Go

Mosaic Spokane

Royal Love, Royal Law

Royal Love, Royal Law

James 1:26-2:13

October 23, 2016

INTRO:

I’m going to do something I think I’ve done only once or twice in almost 35 years of preaching.  I’m going to double back into the same text we were in last week.  And I’m going to take the entire teaching time to help us work on our obedience responses to this text. 

            I don’t know about you, but I’m usually educated far beyond my obedience.  It’s not a matter of needing more information; it’s a matter of engaging in more application.  So we’re going to drill down into obedient application a bit more today.

            There are two particular verses in this text that I can’t seem to shake.

The first is James 1:27--Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

The second is James 2:8, 9--If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 

            As I mentioned last week in our study of the broader text, I really think the chapter division (chapter 2) is unfortunate.  It gives the impression to us that what James is talking about in chapter 1 is very different from chapter 2.  Rather, I think it’s a continuation of what he is talking about.  Verses 26-27 talk about both words and actions, about the tongue and about true religion that helps the distressed, particularly widows and orphans. 

Chapter 2:12 book-ends this emphasis on words and deeds with this:  Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

            In the intervening verses, James is speaking against a judgmental attitude against the poor and a favoritism for the wealthier.  So I think the whole first part of this chapter 2 really flows out of his call to care for those who are usually the poorest of the poor—widows and orphans.  And in most cases, those two go hand in hand.  They are found in the same houses.  They are really describing (most often) the same demographic.

In the world we live in, it is estimated that there are over 150 million children worldwide who have lost either one or both parents.  Those who have lost one are called “single orphans” because they have only lost one parent.

And when they are “double orphans,” they are children who have lost both parents.  You can be sure that they are the poorest of the poor.  Children who are truly without any family are the poorest, most vulnerable and most abused people in the world.  And there are some 18 million of those children worldwide.  But even these statistics are missing some 2-8 million children living in institutions all over the world.  Nor do they include vast numbers of children who are living on the streets, exploited for labor, victims of trafficking or being used as child soldiers. 

Then there are what have come to be known as “social orphans.”  These are children where one or even both of their parents may be alive.  But social orphans rarely see their parents or experience life in a family. Some never do. They may have a parent or two yet they actually experience life as if they had none.

      Statistics like this boggle the mind.  They also blur the reality.  So before you glaze over and go back to life as it was, remember that sitting all around you in Mosaic every Sunday is THE most important statistic about orphans:  1 child, 1 man or 1 woman whose life was absolutely altered by the mercy and compassion of someone motivated by God. 

I don’t mean to single people out.  Forgive me if in any way you feel blind-sided by what I’m about to ask.  And don’t feel like you even need to answer publically if it makes you feel awkward.  But I have a couple of questions I’d like you to respond to publically:

  • How many of you as children were “orphaned” at some period in your life—either by the loss/virtual absence of 1 parent or the loss of both parents? (It could be due to death OR termination of parental rights by the state OR abandonment)?
  • How many as adults here have engaged in adoption OR foster parenting OR step-parenting at some time in your life?

This is one of the things I really LOVE about Mosaic.  We are not a passive people!  IF the larger church in America…or even in Spokane…mirrored what we are experiencing here, we would have no orphan or foster crisis in American…and perhaps even in the world. 

            But that doesn’t absolve me or any of us from further and continued obedience to the command of this passage.  There is no age limit to “true religion/spirituality.”  You don’t just “check the box” at some point in your life and never have to wrestle with it anymore. 

James 2:8 doesn’t say, “If you really kept at some point in your life the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are then presently doing right…you are not showing favoritism.”  No, it’s a simple present tense:  “If you really KEEP the royal law….”  HOW we keep that royal law may change year after year.  But none of us is free to stop wrestling with how to keep putting this royal love into practice. 

            While not showing favoritism in the church worship setting is James’ own application point when it comes to God’s call to “love your neighbor as yourself,” surely showing mercy to the most vulnerable in our world, the orphans and widows, is anotherAt no point in our journey with Christ can we embrace apathy about our needy “neighbors.” 

