Pause: “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favour and honour; no good thing does he withhold from those whose way is blameless. Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.” Psalm 84: 11-12
Reading: James 2 : 5 – 7 “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised to those who loved him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?”
When Ian began this series of studies in the Letter of James he began by mentioning that this is a letter full of practical advice for those living the Christian life; this was true for the first readers of the letter and it is true for us today. In one of my Bibles, alongside the heading “James”, I wrote “The Practical Pastor”, and as we journey through this letter we will see both practical advice and pastoral love and care.
We can, for instance, see this pastoral care in the many times, 15 in all, that James uses the phrase “my brothers and sisters”, or, as in our reading today, “my dear brothers and sisters.” A word of explanation here; the Greek word James uses here is “adelphoi”, and although this is often translated as “brethren” or “brothers” it is also widely accepted as referring to siblings of both sexes.
As we saw when we started this series, James is writing to fellow-Jews scattered among the nations (1 v 1). It appears that many of these Jewish Christians were not wealthy, and that they were undergoing difficulties of many kinds. One error they appear to have fallen into is that of showing false respect to those who are wealthy, and dishonouring those who are poor, when Jesus very clearly revealed that we are all equal in the sight of God, and that the Good News is for everyone. In the Gospels Jesus spoke about the danger facing those who become so wealthy that they feel that they have no need of God, and the same is often true in our society today. That is not to say that to be wealthy is wrong, indeed Jesus had rich friends as well as poor ones; the challenge is to use that wealth for the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of self. One effect of this false respect, which the Christians don’t seem to be aware of, is that the rich are actually abusing their power and wealth, exploiting those less wealthy than themselves, dragging them into court rather than working things out between themselves, and actually speaking out against, even blaspheming, the name of Jesus.
When we read through the Gospels we see Jesus showing true respect for everyone he encountered; a woman caught in adultery, a blind beggar, a wealthy tax collector, even dining at the table of a prominent Pharisee. Status mattered for naught, what mattered was that these were all in need of the love of the Father revealed to us all in the person of Jesus Christ the Son. The same is, of course, true today. Jesus came to earth to offer forgiveness of sins, regardless of wealth or status, and to give us eternal life with Him and his Father in heaven. Whatever our financial situation we can rejoice that God has revealed himself to us, that, as James says, he has chosen us; as the Psalm at the top says, “Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.”
A prayer: O Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we thank you that you have chosen us to follow in the footsteps of your Son Jesus Christ. May our lives reflect the love of Jesus that shines on us, and may we have the same respect for others that Jesus had,, that they too will come to know him and love him as we do. We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen.