Everybody Welcome James 2.

1-13 26 September 2010
Introduction
Those of us who attend church regularly might like to think that it is an easy place in which to feel at home. That isn’t necessarily the case as we have been discovering these last few weeks…. Mr Bean Why are we running this series? o To help those of us who are members of St Cuthbert’s think about the welcome we give to our visitors o To consider what it means to be church and explore some of the bible’s teaching that is pertinent to this theme. Both theory and practice

Why is it important? o Because wrongly or rightly we will be judged on the welcome we give or do not give Service is important and it is very easy to put people off with a single bad experience c.f. Amazon As I said the other week and re-iterate now, this isn’t the sole answer to the church’s problems, but it does tackle one part of them – the back door o Because the church, if it is to be the church as God wants it to be, needs to be constantly re-assessing and re-contextualising its approach to ministry The 1887 building The 1960 building The 2005 building Very significant changes in the fifteen or so years that I have attended this church. c.f. my first ever Church Committee meeting and the decision about coffee! o Because the church has a very important role to play in society, a role that perhaps, like Avondale Leisure Centre, people only notice when it is not present.

And so, the first week we looked at the role the church is called to play as the point of connection between a world of people who need God and a God who longs for the world to know, love and obey Him. Mention Alpha Then last week we thought about some of the challenges we face in making the church truly accessible to all comers c.f. EVERYBODY Welcome. We also considered Jesus’ teaching that welcoming or not welcoming others provides a litmus test of how much we welcome or not welcome Him, hence the topic’s seriousness. This week we are going to look at part of the letter of James which has relevance for our theme. James was one of Jesus’ brothers who became an important leader in the early church and wrote a very practical letter to Jewish Christians about thirty or so years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. James is very concerned that people truly live out their faith in a challenging environment in which many Christians (c.f. James 1.22 Doers of the word KJV) In particular, in the passage we read, James tackles the issue of favouritism – literally ‘receiving or respecting face’, judging people on the externals for the church to whom he writes were showing an undue deference to the rich and a distinct lack of concern for the poor. This prejudice was evidenced by their treatment of visitors to their services. By examining what James had to say about this issue we can get an angle on what God wishes to say to us today. This is how Christians believe scripture works….

I.
1

Identity

My brothers, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism

The expression ‘our glorious Lord Jesus Christ’ is an unusual one over which the commentators labour – literally our Lord Jesus Christ who is the Glory. It is one that James likely chose to emphasise Jesus’ centrality as the One whom Christians both past and present nust look for their identity. And what sort of glory did Jesus possess? Not the sort of glory which stands afar off, but the sort of glory that draws near. As Pauls puts it elsewhere
9

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8.9

Jesus’ life and ministry were one long exercise in drawing near or, we might say, welcome o touching the untouchables that they might feel God’s love from which they had been denied o healing the sick and disturbed that they might be brought back into the community from which they had been excluded o teaching those whose believed themselves to be of no significance that in God’s eyes they were of unique and infinite significance o hosting meals which symbolised the welcome that was there in God’s Kingdom for all who desired to enter it. Those meals are worth a sermon in themselves for they tell us so much about the outworking of the Gospel c.f. Homer’s Last Supper

This Jesus then is or should be inspirational for those who look to him for their identity
He whose eye is filled with Christ never sees what kind of coat a man has on Joseph Parker

Quote Alec Motyer p.86

II. Equality
5

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?

Extending his argument against favouritism, James reminds his readers of God’s attitude to the poor as shown throughout the bible. God has a concern for the weak and vulnerable – a ‘bias to the Poor’ as Bishop David Sheppard once put it. Not that He favours them above everyone else – a bias against the rich - but He does treat everybody equally which means, at times, going out of His way to balance things up.
Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly. Leviticus 19.15

James’ point then is this. If God Himself shows an equal concern for the poor who are so often marginalised, what on earth are Christians doing discriminating against them by refusing them a decent welcome into their meetings?
. 3 If you show special attention to the one wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the one who is poor, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

This is precisely the truth Jesus taught in his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount echoes of which are present throughout James’ letter, including this section (‘Blessed are the poor’)

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour [h] and hate your enemy.' 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5.43-48

43

I know that in the diverse culture in which we operate it is unlikely that we would be as crass as those James’ addresses…. Nevertheless, one can easily imagine circumstances in which our welcome would be tested. o o o o o o o o o those who are mentally ill those who are morally questionable those whose appearance is unlike ours the young the old the disabled those of a different class, culture, race, religion, sexuality those who differ from us theologically anyone, quite frankly, who is going to be hard work

III. Consistency
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbour as yourself," you are doing right. 9 But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." [c] If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
8

Next James moves on to the bible’s law or instruction concerning the way we should live our lives, the bible for want of a better word, which for James and the recipients of his letter was the OT. Interestingly, James calls it the law of love for neighbour the ‘royal law’, the King’s law, which may well be an allusion to the decisive exposition that it has received in the life and words of Jesus Christ and / or the fact that it should characterise the King’s people. That love for both God and neighbour provide a summary of God’s demands upon us – the two greatest commandments – is a truth that we regularly visit in church and one that we need to, for it is so easy, on the one hand, for us to concern ourselves with faith in God to the exclusion of compassion for those in need or, on the other hand, to concern ourselves with compassion to the exclusion of faith in God. As James will argue in the next section of his letter (2.14f) we must concern ourselves with both – faith expresses itself through deeds. So to truly love God we must love others as we love ourselves (v.8) And how do we love ourselves? When we look at ourselves we don’t necessarily like what we see… c.f. my video But, unless we are depressed or suicidal, we accept and put up with ourselves and get on with life. In the same way, we might not like what we see in others – appearance, accent, education, background, colour of skin, age etc. but we do at least accommodate other people to the extent that we accommodate ourselves.

(c.f. ordering of commandments) Grudges and foriegners….!
" 'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD. " 'When foreigners reside among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34 The foreigners residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
33 18

IV. Humanity
12

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom

James had already spoken of God’s law or instruction in very positive terms (1.25)
But those who look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continue in it —not forgetting what they have heard but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

He continues that thought here in v.12. There is, of course, a ‘dark side’ to the law as one day it will provide the standard by which we are judged – more on that in a moment – but that does not mean that its role is essentially negative. Quite the opposite. God’s law is designed to bring freedom. It is a charter of right living for both the individual and society the point being that God knows us better than we know ourselves and so that, to use the old cliché, it is always best to follow the Maker’s instructions. I’ll be saying more about this next time, so let me simply state the point. The bible teaches that the church is God’s new society, the place where his will is most clearly lived out. Not perfectly, but visibly and practically. The church, then, should be place where people are able to taste and feel what God’s kingdom is actually like. This means far more than a comfortable seat or a cup of fairly traded coffee. It means, amongst other things, that we should be a real family, the family of God c.f. brothers and sisters v.1 (c.f. the issue of translation) It this family that Olivia and Yvie have today, symbolically, joined.

V. Humility
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
12

Finally, what is James saying here? If we show mercy to others then mercy will be shown to us. If we do not show mercy to others mercy will not be shown to us. c.f. Lord’s Prayer Therefore judge others in the way that you would like God to judge you. This, in a way, compliments my earlier point about consistency. It is not just that God calls us to love others as we love Him. We are called to love others in the same way that as He has loved us. This lifts the bar even higher! The only way to clear it is to be constantly wondering at God’s grace to us. Which takes us to the Cross where God’s mercy triumphed over His judgement.

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