            What Jesus had to say about WHO our “neighbors” in this command actually are is what really keeps us on the hook.  You remember when Jesus gave the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10.  That whole story was targeted at a very spiritual man who thought he was doing very well at fulfilling this command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  In fact, the text says that he that he was doing so well that he pushed the issue just a little farther with Jesus because he wanted to “justify himself” or literally prove that he was carrying out this command sufficiently.  So Jesus told the story/parable of the Good Samaritan to show him that he was not, in fact, really living this law of love out to the full. 

And the hardest twist in the plot for this very “spiritual” national leader was not that men just like him avoided involvement in the battered man’s life on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. (Which, by the way, makes me think Jesus’ story actually borrowed some true-to-life events from this man’s life.  God often gets very specific about conviction!) The twist that was probably most difficult for this “spiritual man” was that the one who chose to love the man beaten and robbed by the road—a Samaritan

APP:  I don’t know who you naturally despise in your heartTerrorists? Pimps? Child abusers? Drug dealersRepublicansDemocrats?  Substitute them for the “Good Samaritan” and you will start to approach the emotional punch Jesus gave the story.  “Good” and “Samaritan” weren’t two words a man like that Jewish legal expert would have put in the same sentence. 

And the problem hasn’t gotten easier in the 21st century.  To answer, “Who is my neighbor?” in terms that James targets here is to ask “Who is the orphan or the widow that I am to help in their distress?”  In some ways it is harder to deal with the answer today than in Jesus’ time.  If we run out of candidates who fulfill that question in our own city or nation (the 600,000 kids in foster care every year or the 200,000 who need to be adopted from that pool), we can’t claim ignorance about the 1 child…or the millions of children…living worldwide in Africa or Asia or India or any number of nations we can hear about and even see on the internet with the click of a few keys.

Then there is another component of obedience to God’s command here about loving our “neighbor orphans and widows.” One of the questions it’s made me wrestle with this week in preparing for this morning has been, “Why is the care of widows and orphans so central to God’s heart?  What is the connection between God’s compassion for widows and orphans and what he wants all of His children to BE?” 

I think part of the answer lies in how we see God framing His relationship with each of us.  God repeatedly, in both the Old and New Testaments, uses the language and imagery of marriage and the language and imagery of adoption to describe His love for us and His relationship to us.  God spoke of Israel and of the Church as His Bride, His Beloved.  And He speaks of every one of us who have believed in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord as his “adopted” sons and daughters.  (2 Cor. 6:18)

Might it just be that embracing a heart of compassion for widows and orphans is to embrace the heart of God?  Conversely, to be unmoved or to choose passivity towards widows and orphans is to reject the life of God in us and to say an outright “NO” to God and the heart he wants to infuse us with? 

Might that not be why we all naturally find ourselves admiring people who sacrifice for the vulnerable and needy in more and deeper ways than we do? Some people have sacrificed deeply to adopt 1 child, others 5, others a dozen while some have given their whole lives to setting up orphanages that have saved literally thousands of children. 

I’m not convinced it is the number that matter so much to God as it is the 1.  Because the 1 can change us just as much as 1,000.  While the billionaire may spend millions building and staffing orphanages, to really LOVE a child as yourself takes someone willing to do the hard work of parenting that one child day after day, month after month, year after year. 

Lest this get way too academic and theoretical, I want you to hear from a few of our brothers and sisters right here in Mosaic.  To really do this issue justice, we would need to hear from dozens of you here, both those who have embraced God’s call and those who have been embraced as adopted or foster children.  Unless you want to spend the whole day together, that probably won’t happen. 

But I do want us to invite God to speak to us through a few other people’s experiences here today.  I want you to hear a bit of their stories and I want all of us to be open to hear God whisper to us the “next step” in “loving our orphaned or widowed neighbor as ourselves.” 

