5 September 2021

“Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?” James 2:5

Sunset, Men, Silhouettes, Helping, Helping Hand

Have you given thought to what your name means?  Some are sure to choose names that are in the Bible.  Others choose a name for its meaning.  Still others may choose a name because it sounds pretty, or perhaps because they want to honor someone else through it.  There are a variety of reasons names are chosen.  Yet rarely do you have a choice to choose your own name.  You are stuck with what your parents gave you, for the most part.  The name “Bryan” is said to mean “strong and honorable.”  I try to live up to that every day, not because that is my name, but because those are also traits that any Christian should seek to claim as one’s own.  We should be strong in our faith, no matter how the world batters us, and we should live honorably, keeping our promises to God and our neighbors.  I looked up the name Elise too, which seems to mean “pledged to God.”  We are all pledged to God.  In a way, God calls all of us “Beloved children,” which, when translated to Hebrew, means David.  You may be considering now if you live up to what your name means, but are you living up to God’s name for you?  Are you pledged to God?  Are you establishing a good name for yourself among God’s kingdom?

Pastor Wang Yi from Early Rain Church in China was arrested in 2018 along with over 100 other church members for worshipping God and not having unwavering loyalty to the Communist party.  When authorities noticed an elder of the church worshipping online at his home, they ordered that his electricity and internet service be cut off.  One house church was required to replace a picture of Christ with a photo of President Xi Jinping if they wanted to continue to meet.  There is currently one surveillance camera for every three people in the country, and authorities often use these cameras to incarcerate anyone who does not seem loyal to the government.  Christians and Muslims alike in the country fall under increased supervision.  Although religion is not forbidden explicitly, Christians are victims because they do not pledge all their loyalty to the President.  They are determined to continue meeting despite opposition, however, and establish a good name for God within the country.  Christians have performed healings, preached the word of God, and hand-copied Bibles to distribute them in areas where printing the Bible is restricted (VOM May 2021).  They believe that no matter what happens, God’s glory shall prevail.  We can believe with them.  They are working for God’s name and to live up to their identity in God’s family.  What can we do where we find ourselves to increase God’s legacy and glory?

Proverbs 22:1 tells us, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”  It is more important than anything on this earth to establish a good name for ourselves.  This is why the Bible tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger (Eph. 4:26).  Colossians 3:17 instructs us, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  We do not do things strictly for ourselves, such as for our own power or glory or status on this earth.  We do things that speak to the glory of God, in the name of God.  If something that you do cannot be done with the glory of God, what point is there in doing it?  When we choose a good name, it is not done by exalting ourselves; it is done by serving others in the name of the Lord, in whatever community, time, or place you are able to do that.  We glorify God when we do that for which we were made.  What were we made for?

Isaiah 43:7 tells us that we are created simply for God’s glory: “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made,” shall be brought from the ends of the earth.  Isaiah 43:21 tells us something similar: “… my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.”  In Genesis 2:15, we are told, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”  Are we here to take care of creation, then?  Are we here to take care of creation and to glorify God?  How well are we doing at that?  Some would ask why God even needs such glory; it seems rather self-serving of God, don’t you think?  Well, on one level, we have nothing to lose by giving God glory.  And if we do not do what God ordained us to do, it is our own eternity on the line.  But we didn’t ask to be created, and God wants us to glorify God all of our lives.

C.S. Lewis asked this same question because asking for self-serving praise is one thing God asks us not to do.  How is it okay when God does it?  He identified two powerful reasons for praising God.  First, God is obviously worthy of glory.  He uses the example of a hundred-dollar bill.  When we see one, we glorify it in its own small way.  Likewise, when we see God, we almost have to recognize God’s power and greatness and glorify God.  We only have to first see God in our midst.  When the people saw Jesus perform miracles in Mark chapter 7, “they were astounded BEYOND MEASURE, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak’” (Mark 7:37).  When you see God, as these people did, can you not help but glorify God because you are astounded beyond measure??  Can you not help but glorify God because Jesus has proven that he is more powerful than the demons which try to destroy us?  God simply breaks our own scales of how we measure goodness.  How can we not glorify God?!  Second, we need to glorify God for our own good.  If we do not, we risk glorifying something else in our life more than God, and that will be detrimental to our soul.  When we pay more attention to something else, we are the ones being short-changed.  We are the ones being filled with worry, fear, and a lack of peace.  It is for our own benefit, more than for God’s own, for us to glorify God, and when we encourage or teach others to glorify God as well, we are helping to spread peace, a love like no other, and overall wellness to them to.  We were made to glorify God, and we glorify God when we establish a good name for ourselves by promoting the good name of God.

