*Disclaimer- You need to know your audience to do what I did. It could probably be tamed down with wearing just a pair of sunglasses. I started behind the closed doors at the entrance of the sanctuary. When the entrance music for WWE’s The Big Show started to play, I flung the doors open and began to strut up the aisle, decked out in a three-piece suit and sunglasses. I shook hands, gave high fives, and chest bumped someone on my way to the pulpit, then flung the sunglasses to the people in the front row. After reading the text, I removed the full suit to reveal my normal attire underneath as I began the message.
From the looks on some of your faces, it seems that something isn’t quite right this morning. I know most of you have never seen me in a suit outside of a wedding or funeral. You’re probably wondering, “What in the world is going on here? Has Scott lost his ever-loving mind? Don’t tell me he fell down another set of bleachers at the baseball game this week!” I assure you, I didn’t fall. You see, what we wear when we worship is really about personal preference. Personally, I feel constrained by a suit when I’m preaching, it makes it harder for me to move around and I tend to talk with my hands. Besides, it’s rather hot today.
Don’t get me wrong- some of us like to wear suits every Sunday to church. It’s what they’re used to, it’s what they like to wear as they worship, and that’s perfectly fine. Some of us prefer more of a business casual outfit as we come to worship and that’s fine too. Some of us like to dress more leisurely, maybe we’ve had to wear a uniform of some sort and we’d like to feel more relaxed as we spend time with our family in worship and that’s also fine. You see, God doesn’t look at what we’re wearing, He looks at our heart. We simply need to be true to who we are as we honor God together.
We’ve been studying the book of James together with the them of #fakenews. We’ve been looking at how James addresses several misconceptions that have crept into the church today. We’ve looked at the claims of the prosperity gospel, we considered the tenets of the faith only movement, today we’re debunking the idea that image is everything.
We live in an image-driven culture- you’ve got to wear the right clothes, have the right haircut, buy the right car, live in the right neighborhood. This has created a celebrity culture in which we now learn how to act from the Kardashians. Many American churches have gotten caught up in this image-driven trap. They believe they have to create just the right atmosphere to draw the people THEY want in THEIR church. Some have created a concert atmosphere, complete with light shows, fog machines, and great musicians. Some have made it all about how you dress- whether it’s dress to the nines to see whose outfit draws the most attention. I’ve even seen guys preach while wearing shorts because they wanted the poor people of their community to know that they were welcome to come as they are. All of these can be okay when they’re genuine, but too many times, it comes off as fake.
People are looking for people who are authenticate. There are a few things people need to know about us before they’re willing to listen. They need to know we care, they need to know we’re fair, and they need to know we’re there. Let’s see how James teaches his readers to prove these three things to people who may not yet know Christ.
James demonstrates showing people you care with two simple words- my brothers. You see, James had already greeted his readers. He writes, “My brothers,” to indicate that he is writing from a place of concern. It’s like a big brother speaking as a mentor to younger brothers and sisters. He’s coming from a place of concern.
People are looking for people who care, but they don’t want to be your next project. There was a church that provided its members business cards with blanks to add their name and phone number. They were to give the card to people they were inviting to church so they’d have a way to stay in touch. One man would approach visitors at church, hand them his card, and tell them to give him a call if he could help them out in any way. Nice gesture on the surface, but when I’d follow up to visit guests, many of them asked about the guy who made them feel inferior to him.
Sometimes, showing we care is as simple as saying hello, asking how a person’s doing, and then listen. During our fellowship time, how many of you catch yourselves asking someone how they’re doing and moving on to the next person before you get an answer? I know there are times when I’ve done that. But what might happen if we stopped to listen and let them give an honest answer? There was one time a young man was arriving to help with VBS after a rough day at his job. You could see it written all over his face. I asked him how he was doing and he told me fine, preparing to move along. I caught his arm and asked, “No, really, how are you?” He acknowledged that he was struggling and we discussed it later. He had been looking for an accountability partner to get past some sin in his life but wasn’t sure who he could trust. Because I expected
People also want to know we’re fair, they want to know that they’ll be treated the same as everyone else. James uses an obvious example- rich vs. poor. If you’ve ever seen the movie Speed, the bad guy planted bombs and then called the hero to say, “Pop quiz.” I can picture James saying, “Pop quiz- two men walk into the back of the church. One is all decked out in a fancy suit, gold rings, and a rolex watch. The other looks rather disheveled like he’d been out all night before showing up at the door. What do you do?”
James tells us what NOT to do- don’t show partiality to one over the other. See, we should never judge a book by its cover. We don’t want to make assumptions based on initial appearance. There was a story on Facebook, later shown to be fiction, that was written to illustrate this point. Since then, various preachers have put their congregations to the test, dressing to appear homeless to see what congregants would do with the vagrant sitting on their front steps. As you may have noticed, I went the opposite direction with it today.
I went to seminary with the director of Breakthrough Urban Ministries in Chicago. She told us about a time they had a homeless man that would come from time to time to utilize their services, but refused to get the help needed to get off the streets. They continued to care for him as best as he allowed. After he passed away, his family found his will which included a $500,000 donation to the ministry.
We need to recognize that in our human nature we tend to be drawn to the people we want to be like while neglecting the ones we don’t. The problem with this is that we forget that all people are made in God’s image and often begin using them for our own purposes. We lose sight of God’s upside-down kingdom- that the last will be first and the first will be last, that the poor will be the ones who are made rich in faith. Then it tends to backfire. We dishonor the poor, when it’s the rich who tend to oppress us, even taking us to court.
Young people especially want to know they’ll be treated fair. We’ve got some kids that started coming to youth group recently. They push the boundaries to see what they can and can’t do. Once they see we’re consistent at drawing the line, they’re fine. I’ve seen churches where kids would come in and, being kids, left a mess behind as they hadn’t been taught “proper etiquette” of the church yet. I only hope they didn’t hear the adults that came along behind them to clean things up, griping about these kids not respecting anything. I’m sorry, but their salvation is more important than the mess they left us.
People want to know we care, they want to know we’re fair, they also want to know we’re there. What I mean by this is we can talk the talk all day long, but do we walk the walk? James refers to it as the royal law- love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus tells us this is the second greatest command, the first being love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Like we often do, the teacher of law tries to justify himself, looks for the least he needs to do to have fulfilled this law, to meet the bare minimum. Jesus tells this famous story:
A rich man was traveling down the Jericho Road when he was attacked by robbers who took all his things and left him for dead. A priest was traveling by, I can picture the crowd listening to Jesus thinking, “Oh good, here’s a godly man that will help the victim. Great story, what a happy ending.” But no, the priest crosses to the other side of the road and continues on his way. Soon, a Levite comes traveling down the road and sees the man laying there, moaning and groaning. The crowd is convinced that this good man will surely stop and help the victim, but no, he also crosses the road and continues on his way. Then a Samaritan comes by. As soon as that name left Jesus’s lips, you can feel the crowd turn. “No, you didn’t, Jesus! You know who those Samaritans are- they’re half-breeds! They abandoned the faith and intermarried with other nations. How could you say Samaritan? I don’t like this story any more.” Of course, the Samaritan tends to the man’s wounds, takes him to a hotel and pays to make sure the man is cared for until healed, even offering to pay any balance that may exist when he gets back. So who was the neighbor? The one who helped the victim out.
We live in a very hostile political atmosphere. Social media has made it very easy to argue and fight when people disagree. Our nation has been trying to redefine what is life and what is love. When Christians speak up, they try to deflect by asking why it’s only these two topics that get Christians involved in the discussions. What about all these other sins like lying and fornication that the church seems to be silent about? Let’s be real, there are indeed times when Christians harp on these things and can come across as judgmental, but the reason it seems abortion and homosexuality are focused on disproportionately is that the people involved in those sins want us to endorse their behaviors as normal and without sin. People who are involved in these other sins recognize that they are doing wrong and aren’t asking for our endorsement of the choices they make.
To show that we walk the walk as we talk the talk, we need to be working to overcome the sin in our own lives through the power of Christ as we come alongside fellow sinners and help them along that same journey. James points out that all sin is the same in the sense that the eternal consequence is separation from God. Whether one lies, cheats on a spouse, commits abortion, engages in homosexual behavior, and the list goes on, the wages they’ve earned is death. Fortunately, we’re told that when we repent those sins are forgiven, all those sins.
I like what James has to say in verse 12, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.” Our talk and our walk must line up. Does the world see a judgmental Christian or do they see a fellow sinner coming alongside them so we can help each other out. Because there is sin, there must be judgment. Because God loves us, he sent Jesus to pay our price, so there must be mercy.