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‘Show No Partiality’- James 2 ( A Sermon)



Intro- The Blood of Tribalism


In the 1980s, when one delves into Christian mission journals and textbooks, Rwanda often emerges as a shining example of evangelization in Africa. Rarely did Christianity find a more welcoming home on the continent.


The latter half of the 20th century witnessed a sweeping revival movement that brought unprecedented church growth to Rwanda. In a nation where over 85 percent of the population identified as Christian, Easter Sunday in 1994 united nearly everyone in commemorating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Yet, just one week later, Rwanda was plunged into an unimaginable darkness. What was once a profoundly Christian nation became the epicenter of one of Africa's most horrifying genocides. A mere seven days after Easter, Rwandan Christians drew machetes and, with tragic brutality, turned on their fellow churchgoers.


The history of the church in Rwanda serves as a heartbreaking testament to the idea that a church pledging allegiance to Jesus, the Prince of Peace, can also pledge allegiance to the powers of racism and division.


Between April and July 1994, in a mere span of 100 days, an estimated 800,000 lives were lost. The majority of the victims belonged to the Tutsi tribe, and while not all, most of the perpetrators were of the Hutu tribe.


A representative of the Pope posed a crucial question to the assembled church leaders: "Is it possible that the blood of tribalism runs deeper than the waters of baptism?" A chilling response came: "Yes, it does."


It's tempting to distance ourselves from the church in Rwanda and its tragic events, to consider them radically different from our own enlightened and educated perspectives on the "other." However, this inclination reveals a lingering colonial mindset that tends to judge outsiders and look down upon those who differ from us. Such a mindset, left unchecked, perpetuates stereotypes and fuels violence.


We should remember that it was in Europe, a cradle of enlightenment and culture, where National Socialism took root. Even within this context, the church, despite exceptions, often colluded with hatred and oppression, failing to raise its voice in clear protest.


The truth is that prejudice, judgmentalism, and favoritism have shadowed the church throughout its history, spanning continents and eras. While we may denounce violence, the specters of partiality and preference for the like-minded may, even in 2023, haunt our city, our church, and our hearts.


Various factors contribute to our inherent capacity for prejudice, but recent studies in evolutionary biology suggest that humans, regardless of origin, tend to view outsiders as different and potentially dangerous. Our ancestors lived in small, often conflicting social groups, making it evolutionarily advantageous to distinguish between "us" and "them" for safety and disease prevention. Consequently, the human brain became adept at making these distinctions.


Deep within us, part of our human frailty, lies a propensity for in-group favoritism. If unrecognized and unchecked, this bias can erect invisible barriers between us and outsiders, preventing us from forming friendships with those who differ.


Within this evolutionary trait of in-group favoritism, there lurks the danger of fostering a culture where those like us receive honor, prestige, and power, while those who differ are excluded from such recognition. This tendency has the potential to manifest itself in churches, small groups, teams, and even in our outreach, hospitality, promotion, and celebration as a church.


In the following sections of this blog post, we will look at James 2 verse by verse, examining Complaint, Context, Challenge, Command, and the Call of God.



Complaint


James 2:1–13 (TNIV)

1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, must not show favoritism.


The church of Jesus is not merely another social institution; it is called to be the most radical and transformative force that has ever graced humanity.



Within the church, we find a diverse congregation, each member bearing their unique beauty and brokenness, yet all standing on level ground as we kneel at the foot of the cross.


In the backdrop of the Roman Empire's rigid societal structures and divisive norms, the church was ordained to be a beacon of unity and inclusivity.


The Jewish members were compelled to relinquish their sense of spiritual and ethnic superiority, humbly recognizing that their special status in the Old Testament was not a pedestal for pride.


Slaves, despite their lack of freedom and material wealth, were to be embraced without discrimination, for in the eyes of the church, all souls were equal.


Women were to be honored as equals, not relegated to second-class citizenship due to their gender.


The church received a divine mandate to wholeheartedly embrace cultural and ethnic diversity, heralding the vanguard of a new creation where people from every tribe and tongue would gather around the throne of God.


However, it is disheartening to observe that this ancient congregation, entrusted with James' command, often fell short of the lofty calling placed upon them. While they professed love for Jesus and faith in Him, their attitudes and actions told a different story.


