April 8, 2020
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Hi, Church. So this is going to be our online sermon teaching experience and I’ve decided that I didn’t want the Coronavirus to completely consume everything and change and disrupt everything. And so we’re going to continue with the sermon series that I started on the book of James called “Faith According to James”. And today we’re going to be in James Chapter 2 Verses 1 through 13 and so let’s just dive right in by reading that text. “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord, Jesus Christ, must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man and filthy old clothes also comes in if you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you”, but you say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? If you really keep the Royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery, but you do commit murder, you have become a law breaker. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy, triumphs over judgment.” I want to say two things about the book of James before we dig into this actual text. And I think these two things are really important to remember not just for this section, but really for the entire book. The first I want to say is this: In the book of James the rich are always bad and the poor are always good. Or you could say it another way. You could say: the rich are always unrighteous or evil and the poor are always righteous or pious. Now, scholars often debate whether or not in James, in each of these sections where he says all these bad things about rich, whether or not he is talking about rich non-Christians or rich Christians or whether he kind of goes back and forth. And no one really knows. All we know for sure is that in James the rich are always in the wrong. And they don’t have this debate for the poor because James always has good things to say about the poor. So, a question we have to ask is: “Can the rich be Christians?” Well, I certainly hope so because whether we want to admit it or not, compared to about 75% of the world, we in this church are all rich. So I would hope that you can be rich and still be a Christian, but we should let the words of James and the warnings that he gives about wealth, we should really pay attention to those and let them give us pause for how we use our wealth. We can’t just easily dismiss what James says about the rich by saying, “Oh, he’s talking about the NON-Christians who are rich.” No, we don’t know that. All we know for sure is that in the book of James, the rich are always bad. The second thing I want to say is that James is deeply committed to the Torah or to the Mosaic law. With one caveat. The caveat is this: James is deeply committed to the Mosaic law as it is interpreted by Jesus. See, James is deeply Jewish and his audience, if they are the scattered Christians that we talked about from the book of Acts, then they are all Jewish, too. And they are deeply committed to the Mosaic law just as James is. Only, they all understood the Mosaic law to be redefined by Jesus or to be given fuller meaning by Jesus. They didn’t abandon the Mosaic law. Now we often think that early Christians did abandon it, because we’re so influenced by Paul. Or maybe so influenced by Luther during the Reformation. But Paul, remember, was writing to Gentiles. He was writing to people that had no connection to the Mosaic law. They they didn’t have that that deep tradition of the Mosaic law in their heritage. And so Paul was trying to get the Gentiles to understand Jesus through a different lens. But James and his audience being deeply Jewish needed to understand Jesus and Christianity through that lens of the Mosaic law and how Jesus interpreted that Mosaic law. Now, a passage in the Old Testament, a passage in the Torah, that’s going to be very important to James and really important to this book as a whole, is a passage that is found in Leviticus 19. And it says this: “Do not pervert justice, do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord. Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so that you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. Now, want you to keep this passage from Leviticus in the back of your minds as we continue through our study, not just today but really throughout the whole series when we’re looking at James. Because in our reading today I believe that chapter 2 of James and verse 8 is probably the key text. Not just to our reading today, but to the entire book. And it says this: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.” Well, we’ve already heard this passage, right? We just saw this in Leviticus 19, right? Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” James calls this the “Royal law”. Now, why the Royal law? Well, some see in this that James is saying that this is the most important of all laws of all commands. That this is the supreme law. It is the law above all other laws. Or, another way that you could put it, is that all other law should be interpreted through this lens. That this Royal law is what gives all the other laws its meaning. But maybe he also calls it the “Royal law” because it is the command or the law that Jesus quotes in the Gospels. You see, the word “Royal” in Greek is a word that means “Belonging to the King”. So the Royal Palace is the palace that belongs to the king. The Royal sword is the sword that belongs to the king. That word “Messiah”, “Jesus is our Messiah”, that word Messiah is a word that means “Anointed King”. And so by calling this the Royal Law, it could be that he’s referring to Jesus’s quoting of this particular law. Remember, I said that James is deeply committed to the Torah to the Old Testament