Sermons

Sun, Aug 30, 2015

True religion

Series:Sermons

What does it mean to be an Australian?

 

Is it about the way that we speak––

the way that we pronounce “Melbourne” or “Canberra”—

or knowing what “fair suck of the sav” means?

Is it about eating meat pies, lamb on Australia Day, and driving Holden cars…

being able to recite Banjo Patterson’s A Man from Snowy River

and knowing Don Bradman’s test average?

Or is it taking pride in our achievements as a nation:

like subduing this harsh, rugged landscape…

beating the English at cricket––

at least until recently––

and bringing home a swag-full of gold medals from the Olympics?

Or is it something much more substantial?

Is being an Australian about sharing a certain history…

of convict settlement, or the lack of it in South Australia…

Gallipoli and the ANZAC ideology…

Eureka Stockade…

or being the first nation to give women the vote?

Is being an Australian about cherishing certain values…

and living in a certain way?

Is it about being relaxed and informal…

open and welcoming…

being tolerant of differences…

about mateship, and a fair go for all?

What does it mean to be an Australian?

What shapes our sense of identity?

And how do we live out that identity in daily life?

 

The letter of James comes from the earliest days of the Christian movement.

It was written by a Hebrew Christian and addressed to a Hebrew Christian audience…

at a time when they were still trying to work out what it meant to be Hebrews––

worshippers of the one God, the God of Israel––

as well as followers of Jesus Christ.

And the letter of James is an attempt to try to work out that question of identity.

It’s a letter––

or, perhaps, actually, a sermon––

seeking to offer practical advice on how to live.

But underpinning it is a genuine search for a sense of identity…

a striving to elucidate the values that were important for those who sought to follow Jesus Christ.

 

And what do we find here?

 

Well, according to the author of James, the fundamental value––

the key defining characteristic of Christian identity––

is integrity…

practicing what we profess…

living out what we believe…

genuinely allowing our faith to influence and shape our lifestyle.

According to the author, we’re called to pattern our lives according to what we have experienced of God:

consistency…

generosity…

graciousness…

self-giving…

life-giving.

Simply attending church week-in, week-out isn’t enough.

Having the right beliefs isn’t enough.

It doesn’t matter how correct our theology is, if it doesn’t influence how we live.

Such a religion is, according to the author, worthless, empty, and foolish.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless”.

A genuine faith is to be seen in how we speak to others––

with moderation, compassion, and generosity;

in ways that are life-giving and life-affirming.

And a genuine faith is to be seen in not “deceiving” our hearts.

And yet, the word translated as “deceive” actually means “indulge”.

So, in other words…

if any think that they are religious but indulge in self-gratification, their religion is worthless.

Living the Christian life isn’t about self-indulgence.

It’s not about putting profits, power, privilege, or possessions ahead of people.

It’s not about maintaining my sense of comfort at the expense of others––

despite what our society might try to drum into us.

In fact, it’s the opposite:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress”.

An appropriate response to God’s graciousness is to care for those in need.

And orphans and widows were the poorest of the poor in antiquity…

because it was a male-dominated society––

and to be without a husband or father left a person destitute…

unable to maintain a livelihood…

bereft of social support…

utterly powerless and vulnerable…

the most marginalised in society.

According to the author, caring for them is what God expects in response to God’s graciousness.

A genuine faith is seen in how we care––

in how we treat the most vulnerable, powerless, and marginalised in our society.

And yet, by “care”, the author doesn’t mean just giving a handout…

or sending off a cheque to ease the conscience.

Instead, he means rolling up our selves and getting our hands dirty…

engaging in genuine, practical assistance.

After all, the author doesn’t suggest we offer some remote…

sanitised…

second-hand sort of care.

Indeed, he suggests that what is needed is “visiting”––

actually to go to someone in need and to offer support…

to stand beside them, watching over, and protecting them…

to walk with them in their suffering and distress.

But the verb that he uses here doesn’t mean to visit just once––

but to do so continually or repeatedly:

to visit and to keep on visiting…

to care and to keep on caring…

so that it becomes a continual, habitual practice…

a way of life.

As such, the author of this letter is simply echoing a principle…

or a theology…

that runs right through the Old Testament…

and the life and ministry of Jesus:

the only fitting response to a loving, compassionate God is a life of love and compassion.

True religion involves an on-going commitment to those in desperate need.

True piety involves a continual commitment to care for the destitute in society.

 

Is that any different for us today?

 

And who is more destitute in our society than refugees and asylum seekers?

Despite what our politicians have, mischievously, tried to convince us––

and the mainstream media have largely let them get away with it––

entering another country without papers and by whatever means…

in order to seek asylum…

is not illegal.

There is no queue.

The vast majority of these people are not so-called “economic migrants”.

Rather, they come because they need security and protection…

which they can’t find in places like Indonesia or Malaysia…

where they can be summarily arrested, tortured, and sent back.

These are people who have been rendered homeless and forced to flee their country––

because of war or oppression;

people who have left behind all that they know and treasure;

people who are utterly powerless, vulnerable, and marginalised––

and yet they are treated with suspicion and contempt…

dehumanised and detained…

and cruelly treated like, and made to feel like, criminals.

In fact, they are treated far worse than any criminal.

Surely they are the widows and orphans of our society today.

And, according to the author of James, the measure of our faith is how we treat them.

Will we care for them?

Will we care for them with compassion, generosity, and grace…

thereby imitating the way that God has treated us?

And will we make that sort of care a genuine commitment––

an on-going commitment…

a practical commitment?

As individual people of faith…

and as a faith community…

will we truly live out what we are called to be?

Will we make our faith real in the way that we live?

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction”.

 

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