Sermon: Pentecost 18, 23 September 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

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Sermon: Pentecost 17, 16 September 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

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Sermon: Pentecost 16, 9 September 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

A Disciple Discriminates Correctly: James 2:1-13

-One of the highest values in western societies is anti-discrimination.

-It can be seen in legislation at all levels of government.

-Discrimination is deemed to be wrong by our society.

-It’s wrong to set up different standards for different people is the claim.

-It’s wrong to discriminate against a person because they have a skin colour different to yours,

-It’s wrong to make decisions about a person because of their sex,

-It’s wrong to hold a person’s age against them.

-It’s wrong because they’ve had no choice in being black, female or elegantly silver haired!!!

-Now notice with all those statements I’ve introduced a moral judgement.

-Right and wrong are moral statements.

-As soon as you say ‘this is wrong’ you’ve made a moral assessment.

 

-But have you ever seen an argument put why discrimination is wrong?

-As a culture we just assume that to discriminate between one person and another is morally reprehensible,

-It’s taken as a self-evident truth.

-But it’s not,

-And neither is any moral position that anybody in a society or cultural grouping holds.

-There always has to be a base for the moral choices and decisions we make.

 

-A common attack you’ll often read or hear in any issue which has moral implications,

-Is that Christians have no right to force their religious views upon society.

-Have you heard that?

-Well have you ever heard anyone say why they have the right,

-To force their irreligious beliefs upon society?

-Why does a moral position shaped by a Peter Singer or Richard Di Natale have a greater right to a hearing,

-Than a moral position based on God’s word?

-And who says Christians have no right to promote a biblical view of life,

-Isn’t that discrimination?

 

-Discrimination is the issue that James addresses in his letter to the Jewish Christians,

-That have been scattered from their homeland in to the surrounding nations.

-However James is not arguing against discrimination.

-He recognises that everyone, even God, discriminates,

-Rather he’s wanting his Christian audience, and us,

-To recognise that a disciple discriminates correctly.

-Like all human behaviours,

-Discrimination can be right or wrong.

-Discrimination just means making a judgement.

-When the legislators of the southern states of America and in South Africa,

-Controlled what people could do and where they could go based on the colour of their skin,

-They were making a judgement that blacks where inferior to whites.

-That is morally reprehensible and is an evil judgement.

-In a theme park,

-People who are under a certain size are not allowed to go on the ride.

-That’s discrimination,

-That’s a judgement,

-But it’s a judgement based on a consideration of the safety implications for a short person going on a ride.

-No one would argue that judgement was immoral or evil.

 

-In verses 12-13 on your sheet James reminds all of us that God discriminates.

-Just listen to what he says;

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement.” James 2: 12-13

-Because he’s referred to judgement ‘by the law of liberty’,

-James is referring to God.

-It’s God who is going to judge all of us.

-That’s another proposition that many people in our world are not too enthusiastic about.

-It’s alright for them to make all sorts of judgements about what is and isn’t right in their opinion,

-But they refuse to allow God the same privilege.

-But James holds no such prejudices,

-He knows the scriptural truths that God is the rightful judge of this world.

-He acknowledges that judging requires discrimination.

-He’s noted as much to his readers in v5 when he said;

“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?” James 2: 5

-God has discriminated between the poor in the eyes of the world,

-And the arrogantly haughty rich who are persecuting the Christian church.

-He’s made a judgement by choosing,

-Favouring,

-Preferring the poor.

 

-But God’s judgement isn’t based on some personal preference.

-And that’s the problem that faces so much of the indignation of the world’s perceptions of discrimination,

-It’s based on personal preference.

-Just have a look at a behaviour that James describes in vv2-3;

“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, 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’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves. . . ” James 2:2-3

-Now I’ve stopped short of James’ conclusion so that I can ask you,

-What’s wrong with sucking up to a rich person?

-Why should I care about some scruffy hobo?

-True I’ve made a judgement between the rich person and the poor man,

-I’ve discriminated,

-But so what?