laws, the mosaic laws, he’s deeply committed to that as it is interpreted by Jesus. So one time Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest command out of all the commands that we find in the old laws? What is the greatest command?” and this is Jesus’s response: “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these. So Jesus takes the ‘Shema’, which was one of the most important commands to the Jews, that “love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul with all your mind and your strength”, that’s the Shema. Jesus takes that Shema and he combines it with a lesser known law in Leviticus the ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ and then Jesus says, “there are no greater commands than these two commands. There’s no greater commands than these two commands to love God and to love your neighbor. They are the greatest of all the commands. And so James, I believe, calls this the “Royal law” because the Messiah, the King, Jesus quotes this and says that “this is the Greatest”. “This is the most important”. Jesus gave this idea of loving neighbor more significance than anyone else had ever before him. And so everything in our text today, and really everything in the entire book of James I believe is shaped by this Royal Command. To love our neighbor as ourselves. And so last week we looked at the end of James chapter 1, and he talks about how religion that God accepts that’s pure is a religion that keeps a tight rein on its tongue. It’s a religion that looks after the orphans and the widows and then he says it also keeps itself from being polluted by the world. Now the first two: keeping a tight rein on the tongue and watching over the orphaned & the widows those seem pretty specific. But this idea of not being polluted by the world can be a little ambiguous. And so what does he mean by that? Well, I think James chapter 2 is his explanation of what it means to not be polluted by the world. And so he gives this example in the first half of chapter 2. Where he has us imagine being in a gathering, maybe a church setting maybe it’s a worship setting and we find that a rich person comes in and a poor person comes in and he says, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” Right? Believers must not show favoritism. And he gets this little scenario, he gets us to imagine this the scene where this rich guy and this poor guy comes in and James says: “How are you gonna treat him?” “How are you gonna treat those two different individuals, the rich guy and the poor guy?” Well in the scenario that he paints, the rich guy with the nice gold rings and the fancy clothes is taken to the front and given the nicest seat and the poor guy is told that he and his ragged clothes and his dirty skin, he can go sit in the back. Or maybe even worse, he can sit on the floor. And then James says, “Have you not shown favoritism?” “Have you not discriminated?” Which he then equates with an evil judgmental attitude. So James uses a Greek word here for favoritism that literally means “to lift the face of”. In other words it’s a word that means you are looking at someone’s face, you are making a judgment, that is based upon someone’s appearance or looks. In the book of James, this is a rich/poor issue. And again, this seems to be a really big issue for James because James is going to talk about the rich and he’s going to talk about the poor a lot. Not just in this letter, not just in this section, but really all throughout the book. Remember, in James, the rich are always in the wrong and the poor are always righteous. So for the context of James, it’s a rich/poor issue. Now, let’s not deceive ourselves and say that ‘that’s still not an issue.’ That ‘that’s not an issue today’. Because it is. And a lot of our churches, its still very much an issue. But we also have other ways of showing favoritism, lifting up the face, making judgments based upon appearance. Right? Racism is huge in the world. But especially in our country today. Making judgments based upon skin color. And so, racism is a big one and it’s not just about black and white. It’s bigger than that kind of racism, which is a huge issue in itself, but it’s even bigger than that. It’s also a racism of ethnicities and nationalities. Foreigners, immigrants Making judgments based upon appearance. What someone looks like. And James says that believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ and favoritism do not go together. Right? Being a believer in Jesus, having faith in Jesus, and showing favoritism those should not go in the same sentence. That is the way of the world. That is how the world pollutes us by making us believe that appearance in some way, skin color, types of clothing, that those things can give some sort of indication of a person’s worth. The world discriminates and true faith in God is inconsistent with favoritism. True faith in God is inconsistent with discrimination against other people. Paul would echo this when he says in 2nd Corinthians 5 says, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” You see, faith and judgmental attitudes, they don’t go together. Faith and judgmental attitudes do not mix. Faith and racism are inconsistent. Faith and favoritism is inconsistent with the gospel So then James will give us – in his reading he kind of gives us three reasons why favoritism is so wrong, especially in the context of the rich in the poor. And he says, “the first reason is really because God has chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith”. Right? God blesses the poor. And really, James is echoing his brother who said, “blessed are the poor” Why? “For theirs is the Kingdom of God” Now, Catholics call this God’s ‘Preferential