Title: Particular Love
Scripture: Psalm 146, James 2:1-4, 8-9, 14-17
Listen to this sermon here
We are in our second week of the book of James, and though I had always planned on preaching on Chapter 2 today, it is pretty wonderful that Chad set me up so nicely with his preaching on chapter 1 last week. If you weren’t here or haven’t yet listened to his sermon, I really encourage you to go and listen to the podcast of his thorough history of James and why it is such a significant book in the New Testament.
One of the main points of last week’s text from James was that we cannot simply be hearers and thinkers and talkers but that we have to be do-ers.
And as Chad said in his sermon last week, at it’s core – James is a book of action.
And that call to action continues this week as well.
Last week was a sort of general call to “do” instead of just “hear” or “say”.
This week James moves from that general call to a particular one.
James begins chapter 2 with a question – “My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in Jesus?” Another, more literal, way to translate this is: you cannot have real faith and show favoritism. James is asking, how can you say you believe in Jesus Christ, but treat people this way?
This one question tells us a lot about the community to whom James is writing.
We ended last week with this verse: “worship that God accepts as faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.”
James says: see, when you aren’t looking out for the orphans and widows, when you aren’t caring for the least of these, then you judge them.
He moves from vague charge to care to the least to a specific example of how this favoritism is happening in worship. When you gather, you give attention and honor to someone dressed really finely, and you ignore the poor person in dirty clothes.
You might think that’s horrible and you would NEVER do that – but how many of you, totally honestly, looked at me this morning when you first saw me and thought some version of “she’s wearing THAT?!”
How many of you have ever pretended not to see someone begging, or looked at someone on the side of the road thought “I’d give them money, but they are just going to spend it on booze”
How many of you have ever thought, someone else will do it.
Someone else will stand up for those people,
someone else will give to that cause,
someone else someone else… ??
As much as we don’t want to admit it – James is talking to US here as well.
Professor and New Testament Scholar Craig Koester said: “Christians in North America may not think of social class as a problem, yet it is worth asking how comfortable the people in our congregations are when encountering people who visibly belong to a different social class. Networks of friendships often run along the lines created by income levels, education, and, professional status. Perhaps we do not say to a poorly dressed person, “Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet” (2:3), but we may well leave them standing by saying nothing at all.”
We look around and categorize people by they way they look and act and then we judge them worthy of our care and notice or not.
I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad here this morning, but I am trying to get us to be honest about this…
The early church was erasing lines between people left and right, and the members of these congregations sometimes forgot that in the church there is no rich or poor, they might walk outside of the gathering for worship and see male and female and rich and poor and slave and free, but in the new community of Christ these things didn’t matter.
And because of this new way, how we treat the least of these matters, because they are the same as we are. Children of God.
As Chad talked about last week, James is one of the pillars of the early church – one of the eye-witnesses to the risen Christ, listed alongside Paul and Peter. He was a big deal.
James is writing this letter to the early church, and he has some important words to say as they tried to find their way in this new way of Christ. These early churches had been hearing from Paul as well as James, and they had heard Paul’s words on being justified by faith.
James was writing this letter because he is worried about a misapplication of this theology – that we will be ok as long as we just believe. I can do anything I want as long as I believe.
James concern is that this incorrect interpretation of Paul will have an adverse affect on the poor.
In the last section of today’s text, James says “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but you do not have works?”
I’m going to go out on a limb here, but it is Martin Luther’s incorrect interpretation of this verse that caused him to dislike James so much. Works here in James isn’t the same thing as what Luther meant when he said “works.”
Yet Luther was right. And so is James.
Stay with me.
Luther (and also Paul) were talking about works righteousness.: the things you do to earn your salvation. And Luther and Paul were clear that there is nothing you can do to work yourself into a better standing with God.
Here me say this clearly this morning – there is nothing you can do to earn the love of God.
And here’s the thing – it’s already been given.
God’s love and grace and forgiveness and salvation have already been given to you. That’s it.
So the rest of James starts with that truth.
James brings us the FOR WHAT that Chad talked about last week.
We have been saved.
We have been called and claimed and named children of God.
So now what?
James doesn’t mince words as he answers this question – “If a brother or sister is naked daily food, and one of you says to them – Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill, and yet you do not supply their needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, faith that has no works, is dead.”
James’s version of works is works on behalf of the neighbor.
Paul believed in this kind of works too – in his letter to the Ephesians he says that we are “God’s handiwork, created to do good works.”
This is not works righteousness.
This has absolutely nothing to do with our own salvation.
But it is life and death for those we are called to help.
We can’t go up to someone begging on the side of the road and say “God loves you” or even “We love you” and walk away.
We can’t tell someone that we’ll pray for them and not do anything to meet their immediate physical needs as well.
We cannot be followers of Christ, cannot be people who have already received the love of Christ acted out on our behalf, without being ambassadors of that love to others.
Faith has to be embodied.
Faith has to be acted out.
Otherwise, it’s meaningless.
James is called a book of action because we are called to be people that act.
Luther himself is famously quoted as saying that “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.”
We aren’t called to act on behalf of ourselves, but on behalf of our neighbor.
James is calling the early church, and in turn – us – to action.
Not because we need it for ourselves but because without our action in the world, the poor and needy will be worse off – and that is not what the Kingdom of God is about.
Today – James calls us to ask a new question.
“What is the good news for my NEIGHBOR?”
See, we know the good news for ourselves.
New life has been given.
We are beloved children of God.
We will come around the table and hear it again in a few minutes in the words “For you.”
We’ve heard the good news.
We know what it looks like for us.
Now it’s time to ask ourselves – now what?
What does good news mean for our neighbor?
What does good news look like for the guy you see holding a sign at that intersection every day?
What does good news look like for the person who is sitting by themselves at lunch?
What does good news look like for kid who just came out to his parents?
What does good news look like for the single mom working two jobs?
What does good news look like for the homeless kid couch-surfing again tonight?
What does good news look like for the Syrian refugees looking for food and shelter?
What does Good News look like?
Today we have the answer, Prince of Peace.
The good news looks like you.
End of worship closing/Benediction:
“If not us then who
If not now than when
It’s time for us to do something.”
Teddy Roosevelt famously said “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
We are called to be people who “Do.”
We heard and tasted the good news today – now it’s time for us to go out and be that good news for everyone else.
So do we go and do in peace, to love and serve the Lord