6. Mercy is really hard to practice in our daily lives. What are some ways you and I can practice mercy?
James talks to us today about fairness and favoritism. He says “believers …. must not show favoritism.” (verse 1)
We don’t realize how awesome, incredible that is.
One of the greatest people in world history is Aristotle. - “In the first book of his “Politics,” written in the 300s B.C., Aristotle argues that some people are by nature (rather than circumstances) fit to be slaves: “For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2018/04/06/aristotle-father-of-scientific-racism/, accessed 09/19/2019)
Woah, right? Crazy? He supports slavery basically on the basis of external appearance.
That shows how awesome what James says is. We’ve gone far. We’ve gone from one of the greatest thinkers in the world saying, “Slavery is right based on birth” to “all people are created equal”.
That’s not to say that Christians have always done the right thing or the best thing along the way. The word nepotism. The word nepotism is from an old Latin word meaning “nephew”. During the late medieval times, it was the practice of popes - not average Christians – but popes to put their nephews into prominent leadership positions. One of the worst, a pope actually made his 14 and 16 year old nephews cardinals – some of the most important leaders in the Catholic church. Nepotism means putting people into leadership positions because of relationships and not skills. It’s the exact opposite of fairness.
Now that doesn’t mean fairness is perfect. Or that it is working out the best for us as a society or a culture right now.
Let’s say I have these three pieces of art. Which is the best?
If I asked you your preference, that’s no problem. But that’s not what I want to know. I want to know which is the best. We’ll all say, “woah, I’m no art expert.” and “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. The thing is, even art experts would say much of the same. In 2011 an art critic wrote a summary article on the art of the last 40 years. And he had to admit that intellectually, from a professional perspective, “there was no way to establish any aesthetic criteria – no one had the right to say that this art was good or this was bad.”
What he is talking about is postmodernism and that’s a complicated thing. All we need to note is that yes, fair is good, but if you push the idea of fairness too far, you get stuck saying nothing is good or bad.
I don’t think that is really the kind of world any of us want to live in. Are we really going to give up arguments that the Wolverines are better than the Spartans or that Dean’s ice cream is better than Plainwell (which it is by the way). Absolutely not!
Really then what James has for us this morning is something better than fairness. Fairness is good, we need fairness he says, but that’s just the start. It’s not the end. Right now all the kids are saying, wait a second, are you saying that if grandma makes 12 cookies for 4 of us, there is a way to get more than 3 cookies? That would be fair. That would be equal. But I can get more?! And James is saying, yes, yes you can. There is a way to get more cookies that isn’t unfair.
What is better than fairness?
He starts this way. In verse 5 he puts it this way: “has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith (verse 5); I realize that saying, “God has chosen the poor” doesn’t mean God rejects the rich or hates the rich or kicks the rich out. He still says God has chosen the poor.
This is hard. This is something that we need to wrestle with. Because we grow up thinking and feeling, hey, if I have a poor person and a rich person in front of me, I better treat them the same way. They get the same thing. Everything fair. Equal. Then we see what God actually does.
Take a look at all the places where Christianity is growing most rapidly. Go home and look it up. The fact is that most of the people who become Christians are people of lower socioeconomic status. Today Christianity has grown 1,000 percent in the last 50 years or so in Latin America and Africa and Asia. Those are poorer places. That is where Christianity is growing.
And what about your own experience? I can tell you that in my own personal experience, I’m way less likely to discuss Jesus’ sacrifice with someone who has a big house on Gun Lake or Gull Lake than I am with someone who has lost their job, their house, and calls the church looking for any kind of help.
I realize some of you live on those lakes. And we’re friends. I’m your pastor. We love each other. If we don’t talk like that, we say it’s because we have different interests, different priorities, and different experiences. We don’t have anything in common. All that is true.
The thing is, the good news of Jesus isn’t theoretical. It’s not a philosophy. It’s immensely practical. It’s God’s whole life.
The poor, for the most part they are already seeing and feeling God’s message. They’re wrecked. They’re disasters. They know it. They live it every day. They can see that in so much that counts, not just house and car and job, but in character and love and morality and genuine goodness and self-worth and identity, just how broke they are. How hard it is.
The only thing they have that gives them any confidence is the good news. Because of Jesus, they are richer, they are valued, they are worth something. They are priceless. They’re good. People around them don’t see it but they are good. That’s what the poor person experiences and feels all the time.
