James 2:1-10,14-17 (Isaiah 35:4-7a, , Mark 7:24-37) My friends, if you have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, you won’t treat some people better than others. 2 Suppose a rich person wearing fancy clothes and a gold ring comes to one of your meetings. And suppose a poor person dressed in worn-out clothes also comes. 3 You must not give the best seat to the one in fancy clothes and tell the one who is poor to stand at the side or sit on the floor. 4 That is the same as saying that some people are better than others, and you would be acting like a crooked judge. 5 My dear friends, pay attention. God has given a lot of faith to the poor people in this world. He has also promised them a share in his kingdom that he will give to everyone who loves him. 6 You mistreat the poor. But isn’t it the rich who boss you around and drag you off to court? 7 Aren’t they the ones who make fun of your Lord? 8 You will do all right, if you obey the most important law[a] in the Scriptures. It is the law that commands us to love others as much as we love ourselves. 9 But if you treat some people better than others, you have done wrong, and the Scriptures teach that you have sinned. 10 If you obey every law except one, you are still guilty of breaking them all. 14 My friends, what good is it to say you have faith, when you don’t do anything to show that you really do have faith? Can that kind of faith save you? 15 If you know someone who doesn’t have any clothes or food, 16 you shouldn’t just say, “I hope all goes well for you. I hope you will be warm and have plenty to eat.” What good is it to say this, unless you do something to help? 17 Faith that doesn’t lead us to do good deeds is all alone and dead!
I know a man whose Father was never there. I know a woman whose Father was never there.
It was not because the Father had died or gone away, it was because the Father was simply never there when he was there. Truth be told, it was probably because the Father the Father had was never there either….. and so it goes. Fatherlessness begets fatherlessness…and it does damage.
For the man and for the woman there was no one to make proud. There was no one to walk with and talk with about the small and the big things. There was grinding aloneness, lack of direction and self-acceptance because Father was never there to favour or accept.
This man and this woman were saved from worse though – a Father who was there but used abusive words and actions to withhold love and acceptance as punishment.
That is the same as saying that some people are better than others, and you would be acting like a crooked judge. (James 2:4)
These children were also saved from what James identifies as absolutely lethal to children: favouritism.
James names people who favour one over the other for selfish gain as “crooked judges”. When people play favourites with their friends, colleagues, parents or children it never goes straight. It goes like a shopping trolley with a dodgy wheel – it goes crooked, says James.
There would be people sitting here now who know all about this. For many and various reasons, their father or mother, friend or work mate gave the best place to another along with the gold and fine clothes of status and reputation and power and acceptance at your expense. Others got the glory and you got the lowest position in the family, school peer group, work place, church, and it hurt. It hurt a lot.
ROAD WITH A GAP
The road travelled for the fatherless or the less favoured has a huge crevice in the middle of it. The man and woman I know had to dodge that crevice constantly, lest it pull them into its worthlessness, aloneness, and the resulting fear and bitterness.
By themselves, without a real Father to guide, ways of avoiding the dark crevice are many and troubled.
To be someone of some significance there is constant searching for approval from someone somehow. When this is not earned or granted enough (and it never is) the other option is to numb the pain by getting a thrill, whether that be at the bottom of the bottle, needle or a pill, or in less offensive pursuits like the notoriety of music or sport or gaming or poetry or theatre or art fame.
If this is not where one’s talents lie, then there could be the less offensive, and more prevalent reliance on the fitness and food for body shape and beauty… as if the body and the beauty will heal the pain and remove the fear or the need for constant approval by others… to be the favourite they never were.
But friends, hope rises…… For this man and this woman, came new words from a new man and in his presence it all changed.
SLEDGEHAMMER AND BALM
A sledgehammer in the soul followed by a healing balm for it too. Naming the sin, removing the shame and filling the heart with favour. The living and active Spirit-powered breath of God – the Word of God – the precious Manna from above – Bread for the soul and fuel for a new life…. Spoken through a fellow traveller on the road. The crucified and resurrected man of sorrows and Prince of Peace – speaking words of wisdom through another – and favour came to be.
He freely gave complete acceptance and love, NOT because the man or the woman were good enough or wise enough or damaged enough or hard-working enough – but just because he did. He favoured them because he simply loved them with a divine love from a Divine Father.
Like the mother at his table in desperate need for life saving words for her dying daughter, in our gospel word today, and the man who had no words to speak or hear at all, this man of love, Jesus of Nazareth, simply touched them and spoke new words, new life, new hope and new joy into their very being (Mark 7:24-37)
And so now, all those who have been crooked judges and been on the receiving end of crooked judges and hurtful judgements receive a healing touch, a diving affirmation beyond all human affirmation…. and hope rises within us all like a newly tapped spring in the Simpson desert’s dry ground. Life is now life lived in love not fear.
Fingers in ears, a touch of the tongue – “Ephphatha!” – “Be opened!” – The words of our watery font of resurrection come rushing back to us today:
“Be opened that you may hear and speak the Word of God, little one”.
Those words are Jesus words still unstopping human ears and loosening tied up tongues.
