Sermon for Sunday September 9th, 2018, the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

 

The Lessons: Psalm 146; Isaiah 35:4-7a; James 2:1-17; St. Mark 7:24-37

Text: James 2:1-13

Topic: Christian faith excludes favoritism, and reveals itself in kindness.

INTRODUCTION

Francis of Assisi was riding a horse down the road that went by a leper hospital situated far from Assisi, for then, as in biblical times, lepers were a rejected lot. Francis was not yet the saint of history; he was still caught between the lure of wealth and glory and the life of discipleship. As he rode along, he was absorbed in his thoughts.

Suddenly the horse jerked to the side of the road. With difficulty Francis pulled him back on course, but as Francis looked up, he recoiled at the sight of a leper in the middle of the road. He was a grey specter with stained face and shaved head, dressed in gray sackcloth. He did not speak and showed no sign of moving or of getting out of the way. He looked at the horseman fixedly, strangely, with an acute and penetrating gaze.

An instant that seemed an eternity passed. Slowly Francis dismounted, went to the man, and took his hand. It was a poor emaciated hand, bloodstained and cold like that of a corpse. Francis pressed the hand and brought it to his lips. As he kissed the lacerated flesh of the creature, who was the most abject, the most hated, the most scorned of all human beings, he was flooded with a wave of emotion that shut out everything around him.

That was an early step in Francis’s conversion, which took many months. But it taught him that following Christ may require doing some things that repulse us. What Francis didn’t know then was that something greater was prompting him, allowing him to do that which, humanly speaking, he was incapable of doing.

— Arnoldo Fortini,
Francis of Assisi (Crossroad, 1992) [1]

St. Francis of Assisi acted completely against the prejudice of medieval society when he kissed the hand of a leper. God’s word commands us also to treat others kindly and mercifully, and not with prejudice.

Favoritism and prejudice are the subject of the passage read today from the Epistle General of St. James. The “assembly” (James 2:2) to which St. James refers is most likely the Church’s weekly gathering to worship the Lord. The opening statement of the passage emphasizes the command not to hold the faith of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with favoritism, or partiality. The word used for favoritism in the original Greek is in the plural form, suggesting various kinds of favoritism. The example used here is one of the most commonly found types of favoritism, that of favoring the rich. In the first century A.D., rich people might wear gold rings on their fingers as a sign of their wealth and power. In ancient synagogues also, there would be seating around the walls inside, and in the front, but everybody else would have to sit on the floor or stand. In people’s homes, where Christian congregations used to meet for at least the first two centuries A.D., good seats were limited, and people would either be standing or sitting on the floor. In either case, reserving the good seats for the wealthy was a clear sign of favoring the wealthy Christians and showing prejudice against the poor.

Now in today’s church meetings, there might not be prejudice shown in seating arrangements, but we do have to be careful not to show it in other ways, such as prejudice against people of a different race, sex, age, nation, economic status, or political viewpoint. St. James’s concern here is to show the nature of this sin in particular with reference to the treatment of Christians who are poor. When we discriminate against the poor, we become “judges with evil thoughts” (v. 4b, NKJV). St. James then proceeds to point out that God has chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of God’s kingdom, which He has promised to those who love Him (v. 5). By contrast, Christians who discriminate against the poor, put them to shame, instead of honoring them as God does.

On the other hand, if we obey the royal law according to the scripture, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Lev. 19:18), we do well (James 2:8). This is called the royal law, because it is supreme and binding (MacArthur), and because God, the King of all the world, has issued it. Showing favoritism and prejudice, however, will mean that we stand convicted by the law as transgressors (v. 9). If we break just one commandment, it is the same as breaking all of God’s laws (vv. 10-11).

MERCY IN OUR WORDS AND ACTIONS

In view of all this, how should we behave? St. James gives us the command that we should always so speak and so act as those who will be judged by the law of liberty (v. 12). What is the law of liberty? The law of liberty is the law that gives liberty to others and to ourselves as well, when we practice it. However, if we show no mercy to others and bear resentment against them, the following principle applies to us: “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment” (v. 13). So important is this verse as a principle for Christian living that Archbishop Foley Beach quoted it in a sermon to the College of Bishops recently in which he warned against the danger of not forgiving those who sin against one.

CONCLUSION

In news about the United States today, examples of prejudice abound, especially in the political realm. Examples of prejudice and favoritism abound in our history, and in current events today. There is indeed a battle for the soul of America. Instead of letting either the events of the news or the news media form our opinions of people, we must let the Lord Jesus Christ’s purity of life and doctrine shape us, and our views, and in doing so, let us practice mercy, remembering that mercy triumphs over judgement.



[1] p. 83, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.

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