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Showing posts with label faith journey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label faith journey. Show all posts

Monday, May 6, 2024

Impartial Love - A Sermon for Graduates (and Everyone) from James 2:1-13

Today, we gather to celebrate a significant milestone in the lives of our graduates—the completion of their high school or college journey. As we send them off to their next chapters, it’s crucial to reflect on the kind of journey they—and indeed, all of us—are called to embark upon as followers of Christ.

In the Book of James, chapter 2, verses 1 to 13, we find a powerful message about how our faith should be lived out daily. James challenges us to look at our hearts, at our actions, and at the way we treat others.  

We learned last week in James 1:19-27 that Christians must listen to God’s word and then DO IT.  
If we only listen but don’t live it out, we’re only fooling ourselves.  Today, James shares one of the simple ways people will either live out or fail to live out genuine faith.  Let's read these verses, understanding their relevance, not just for our graduates, but for all of us as part of God’s family.

James 2:1-13
1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 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. 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,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

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

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 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,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12 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.

Slide – Why is Favoritism So Bad?
Most people can see favoritism is unfair.  Suppose Hank and Jackson are both hired to do the same exact job and both have no experience.  It would be unfair if Jackson got paid twice as much just because the boss was friends with Jackson’s dad.

But favoritism is not just a social faux pas in business; it is fundamentally at odds with the way the Kingdom of God works.  In the family of God, all stand as equals—we are all sinners saved by God’s grace.  If you favor one person over another in the Church because of how much money someone has or how they dress or their connections, you are living by the world’s standards and not God’s standards.  And remember what James said last week, we can’t just hear God’s Word; we must live God’s Word.  So it is absolutely necessary that we put away the old worldly thoughts and attitudes that say:  this person is more valuable, or more desirable because they are esteemed by the worldly standards or wealth, possessions, status, and influence.


Who Do You Look Up To?
I want to challenge our graduates (and all of us) to think about who you value and why.  Who do you want to be like as grow and mature?  Who will you model your life after?

Some might be tempted to measure their life after someone who, by outward appearances, seems to be very wealthy and successful.  But I would challenge you to look beyond external measures of success.  People can easily  fool you with outward appearances.

One man has $80,000 in the bank and a paid-off $1,000 work truck.   People may assume that guy is broke because of what he drives and how he looks.  Another man has a no money in the bank and an $80,000 financed truck he can barely afford.  He is deep in debt and barely making it, but people assume that man is doing great.  It's important not to let material possessions fool you into judging someone. 

James reminds us, God chooses the poor in the world to be rich in faith.  In my 50 years on this earth, here’s what I have observed:  In general, those who are poor are required to have more faith than those who rich.  Let me explain.  The poor often have nowhere else to turn, but to God.  They have very little money to buy their way out of their troubles. 
All they have is God and prayer.  Suppose their car breaks down.  It may be a huge crisis for them.  They cannot afford a big bill with the mechanic to repair their car nor can they just buy another one to replace it.

The rich, on the other hand, often feel like they don’t really need God.  After all, they have their own resources if they run into trouble.  They might not say that out loud or even consciously think it.  But subconsciously, they are aware they have the resources to handle their problems.  If their car breaks down, it is an inconvenience.  However, they can afford to have the car fixed or may just decide to buy a new car.  So they aren't required to trust God since they can trust their own resources.

The world often teaches us to value people for their apparent wealth, influence, and outward appearances—attributes that can be easily misrepresented.  God says value people’s faith and commitment to God and their character.  In fact, you must or else you are not doing God’s Word; you are only pretending to be a Christian.

James 2:8
The royal law of love, first put forth by God in the Old Testament and later affirmed by Jesus in the New Testament is "Love your neighbor as yourself."  And Jesus showed us how to practice this kind of love when He died for us on the cross.  Jesus didn’t love us because we are loveable (for we were sinners who rebelled against God).  Jesus loved us sacrificially because that’s what real love does.

So, we are called to love others this same way.  That means treating all people fairly, avoiding discrimination, showing kindness to all, and working for justice.  I want to encourage our graduates to apply this law everywhere you go—whether at college, in the workplace, or in you community.  And this is how every Christian should live—not just our graduates.

James 2:12-13
In conclusion, let me read again verses 12-13, this time from the New Living Translation.

12 So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. 13 There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.

Monday, March 25, 2024

From Palms to Purpose: Trusting the Unseen Plan

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week.  Holy week is the most sacred period in the whole year for Christians.  We will read the story of Palm Sunday from the Gospel of John today.  Now before we do, I want you to consider something.

The Gospel of John is 21 chapters long and gives the details of Jesus 3 years of public ministry.  Of those 21 chapters, 10 of them tell what happened during Holy Week—the last week of Jesus’ life.  So almost half of the Gospel of John is about Holy Week.  And it all starts on Palm Sunday.

As we read the story, try to visualize what it like to be in the crowd on Palm Sunday.  If you’ve been to a parade, you know something of the atmosphere.  The whole community has come out.  The crowds are excited and celebrating joyfully.  Street vendors are out and the smell of cooking food fills the air. 
Parents nostalgically point out the spectacular sights of Jerusalem to their children, recalling the times they came to the Holy City when they were little.  The hustle and bustle of the city is electric as every one anticipates the coming of Passover—the most holy holiday of the Jewish people.  Added to this are the stories circulating about a possible Messiah who raised a man named Lazarus back to life after he had been buried in a tomb for 4 days.

John 12:12-16
The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors 13 took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,

“Praise God!
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hail to the King of Israel!”

