Double Standards - James 2:1-13
Now I want to begin today by asking for two volunteers to open two presents for me. To volunteers: Now looking at both presents which present do you think you'd like to open first? I guess the first present looks much better and you'd want to open that one! It's wrapped in beautiful paper and with a lovely bow. So it must be something very special! Let's find out! (Volunteer opens first present- an old yoghurt pot!) Well what a let down! It looked so nice and expensive on the outside, we all thought it was going to be something wonderful. But no! Just an old yoghurt pot! Let's see what the second present is- I think I have it here in this bin. Now I agree it doesn't look very nice- It's wrapped loosely in a bit of old newspaper, there's an old banana skin stuck to the side. You can imagine that the present inside is going to be pretty rubbish. So let's find out! (Volunteer opens second present- ring in small box). Well there's a surprise! It looked from the wrapping that this present was going to be something really rubbish, but actually it is something very special indeed. In fact, it's even more special to me, because it is my wedding ring! So with both these presents we had looked on the outside and decided in our minds what kind of present was inside. And we decided that the nicer looking wrapped present was the one for us. The only trouble was that when we opened the presents, we found something completely different. Our problem was that we judged the present by what was on the outside, rather than what was on in the inside.
Now over the last few weeks in the morning services we have been looking together at the letter of James. And James has said some pretty tough things to us. And the main point that James is making is that if you are a Christian then you must show it by your actions, your life must prove it. (Acetate 1- Key verse) And we've found that the key verse has been chapter 1 verse 22: 'Do not merely listen to the Word [the Bible] and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.' And we've seen that the problem for James' readers and the problem for people like you and me, is that we want to go God's way and do what pleases him, but we're also wanting to do what we want, which is often opposite to what God wants. (Acetate 2- Boat illustration) It's a bit like trying to get into a rowing boat from dry land. You may have been boating on a lake up in Scarborough or Bridlington, and if you have then you'll know it is easy to get one leg in the boat, and then for the boat to start drifting away, so that you are left with one leg on the land, and one leg in the boat, and we're left doing the splits. And suddenly there is a big splash and you fall in because your legs won't stretch that far. And James says that many of us try and do that in our Christian lives. We try to go God's way, but we also want to go our way, and that's what James calls double-mindedness. And this morning James will give us another very practical lesson on what it means to be a Christian.
And James's lesson for today comes from chapter 2 of his letter, the passage that Mike read to us, and verse 1: 'Don't show favouritism'. James means that we should not judge people or treat some people better than others, just because they look better dressed, or have the right accent or drive the right car or whatever it is. Don't treat some people better than others based on outward appearance. Don't judge other people on outward appearances. And it's very easy to do isn't it?
Now to help us James gives us a very good example of what it means to judge people on their appearance in chapter 2 of his letter. You see, just imagine if a very rich and sophisticated man walks into our church here at St. John's. Let's see how we would react. In fact, it looks as if just that sort of person is walking into the building right now! (Rich man comes into church!) Well, this person looks very suave and sophisticated. He's wearing a very nice suit and he's wearing cool sunglasses. He's got a very trendy mobile phone, and he's carrying a brief case which looks very impressive. I think he's the sort of person we want in our church don't you? So where shall we get him to sit? I think he deserves the best place in the house, the vicar's chair! Welcome to our church Mr Kelsey!
But it looks as if someone else is coming into the building. (Poor man comes into church) Oh no! I think it's that chap who cuts the grass- that country bumpkin, Steve. He really looks an absolute mess doesn't he? He's carrying a hoe for cutting grass- I mean, who carries a hoe into church? He's wearing the most ridiculous hat- and he's clothes are really awful! And the worst thing is he smells of grass cuttings and weed killer and much worse. Er, excuse me, do you mind if you sit over there in the corner- I'm trying to give a sermon!
Now we might say, Oh, I'd never do that! I'm not so bad as that- I don't judge people like that. But let's just think about it for a moment and think about our situations. Now hands up all those who are Climbers, Explorers or Pathfinders here this morning. Now I want you to imagine that you are at school (sorry to remind of school at the weekend!), and that one day two new boys come into your class. Now one of these boys looks fantastic. (Acetate 3- Cool boy) He's wearing all the latest fashions. He's got a really cool haircut and he's got the latest pair of trainers. And to cap it all when you go out into the playground for break, he brings out his World Cup Japan and Korea 2002 football so that everyone can play with it. But the other boy is completely different. He's just wearing ordinary clothes, no special trainers, and he speaks with a funny accent because he's come from Weston Super Mare, hundreds of miles down south. Now be honest, who are you more likely to try and be friends with? The cool boy who has everything, or the boy from down south who looks very ordinary? Well I guess, unless we have remembered what the Bible says, we'll probably try and be friends with the first boy, because it will be good for our street cred, and this boy looks so much more impressive! But James says we shouldn't judge people on their outward appearance. If we do, then we've done exactly the same as I did to Steve. We've judged people on what they look like and how they sound.