-If I get rid of the poor man the room will smell better,

-If I toady up to the rich man he might lavish me with gifts.

-You may respond that that’s ‘disgraceful and selfish’,

-But I can come back and legitimately ask you,

-Why is that disgraceful?

-What’s wrong with being selfish?

-And anyway, that’s just your personal opinion.

 

-You might want to get bolder and argue,

-‘Society says that’s disgraceful.’

-But what makes society right?

-There was a time in German history where society said it was alright to send Jews to concentration camps.

-‘They preferred a Jew free society,

-‘I prefer poverty free social gatherings.’

 

-We human beings discriminate all the time for all sorts of personal preferences,

-And for some reasons that are down-right offensive.

-God also judges and discriminates,

-But he does it,

-Not from personal preference but from personal nature.

-God is a holy God,

-A righteous God.

-He makes judgements founded on his perfect will,

-Judgements based on what James describes as the law of liberty, James 2:12.

 

-Now let me add James’ conclusion to his example of discrimination;

“If you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes . . . have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” James 2:3-4

-Note that James has added a moral judgement,

-He’s actually implied that there are two types of judges in this world,

-The unstated ‘judges with good thoughts’,

-And ones whose discrimination is evidence of evil thoughts.

-And when James uses the adjective ‘evil’ to describe such discrimination,

-He’s not thinking of just bad thoughts,

-Or unenlightened thoughts,

-Or even bigoted, narrow-minded, prejudiced thoughts,

-He’s introducing a religious category.

 

-Evil is a condition that’s the opposite of godly.

-Evil is behaviour antagonistic to God.

-This isn’t just personal preference,

-This is ingrained rebellion against the holy, righteous character of our Creator.

-And because it’s an attack on the character of God,

-It has an objective reality that transcends personal preference.

-Although the humanist worldview that dominates our western consumerist society would deny it,

-There really is a struggle between good and evil in this world,

-A struggle that has been revealed to us in the bible,

-A struggle that demonstrates to us that the disciple of Jesus,

-Really does need to know how to discriminate correctly.

 

-And that’s the problem that James is highlighting.

-His Christian readers were not discriminating correctly.

-Their behaviour was actually a negative discrimination,

-In that they were showing favouritism,

-Favouritism for all the wrong reasons,

-Applied to all the wrong people.

-James challenges this negative discrimination at three levels.

 

-First, it’s inconsistent with God’s choice of the poor;

“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?” James 2: 5

-Now there’s a subtlety to the word ‘poor’ which isn’t immediately obvious to us.

-In the Old Testament poor had two meanings,

-It could have been the materially impoverished,

-Which would immediately jump to our mind when we read of a poor man in shabby clothes,

-Or it could mean the humble and meek who recognise their dependence on God.

-This is poor in a spiritual sense.

-This is the sense of poor that Jesus had in mind when he said of his disciples;

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6: 20

-And more explicitly in the Sermon on the Mount;

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5: 3

-There is nothing inherently worthy about the poor,

-It’s more that the dependency of the poor stands in contrast to the self-sufficiency and self-confidence of the rich,

-A self-centredness that often hardens their hearts against God.

 

-That hardness against God leads to the second reason why James’ readers are being cautioned about their negative discrimination;

“Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?” James 2: 6

-You could understand someone who favours those who favour them.

-But the rich are the ones who are exploiting and harassing the followers of Christ.

-They’re the ones who are taking advantage of the poor within the churches

-This is just plain stupid behaviour that adds a further insult to the materially poor in their midst.

-Rather than standing with God and their poor Christian brothers and sisters,

-These fellow Christians are siding with the very people who are dragging them into court,

-And even worse,

-Are denigrating the name of Jesus and the faith of all those who follow him, James 2: 7

-What an indictment.

-They ostracise those God is for,

-And stand with those who slander God himself.

 

-And here is the third and maybe most damning accusation against their negative discriminating;

“You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” James 2: 8-9

-It’s the objective word of God that’s to guide our behaviour,

-The scriptures.

