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Apr 22, 2018

Working out our faith | James 2:1-13

Working out our faith | James 2:1-13

Passage: James 2:1-13

Speaker: Rev. Scott Shelton

Series: Working out our faith

Category: Weekend Message

Welcome today – hope you had fun at mission possible, check out 26 of our mission partners today in gym. If you came last night, hope it was fun – and thanks to Christy Baugh for organizing it. Jerry is out of town today.

We continue today on James – working out our faith – practical encouragement and challenge on how to live for Jesus.

James 2:1-13 - NRSV

“My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet, 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

This is the word of the Lord, thanks be to God. let us pray.

Have you ever had the best seats? I’ve had really good ones a couple of times.

The best seats – NBA all-star game – around 1984 - in front of NFL coach and star running back, Ron Meyer and Craig James. It was great fun.

Butler vs. Duke – in front of Grant Hill from Duke. Right at center court. Cheering for Gordon Hayward to make the shot to beat Duke. Trying to block Grant Hill from seeing the game and cheering for Duke!

But I don’t often have those favored seats – I felt pretty good both those times. What if we are given the favored seats over someone else based on our fame or fortune?

NT Wright, theologian tells the story when he showed up at an Anglican Church in England on Easter Sunday – and there were long lines to get in to get seats for worship. A very distinguished man in the city saw him and took him past all the lines, and asked for seats. Wright was flattered to be recognized, and was quickly escorted to the front of the church for great seats. He said he couldn’t Easter worship, because he was thinking about James 2, and favoritism forbidden.

That’s not my saying, favoritism forbidden, but one I like and one you should remember today.

James says that as Christians, followers of Christ, we are not to play favorites. His example is the rich and the poor. It’s a temptation for me – and probably for all us – to treat people just a little nicer, if they’re famous, or wealthy, or could treat us nice. And maybe not give as much time or energy to someone who is quieter, or doesn’t draw attention, is poor, and does not have social status maybe others do.

James says to the early Christians, and to us, don’t play favorites. Treat people with mercy and love. Don’t give the well-dressed, the rich the best seats in church or treat them better. When you are young especially a teen, you feel like you are not given favoritism often. Being a teenager is not easy – especially today with the possibility that people play favorites in social media like Instagram etc.

But even back then, it wasn’t easy. As a high school student back in the 1980’s – it wasn’t so important what group I was in. I would like to say I was cool because I played basketball, that was part of my identity, but I was also kind of quiet and nerdy. I would like to say studious, others might say nerdy!

I remember being a teen and not always sure of myself, who liked who, I had good friends, but still kind of an awkward too. And most of the adults in our lives played authority figures, teachers, the vice principal coaches, my parents’ friends. But my youth pastor Murray was different. As youth pastor, he made kids feel welcome. I still remember and strangely Murray does too, probably because we’ve talked about it, but the time when Murray came by my high school after we finished basketball practice, and found us cooling off on a hot afternoon on the steps in front of the school. See it was hot all year in Dallas. You had to go out to cool off!

I still remember Murray knowing our names, finding things in common with us, joking with us, treating us as equals, showing no favoritism, but including us all. Then on Sundays he would teach us about Jesus. I made the connection. Murray followed Jesus, if Murray treated me kindly, knew my name, knew about my life, and cared for me – he even accepted me – and Murray represented Jesus – then Jesus must love me, care for me, accept me, too. Jesus didn’t play favorites either.

That’s a great recipe for us. Treat people the way Jesus treats them. James says later in this passage, it’s the royal law – Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus would know the greatest commandment from The Shema.

Love God with all your heart, mind soul and strength – which faithful Jews recite every day. It was to Love the Lord your God with all your heart mind soul and strength. Jesus adds, which is also from the OT, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

This is the remedy for favoritism. To love and to show mercy, James says. And James addresses the church as family, when he says in verse 5 “Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.”

We are family too at ZPC. If we are family, we can challenge each other, how then shall we live, knowing what we know? How will we love our neighbors? How will not play favorites with those who are more popular, rich or well-known?

Like Jesus. Do it the way Jesus did it. So begin by asking Jesus to change your heart and mind. We ask Jesus to change our hearts – to feel for those the way Jesus did. We ask Jesus to help change our minds – to see people as Jesus did.

One of the questions in home groups this week is does God show favoritism? I think the quick answer is no. if we mean does God show favoritism to those in power, who are wealthy – then absolutely not.

But God does show some favor the poor. James says in verse 5 they have 2 things given to them.

First, they get to be rich in faith; second, to be heirs of the Kingdom. This echoes what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount.

When you feel you have everything, you don’t need God. When you need everything, you draw close to God.

When you feel you have everything, you don’t need God, when you need everything, you realize you need God. So sometimes for those who are wealthy, they may have a harder time seeing their need for God. For those who are poor, they can depend on God more.

I’m glad to be speaking on this day when we have a mission fair in the gym and ask you to circulate through there and to check out those 26 missions or ministries. They are doing God’s work.

One near and dear to me is Faith Ministry. Faith ministry reaches some of the poorest of the poor on the Mexico side of the Texas-Mexico border.

One thing the ministry does well is to have the Mexican leaders teach and lead the American volunteers. As one week mission helpers, we don’t come in as rich Americans to save the day and show them how it’s done to build a house or do construction. They have trained supervisors who teach us how to do the basic construction to mix cement, lay block, tie rebar and build a house. Then we work side by side with the Mexican workers and their own volunteers. It builds camaraderie to work together, side by side, often times them correcting us gently, as we learn how to work.

When we were there last time they had a beautiful retirement ceremony for Ezequiel.


He was one of the very first employees at Faith Ministry and worked tirelessly in construction for about 25 years until he could physically not do it anymore. At his ceremony, several Americans – whom I know to be very successful back in the states, stood up, and thanked him for teaching them many years ago to do construction. It was a beautiful and humble ceremony honoring a man for humbly doing God’s work – of mixing cement, laying block, and building houses for those who didn’t have homes. And teaching rich Americans how to humbly serve their Mexican brothers and sisters.

Ezequiel in the world’s eyes would be a poor man. But he is rich. Rich in faith, rich in family, rich in friends, rich in hard work, respect and integrity.

Being poor or ordinary and doing God’s work is not impossible, but mission possible.

God certainly lifts up the ordinary. Jesus spends times with those are not the rich and powerful. A recent book about the disciples is called, “Twelve Ordinary Men.” Jesus chose young men, fisherman, a tax collector named Matthew, to be his closest followers. John McArthur says about the disciples, “from our human perspective, the propagation of the gospel and the foundation of the church hinged entirely on twelve men who most outstanding characteristic was their ordinariness.”

President Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, “God must love the common people…because he made so many of them.”

God doesn’t often choose the popular or the powerful – he chooses the ordinary, the common, the unexpected, the young women and men, the poor – to have faith and to do his work.

God chose two unmarried teens – Mary and Joseph - to be the future parents of Jesus.

God chose Jacob to become the nation of Israel.

Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery.

Jesus included the woman at the well.

Jesus chose Peter – the tough, outspoken fisherman to lead the church.

Jesus chose Zaccheus, the cheating tax collector, to go to his house and share a meal.

Jesus healed those who were blind, who couldn’t speak, paralyzed, people who had to beg for money.

Jesus touched the leper – and healed him.

As Jesus reached out and touched the leper – and reaches out and touches us in many ways.

Barbara Bush touched the leper as well.

Barbara Bush died this week at age 92. A great story came out in the Houston Chronicle about her this week as well. A photo circulated by Paul Brandus with West Wing Reports shows Mrs. Bush holding a baby while a 2-year-old child nearby takes their photo with a toy camera. These were two kids at a Washington-area hospice for children with AIDS.


This was at a time when nothing could be done medically for those with the disease. It was a death sentence. At a time, when some were worried about merely touching someone with the disease for fear of contracting it the first lady was treating them like she would have treated her own grandchildren. Mrs. Bush was striving to make sure that the public understood that AIDS wasn't contracted through simple human gestures like hugs and handshakes. Along the way Mrs. Bush also understood that it wasn't just the smallest, most innocent victims of the AIDS epidemic who deserved love.

A short time later at a charity home for infants with AIDS, a local volunteer named Lou Tesconi was able to meet Mrs. Bush while she was there on a special visit. He was on a team of AIDS advocates who were tasked with speaking to Mrs. Bush. During a briefing behind the scenes he told the first lady that adults with AIDS needed affection and care too.

"Mrs. Bush, it is a fantastic thing that you are holding these babies with AIDS." Tesconi told Mrs. Bush. "But the country sees them as innocent and the rest of us with AIDS as guilty. The whole suffering AIDS community needs a collective embrace from you today."

Just then Mrs. Bush walked over and hugged Tesconi. Later at a public press conference she repeated the gesture in front of reporters, embracing a gay man with AIDS for the world to see.

Two years later, as Tesconi was dying in a hospital, he received a letter from Mrs. Bush. In the letter, she told Tesconi that even though he was dying that he should know that his life mattered and that he did great work for those to follow.

Mrs. Bush wrote in her 1994 memoir that the encounter deeply impacted her.

"I especially remember a young man who told us that he had been asked to leave his church studies when it was discovered he had AIDS," she wrote. "His parents had also disowned him, and he said he longed to be hugged again by his mother."

"A poor substitute, I hugged that darling young man and did it again in front of the cameras. But what he really needed was family."

We are family. James writes to family when he says, “My dear brothers and sisters in Christ.” Families are supposed to care for each other – and so we are to care those who are God’s children.

So we can’t be Barbara Bush, nor do we need to be. But we can reach out to those in need. We can do our best to be like Jesus.

To pray and ask God to see people the way Jesus saw them. To look at them as God’s children, made in his image, nor rich or poor.

Jesus didn’t spend time with the Pharisees so much – he healed the sick, touched the leper, forgave the sinner, ate with tax collectors, and through people like our missionaries here today – he told people and showed people the love of Jesus.

He built their houses, HFH or Fuller Center, he gave them the good news, our missionaries to Tunisia, Romania, Mongolia, Brazil, Haiti, Thailand, Egypt. He gave the hungry food to eat, through the Food Pantry, or totes to Shepherd. He cared for the children like Str8up, or the Villages or youth for Christ. He housed the homeless like Wheeler Mission or Interfaith Hospitality Network.

James tells us what we can do:

We can be quick to listen and slow to speak.

We can look for the person around us, the people around us, that we should show love and mercy to.

Not to show favoritism, but to care for the poor, the orphan, the widow.

James (and Jesus by the way), challenges us to reach out to those who can’t offer anything in return, as Jesus did. To Love our neighbor. To love the poor, maybe the poor in spirit, or the poor in friendship, who needs a friend.

Our homework then this week is: Treat someone you would not normally with love and respect and mercy, desiring nothing in return.

Let us pray

The chorus of our closing song says, “you delight in showing mercy. And mercy triumphs over judgment.” That comes from James 2. This week love your neighbor, show mercy, mercy and kindness triumph over favoritism and judgment – be kind, be merciful, love your neighbor.

And go from here with the love of God the Father, the grace and mercy of Jesus the Son, and the courage and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Amen.