James poignantly refers to Jesus as the glorious Lord Jesus Christ—an affirmation of His divine nature. Throughout Scripture, it is abundantly clear that God does not show favoritism based on gender, wealth, or power:


"For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing" (Deuteronomy 10:17–18).


Following in His Father's footsteps, Jesus, the glorious One, left the splendor of heaven to embrace humanity's plight. He became a servant, bridged cultural chasms, and sought to save the lost. He willingly shared His status, honor, and power with the marginalized and forsaken.


If we claim to believe in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ, our actions must mirror His example. We must crucify any evolutionary traits that incline us toward prejudice, for in Jesus, a new humanity with a revolutionary ethic has been birthed.


Ephesians 2:11–14 (The Message) reminds us of the Messiah's work, tearing down the barriers that once separated us, reconciling both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders into one harmonious family.


Yet, despite this divine calling, it appears that the church, at times, falls short of the radical mission it has been entrusted with.


CONTEXT


James 2: 2 Suppose someone comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor person in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the one wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the one who is poor, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,”


In James 2:2-3, we encounter a vivid scenario: someone enters a meeting dressed in fine clothes and adorned with gold rings, while another individual arrives in shabby attire. This scenario offers crucial context for grasping the profound message within these verses.


In the ancient world, much like today, clothing served as a visible symbol of one's social status and role in society. People frequently made swift judgments based on outward appearances—a tendency that continues to resonate in our modern world. However, it's important to note that the class system in Roman times operated differently from the structure we encounter in modern-day UK.


During that era, only a mere 1% of the population lived in opulence, enjoying wealth, luxury, power, privilege, and political influence. These individuals were easily identifiable by their extravagant attire. In stark contrast, the vast majority of the population lived in profound poverty, devoid of any power, privileges, or political clout.


In this scenario, the rich man is stereotyped due to his jewelry, particularly his gold rings, which signify his affluence. Such individuals were accorded honor and offered prominent seating.


Conversely, the poor man is pre-judged based on prevailing societal hierarchies, consigning him to a place of dishonor and distance.


James proceeds to pose five rhetorical questions, each serving as a prophetic challenge to the church of his time. While the dynamics of class systems and access to power, privilege, and political influence have evolved since then, this text continues to challenge us in our daily lives and as a church community. It urges us to confront challenging questions about how we live, how we treat others, and how we embody the principles of equality and humility, which remain as pertinent today as they were in ancient times.


Challege #1


4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?


James earnestly desires his congregation to respond with a resounding "Yes" to this question. In situations where we favor the rich and make judgments solely based on outward appearances, we inadvertently sow seeds of disunity within the body of Christ. Moreover, by engaging in such conduct, we unwittingly transform ourselves into judges with tainted hearts.


It is entirely plausible for someone to identify as a follower of Jesus Christ, undergo baptism, and enthusiastically participate in corporate worship, all while exhibiting behavior rooted in an inherent inclination toward evil.


Perhaps today, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who speaks through James, we should take a moment to introspect. If we find ourselves in this category, let us be individuals who acknowledge the darkness within our hearts, genuinely repent of our actions, and return to Jesus. He alone possesses the power to cleanse us, extend forgiveness, and guide us toward a brighter path.


Challenge #2


5 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?


Using warm and affectionate terms, such as 'my dear brothers and sisters,' James skillfully dismantles their prejudices. While you may look down upon those who are economically disadvantaged, in the eyes of God, they are abundantly rich in faith. They may not possess two pennies to their name, but they carry a wealth of faith within. It's important to acknowledge that not all people in poverty are rich in faith, but James highlights a discernible trend: a richness in faith is often found among those grappling with poverty.


It was Jesus who proclaimed, 'Blessed are the poor, for they will inherit the earth.'Trusting in Jesus for your daily sustenance is relatively straightforward when your fridge and cupboards are well-stocked. However, genuine faith shines when followers of Jesus, living in poverty, daily utter the prayer, 'Give us this day our daily bread.'


Jesus also extended the invitation, 'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,'and it's often the impoverished and marginalized who bring the heaviest burdens to Him.


At Lighthouse we are witnessing something remarkable: Many individuals, battered and bruised by life's storms, contending with poverty and mental health challenges, are fervently pursuing a relationship with Jesus.


