As we begin a new series this morning – Old Preacher Advice and today we begin in the 2nd chapter of James. We know that there are at least 5 James’ in the New Testament but traditionally the author of James is the eldest of Jesus four younger brothers.
James, at first, was skeptical about his brother’s claims and ministry. But after meeting the resurrected Lord, he became a strong believer and leader in the early church. He oversaw the Jerusalem church and was counted among the apostles.
Over the next few weeks we will hear from the Old Preacher, James, as we read through the chapters understanding these are sermons not only written to be heard, to be put into practice. Now most likely preached, by James in his Aramaic tongue/language.
We will be reminded that every action has a reaction and James teaches us to have a better reaction. And that mercy always wins.
I like to introduce you to Mama Hale.
Mama Hale and Her Little Angels is a story of 79 year old Clara Hale and the drug-addicted infants she cares for.
“In an old bentwood rocker, she soothes a hurting child. “I love you and God loves you,” she promises. “Your mother loves you too, but she’s sick right now, like you are.” She coaxes the baby to nurse at a bottle. She bathes the child, strokes the child softly, and tries a little game of patty-cake.
“After a while maybe you get a smile,” she tells a visitor. “So you know the baby’s trying too. You keep loving it-and you wait.
When the article was written, she had cared for 487 babies of addicts. Before her death there had been hundreds more.
Every action has a reaction and James teaches us to have a better reaction. And that mercy always wins. James saw some bad habits in the first century church. They were making distinctions. James writes in his letter- V.1 if we are believers in Jesus Christ we must not show favoritism.
Favoritism- a bad habit. A habit learned or taught. We’re creatures of habit, and that in its self is not a bad thing. It’s the way we’re made. And we will not learn to do something well unless some habits are involved.
So how do we move away from the habit of showing partiality, making distinctions and judging on outer appearance? Surprisingly, the answer is not better theology, morality or biblical interpretation. Its better habits.
The apostle James sees something that is habitually happening in the church and he says that it’s time to change!
Imagine if you would, you came in this morning -you sat down in your seat and all of a sudden here comes in T…. W….. He walks in and sit right next to you. Your normal seat, normal Sunday and suddenly there was T…..W…. on your right. Would you be a little distracted? Sure you would-but wait it get better. Then, just before the service begins suddenly you turn to your left here comes L….. A……. Would you not be distracted? Sure we would. And that’s problem. That’s what James saw in the first century church.
They took their eyes off of Jesus and suddenly became a respecter of persons. The Lord is my shepherd and the shepherd show mercy to all of his sheep.
Respecter of persons. Would T….. give you the time of day-without the camera’s on. Or L……. A…….-7 time winner of the Tour de France- never mind the fact that he rejects everything we stand for at Bethia- he rejects Jesus, the bible- he was a self-proclaimed atheist. But, man he can really ride a bike fast.
Bad habits! Judging on outer appearance?
You may remember, from your Sesame Street Day’s, the song, “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”
Dr. Ridenour was a stroke victim. She was in her forties, partially paralyzed, facing the truth of her crippled body. She said it was the most difficult thing she ever had to do. Her paralysis was an embarrassment, creating a kind of exposure and nakedness, a sadness and an infinite kind of loneliness. At the end of her article she talked about “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” A sesame street message to help children recognized racial prejudice and help to deal with it.
Old preacher, James sees that racism is not only skin color but it runs almost a limitless gamut. Males over females, young over old, educated over uneducated, urban over rural, Methodist over Pentecostal, Episcopalian over Baptist, the urban over the country bumpkins and sophisticated over the simple. Prejudice and partiality are universal.
If we are called to live as Christ- this truth- is, when we look down on the lest of these, we insult their humanity. If we are made in God image-imagine how that makes him feel.
James’s opening words, “My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?”
The New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg has written a book called The Power of Habit (Random House, 2012). In it, he tells the story of companies that found success simply by replacing established routines with smarter habits.
Starbucks for example- Back in the 90s, their employees were regularly cracking under the pressure of so many custom-made coffees. Starbucks created the LATTE method for their baristas: LATTE stands for Listen, Acknowledge, Take action, Thank the customer and Explain why the problem occurred.
With this new habit, customer and employee satisfaction radically improved.
Or Alcoa- aluminum company- hired Paul O’Neill as CEO. Investors hoped he would increase revenue, but he focused instead on decreasing employee accidents from unsafe work habits.
Over at Febreze, the focus shifted to the habits of consumers, not employees. When Febreze was launched as an odor-cleaning product in 1993, it flopped. Why? Because people with stinky houses didn’t know they needed it. But when the company discovered that people are proud to finish their chores, they suggested a new habit — rewarding yourself with a blast of Febreze. The product now makes $1 billion annually.
In all of these cases, our case too, success comes from getting in the habit of doing things differently.
James has some strong suggestions for a church in search of better habits. He begins by urging us to obey the law of love, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 8). Treating others as we would want to be treated, and showing the same mercy to others that we would want to receive from them.
When we show partiality in the church, we break this law of love. By favoring one over another, we’re treating one person as more valuable than the other. But when we love our neighbors as ourselves, we are acting in a way that puts equal value on every person — rich or poor, strong or weak, young, old, neighbor or self.
It is time for us, as individuals and a congregation, to get in the habit of loving one another. Mercy will be shown to us only if we are willing to show mercy to others.
In his letter to the church, James also challenges us to keep our faith and our works together. “What good is it,” asks James, “if you say you have faith but do not have works?”
Every election year, politicians are pressured to disclose their tax returns. When they do, they reveal just how much — or how little — they have given to charity. Often the ones who talk the big game are the same ones that gives the very least. That’s faith without works.
James urges us to get in the habit of keeping faith and works together. Seeing words and deeds as two sides of the same Christian coin is the key to living a life of integrity.
Since our neighbors are always watching us, we need to replace the bad habit of favoritism with the good habit of respect for all people. Saying we have faith is never enough. We have to make a habit of putting our faith into action.
Going back to the story of Mama Hale. She states in the article… “The ones who worry her most are the toddlers who arrive scruffy and neglected.”
“Against the disorder of the world they currently know and the world they will return to someday, she teaches them a sense of order. Regular meals and bedtimes. A clean house and clothes. “Be honest, Mama says. Be smart, for one day, you will get to college”….she urges. As she rocks a six month old baby to sleep.
“They don’t always know what I’m saying, “she says, “but they know I love them.” That is part of her ‘gift’, as she calls it, her secret for saving children and changing their lives.
On her bedroom door is a small sign that says:
“You can make it.”
They can…….we can. When faith works in love.
Every action has a reaction and James teaches us to have a better reaction. And that mercy always wins.
In the Name of Father Son and Holy Spirit