14 Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:

15 “Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.
Look, your King is coming,
riding on a donkey’s colt.”

16 His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.

Ancient Symbols
The people were waving palm branches and shouting Hosanna!  Palm branches were one of the national symbols of ancient Israel.  This was a patriotic parade; for the people in Jerusalem, waving palm branches was like waving an American flag for us.

The crowds were chanting Hosanna! (which literally means “Save us now!”)  This patriotic crowd was joyfully anticipating the coming of a new long-awaited Jewish king who would win their freedom and independence from the Roman Empire.  They wouldn’t have to pay taxes to Rome.  They wouldn’t have to endure pagan Roman practices in their city.  They wouldn’t have to suffer the humiliation of persecution from a foreign oppressors anymore.

Have the difficulties of life ever made you feel oppressed?  Humiliated?  Under siege?  
Have you ever longed for liberation from those things that hold you captive?
Have you ever wanted God to save you from the problems you face?
Jesus is the Savior King.  He’s the Special One God chose to set us all free.

But the Anointed One, the Messiah, is a King like no other rescuer we’ve ever known.  He’s a Savior that saves us in ways deeper than we even know we need.  And that’s good, because we need a Savior more than we even know.  And we need saving in ways we don’t even realize.

When the crowds in Jerusalem wanted a King riding a warhorse to destroy their enemies, Jesus came riding a donkey, the ancient Israelite symbol of peace.  Donkeys are slow and steady and dependable, but they’re not the swift beast you ride into battle swinging a sword at your enemies.  Kings in Israel made a statement when they entered a city by their mode of transportation.  If they came on a horse, it meant they were coming to attack you.  You better get ready, because they had a sword with your name on it!  They meant to spill your blood.

But when the king rode on a donkey, everyone in the city knew:  This king comes in peace.  John 12:15 says, “Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.  Look, your King is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt.”  But within a week, many of the same people cheering for Jesus as their Savior King decided Jesus wasn’t the one they wanted.  His idea of salvation wasn’t what they expected.  So they changed their chant from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

John 12:16
Verse 16 says, “His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy.  Right there in the thick of everything, they couldn’t see what was really going on.  They couldn’t put it all together—the people shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” which is a quote from Psalm 118 that was written 1,000 years before Jesus came.  Psalm 118 also shares these prophetic words:  “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.”

So, the people rejected Jesus on Good Friday when they crucified Him, but He rose on Easter Sunday and became the cornerstone of a New Temple—the Church, which is not a building, but a holy and redeemed people.  The Disciples couldn’t see what God was doing on Palm Sunday.  It wasn’t until later when they looked back that they could see.

I wonder how many times we have that same experience?  We go through something—whether it is a joyful celebration or painful suffering—and all we know is what we see, what we feel, what we know.  But God is doing something greater than we can understand in that moment.

We can look back over so many stories of the Bible and think how we would have done things different that God.  There is dreamer, Joseph, way back in the Book of Genesis whose brothers sold him into slavery. Later, he was thrown into a dungeon for a crime he didn’t commit.  There is David, the little boy who defeated the giant Goliath, who served King Saul faithful, but Saul was jealous and tried to kill David.  And, of course, there is Jesus, who the people cheered on Palm Sunday, but then they crucified him on Good Friday.  

I read something this week that made a lot of sense to me.  It said[i]:

I would have pulled Joseph out of that prison, out of that pain.  Bout in doing so, I would have cheated nations out of the one God would use to deliver them from famine.  I would have interrupted the great story of God delivering Israel out of slavery in Egypt and the Passover from which Christians derive the sacrament of Holy Communion.

I would have pulled David out of Saul’s spear-throwing presence, out of the caves he hid away in, out of the pain of rejection.  But in doing so, I would have cheated Israel out of a God-hearted king.

I would have pulled Jesus off the cross, off the road that led to suffering and pain, off the path that would mean nakedness and beatings, nails and thorns.  And in doing so, I would have cheated the entire world out of a Savior, cheated us out of salvation, out of an eternity filled with no more suffering and no more pain.

And oh friend, I want to pull you out of your suffering, out of your pain, out of whatever problem you are facing.  I want to change your path.  I want to stop your pain.  But right now I know I would be wrong.  I would be out of line.  I would be cheating you and cheating the world out of so much good. Because God knows.  He has a plan.  He knows the good this challenge will produce.  He knows the beauty this hardship will grow.  He’s watching over you and keeping you even in the midst of this.  And He’s promising you that you can trust Him.  Even when it all feels like more than you can bear.

So instead of trying to pull you out, I’m lifting you up.  I’m kneeling before the Father and I’m asking Him to give you strength.  To give you hope.  I’m asking Him to protect you and to move you when the time is right.  I'm asking Him to help you stay prayerful and discerning.  I'm asking Him how I can best love you and be a help to you.  And I’m believing He’s going to use your life in powerful and beautiful ways.  Ways that will leave your heart grateful and humbly thankful for this road you’ve been on.

You see, God has a plan that’s so much bigger than we can see.  There are things at work you cannot understand right now.  But you can trust God.  And that’s really what Jesus asks of you.  He says, “Trust me.  Believe in me.  Have faith.”  And maybe you don’t have much faith at all.  But Jesus said, “If you can just have the faith of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.”

God saves you, by His grace, when you believe.  So believe.  Trust Him.  Have faith.”  It will carry you through the streets when people are shouting praises.  It will strengthen you when you need to carry a cross.  And faith will make it so one day you can look back on it all and  remembered what happened and realized that these things where all part of God’s glorious plan.

[i] Adapted from a blog written by Kimberly Henderson