“Loving your Neighbor”
James 2:1-10 & 14-17, September 9th, 2018
Sermon by pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these ancient words recorded in the New Testament, the letter of James, chapter two, verses one thru ten and fourteen thru seventeen.”
1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
“Let us now open our hearts to the words of this letter and their intended meaning. Let us listen with our hearts as to what this letter, attributed to James, is trying to say to us here in the Twenty-First Century.”
“Loving your Neighbor”
I live in a neighborhood that is quiet and friendly. The neighbors across the street wave to me and occasionally we stand in the yard and chat about our lawns or when the trash guy is going to swing by. The guy to the south of me gives me advice on how often to have someone mow my lawn. I didn’t take his advice. He only gets his lawn mowed once a month. Everyone else gets theirs done every week. The family to the north of us, well, I try to mind my own business. But, we are cordial to each other. They were the only ones who knocked on our door to welcome us to the neighborhood. The family down the street welcomed us as well when they were walking their dog in front of our new home. That was nice, and I learned later that he is a police office. Really good to have him living in the neighborhood! Judging one’s neighbors is something most of us do at some level or another. Of course, they have their opinions of me and my wife as well. Wonder how they are judging us?
The challenge today, from our scripture lesson is not about judging others, that’s God’s business; rather, the topic is loving our neighbors. Specifically, it says, loving our neighbors as ourselves! Of course, our writing, attributed to James, is quoting what we are told Jesus said to the first disciples when questioned by a religious leader, whom was trying to entrap him when he asked what is the greatest commandment? Of course, we know Jesus said: “we are to first love God and secondly to love our neighbor as ourselves.” /Matthew 29:37-39/ Many have played with this powerful message. It is not that complicated to understand. Jesus said to love God as our first-priority; or put God first in one’s life. Love God; turn to God first for everything. If you love God, you will be able to trust God with your life, all of it. Then we must love our neighbor like we love ourselves. These are not two separate thoughts. We don’t love ourselves first and our neighbors second. No, we are to do this all in the same sphere, not separately, thereby making Jesus’ simple reference to two commandments into three. Bearing this in mind let us move on.
Let us start with talking about what it takes to love God first! It takes genuine faith. It is one thing to say we have faith, yet another to ‘actually’ trust in God with complete faith. Faith is something that needs to go deep down into your being, your very soul. You wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is… what is the first thing you do in the morning? OK, after you use the bathroom, what is the ‘next’ first thing you do? If you said you fix breakfast or you take a shower… then you have not made a choice which puts God first in your life! Yes, I am pushing this point! Yet, somewhere in the beginning of or at the start of one’s day, we need to be reminded to acknowledge God’s presence in our life. Some of us have ‘really’ busy schedules and we are in a hurry when we get up. OK, I get that. Yet, the truth is, if we truly are trusting God with ‘all of’ our life, every element in it, at some point we need to invite God into our busy schedule. If you and I, if we are this busy, then we surely need to bring God into our day. A moment ago, we recounted how Jesus said God needs to be number one, the first commandment, loving God with all our heart, soul and minds! How can we do this if we do not stop for a moment and invite God into our day! Are we so busy, we think there is not enough time to invite God into our consciousness?! The truth is, when we are at our busiest, we shall need God more then ever!
Walking humbly with our God is a statement that we Christians need to know. Look around you, watch others as you proceed forward in your journey. Does it appear that the people you encounter are keeping God first in their lives? Does it appear that they are keeping the teachings of Jesus in their hearts? Are they showing signs of following in the examples set by Jesus? How can you tell? Well ask yourself a simple question: are they showing genuine compassion, as they interact with those around them or upon the lives they influence? When you study the gospel accounts of Jesus was he not genuinely compassionate with the people he interacted with? Hot and tired he stops by a well to get a drink of water! Out of simple compassion he talks with a Semaritan woman there and in the moments of their discourse he shows her compassion. This account is found in the fourth chapter of the Gospel according to John. Through the example Jesus set we are taught that being kind to others comes naturally, when we are following in the pathways of a loving God. We love our neighbors when we show genuine kindness to them. We love God when we follow the examples of Jesus. We love ourselves by loving God and by loving our neighbors along our pathways in life. It is that simple. One is not separate from the other. Just remember God first – you and your neighbor come after God.
Do we love our neighbors because it is the right thing to do? Have we finally come into sync with Jesus and are seeking to follow his example? Having learned to love our neighbors simply because we see them as our equals in the eyes of God, it is then that we can begin to love them just as God loves us. Having done this, we can now look at today’s lesson from the Letter of James and we can see how foolish it would be to not take heed of his suggestions. Surely, we must realize by this stage of our life’s journey that we are not meant to judge our neighbors, surely not at the level of scorn or disgust. Mild musing is one thing, yet, judgment is not ours but the right of our Creator alone to make! Loving a neighbor is not the same as making them your best friend. But it is something we need to bear in mind as life unfolds for us. They may need the kindness of their neighbor if they are to move forward with their lives. Remember always, the best way to love yourself is to love God and to show compassion and kindness for those around you… as you continue to grow as followers of the one we call Jesus.
When people lift-up Jesus they often speak of his examples of social justice. Social Justice, what is social justice? Is it just a fade or a symbol we display now and then to present ourselves as true followers of Jesus? When I ask this question, I am looking at the letter of James and examining what he is trying to say to us, today. As a church, we have been good stewards of social justice issues. This church has gone to great lengths to welcome everyone to journey with us, without judgement or distain for how they live their lives. As a church, we have gone way beyond just talking the talk of social justice. Yes, this church walks the walk. Because of this, we are a diverse group of folks. And yes, we can take pride in this. However, we must not get too smug and full of ourselves. There is plenty left to do. The battle for the needs and the rights of others continues ever onward, at a very slow pace. James was striving to clear the air with those he was speaking with. Letting them know they had a few more hills to get over before they reach perfection!
I think we all know we are not perfect. Only the Holy One of long ago has been judged to be faultless in the eyes of God Almighty! Therefore, we come together every week to worship collectively. We need each other to remind one another about the teachings and examples given to us by Jesus. Hence, we are working hard to be sure we can offer a Christian Education program to those whom join with us in this journey. As we live in the ebb and flow within the life of a living, breathing church, we continue to look for new avenues to serve the needs of others. When one endeavor stops being what we had hoped it would be – we strive to get clarity on yet another new vision of our mission together. Such is the journey of faith and trusting in God. We may find we need to readjust our relationship with God… when it has slipped from its rightful place in our lives. Therefore, let us be open to the critical self-appraisal of our ways, as this writing from James offers to us. When we find, that we have strayed from the true pathway which is laid out for us, let us come together to make any needed adjustments or realignments.
We are always looking for a few good volunteers to keep our commitments as we strive to do what is right and just in the community we seek to serve. Our life line as a small aging church is the new friends and members whom join us along the journey. We unit with them as we pray that this is the church community they have been seeking. We pray that they will see us for who we are and will not shy away from pointing out any flaws or weaknesses they see here. As they join with us on this adventure, this journey of faith, we celebrate as we will welcome them and their new talents and their new insights and suggestions. Together, we shall seek to do God’s will for this our church. Collectively, may we be good followers of Jesus and his teachings and good neighbors to those we interact with. May they be blessed as they bless us with their presence among us.