And we adults are just the same aren't we? If you just do a little test the next time you meet someone, you'll know what I mean. We check out their hair, what they are wearing, what they look like, what accent they have, how they speak, and we automatically draw conclusions from what we hear and see, and make judgements on people. And then we treat them according to what conclusions we have draw. And James says in verse 4 that we have become judges with evil thoughts. We're not acting in a way which pleases God. So says James, don't treat some people better than others just because of their outward appearances. Don't show favouritism. Instead we are to treat everyone equally. But why? What reasons are there for treating everyone the same. Well in a moment, we'll see that James gives us two reasons in this passage as to why we should treat everyone the same. But before we find out, we're going to sing a song we sang earlier in the service which actually helps us to understand the answer. 'I'm Special Because God's Love Me'.
So let's get back to what James is telling us this morning. He's saying we're not to treat people differently according to what they are like on the outside- no, we're to treat everyone the same, no matter how rich or poor they, how they dress, what they sound like or whatever it is. And James gives us two reasons which we'll look at briefly:
1) God's Love is Free for Everyone
(Acetate 4- Titles- Point 1)- And the first reason is that God's love is free for everyone. Let's see what James says in verse 5: 'Listen my brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in eyes of the world to be rich in the faith and to inherit the kingdom of God he promised to those who loved him?' James is saying that God has shown his love to the sort of people who are looked down by the rest of the world. The weak and helpless, those who society thinks of as rejects. Those are exactly the sort of people that God is willing to help. And it's not that God doesn't show his love to others. No he gives his loves freely to all people. But James says if God loves even those who the rest of us think as rejects, then we too should go out of our way to show love to such people- the sort of people no-one else likes, the sort of people we might not naturally get on with at school or work, the sort of people who others might write off as no hopers. Those are the sort of people God is interested in. And how has God shown his love to them and us? (Acetate 5- Cross) He's shown his love to us in Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross, we saw God's love for us in the very deepest way. Jesus did not die just for the English people, or the rich, or the pretty, or the successful. He did for all of us and he shows his love for all of us. So if God's love is free for everyone, if God treats everyone equally, then why should we treat some people some ways and others other ways, depending on what we think of them. God treats everyone equally, and he offers his love to everyone equally through Jesus' death on the cross. So we have no right whatsoever to treats others as below us or to ignore others just because they are not like us!
Now this year is the Queen's Golden Jubilee to celebrate fifty years of her being the Queen. (Acetate 6- Buckingham Palace) And to mark this special occasion she is opening her house in London, Buckingham Palace, for a series of parties. And these parties are open to everyone, and all you need to do is get a ticket. So this week, I decided to go onto the Queen's website to see if I could get a ticket for one of these parties. And I got to the site and found how to do it. And I was told that the Palace is open to everyone. There were no restrictions. I don't have to wear a suit. I don't have to live in Surrey, I don't have to earn lots of money. Anyone can go. Now imagine that I bought a ticket and I travelled to London and got to Buckingham Palace and went up to the man and the door and gave him my ticket. But then he says to me: 'I'm sorry Sir, I cannot let you in. And I says 'Why not?'. And he replies: 'Well I don't like the look of you. You're dressed funnily and you look a bit odd.' Can you imagine hwo I would feel? I've got a ticket. The Queen has said I can come, but I've been turned away just because the door man doesn't like the look of me! Well God has said that his love is free for everyone. Everyone can have a place in his kingdom, everyone can come to his party if they trust in what Jesus has done. So why should we treat others differently from how God treats them? Well James says we shouldn't because God's love is free for everyone!
2) God tells us to Love Everyone
(Acetate 4- Titles again- Point 2) But James doesn't leave it there. Because he also tells us that we should love everyone, or as he says in verse 8: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' And in that we are doing right. So we are to love others, and in doing that we are obeying God. So it means that we need to remember that everyone is very precious in God's eyes and God tells us to love them as we would love ourselves. I guess all of us look after ourselves and care for ourselves. And we need to show the same concern for others, even those who we would not naturally get on with, or those we think are a little different. So it means loving and trying to be friends with the person who doesn't fit in so easily at school, because that is what God wants. It means making an effort with that awkward person at work, even if we think they are a pain in the neck. And it means not treating others for better or worse on their looks, their accent, their clothes, or anything else. For God's love is free for everyone and God's command us to love everyone.
So that's James' lesson for today- Don't show favouritism- Don't treat others according to outward appearance. For if we claim to be followers of Jesus we must do what pleases him. So says James, don't just listen to the word, do what it says.
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