Scripture Reading: James 2:1-17

Quite possibly the most favourite family activity we did this summer while on vacation was attend the Canadian Special Olympics Games in Antigonish. We were invited to be there so we could cheer on my cousin from the Yukon who was competing in bocce.

In fact, we were treated as Yukoners all week long. The reason why is because we were given purple t-shirts emblazoned with Yukon pride, along with flags and noisemakers. If you saw a group of purple t-shirts, you could be sure to hear “RISE UP! YUKON!” bellowed from someone in the group. Especially if they were gathered at an event cheering on the team.

But that wasn’t the reason we had such a great week, although it certainly contributed to the fun. We had a great week because of the atmosphere. We took in as many sports as we could. We certainly watched my cousin. We also watched her boyfriend compete in soccer. And they did really well, ending up with a silver medal.

We also watched basketball, track and field, and also some rhythmic gymnastics. At every event people had fun. As fans, while we cheered loudest for the Yukon team, we also were happy to cheer on the other provinces as well. And other fans were the same. The loudest cheers for your own province, but still there were enthusiastic cheers for all athletes, no matter their skill level.

It was so much fun that we are considering volunteering with local sports to the point where I sought out coaches from Team Nova Scotia to find out what we had to do. It just so happened that I ran into one of the lead guys from Cape Breton. We just happened to be sitting next to each other for the rhythmic gymnastics competition.

Anna made a new best friend to I think. In some downtime one morning, she spent some time with Aimee Lien, the lone rhythmic gymnast from team Yukon. Aimee has Down Syndrome and is one of the sweetest young ladies you will ever meet. They played some bocce for a bit, and then went to a photo booth they had set up where Anna, Aimee and another of our cousins had a photo taken together. Aimee signed Anna’s picture for her and now displays it in her room.

We sometimes struggle with what to do with people who are different than us. I know there are a number of you here who have a lot of experience with people who are considered disabled. But for society in general, we just don’t take the time to know them.

We don’t realize that just like us, they have dreams and aspirations in life. And we can extend this to anyone who is “different” than us. What about homeless people? You don’t think they have dreams and aspirations in life?

When someone is at a disadvantage in life, it’s hard, really hard to get out. When someone has a drug addiction, or is an alcoholic, and they decide they need to break the cycle of addiction before it kills them, the only way out is to leave their old life behind. But it’s not that simple. To leave your old life behind means you need to find a new life. That’s hard to do when all people see if the baggage you carry. It’s hard to break into a new life, make all new friends, and heal broken relationships such as with your family, which may have broken down because of the addiction.

So, what happens when you can’t get the new life you need? You go back to the place where you felt welcomed, and for some that means back into addiction where at least people will acknowledge your existence.

Someone who had a dream of a new and productive life, shut down and turned away because they weren’t considered worthy of a second chance. They weren’t good enough.

James continues in his letter to express that it’s how we act which shows who we are in terms of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Today we opened with “…show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ…” (James 2:1)

He then draws upon the example of Jesus saying it’s the poor who will be rich in heaven. All who love Jesus will inherit heavenly riches.

We are not to judge people. Is that what Jesus asks us to do?

No, he said, “love your neighbour as yourself.” If you love one but not another, then James says you are committing sin and will be convicted by the law.

What a difficult challenge James lays before us. We like to judge people. It’s somewhat natural. We size ourselves up against other people and decide if we should like them or not. And we may turn people down for a number of reasons. They’re too poor. Too rich. Too old. Too young. Too good looking. Too ugly. Too smart. Too dumb. They don’t look like me. They don’t act like me. They don’t want to do the stuff I want to do. They don’t like the TV shows I like. They cheer for the Maple Leafs. They cheer for the Habs. There are lots of reasons why we reject people.

Jesus said, “love your neighbour as yourself.” And you know what? People are holding us up to standards as well. They are judging us just like we judge them.

How do you like it when the shoes are on the other feet? How do you like it when you are being judged as unworthy of love and friendship?

It’s not a lot of fun, that’s for sure.

We need a lot of grace and a lot of mercy in our lives. We need to give it freely and we need to be willing to receive it as well.

James says we are being judged by the law that gives freedom. Hmm.. that’s something to think about. Generally we think of laws as being restrictive, keeping us from being completely free. So what does he mean by a law that gives freedom?

He means we are not judged by the law, but by mercy. “Mercy triumphs over judgement” he says. Doesn’t that sound like a good way to love your neighbours? It certainly sounds better than judgement.

We need to leave the judgement stuff to God, let that be his problem, not ours. If there’s going to be some judgement, let’s let the one who created all of this decide, in the meantime, let’s show love and mercy to our neighbours. Just as Jesus showed love and mercy to his neighbours. And through this, people can come to know the same God we know, the one who teaches love and mercy.