treatment’ for the poor Or God’s ‘preferential option’ for the poor. in other words, if God has chosen the poor of this world to be blessed, then who are we as Christians to discriminate and to judge against the poor? And really, this could be true of any sort of discrimination. The racism issue, nationalities, ethnicities It goes against God’s very own choice. One scholar said, “Those whom God honors, the church should not dishonor.” The second reason that he gives is that he says that it’s wrong because it’s actually the rich who are the very ones who are oppressing them as poor people. Right? It’s the rich who are taking advantage of them. And basically he’s saying it’s wrong because it makes no sense. You are showing favoritism to the very ones who are oppressing you as the poor. You’re showing favoritism to those who are dragging you to court, you’re showing favoritism to those who are slandering you. Right? The rich are the ones who are exploiting them. And then he says, “now you’re going to show them preferential treatment.” Now, I don’t think he’s advocating that we be unkind to the rich, or even treating the rich that the way that the rich are treating them. He simply just says, “Well, why are you giving them special treatment over the poor? It makes no sense.” But it’s the third reason really that he spends the most time on. It’s the one that is I believe the most important. It’s the one that we’ve already looked at. It’s reason number three that he gives: he says, “it’s because it goes against the Royal law of love.” Remember, our Royal Law that we talked about. If you really keep the Royal Law that is found in scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself” then you are doing what is right. But if you show favoritism, then you sin and you are convicted by the law as a law breaker. That the Jews had a very narrow view of ‘neighbor’, right? Basically, it was their own kind, their own people. But, Jesus when he quoted this old law about ‘loving our neighbor’, he really opened the door and redefined ‘neighbor’. He goes on to basically say that ‘neighbor’ is anyone that we come across in life. That could be a stranger, it could be an enemy, it could be family, it could be friend and, especially in view of James’ letter, the poor. And basically James says, “if you love,” Listen to this church, because I think this is so important. “if you love, you are doing what is right.” “But if you discriminate, then you are a law breaker.” There’s no way to get around that. There’s no way to soften the message. Favoritism, judging by the appearance, by skin color, by economic level, it’s inconsistent with love and is therefore law breaking. “If you love, you are doing what is right.” That’s why we’ve chosen to do this online worship experience, because we felt compelled by the love of Christ, that we are to have this love for others that looks out for them and protects them. And we made this decision to to not meet because of the scare of the Coronavirus and trying to slow down the spread of that so that we help others not get sick. But also we don’t overwhelm our health care institutions. It’s all guided by this principle, this Royal Law, that we feel that we are to obey which is to ‘love our neighbor’. “If you love others, you’re doing what is right.” And so then James ends with a note about mercy. Possibly because mercy is so intimately tied into the fabric of love and so he says this, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Again, we hear the– an echo of James’s brother, Jesus, in this message because Jesus once said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” In another occasion, in Matthew chapter 9, Jesus is quoting an Old Testament prophet and he says this, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’.” You see, mercy is deeply embedded into ‘love of neighbor’. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it is, in showing mercy to someone else that we become their neighbor I’m going to say that again. It is in showing mercy to someone else that we become one’s neighbor. Do you remember the story of the Good Samaritan? And at the end of that story in Luke chapter 10, you can go back and read it, it’s a great story if you’re not familiar with it. At the end of that story you’ve got this man who’s been beaten on the side of the road, you’ve got two men who walk past on the other side and continue about their business, you have this other who actually stops and takes care of him. And Jesus, at the end of that story, he goes: “Okay, who was that man’s neighbor?” And do you remember Jesus’s answer? Or– actually not Jesus answer. Do you remember the answer that the other gentleman gives to Jesus? He says, “The one who had shown him mercy.” Who was this person’s neighbor? It was the one who had shown him mercy. It is in showing mercy to others that we become someone’s neighbor. And so James takes the words of Jesus’s blessings toward the merciful and he kind of reverses them by basically saying “Those who do not show mercy toward others will not be shown mercy by God.” Church, if you really keep the Royal Law that is found in scripture “But love your neighbor as yourself”, then you are doing right. If you, Church, listen, if you really obey the Royal Law “Love your neighbor as yourself” Then you do what is right. Because mercy triumphs over judgment. Mercy triumphs over judgment. Faith loves. Faith keeps the Royal Law. (Praying) Dear God, may we be a people who truly live out this truth that mercy triumphs over judgment and may we be a people who, because of our faith in you and your son, may we be a people who live out the Royal law and love our neighbors. It’s in Christ’s name that I pray, Amen.

Jean Kelley