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A Paradoxical Paradigm

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Scripture: James 2:1-13

 

The Sin (2:1)

Don’t show favoritism.  Are there certain people in your life that you have no time for?  Why might that be?  I have always believed that we should all believe in someone else that no one else believes in.  Barnabas did that for Paul when no one else in the world trusted him.  Jesus involved himself in the lives of people that were shunned by others.  His brother James saw that happen.  He saw those that were gathered by his brother.  Hardly a rabbinical school.

The challenge is to treat all men alike – and all men as we would treat ourselves.  Have you done that this week?  Have you ever experienced the pain of rejection?

I believe that Christ would seek out the people that we have rejected.  He has little time for the self-sufficient, the proud.  There are things that just don’t translate well into the spiritual world

The Scenario (2:2-4)

People come to church looking for:

q       Hope

q       Mercy

q       Forgiveness

q       Acceptance

When one person is blessed we are all blessed in some way.  Likewise, when one is rejected, we are all rejected.

The Senselessness (2:5-13)

q       God has chosen the outcasts of this world to work in and through.  He has a special eye for the poor.  Every once in a while others do too.

Was there ever a more generous man or a more vigorous champion of the downtrodden than Jonas Hanway.  Children were the focus of his philanthropy.  In 18th century Britain they were often mistreated particularly when they were poor or homeless, so Jonas Hanway became a governor of Foundling Hospital.  He sought to remedy the abuse of chimney sweep apprentices.  In founding the Marine Society, he helped to cloth poor children and prepare them for secure military careers. And yet with disadvantaged young people, only began Jonas Hanway's benevolence.  He agitated for and won numerous reforms in the public work houses.   He was among the founders of the Magdalene Hospital, the purpose of which was to care for and rehabilitate repentant prostitutes.  He was active in the Misericordia Hospital which sought to treat venereal disease among the poor.  He campaigned for the more humane treatment of prisoners, and toward the public's spiritual welfare he became a strong advocate for the establishment of Sunday schools.  It would be impossible to enumerate all of the good causes promoted by Jonas Hanway, and yet he was a despised man.

Everywhere that Jonas Hanway went derision followed.  His appearance on the street never failed to create a sensation.  Men elbowed each other uttering their contempt aloud.  Women exchanged disdainful glances.  Young ruffians jeered and threatened him. Coachmen raced their vehicles near him hoping to frighten him or at least to spatter him with gutter mud.  For the citizens of London, the very people whose lives he had so tirelessly labored to improve, hated Jonas Hanway.  For the last 30 years of his life he was treated contemptuously regarded as effeminate, not because he was, but because of a habit he acquired during his travels in the Far East:  A habit which European society deemed unacceptable for gentlemen.

Shortly before Jonas Henway died, the people of London forgave him. And by that time many men had actually begun to imitate his effeminate custom.  As a matter of fact there's a monument in Westminster Abbey to Jonas Hanway, presumably because of his extraordinary philanthropy. And yet you will always remember him as the man who risked his otherwise wonderful reputation by promoting a Far Eastern tradition that centered around a strange looking, however utilitarian invention. For you see Jonas Hanway, the friend of the poor, the defender of the defenseless, each and every day risked the abuse and derision of his fellow men by carrying with him through the streets of London a devilish device known as the umbrella.    -- Paul Harvey

I believe that God blesses those who are a blessing to others.  It may not always be dollars for dollars but I do believe that when he finds someone who is willing to be a good steward of his resources, he keeps the resources coming.  I think that’s true within the church as well.

I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger.

I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.

I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.

I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.

I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.

You seem so close to God; but I am still very hungry, and lonely, and cold.


!! The Cold Within

Six men trapped by happenstance,

In black and bitter cold,

Each one possessed a stick of wood,

Or so the story's told.

Their dying fire needed logs,

The first man held his back.

For of the faces 'round the fire

He noticed one was black.

The next man looking cross the way

Saw one not of his church.

And he wouldn't bring himself to give

The fire, that stick of birch.

The third man sat in tattered clothes,

He gave his coat a hitch.

Why should he put his log to use

To warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought

Of the wealth he had in store.