This isn't an attempt to romanticize poverty, nor is it a path we should actively seek to emulate and aspire toward. Instead, it is a testament to the profound gift of faith that often emerges from those navigating the darkest of paths.


Challenge #3


6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you?


James transcends the immediate incident in the church and delves into the broader issue of the exploitation of the poor by the rich. He implores his readers to move beyond mere outward appearances and recognize the structural injustices at play.


James underscores that it's often the rich, who also wield significant power, that oppress the poor. In the ancient world, the wealthy were often the driving force behind economies reliant on slavery and the instigation of wars for conquest and suppression.


Now, consider our contemporary world. Let me suggest three ways in which modern capitalism and consumerism, in which we all participate, contribute to the oppression of the poor.


1) Extreme poverty: 1.2 billion people worldwide live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1.25 a day. A recent survey conducted by the International Garment and Leather Workers Federation in factories across the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia revealed that none of the 100,000-strong workforce received a living wage. This issue is directly linked to the consumption patterns and wealth of the Western world.


It's a stark reality that some business leaders behind the products we cherish exploit those already in poverty by paying minimum wages. In many cases, it is the rich, powerful corporations, and consumers who prioritize profit over people.


James highlights the structural injustices embedded in broader society. Today, those with access to wealth significantly drive the machinery of consumerism, often aided by multinational corporations and their boards of governance and shareholders, perpetuating economies dependent on a low-cost labor force.


(2) Environmental damage:Unrestrained capitalism is causing extensive environmental harm, disproportionately affecting the poor. If global economic practices do not change dramatically, temperatures are projected to rise by 2.7 degrees over the next century. This will bring widespread problems, with the impoverished bearing the brunt of the consequences.


(3) Arms industry: Unrestrained capitalism allows nations and individual business leaders to profit from the arms industry, selling weapons that can be used in conflicts by oppressive regimes. In these conflicts, it is often the poor who suffer the most.


Consider, for instance, the $4.6 billion worth of weaponry sold to Saudi Arabia, engaged in a devastating conflict in Yemen—a nation already facing famine and poverty.


In our contemporary era, it seems that James' words still ring true. Is it not the rich (or one could say, unrestrained capitalism and consumerism) that often oppress the poor?


Let me quote Jeremy Cushing:


"Unrestrained ('free') capitalism has no more morals than a tsunami. Its main thrust derives from individual ambition and competition. Unfortunately, they also search for ways by which individuals and organizations can plunder society's resources and exploit the weak and defenseless. This is not because capitalism is wrong; it's just the way it works."


In the first century, James raised questions that serve as a prophetic critique of wealth and privilege. In our evangelical world, with a few exceptions, we often implicitly celebrate wealth and consumerism. The Gospel of Unrestrained Capitalism and Consumerism echoes, "Blessed are the Rich."


Yet, part of Jesus' proclamation, as found in Luke's Gospel, is "Woe to you who are Rich!" We might want to echo these words, but we may find that this echo reverberates within the depths of our own souls.


We, myself included, are often complacent and complicit in a global system of oppression and injustice.


Challenge #4


Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?"


We may not have insight into why impoverished individuals are being summoned to court, but what we can discern from this is that James is not only addressing justice in a general sense but is also equipped to critique the workings of the legal system in his era. Perhaps, some of us are called by God to become journalists, lawyers, or business leaders who aim to expose structural injustices in the world and bring the principles of Jesus into the positions where God has placed us.


Challenge #5:

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


James is asserting here that the rich in the society of his time are committing blasphemy against the name of Jesus. They invoke the name of Jesus but fail to embody His essence. They adopt the name of the One who befriended the poor and broken but do not reflect these qualities in their own lives.


COMMAND


If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 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.


In closing this paragraph, James reminds us that as followers of Jesus, we are to uphold the royal law—the law of King Jesus—that instructs us to love our neighbors as ourselves.


It is through this law, a command and a call to mercy, that we must underpin all our actions.


This law, a command and call to mercy, should compel us to speak truth to power and stand alongside the poor.


It is this law, a command and call to mercy, that ought to shape our spending habits, consumer choices, and voting records.


So, sticking with the letter 'C,' I want to pose three questions:


Will we be complacent?

Will we be complicit?


Or will we heed the command and call of God—to love our neighbors as ourselves?


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