This whole debate this week about Nike and their sponsorship deal with Colin Kaepnernick has been about judgement. There hasn’t been a lot of love and mercy being shown. I’ve been involved with a few debates online this week about people trying to say Nike is doing this solely for profit so they can keep paying the women and children working in their sweatshops slave wages. And yes, it is probably true. But those sweatshop conditions have been known about for about 30 years. Why are we all of a sudden talking about it after Nike gives a black man a chance to talk about an issue that is critically important for his people?

It’s because of judgement, it’s because of racism. And yes, I’m talking about this again this week after talking about it last week.

At the end of our reading, James said this,
“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16)

Minorities of all colours and backgrounds are crying out for help, they are asking for love and mercy. And here we are this week trying to change the story.

Yes, I agree, sweatshops are terrible and should not exist. But it’s a little suspicious that were talking about sweatshops this week, the same week another important issue has hit the headlines.

Colin Kaepernick has something to say about the way black people are being treated in America. And people are trying to change the subject to another issue. An issue that we’ve known about for decades and decided wasn’t important enough to call for a boycott. Now all of a sudden we need to boycott Nike.

And I haven’t even mentioned the fact people are burning their shoes when they see the Colin Kaepernick ad on TV. There’s the blatant racism right there. Changing the channel to another issue, that’s a more subtle form of racism.

Faith without action is dead. That’s how James finished the reading we shared this morning.

Faith is great! Being in a relationship with God, that’s awesome, there’s nothing better in this world.

But what good is faith if we don’t act on it? That’s what James is challenging us with today. It’s what he’s been challenging me with all week in these online debates I’ve been having. For much of the week I’ve been deferring to my minority friends to share their arguments because their stories are more powerful than mine.

Then I realized one of my friends deleted his part of the conversation. I know him well enough to know it’s because he’s frustrated and didn’t want to deal with white privilege any more.

So I wrestled with myself as to what to do. Do I just let it be? Or do I say something. It was a real struggle because to say something meant I would have to stand up and argue against someone I respect as a fellow clergy person and consider a friend.

It’s not that this person was being racist, but he has bought into the sweatshop argument and is downplaying the Black Lives Matter position to the point of sweeping it under the rug.

I didn’t know what to do. Well, actually I did know what to do, but was having trouble bringing myself to do it.

Finally, I did it. I had to say something because it was gnawing at me. I needed to say something about the issue of using white privilege to keep minorities from being able to speak freely.

I needed to speak in a way which reflected my faith, that ALL people are worthy, ALL people deserve love and respect, and we ALL deserve mercy.

In the end, I don’t believe I’ve lost a friend, and I hope when I see him next spring I’ll still get a hug from him. And I hope we will both grow from this experience, both as friends and in our understanding of how God asks us to live in this world.

Speaking against what is wrong in the world is not easy, not in the least. It means we may need to sacrifice things we think are important in our lives.

I’ll ask you this though, is it worth it if we are able to be more faithful and make the world a better place?

James is right, faith without works is dead. What’s the point of faith if it doesn’t change our lives and the lives of those around us?

If Jesus only came and talked about God and love, and then went around acting like a huge jerk wherever he went, do you think we’d have a church today? Of course not!

We have a church because Jesus taught us about God and love, and all that good stuff, and then he lived like it was important to him. That’s what drew people to him, not just his teaching, but the fact he walked the talk. He lived what he was saying, daily!

This is something we all need to work on, myself included. It’s easy to sit back and watch the world destroy itself around us. And we can do this saying “God is with us!” forgetting that God wants to be with everyone else too.

Living a life of faith is offering love and mercy to those who need it. Which is a lot of people right now, and will always be a lot of people.

People who are different than us. People who may make us feel uncomfortable. People we may not have the patience to deal with right now. But still people who are loved by God, and who need love and mercy, and a whole lot less judgement.

Let us be people of love and mercy, following in the footsteps of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Let us pray,

Lord Jesus,
We need so much more of you in our world right now. In the news all we hear about is judgement, hate and violence. We see it on our own streets even. Maybe even in our own families.

We cry out to you Jesus in these times for abundant love and mercy. We ask you Jesus to fill us with love and mercy so we can share the same with those who need it in their own lives.

Let us put an end of judgement so we may all be part of the triumphant mercy you have given to all God’s children.

May we all learn to act as your disciples, a people who aren’t quite getting it right, but well on the path to freedom instead of judgement.

Lord, we pray this in your most Holy Name. Amen and amen.