Does the hardworking and fairly successful person worth a couple of million dollars really want to hear, “you’re a wreck, you’re a disaster, you put on a good show but it’s all worthless”. Do they really want to hear that only in Jesus are they actually successful, worth something, and have great value?
Look, I’m not trying to beat on you. I love you. I’m with you. I’m in the exact same boat. I may not be super wealthy, but I’ve never gone without food for more than, maybe 36 hours. I’ve been homeless a couple of times for a few weeks, always had a friend or parent to stay with.
And then I see how important this is to God. He says in verse 9 that if I show favoritism, I break the law. I break the big law. I’m as bad as a murderer and an adulterer. There is no way that I’m as bad as a murderer because I’m playing favorites. That's what he says.
God never says, “Let’s call it equal. I’ll give you a fair shot.” In verse 8, James doesn’t say “be fair to your neighbor”. He doesn’t say “treat your neighbor like an equal.” He says, “Love your neighbor.”
What God says is, “let me put you on the winning team. Let me give you something that you don’t deserve.”
A guy named Matt Chandler tells this story. He says that in college he played on a flag football team. For intermurals. They had a great team. They were actually really bad at football, but they were all good soccer players and so they could just run and run and run. They beat all the other teams until they had to play the rec league staff.
They were on this great run. Should have had the game in the bag. But they were decimated. There was this one guy named Mitch Ables. Just one athlete. He says that at one point Mitch through a 30 yard pass to himself. No idea how it happened. Two guys man on, two guys in a zone, he still throws a pass to himself. There was nothing they could do to stop him. He has no memory of anyone else on that game. Mitch won it all. (https://www.tvcresources.net/resource-library/sermons/judgment-mercy)
What God does, he doesn’t need any good wide receivers or offensive lineman or anyone else on his team. He’ll take the poor, the weak, the worst and he’ll welcome them all. And in a very real way, he takes the worst of the worst and makes them all winners.
That’s the cross. He dies for the worst. The sinners. The lost. The broken. And he says to all of them, you win. Now go make other people winners.
In verse 13 he says it really plainly. “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
So we can just say this: Fair is fine, but mercy is more. Mercy is so much more.
Action: Show mercy
I need you all, no God wants you all to really take hold of this. Some of you are just baby Christians. You are just starting out. Enjoy this victory. You are a symbol of God’s victory. You give us so much hope. You’re awesome encouragement. Praise God mercy wins.
For all of us, especially those of us who don’t see the win, don’t feel the win so much. Mercy starts with simple stuff. Don’t prefer certain people at church. I know we all have our friends. We have the people we like to talk to. We have people we like to hang out with. We need to say to ourselves, I’m not going to talk to the people I like to talk to. I'm going to walk over to that person there and deal with them. I'm not going to criticize or condemn. I’m just going to enjoy them.
But I think the bigger deal we need to see goes like this.
James says, “believers … must not show favoritism”. The word “favoritism” is literally a word that means “to receive someone’s face”.
Have you ever done one of those stare at an image see a different image exercise? I’m sure most of us have. Here is one if you haven’t.
If you stare at this image for 30 seconds or so, then stare at the wall or something else that is pretty flat, you will see the face of Jesus. And the longer the you stare at this image, the longer you will be able to see that face of Jesus on the wall.
An Italian scientist named Caputto actually did this with people. He had 40 volunteers stare into each others eyes for 10 minutes.
And what happened is that after 10 minutes, basically everybody said they started seeing things. Their partners face got distorted. They saw monster figures. They saw faces of relatives or their own face! It’s called dissociation. The human brain actually dissociates the image of the person you stared at for a long time.
He has given you the only face that you can look at that will both make you feel loved and keep you from despising other people. If you look at the face of a poor person, you might feel pity, or maybe you feel sick to your stomach. But you would never look at the face of that person and feel loved.
And if you look at the face of a friend, you might feel loved.
The face of Jesus is the only face where you can feel mercy. It’s a face that is both broken and full of love.
The most merciful, the most compassionate, the most considerate people don't spend their time looking for people to be nice to or worrying about how much money they have. They fill their eyes, their ears, and their hearts with the face of Jesus Christ. So that when they look everywhere else all they do is they see his face.
And the more you see that, the more you stare in his face and see how beautiful he thinks you are, the more you will not just be fair. No, for you, mercy will be so much more.
Let’s pray for that.