-Loving your neighbour has nothing to do with a personal preference.

-You love your neighbour because it’s the command of the God of love.

-The disciple of Jesus is called to love their neighbour as an act of thankfulness and obedience to God.

-You may prefer to walk past the filthy dero,

-You may prefer to hobnob with the rich,

-You may prefer to toss the scraps of hospitality to the socially inferior,

-But that personal preference is a rejection of God’s command to love your neighbour.

 

-When that command was given to the legalistic Pharisees,

-They tried to wiggle out of the implications of obedience by asking,

-‘Who is my neighbour?’

-Jesus answered that with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

-It was the despised Samaritan enemy who helped the injured Jew,

-Who the religious hierarchy walked past.

-The point was clear,

-Everyone is my neighbour.

-To James’ Jewish Christian readers they would have known the significance of being a lawbreaker.

-Just as they would have understood the logic behind v11;

“For he who said ’Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.” James 2: 11

-The Jews understood that the Law wasn’t something you could get a graded pass on.

-You couldn’t mostly keep the Law and still be in a right relationship with the perfectly holy God who gave that Law.

-You had to keep every single part.

-Just because you were faithful to your wife,

-Never stole your neighbour’s cow,

-And didn’t lie to the tax man,

-Wouldn’t excuse you murdering your brother-in-law.

To break one of God’s laws is to break them all.

-And so showing favouritism is discriminating in a way that breaches God’s command to love your neighbour.

-Favouritism exposes the state of your heart,

-And where your true allegiances lie.

 

-God’s people are called to discriminate,

-We’re called to make judgements between right and wrong,

-Moral and immoral,

-Evil and godly.

-Those judgements are not to be based on personal preference,

-Like we see in the actions of populist politicians and those who reject God’s law.

-We are to discriminate correctly based on the right application of the law of love,

-The love the bible speaks of and that Jesus proclaimed,

-A love that put the welfare of others ahead of its own needs and desires,

-A love of sacrifice and service,

-Rather than gratification and self indulgence.

-The correct application of discrimination is where rights are set aside,

-In order to promote the welfare of others.

-This is a discrimination that will continually remind us that God too discriminates,

-God judges,

-But in his judgement he has shown mercy through his Son and our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Sermon: Pentecost 15, 2 September 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Aidan’s

Disciples Hear and Do- James 1:19-27

-Communication is at the very core of our human experience.

-Humans are communicating animals par excellence.

-We are at the top of the communications food chain.

-Look at the world around us and you see that nothing communicates like we do.

-Masses and masses of information and messages,

-Pass by our eyes, ears and minds every second of the day.

-TV, radio, internet, newspapers, magazines.

-We’re constantly bombarded by communications.

-And we do the bombarding as well.

-We pick up the phone,

-We flick out an email,

-We argue around a coffee table.

-We even do such primitive stuff as wave to a neighbour,

-Smile at a friend,

-Pat the dog.

 

-And the reason communication is so important is because it’s at the heart of relationships.

-Communicating is the foundation of relationships.

-We humans communicate in such deep and complex ways,

-Because we were created by a communicating God,

-A God whose very essence and being is relational.

-You may not be able to understand logically, philosophically or even theologically,

-That three persons can be one God,

-But the significance of the Trinity lies in this incredible truth,

-That God from all eternity is Father, Son and Holy Spirit in relationship,

-Three persons in eternal communication,

-Knowing and speaking with each other.

-God is a communicating God,

-Who creates communicating beings,

-And continues to communicate with us.

 

-That’s at the heart of James’ letter to the Jewish Christians who’d been scattered out across the known world.

-His letter could be summed up by 1:22;

“Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” James 1:22

-It’s the word of God that James is referring to,

-God’s communication with his people.

-But the thing he warns against is a complacency about the word that causes us to fail to apply it.

-We can get a bit of an idea of how seriously James takes this by the illustration he uses, vv23-24;

“For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.  James 1:23-24

-Complacency is probably a gentle word,

-James is thinking more along the lines of the stupidity of such behaviour.

-Who in their right mind looks in the mirror and then forgets what they look like?

-Mirrors are there for a purpose aren’t they?

-Unless you’re a total narcissist,

-The only reason you look in a mirror is to make sure that everything is in order before you step out the door.

 

-I was at the gym on Monday and as I was looking in the mirror,

-I noticed the seam of my T-shirt seemed unusually bulky.

-So I stopped looking in the mirror,

-And looked closely at the seam to see what was wrong.

-I suddenly realised that there was nothing wrong with the seam,

-I’d actually put my t-shirt on inside out!!!

-I probably shouldn’t say this,

-But another time I was at the gym and doing a particular stretch which meant I was looking at my feet.

-I thought,

-‘That’s interesting, I’ve never noticed that these running shoes have an asymmetrical pattern.’

-Till it dawned on me that I was wearing odd shoes.

 

-Now being winter,

-It was no big deal because I put on a jumper before I left the gym.

-But what if I wasn’t planning to shower and change?

-What if I looked at that inside-out t-shirt or those mismatched shoes and just ignored them,

-Just continued the rest of the day as if nothing were wrong?

-Well James leaves that illustration hanging for us to come to our own conclusion.

-But he’s far more explicit with an example he gives of one of our more easily recognised day to day experiences;

“You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” James 1:19-20

-Here I think we can see how practical James’ letter is.

-Who of us doesn’t get angry at some time?

-There may be times when anger is justified.

-If you see an injustice taking place and you get angry,

-That shows you care and have compassion.

-But there’s other times when anger is not so godly.

 

-When I was in college we had a Christian psychologist come,

-And he taught that anger is a response to blocked goals.

-That is a helpful insight.

-When I’m really angry about something I pause,

-Step back from the situation,

-And ask myself,

-‘Why are you so angry?

-‘What is it that you want that’s being blocked?’

-Once I’ve isolated the goal that’s being blocked,

-I more calmly and rationally deal with what’s taking place.

-Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all did that?

 

-Hey, it’d be a better place if I could do that!

-But that’s the reality of life isn’t it?

-That we hear how we can handle situations or circumstances,

-But we don’t put the solutions into practice.

-Here James is giving some good biblical advice which two thousand years later,

-A psychologist has translated into some good modern practice.

-If I’m quick to listen,

-I’m not trying to insert my views and ideas,

-I’m carefully taking on board what the other person is saying.

-If I’m slow to speak,

-I’m taking time to evaluate what the other person is saying,

-Why they’re saying it,

-What lies behind their words.

-If I’m slow to speak I’m also giving myself time to apply Paul’s advice to the Philippians;

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4: 8

-How angry do you think you’d be getting with someone,

-If you’re looking for what’s,

-True, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy,

-In the words of a person who’s making an accusation against you,

-Is challenging your authority,

-Or is asking you to do something you don’t want to do?

 

-James knows that anger that arises from some blocked personal goal,

-Is not going to bring about the righteous life God wants us to lead.(James 1: 20)

-Paul recognised the same thing so he said to the Ephesian church;

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Ephesians 4: 31

-That word righteous means right relationships.

-If you’re looking for what’s true, noble, right and pure as you’re listening to someone,

-Then that’ll lead to a right relationship,

-There’ll be peace, respect, grace.

-But how good do you think a relationship will be if bitterness, rage and anger are at its root?

-What’s at the root of the problems we have in this world is we ignore God’s word,

-Or if we do acknowledge it,

-We just fail to do what it says.

 

-See how harshly James judges that in v26;

“If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” James 1:26

-When we see that word ‘religious’ we bristle a bit and think of it in negative terms.

-But James’ audience wouldn’t have thought that.

-They were Jewish converts who didn’t carry our suspicion of religion.

-They would have seen religion as one of the good and perfect gifts that God gives to human beings.

-They would have especially been thinking of their own Jewish history,

-And how when Israel was obedient to God,

-That was when things went best for them.

