I will not show favouritism, I will love my neighbour
On Monday morning,
I managed to find some peace and tranquillity, in the middle of a busy week. For
about half an hour or so, I sat on an old pew in an empty, down-town and
slightly run-down church in Atlanta. It was called Ebenezer Baptist Church and was founded in 1886. Although the church was empty when I called in, they
were playing a recording of a sermon by a former pastor. It was inspired by our
passage from the Epistle of James, chapter 2. Although one of the most powerful
sermons ever preached, it would cost him his life. His name? Let me read you
part of that sermon. You’ll know his name by the fourth word.
“I have a dream today… I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. When we let freedom ring… we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
Do you have a dream? Do you have a compelling vision that motivates you? A compelling God-inspired vision that calls you to something higher and bolder? Something worth living for? Even, like Martin, worth dying for? Do you ever dream of what our world could be? Do you ever dream of what our multi-racial society here in the UK could become? Do you ever dream of what our diverse community here in Virginia Water could be? Do you ever dream of what God is calling us to be as a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural community-based church family? James tells us how. Lets find out. “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism.” (James 2:1)
Do you show favouritism? It is instinctive. Its part of our fallen nature to show favouritism to those who are like us or those who like us. It is at the core of racism. It is at the heart of most of the disputes in our world today. It is the reason I wrote the book on Christian Zionism. It’s the reason I was visiting churches and groups in the USA last week. In our reading this morning, James gives us three fundamental reasons why Christians must not show favouritism.
1. To segregate is to judge with evil thoughts (James 2:1-4).
“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism.”  Suppose someone comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor person in filthy old clothes also comes in.  If you show special attention to the one wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the one who is poor, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet,"  have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)
It was not that long ago that the Church of England regulated where you sat in Church. It was based on your social status and your income. Wealthy families rented a pew - called boxes. The boxes even had a door on them. The more you paid the closer to the communion table you could sit. Poorer families sat nearer the back or could stand. When I trained for the ministry at Trinity College, in Bristol, we lived on “Black Boy Hill”. We did our shopping in the more fashionable “White Ladies Walk”. The wealth of cities like Bristol and Liverpool were founded on slavery. Our country has an ignominious past. We along with other European nations, were, responsible for enslaving millions of Africans. The British Empire was founded on discrimination which led to exploitation, segregation and racism. And the present conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is in part directly attributable to the same colonialist designs Britain and France had on the Middle East. And Christians went along with it believing God on their side.
“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism.”
To discriminate on the basis of race, on the basis of intelligence, on the basis of wealth, or of age or colour or creed, says James, is evil. So let me ask you - are you prejudiced? Racist? How can you tell? Ask yourself, is my circle of friends as wide as our community? Or is it narrower? Do I avoid or despise those of another culture, colour or creed? Then perhaps repentance is in order.
For evil has no place in Christ Church. How can we show favouritism? It is to deny our family. It is to deny our Father. To segregate is to judge with evil thoughts. James takes us deeper in his argument. Secondly,
2. To discriminate is to insult the poor and slander Jesus. (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 those who love him?  But you have insulted 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 slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?” (James 2:5-7)
Typically it is the more powerful who face the temptation to exploit others. And since power and wealth usually go together, it is the poor who are the most vulnerable.
That is why Christian Aid is focusing on Trade Justice at the moment. It is why we encourage you to purchase fair traded goods from the Developing World, like tea and coffee. To discriminate against the poor is to slander Jesus because He died for them also. Indeed he reverses the values of this world and elevates the poor, the weak and vulnerable. In the film, The Last Emperor, the young child anointed as the last emperor of China lives a magical life of luxury with a thousand eunuch servants at his command. “What happens when you do wrong?” his brother asks. “When I do wrong someone else is punished.” The boy emperor replies. To demonstrate, he breaks a jar, and one of the servants is beaten.
Jesus reversed the order. When the servants erred, the King was punished. Grace is only free because the giver himself has borne the cost.
1. To segregate is to judge with evil thoughts.
2. To discriminate is to insult the poor and slander Jesus.
And James gives us still a third reason.
3. To show favouritism is to face judgement (James 2:9-13)
 But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as law-breakers.  For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.  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 law-breaker.”  “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,  because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2:8-13)
“How many holes does it take to sink a ship? Just one. Even the Titanic sank due to only one hole in the hull. The entire disaster, the loss of hundreds of lives, the sinking of a ship over nine hundred feet long, was due to a single hole about the size of a refrigerator… It takes only one hole to sink a ship!... How many speeding tickets does it take to ruin a perfect driving record? Just one. You can follow the speed limit your entire life, stop at every stop sign, signal each time you change lanes, but the one time you drive too fast because you were running late, you get pulled over. The officer writes you a ticket, tears it off, and hands it to you. Your perfect record is now marred! Never again can you say, “I have a clean driving licence.” James asks us a similar kind of question. How many biblical laws must you break in order to fit in the camp of people called “lawbreakers”? His answer is clear. Just one! It can be a big law, like “You shall not murder”, or it can be a simple act of favouritism. But when we break the law of God, we become a transgressor.” What is our greatest need? Grace and Mercy. What is the greatest need of others? Grace and mercy. Grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve. Mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve.
When we show favouritism, when we discriminate, based on colour, class or creed we have forgotten our own greatest need. How do we avoid showing favouritism?
1. Live like Jesus
“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism.” (James 2:1)
James calls us brothers and sisters. If we truly believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, we have the same heavenly Father and we won’t show favouritism.
2. Keep the Royal Law
“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ you are doing right.” (James 2:8).
If we truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will obey His every Word and act as he acted.
3. Remember we are Accountable
“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom” (James 2:12)
What more motivation do we need to avoid favouritism?
In his book What’s so Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancy says, “Grace costs nothing for the recipients and everything for the giver. God’s grace is not a grandfatherly display of “niceness”, for it cost the exorbitant price of Calvary. “There is only one real law - the law of the universe” says Dorothy Sayers. “It may be fulfilled either by way of judgement or by way of grace, but it must be fulfilled one way or the other.” By accepting the judgement in his own body, Jesus fulfilled the law, and God found a way to forgive.” That is why we have been called to “Love our neighbour as ourselves”. I have a dream today.
I have a dream of Christ Church as a community of fully devoted, deeply spiritual, Christ followers thirsting to develop an ever deepening relationship with God.
I have a dream of Christ Church becoming a family of every age, every race, every colour, putting our relationship with God before all else, meeting and serving together to glorify God and draw others to him also.
I have a dream today. Lets pray.