To start that off, I’d like you to hear from someone on the “orphan” side of the equation, one of our Moody students who has recently started working with Bob in Changing Lives.  As God would have it, I just recently heard Corbin’s story and it touched me deeply.  So I thought you might be blessed eaves-dropping on a little rehash of that story this morning.  J

Corbin Clarke:

  • Tell us a little about your childhood.
  • Your parents?
  • Your teen years?
  • How has adoption changed your life?

Candice Achenbach:  Unite Family Services

Some introductory study on the Foster Care crisis in our country currently led me to the following statistics:

But Candice, to you and Jesse, those aren’t just numbers.  They are children who you have known and loved.

  • How many foster babies have you had in your home?
  • How hard has it been to open your home and hearts to these little ones and then to let them go?
  • How many have you adopted? What has that experience done to your lives and hearts?
  • What is unique about Unite?
  • How serious is the need in the foster system?

Derik Cutlip:  Safe Families for Children (SFFC)

  • What is Safe Families trying to do?
  • Why?
  • How has getting involved in this changed you?
  • What difference can the church make?

Video?

 

Sandy Tidwell:  Grace Giving International

  • How has your own life been impacted by adoption?
  • Why are you part of Grace Giving?
  • How is Grace Giving helping people be involved with vulnerable children in another part of the world?

Video

ILL:  Many of you know Ajay Pallai who works with Indian National Inland Mission.  We’ve had him speak here in years past.  His father, Paul, started the mission some 50 years ago.  Since then they have trained over 8,000 church planters in the rather hostile nation of India. 

In the process of doing that, Paul’s wife, Annie, heard from God about starting an orphanage.  She approached Paul and put the idea before him.  He wasn’t interested.  He maintained that he wasn’t called to start an orphanage.  Annie kept praying.  When she could stand it no more, she finally told her husband that she would do it if he wouldn’t.  So he reluctantly agreed.

               Today, Bethesda Children's Home Network... started in 1976 by Ajay’s mother Annie Pillai with 1 abandoned little girl, has resulted in the saving, raising and educating of over 28,000 children.  But want to know the real kicker?  41% of those kids today have gone on to be trained at Grace College of the Bible in New Delhi and have accepted God’s call into full time ministry in some of the most hostile regions of India. And that first little baby girl Annie Pallai took in?  She is now a Pastor's wife with 4 children of her own!

None of us will probably be an Annie Pallai in this life.  Most of us probably won’t be a Candice or a Derik or a Sandy.  But ALL of us are called to love some child who is an orphan…who is, in this day and age, our “neighbor.”  Whether it is pooling $5/month with 8-10 other people so you can educate and feed some needy kid in Africa or Haiti OR whether it is opening your heart and home to care for a foster child or by a respite home with Safe Families for Children OR whether it is adopting a child or, yes, starting a children’s home, we are all called to DO something to love children who are in need. 

            It won’t be easy.  It will cost, sometimes in ways we had no idea we would be called upon to sacrifice. But it will change you forever to be more like Jesus!

ILL:  I was reminded of this just last week with a little 8 year old name Jesse whom we know.  After I preached a message at Life Center about 9 years ago, one of the families sitting I the service went out to lunch together and started talking about what the Holy Spirit had said to them through an illusion I had made to how God nudged us to adopt.  This family was planning on building an entertainment room in their house.  Instead, they decided to take that space and turn it into bedrooms.  They ended up adopting 3 special needs kids from China.  Jesse is the youngest. 

He just underwent his 4th open heart surgery last week.  The heart surgery went great.  But somehow some air got into his brain resulting in stroke-like results.  They don’t know yet how significant the damage is or even how permanent but they know it will change the rest of their life.  Just so you know, this is a family who has been supporting Mosaic since before we began yet they don’t even attend our church.

This is the life of Jesus Christ in us.  This is dying to self and living to Christ daily.  This is what following Jesus Christ and loving your neighbor as yourself IS all about.  This is TRUE SPIRITUALITY… “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless.” 

CLOSE:

  • Have you accepted God’s invitation to be adopted into His forever family through belief in Jesus?
  • How is God asking you to express His heart for “the least of these”, the “orphans” of today?

 

 

Read More