-They would have recalled the giving of the Ten Commandments not as a list of rules to keep,

-But as a response to the knowledge,

-That they were the people of God who’d been rescued by him from slavery in Egypt.

 

-Religion was not the problem,

-It was religious people who knew what was expected of them but didn’t do it.

-And so James draws this perspective in to his teaching about keeping your tongue under control.

-If you think of yourself as religious,

-That is a follower of God,

-A disciple of Jesus,

-If you’re letting your tongue roam free in gossip, slander, bickering and the like,

-Then you’re deceiving yourself,

-Your religion is a sham.

-You’re like a person looking in the mirror who forgets the dirt on their cheek the moment they walk away.

 

-So what’s the solution to this universal problem?

“Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” James 1:22

-Do what it says!

-Just look at how James describes the way we go about putting the word into practise;

“. . . those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.” James 1: 25

-Notice how James has shifted the senses that are used to appropriate God’s word.

-In verse 19 he’s talking about listening,

-But in v25 he’s changed it to looking.

-And this is not just a quick glance,

-The idea James has in mind is of someone looking so closely at a subject,

-That almost everything but what’s under their gaze is blocked out.

-It’s not just looking,

-It’s deeply reflecting upon the subject under investigation to the point where nothing else distracts you.

 

-For James, the perfect law is not the old Jewish law,

-But rather the old Jewish law that’s been brought to completion and fullness by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

-Paul would call it the Law of Christ.

-And here’s another departure from our modern way of thinking.

-Just as we might think religion is a bad thing,

-So we think law is a bad thing.

-We hate having our freedom curtailed by anyone or anything.

-But James, Paul and all the biblical writers know that perfect freedom always carries limits.

-Freedom is actually contingent upon who we are.

-Even children recognise this point when someone cheats in a game.

-It’s the rules and boundaries that create the enjoyment of play,

-But when those rules are breached,

-It damages the relationship that all within the game had been enjoying.

 

-When you look intently into God’s word you’ll see that it promises freedom not hardship.

-And that will encourage you to the ongoing step that James tells us we need to follow if we’re to do what God’s word says.

-We’re not to just glance and run like spiritual window shoppers,

-We’re to continue looking intently into God’s word.

-This means an intentional immersing of ourselves in God’s word.

-And that will mean creating space in our busy lives for that to take place.

-Do you do that?

-Do you regularly set aside time to immerse yourself in God’s word?

-Because it will pay off;

“. . . those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.” James 1: 25

 

-When Jesus explained the Parable of the Sower he said there were four types of soil that the word of God lands on.

-The first is like a path where the birds swoop down on the seed,

-And swallow it up before it has a chance of taking root.

-That’s the devil’s work,

-Snatching the word from a person’s hardened heart even before it’s had time to sink in.

-The second soil is that rocky ground where a person hears the word of God and believes it,

-But when the tough times come they fall away.

-They’re like the person James speaks of in 1:13-14 who doesn’t persevere through trials,

-But gives in to the temptation to give up.

-The third soil is the thorny ground that strangles the word of God in the disciple’s heart,

-Because they succumb to the temptations of wealth and the good life.

-Jesus says that all three of these types of people have heard the word,

-They’ve been listening to God communicating with them.

-Where they’ve failed isn’t in not listening,

-It’s in not doing.

 

-But here’s the good news;

“. . . the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” Luke 8: 15

-The one with the noble and good heart is the disciple of Jesus who’s learning from the master.

-This person doesn’t just hear the word,

-Doesn’t just listen to the word,

-They retain it,

-They look intently into the perfect law,

-And by persevering they apply the word to their own lives,

-They allow the word of God to seep deeply into their lives,

-And let it transform them.

-They become doers of the word bearing the fruit of obedience in their lives,

-And they’re blessed in what they do.

 

-Through listening to God’s word and doing what it says,

-These disciples become mature and complete, not lacking anything.

-Does that describe your life?

-Do you want it to describe your life?

-Then all you have to do is follow James instructions for perseverance and maturity;

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22