And now the shame and the anger and the rage goes as new words spoken in Jesus’ among Jesus new people invade our souls daily, and the voice of the Saviour does what he promises; • If you are blind to anything good and true happening in you, see goodness and truth happening again today. • If you just can’t hear of grace and freedom and hope for your day or your whole life, let him open the eyes of your heart to know him better and receive that freeing grace. • If you are stooped over, downcast, afraid of eye contact, punching at shadows and unclear on direction, let him put a spring in you step so you leap you around in the joy of new found hope and new freedom.
Friends, we Christians are not crooked judges, but compassionate carers and loving speakers to those who still feel like complete failures.
Surely we privileged few, we band of brothers and sisters in the favour of the Creator and Saviour of all people, cannot help but speak of the man who touched our souls and made our lives count for something good, something bold, something needed, something transforming of all this death and darkness we see.
Surely we cannot be silent. Surely we can even shout quite loudly about who he is and who has called us to be on occasion – We even sing our story of faith for all to hear. We might even paint our story, draw our story, and speak our story of new hope in lines of a poem – for all to hear as they are able.
As Isaiah the prophet who announced THE Prophet of all Prophets says, dry despair and cynicism and doubts have given way to fresh growth, openness to listen and learn, ability to change things and love people – not play favourites anymore.
The water and Word of our baptismal acceptance into God’s family rushes through us in the driest and most difficult of places, and there is life abundant in our very souls – enough life to give away, to share; to overflow to others.
NOT NEEDY BUT NEW
Enemies now have little say to us, and little power over us. The Living Word is now all we need. We don’t need to grease the palm of anyone. We have no need to run away from standing with a person in need or person whom others may dislike. We have no need to play favourites, go for gold and fine clothes to make it easier for ourselves. We don’t need “easy”. We only want “new” – his “new”.
I know a man whose Father was never there. I know a woman whose Father was never there.
I know thousands of men and women, young men and women, teenagers and children whose heavenly Father is always there, always standing with, in loyalty and love, not pulling away in embarrassment.
We speak plain words that have depth. We say to the shamed, the proud, the cynical, the lost, the powerful, the weak, “Jesus”. “God saves”. “Jesus loves me and you”. We say, “He is not against you like you thought he was and like others say he is”. “You are his favourite – we all are”.
Hear him speaking life into you today: “Ephphatha!” – “Be opened!” Be open to the love of your Heavenly Father – “Abba”, “Papa”. No more devil’s son or daughter here.
There is only new freedom in that baptism, pure joy in that meal of renewal, great strength in his holy gathering, bold courage to speak and to do as his husbands, wives, father’s, mothers and children.
Energize the limp hands, strengthen the rubbery knees. Tell fearful souls, “Courage! Take heart! GOD is here, right here, putting things right, redressing all wrongs, saving you!” (Isaiah 35:4-7)
PRAY: Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord, that we may know you better.
Read carefully through our James 2 text noting any questions or thought provoking words/sentences for you. Describe what you hear in this text about who God is, who you are and ow God wants us to live. Share your descriptions….
One of the most poignant movies I know that really demonstrates the terrible impact on children of a father playing favourites is the one about the Country and Western singer, Johnny Cash (‘Walk the Line’). As a young boy his older brother was killed in a saw mill accident. In the grief of it all his Father said to the young Cash that “It should have been you”. These are devastating words – and especially so when spoken by a father to a young boy or girls. Johnny Cash would spend the rest f his life dealing with alcoholism, adultery and many other destructive things trying to deal with this ‘curse’ put on him by his father. Share experience of favouritism (if any). How did it work and how did it make people feel – both the one favoured and the one not favoured and those watching it happen.
What do you make of James’ description of those who play favourites as “crooked judges”? Share your ideas on what you think he means here.
Flick over to that beautiful text of promise in Isaiah 35:4-7. Share what this text says to you about how God treats his people. Look especially at the verbs in the text to help with this.
Jesus is the fulfilment of that Isaiah prophecy. He delivered the promise. See Luke 4 and Jesus’ first sermon in the Capernaum synagogue.
I said, that like the mother seeking healing for he daughter and the deaf and mute man “opened” by Jesus, we cannot stay silent about who he is and what he does for us in making us open and new every day.
One of the things Philip Yancey says in his book “Vanishing Grace” is that when Christians have been pushed to the margins, derided and dismissed by the surrounding culture (as we are being now) there are two things we have always done. One is to create beautiful art, be it poetry, music, painting or architecture (think of Michael Angelo, the great cathedrals of Europe, Greek and Russian Icons and etc…). The other is to simply serve the community and not say too much – except to give and account of why we serve when asked.
Why does these things? Because beauty is beauty and people know beauty when they see it, whether it is from a Christian or not. And, it is hard to say much bad about acts of kindness and care – especially to those whom others misunderstand or despise. Do we do these things already? How can we do more and so “win some for Christ” as we go?
PRAY: The Lord’s Prayer together
Someone close with a blessing: The Lord bless and keep us in his grace. Amen.