Life Apps: Acceptance
We are in a Series on the book of James and today we come to the second chapter of James. This is one of those tricky parts in the letter, because our Bibles say Chapter 2 verse 1. Let me remind you that when the letter was first written there were not chapter and verse markings. It was a letter that James wrote and gave it to one of his disciples who traveled from house church to house church and read the letter. Dr. Scott McKnight says that these readers of the letter would practice delivering the letter over and over again with the original author so that they would get every inflection down and pause at just the right times. When we get fixated on the verses and chapters it’s easy to miss the themes of the book that flow together throughout the letter.
James 1 ends with Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress. He singles out two groups of people who society had deemed unworthy of their time and effort, orphans and widows. People living in this class had no way to take care of themselves, and had no way to repay you for your kindness. Before we are going to get into what James says in chapter two we need to look at what he says about our responsibility to the poor, the needy, the widows, and orphans.
When we give to those who cannot pay us back, we are fulfilling what Jesus said in Luke 14, When you put on a luncheon or a banquet don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you. (12-14) James is taking the commands of Jesus out of this realm of theory and putting them into this idea of practice.
On the heels of that remark, I would imagine the person reading the letter, took a breath and said, keeping yourself free from the world's evil influence. My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. James doesn’t pull punches, he just lays it out there. Stay free from the world’s influence and live a life of acceptance. Or to look at it backwards if you are showing favoritism then you have been influenced by the world and you may not even know it.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book Blink about this thing we do he calls “thin slicing” which he defines as that first decision we make when someone approaches us. It’s not a conscious thing we do, but Gladwell says that we all make gut reactions when we first see someone. It’s why when you are walking down the mall and a group of teenagers are walking towards you, you naturally clutch your purse; or when you are at a red light and a homeless guy approaches your car you lock the doors. It’s almost an unconscious reaction. We do that because we have allowed the world to influence us, and we have lived in it so long that it is unconscious.
James says that a follower of Christ cannot value a person based on worldly standards. Don’t make judgments based off what you see on a persons outside. We have a great temptation in our culture to see people based on their bottom line, instead of the worth they have in their creator. I was working with a congregation, within 500 miles of this building, that was having some problems with their budget, actually they were spending a lot more money every month than was coming in from the contribution. We were having a meeting about what we needed to do, and one of the men in the meeting said, if we could just convert a few more Doctors and Lawyers we will be okay. I truly believe that he was trying to make a joke, but what he revealed was the attitude that James is addressing in this text.
My goal for Central is that we become the friendliest church in America. It helps me to remember that God loves diversity, and God wants everyone to be free to come to the table. Your race doesn’t matter, you are welcome here. The religion you grew up practicing doesn’t matter, you are welcome here. Your bank account or ability to earn money doesn't matter, you are welcome here. Your age or experience doesn’t matter, you are welcome here. Your past and history doesn’t matter, you are welcome here. That’s living out what God said when He said, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. If you are broken, come. If you are hurting, come. If you need help, come. If your life isn’t all together, show up and God will meet you here.
One of my favorite things about God, is His desire to create something new. God is an artistic and creative God, and His desire to create didn’t stop on the 6th day. He still desires to do a creative work of transformation in your life. He wants to bring healing in your life. He longs to do great things in your life. Before God can change our community, there has to be a group of His children who throw open the doors and say, “You can come and be a part of us.” I know that the biggest problem with strangers is that they are … strange. That’s okay. They can come and be part. James says Christians live lives of welcome, and when we don’t it’s because we have allowed the world to influence us, and that leads to some major destructive problems.
First of all Favoritism is unchristian.
If you want to be like Jesus you can't play favorites. "My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism." Faith and favoritism are incompatible, we're a family. The word we translate favoritism is used only four times in the Bible. The other three times it is used it's referring to God and it says, “God does not play favorites.”
Jesus treated everybody with dignity, especially those who longed for someone to remind them of their value and worth.That’s why Jesus was often found with women, prostitutes, tax collectors, the poor, and the helpless. If there is one place in the entire world where there shouldn't be any kind of discrimination it ought to be among a group of people who are striving to live like Jesus. No matter who you are or what your background is everyone is invited.
If you grew up going to a church and you are a good sinner, or your have a background that rivals Saul of Tarsus and you can claim to be the greatest of all sinners, we all come into the family through the same door; the blood of Christ. It is the blood of Christ that makes us equal, and none of us are more equal than others.
Next we need to understand that Favoritism is unreasonable.
In verses 5-7 he says favoritism just doesn't make sense. “In the first place,” he says, “God has chosen the poor.” For the longest time, I struggled with what James was saying here because I am from the middle class and I go to a middle class church made up predominately of middle class folks. We might not have filet mignon every night for dinner, but we at least have the chance to find something to eat. We might go to Ross and T.J. Maxx but my kids can wear name brand clothes. In the first century approximately 10% of the population held the money, and everyone else was poor. Why would God choose the poor? Who would choose to be poor? Apparently, God does.
Our world is always assessing people, sizing them up, and establishing a pecking order. But God sees and loves everyone the same. God desires the church to reflect His generous universal love in the way we behave. God doesn't check your wallet before He saves you. And your net worth and your self worth have nothing to do with each other. It doesn't matter where you buy your clothes or what you drive, you're welcome at the Lord’s Table. So don't confuse where you get your self-worth from.
“On top of this,” James says, “the rich could care less about you”. Why worry about catering to them. "Is it not the rich exploiting you." In New Testament times it was the Roman nobility who were feeding the Christians to the lions. It was the upper crust that were persecuting the Christians, judging the Christians, insulting the Christians. James says, Why are you worried about impressing them; they don’t even think about you. Instead we should focus on telling the good news of the resurrection to those who so badly want and need to hear the story.
Finally James says that Favoritism is unloving.
Do you remember Mr. Rogers? I grew up with Mr. Rogers, and every day he would walk in the door, change his shoes and sweater and ask me, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” It was more that a catchy little phrase he would say to start the show. Mr. Rogers was inviting everyone to come and be a part of what he was going to experience that day on the show. It is more that merely acknowledging your presence, he was teaching us what Jesus said was the most important thing we could do.
Back in Luke 10 we see one day this lawyer comes up to Jesus and it’s not a great day in the neighborhood. He really doesn’t want to be Jesus’ neighbor. In fact, what he wants to do is expose Jesus as a sham. He wants to corner Him with a question. He sets it all up. He walks up to Jesus in front of this crowd and says, “Tell me this, what is the greatest commandment?” He thinks that no matter what Jesus says he’s going to nail him to the wall. How was Jesus going to pick one law out of the over six hundred different commandments. If Jesus says red, the lawyers would say blue, If Jesus said up the lawyers would say down. He thought it was the perfect trap.
Jesus looks at the young man and says, it all comes down to this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.” That was the most repeated statement in Judaism. Every Jew said that at least twice a day. When this lawyer heard the answer Jesus gave, he was dumbfounded. The greatest command was the one he said everyday. At the end of that little passage there was a really cool line. It says, “No one from there on dared to ask Jesus any questions.” If you are going to debate with the Son of God, you are going to lose.
James comes back to that in chapter two, verse eight. He says: “If you really keep the royal law found in scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.” We all love ourselves. I know there are times we beat ourselves up over something we should have done, or something we shouldn’t have said. We may suffer from low self-esteem but when we are hungry we eat. When we want something we often get it. James is saying love people who are created in God’s image. You cannot love people and play the favorites. Our love for God is tied to how we love people. 1 John 4:20 If a man says he loves God and hates his brother he's lying. How we relate to one another shows how much we love God.
When we were working with Park Central in Texas, I noticed that we had folks coming to visit and eventually place membership that weren’t Church of Christ folks. We had folks who grew up going to a Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, or a host of other churches. I would often ask them, why did you chose us? and they would overwhelmingly respond, we felt loved and accepted here. We wanted to be here because we felt wanted here. What we learned is that a loving church was more attractive, regardless of our theology, denomination or location.
We tend to believe that church growth has to do with things like preachers, attractiveness of facilities, location, or liberal or conservative theology. But there is increasing evidence that none of these have the same influence as the amount of love and acceptance people are shown when they attend. It's love that reaches people. You don't argue people into the kingdom of heaven. You love them into the kingdom of heaven.. A church that loves people is a church that grows.
I want to close this morning by giving you three things we can do today if we want to be the church James is describing this morning: First we must Accept everybody.
Many of us have a hard time accepting others because we have confused acceptance with approval. There is a big difference between the two. You can accept somebody without approving of their lifestyle. They may be doing something totally contrary to the word of God, but you can accept them as a person without approving of the sin they are involved in.
Isn’t that what Jesus demonstrated when He met with the woman caught in the very act of adultery in John 8. Jesus accepted her as a person who needed His love and forgiveness. But He also refuses to approve of what she did. The last words we hear Him say to her are “Go and sin no more.”
Paul agrees with James and Jesus in Romans 15:7 "Accept one another just as Christ accepted you." You see acceptance is where we start. Central must cultivate an attitude of acceptance. Someone once said that, The church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints. We are called to be a place for people who don't have it all together. Our interest in others should not be based on where they have been, but what God is going to create in them.
Next we are called to Appreciate everybody.
This goes a little deeper than acceptance. In many of his letters Paul took the time to tell the churches how much he appreciated and loved them. Romans 1:8 I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you 1 Corinthians 1:4 I always thank God for you Philippians 1:3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you. Paul is demonstrating what it is to actually appreciate people. Find something you can like about a person and then tell them.
With some people this may require a little creativity. You may have to look a little while. Maybe you just need to value them for their uniqueness. One of the great things about Baskin-Robbins is that they have 31 flavors. While I like vanilla, every now and again I like Cookies and Cream, or Chocolate Swirl, or Mint Chocolate Chip. If the only flavor of ice cream we had was vanilla, how boring would that be?
In the same way God has given us each different gifts and talents. If we all had the same talent how boring would Central be? God has blessed this congregation and our community by gathering 31 flavors of personality in this family. And we are called to appreciate every one of them.
Finally we must Affirm everybody.
Once again Paul writes "Encourage one another and build each other up." 1 Thessalonians 5:11. When people stumble our natural inclination is to criticize or judge. When we learn to affirm people we learn to empathize. We are called to be an encourager not a complainer, not a condemner, a critical person, not a judge.
And we can encourage people by doing small acts of kindness. Maybe smiling at them, remembering their name, pay them a complement, send them a note or card. And when people come to this church to visit with us we need to give a welcome handshake, a smile, and see how we can make them feel at home.
God will only bless a church that is filled with love. And you don’t just wake up one day and realize that you accidentally became a loving person. It’s not an accident; it requires an effort by each of us. Everybody needs to contribute to the atmosphere of the church in a positive way.
James is calling us to make a commitment that this church will receive people unconditionally. We don't expect people to act like believers until they are believers. Love draws outside people in. I want our church to have a reputation for love. I believe that God is just waiting for a church that will love people unconditionally.