July 26, 2015

Love in an Upside Down World

Sermon # in the series: | Speaker: Pastor Fred Provencher | Scripture: James 2:1-11
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Introduction – how can a church drift so far from the heart of Jesus?
In 1969 America was changing drastically and the youth were affected more than anyone. Teens and young adults were dropping out, lighting up and getting high. They were hitch hiking across the country, joining communes and looking for meaning. People called them “freaks” because of their long hair and strange clothes. Some of them found what they were looking for in Jesus. They began to follow him as closely and as radically as they could since to them Jesus seemed like a hippy wanderer telling the world about the love of God.
In 1969 Calvary Chapel, a small church in Southern California, began reaching out to the freaks hanging out at the beaches near them. Their pastor Chuck Smith and the Hippie preacher Lonnie Frisbie saw hundreds if not thousands come to Christ – be “Born Again” — and it started to change the complexion of the church. At one point the regulars, those of an older generation who had started the church, grew unhappy with the unwashed vagabonds showing up at church. The Hippies plopped down on the floor – on the new carpeting –rather than sitting in a chair. They sat on the front lawn after church smoking and talking about the Bible. It made the church look bad and they were afraid that the facilities would be ruined.
One Sunday an elder of the church posted a sign on the church that said, “No Bare feet” which was a way of saying “No Freaks.” Chuck Smith reacted decisively calling his elders and challenging them. He told them that if their facilities were too nice for the young freaks than they should rip out the pews and tear up the carpeting, because they needed to keep inviting them. God was on the move and hundreds of young people were coming, listening, getting saved and being baptized in the Pacific ocean.
This movement eventually birthed Greg Laurie, Raul Reese, John Wimber, all the Calvary Chapel churches as well as the whole Contemporary Christian Music movement and current “Praise Music” revolution. What is important for us is that for a moment a church committed to following Jesus had almost lost the heart of its Savior. Here they were wanting to follow the great commission and yet turning people away because of cultural convention. Unfortunately it happens all the time. It happened to the churches that James addresses in his letter.

This morning we see James address an issue in the church. He addresses it clearly and forcefully because he knows that they have lost the very heart of Jesus.

SCRIPTURE
James 2:1-11

2 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism (receiving the face). 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
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? 6 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? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”[a] you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, 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,”[b] also said, “You shall not murder.”[c] If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

When we discriminate against people we have become judges with evil thoughts

2 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism (receiving the face). 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

James tells the church that they cannot show favoritism if they call themselves believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. We discriminate or show favoritism when we treat one person worse or better than another based on wealth, race, fame or appearance. James illustrates his concern with an easy to understand picture of the church giving preferential treatment to a rich man while treating a poor man with distain.
James’ picture is not only easy to understand it is painfully easy to apply tour own lives. We show great favoritism to the famous, to those on TV as well as the rich and powerful. Too often the church fawns over the famous looking for ways to use their celebrity to our own advantage. We think knowing someone who has been on television is a big deal – it makes us more important to know them. We do this with athletes assuming things about their competence and character simply because they are successful athletes.
We show racial favoritism as well often without even knowing about it. Most of us know that we have a racial problem in America and most of us would say that we are not racists. But we show favoritism and discriminate. Sociologist have shown over and over again that white people are more likely to get jobs, to be given opportunities, even to sell things on e-Bay. Most of us follow these trends without even without realizing it.
James says we have become judges with evil thoughts

Why is this evil? Isn’t it just networking, or wisdom from years of living. Isn’t it just leveraging someone’s fame?

It is evil when we judge who is good and valuable because in doing so we take the place of God.

James
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? 6 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? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

Unlike contemporary American culture, God favors the poor. James says that they are often “rich in faith.” God honors the poor and hears their prayers because they are desperate for him. But we often dishonor the poor and in doing so we break God’s law. For instance, it goes against Leviticus 19:15:

Leviticus 19
15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

It goes against Jesus’ criticism in Matthew 23 where we see how Jesus hated when people sough glory for themselves at the expense of others. He knew that in God’s eyes all are human and making yourself more than another not only made no sense but it diminished our understanding of God. Listen to his criticism of the clergy of his day.

Matthew 23:6-7
5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

Over and over in scripture God warns that he opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. When we engage in the celebrity culture we feed the ego side of servants and church visitors and that is not the heart of Jesus.
But why does God have such a heart for the poor?

In James’ cultural setting the rich are the ones oppressing the Church

James reminds them that it is particularly crazy that they would favor the rich because it was the rich who were using their power to exploit the church. It is possible that the rich land owners at the time realized that the “Jesus followers” no longer had the political/social protection of being Jewish. They were vulnerable, utterly without legal allies. This could be why James says they were also blaspheming God.
The powerful always demand submission from those who they think are below them. But God hates it when the strong use their influence, wealth, power against those who are weak and vulnerable. The strong exploiting the weak is the way of the world but it is not the way of the Kingdom of God.
Of course many of us have to “network” with powerful people to do our jobs. Cultivating relationships, serving clients, building sales relationships and major donors is just part of most people’s days. If you are in a small marketing firm you are going to pay attention to your most lucrative clients. If your firm has season tickets to the Knicks you are going to use them to build relationships with potential buyers. This is the way of the world and for most of us it is unavoidable and not sinful. But it is one of the reasons why Jesus loves it when we serve those who cannot pay us back. Jesus told us to throw a banquet for those who cannot repay. It is a higher form of love rather than loving those who you can profit from.

Luke 14:7-14
13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

So Jesus does not want us to evaluate people and show favoritism according to the values of the culture, but he wants us to see people as he sees them which probably means that the poor person is more likely to understand faith than the rich person. And the rich person is more likely to be exploiting the helpless than the poor. However, the main reason why we should not discriminate is that it breaks the law of love.

Discrimination breaks the law of love
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”[a] you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, 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,”[b] also said, “You shall not murder.”[c] If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

James says that if we love our neighbors we are doing right. Jesus said that the whole of the Old Testament law could be summed up by the two commands to love God with our heart soul mind and strength (Deut 6) and our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19).

Leviticus 19
18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Very simply we can say “don’t discriminate against the poor” because you wouldn’t want someone to treat you that way. If you were in a vulnerable position you would want someone to treat you fairly so you should do the same. But the sentiment goes deeper. God is the most powerful person in the universe and he could easily ignore us or treat us with harsh and unrelenting justice. We would all be found guilty before him. But instead we are given grace. God treats us mercifully and he wants us to treat others that way as well.
So we extend the same grace to the rich person. Don’t love the rich person only because they are rich. You wouldn’t want people to love you only for what they could get from you so don’t treat others that way. Treat the poor and the rich justly and above all treat them as people valuable because they are made in God’s image.
In the end discrimination and favoritism conveys is lack of trust in God because we are treating people based on what we can get from them. When we trust God to care for us we can love others without an agenda.

Conclusion: how can we drift so far from the heart of Jesus?
Whether it is the evangelical church in Southern California, or the Baptist church in the south during slavery, or Hutus and Tutsis killing each other in Rwanda, it is amazing how far the church can drift from Jesus. We talk about building our lives around Jesus. We talk about being “Jesus followers” rather than “Christians” because that seems less culturally loaded. But it is so easy to slide away from the heart of Jesus.

Each day say the Jesus Creed and seek to live it out in the world around you:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself.

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