And how to keep what he had earned

From the lazy shiftless poor.

The black man's face bespoke revenge

As the fire passed from sight.

For all he saw in the stick of wood

Was a chance to spite the white.

The last man of this forlorn group

Did nothing except for gain.

Giving only to those who gave

Was how he played the game.

So their logs held tight in death's still grasp,

Was proof of human sin.

They didn't die from the cold without

They died from the cold within.


 

q       When we exalt people based on standards other than godly ones we honor those who many times have no regard for us and sometimes even evil intentions.  This was the paradoxical paradigm that James was addressing.  He was pointing out the fact that they deferred to the wealthy when they were actually abused by them.  I wonder if we do similar things by times.  Perhaps it is an issue of false hope?  We look for something that we will never find.  For some it is the issue of influence.  We believe that political influence in the “chosen” candidate will somehow put us in better stead.  I do not mean to be critical of our systems.  They are a mere reflection of our own imperfections – we are their creators.  They appeal to the “master” within us rather than to the servant.  But these systems are not designed to deliver what we are really looking for.  They do not lend themselves to biblical values and priorities.  They rest squarely on the favor and pleasure of men.

q       We need to treat people, as we would want to be treated.  All men are the same in God’s eyes.  James says that we are in violation of the second greatest commandment when we fail to do this.  He says that we are to love and treat others as we would treat ourselves or as we would want to be treated.  We send that message to people in our daily interactions with them.  Have you been merciful in your attitudes toward others this week?  Have you extended to them the grace that you would want to receive from others?  Often we are much like the “unforgiving debtor” – blind to our own condition and judgmental of others.  Earlier in the chapter, James makes it very clear that to discriminate is to judge.  Often it is greed that blinds us to the manner in which we treat other people.  We can always find sufficient patience for the person who can somehow reward us.  I know that at times I have found that in my own life, there is always a sweet tone in reserve for members of our church family when I struggle to be patient or interested or encouraging to my own wife and children.  I hope that you don’t think that to be unforgivable with me.  But I will tell you this, - at any given time my wife knows what I feel about our church people by the way that I respond to her.  My words and my body language may say differently but she knows the truth.  She may be a better person to ask how I am doing than me because she sees me from the outside but very closely.  I am so thankful for her love and patience with me over the years.  She will remain my biggest supporter as she has been for the near 25 years that we have been married and in the ministry.

Can you take a joke as well as you deal it?

Can you receive criticism as well or as frequently as you give it?

Do you give people the encouragement that you wish that you received from them? 

Are you an encourager or a discourager?

Are there more positive words that come from your mouth than negative words?  Do you look for reasons to express your pleasure in the actions of others as much as your displeasure?  Do you feel as compelled to bless people to their face as you do to critique them.  Most people want that themselves and if that is what they want then that is what they must give.  Did you know that you will forever hold more influence over the person that you bless than the person that you critique?

Do you stop to weigh your own words as much as you weigh the word spoken to you?  Do you give the same amount of time to think about what you communicate as you give to “wondering what the person really meant”?

q       Sin is sin in God’s eyes.  Just as people are all the same in God’s eyes, so is sin.  One not better or worse than another perhaps but having the same overall effect.  When I think of this, it sobers me.  I realize that mercy and grace is my portion.  It is that for which I long from God.  If I am a lawbreaker then I am a lawbreaker according to James.  It does not matter how I offend, I still offend.

q       Our judgment will be nothing more than an acknowledgment of the way that we have lived.

That bread which you keep, belongs to the hungry; that coat which you preserve in your wardrobe, to the naked; those shoes which are rotting in your possession, to the shoeless; that gold which you have hidden in the ground, to the needy. Wherefore, as often as you were able to help others, and refused, so often did you do them wrong.

n      Augustine, "Money in Christian History," Christian History, no. 14.

While the notion that people will perish eternally apart from God’s grace, will grieve the heart of God, their fate is merely an acknowledgement of their life.  It is no more than what they were aiming at.  That’s what our lives are.  They are a shot at a target.  Generally we hit what we are aiming at.  Sometimes we don’t realize what we are aiming at. (Layton sighting in rifle story)  Better to shoot for the moon and miss than to shoot for a skunk and hit.

The world would be better off if people tried to become better. And people would become better if they stopped trying to become better off. For when everybody tries to become better off, nobody becomes better off. But when everybody tries to become better, everybody is better off.

n      Peter Maurin, Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 4.

Poverty is untested potential, resulting from self-imposed limitations.

Poverty is working a lifetime doing something you don't like, so you can retire and do something you like after age 65

Poverty is having many acquaintances and not knowing any of them well.

Poverty is having so many clothes, you "haven't a thing to wear."

Poverty is eating so well you have to think about going on a diet.

Poverty is having every pill imaginable to cure your body's ills, because you "can't afford to be sick."

Poverty is being loaded down with toys at birthdays and Christmas, and then being bored silly because there's nothing to do.

Poverty is having three degrees and feeling unfulfilled in your job.

Poverty is having two cars, three TV's, and a dishwasher, and then "roughing it" by going camping to "get away from it all."

Poverty is going, day-to-day, from one building to the next and never stopping to see the beauty in the world outside.

Poverty is spending money on make-up, deodorants, colognes and designer clothes, and still being worried about the image you are projecting.

Poverty is being white, healthy, middle-class and unhappy.

Poverty is never being curious about the world around you and never wanting to explore it or the people in it.

Poverty is as much the soul, as it is the body.

n      Adapted from Verse by Waitley, Mallinnix and McDonald - appearing in God Mind seminar Workbook, Denver, 1983

Look at your life as you will see it on ETERNITY'S MORNING when life will be all behind you.  What will you and I count on Eternity's morning?  Money?  No, that will be gone, never to come back again. Position?  That will have passed away forever. Pleasure and ease? They, too, will have gone.  But there will be two things which we shall value with all our being on Eternity's morning.  The first is to know that we have done His will with our lives, and the second thing will be to know that there are precious souls standing around the throne on the solemn morning that God used us to have a share in winning.

n      G.S. Graham

A wealthy oil man in Houston was trying to sort his ideas about prosperity theology. He put it down in a little poem called "An Offer God Can't Refuse." It deals with this tension of ownership.

   "You know, God, I've been thinking, and I hope that I'm not wrong.

   I think I got it figured out, how we can get along.

   There's certain things you gotta have and things that I need too,

   so I got a proposition; tell you what I'm gonna do.

   Now certain friends have told me you got troubles with your game,

   with Jimmy and with Tammy and with others I won't name.

   And the things that I'm hearing and the word all over town

   is that your overhead is up and that your income is coming down.

   I don't mean no disrespect. I hope I don't sound brash,

   but with the praise and glory, I think you could use some cash.

   So I got this little acreage in the Gulf of Mexico.

   I'm sure there's oil there somewhere, but just where I do not know.

   So here's what you can do for me, within your sovereign will:

   send a vision, send a sign, just show me where to drill.

   Then when the oil comes gushing in,

   (you're ready for a laugh?)

   some might offer ten percent, but me, I'll offer half.

   But wait! It just occurred to me this deal will be a mess.

   Where should I send your money? I don't have your home address.

   But no, I have the answer, and you'll like it I am sure.

   Do you remember how much dough the Pope spent on his tour?

   It sent the cardinal sighing, and it made the bishops groan.

   It cost about a million a day for a day in San Antone.

   And if that was the figure for a day of papal drumming,

   we'd better lay the groundwork now for Jesus' second coming.

   So I'll just keep your share, dear Lord, and it will be just fine.

   And until Jesus needs it, Lord, I'll just pretend it's mine."

n      Roger Thompson, "A Lifestyle Inventory," Preaching Today, Tape No. 86.

I counted all my dollars while God counted crosses;

I counted gains while he counted losses;

I counted my worth by the things gained in store,

But he sized me up by the scars that I bore.

I coveted honors and sought for degrees;

He wept as He counted the hours on my knees.

I never knew till one day by a grave

How vain are the things that we spend life to save.

I did not know till a friend went above

That richest is he who is rich in God's love.

n      Author unknown, Parables, Etc.

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