gathering who are acting against the demands of ‘pure religion’ which james has already talked about in chapter 1
So not only has God Blessed those who are being looked down upon, actually those who are being exalted are those who are actively dragging believers down
If those things are not bad enough James goes on to give them his strongest blow which brings it all together
The 3rd Inconsistency Claims of the ‘Greatest Commandment’
It’s inconsistent with the most basic, fundamental principle of the law … You shall love your neighbour as yourself
How can they show favouritism without sining … they can’t and neither can we! … James is very clear here … whatever transgression of the law we make.
Its this sort of idea that the rich man who asked jesus who is my neighbour … and basically the answer was the told in the parable of the good Samaritan … where the unlikely one was the one who showed mercy.
so is there any hope?
Well the great news is yes! … change is possible
this is where when we bring this together and ask the “so what do we do? question” … or to ask it another way … what’s the proposed solution ?
But its also the most challenging thing of all … and takes us on a change process which has the potential of a change of a complete mindset and world view if we take it to heart
we show mercy because we need mercy, we love because he first loved us, we can give only what we already have been given.
This is not a works salvation, … not at all … but it is a response which we do out of gratitude for what we’ve been blessed with.
Remember the opening line of psalm 23 … The Lord is my Shepherd … I shall not be in want
Its because the Lord is our shepherd … we’ll not be in want
We have been given his love, his grace, his forgiveness, the bounty of creation and
we’re called to show love, to share grace, to give forgiveness, to share the gifts of all of creation
So what does that look like?
What does it look like on a Monday Morning for you … in School, in Work, in your family situation, what does it look like in church? … what does showing mercy and not favoritism look like, what does not judging someone.
I said at the start
we could fall down the hole of condemnation and heap up a whole mountain of guilt upon ourselves which isn’t useful nor healthy - woe is me! of looking at all the times before we’ve failed … we need to remember we’ve got second chance … we have been shown mercy
or we could fall down the hole of defence and say actually this doesn't apply to me at all or trying to justify our actions and the walls of defence go up - then we’ve got to admit that actually we might be able to do better next time
Mercy > Judgement
Where do you and I need to show mercy … where before we’ve shown judgement ?