Peter Rhea Jones, Professor of Preaching and New Testament at Mercer University in Atlanta, GA, writes about the book of James: “James understands pure religion as being inclusive of both social ministry and personal morality.  One’s relationship to God means showing mercy (2:13), striving for peace (3:18), helping the needy (2:15-16), loving the neighbor (2:8), and recognizing the social justice of a fair minimum wage (5:4).  In terms of personal morality, it means keeping from the stain and being uncontaminated” (FW B.4.19).  Last week, we touched on how being contaminated by the world can keep our religion from being “pure.”  That is, we do not really mean what we say when we worship.  We come to church because it is Sunday and not because we feel like we desire to worship God.  We say that we care about the poor but are able to ignore the issue if it’s not rampant in our community – our politicians often give empty assurances too when they claim allegiance to God but shape and sustain public policy that disregards the poor.  What can bring this back to us but allowing ourselves to recognize the greatness of God among us?  Open your eyes to the greatness of God’s name.  This is the name that we are meant to represent.  This is the name that we represent when we say that we are Christian.  We seek justice as God would seek justice, we love as God would love, and we worship God because of who we know God to be.  We don’t let the world bring us down; that is exactly what it wants to do, and we are not to bend and be stained as long as we have Jesus.  I have heard it said that Satan pays more attention to you when you start doing more for God.  I know there is some truth in that.  It is all the more reason to know who God is!

The Bible reminds us that we are not to take advantage of the afflicted.  For if we do, and show no mercy, we will be held accountable for our actions.  James reminds us that we are held accountable for transgressing the law if we break even one commandment.  We are not saved by faith alone, but by the works that go with our faith.  Do you seek justice for those among us who need to experience God’s love?  Many of them have stopped believing in God because of their misfortunes.  How can we be that spark of God’s love for our neighbor?  Forgive often.  Seek peaceful relationships.  Do not create boundaries because of race, class, or financial status.  If we spread division rather than sow love, we are going to be held accountable for these actions (or non-actions).  We can say that we care; we can say that we pray, and we can say that we have faith.  But James tells us that this is meaningless if we do not act.  We are Christians wherever we go, and in whatever means you can offer.  For some, it is going abroad on mission trips.  For others, it is donating money to the church.  For still others, it is holding the door open for a neighbor or sharing smiles at the supermarket.  For Christians whose faith is being censored, it is risking everything for Christ, and then preaching in prison.  The only thing that really matters is glorifying God by how we worship, and glorifying God by how we treat our neighbor.  We may not have a camera for every three people in our country, but God still sees our every move.  Even when we are defeated, when the world puts us in prison, there are still ways to glorify God!!

Jonathan C. Richardson writes, “Christians engaged in justice work must first and foremost be peacemakers.  But Christian peacemaking begins with forgiveness.  Forgiveness is essential to being the church, being in the world but not of it.  It is also essential that we bring this witness to the public sphere.  Justice seeking alone, without a Christian orientation to peacemaking, will not be sufficient…. Our enemy does not define us.  We are both defined by God” (Christian Century, 5.5.2021. 22, 25).  We are defined in the name of God.  Christ’s name is within our identity as Christians.  It is up to you to live up to this name.  Be astounded.  Be open to seeing the majesty of God in the world around us, just as the people were astounded at Jesus performing miracles (Mark 7:24-37).  First, we must open ourselves to seeing God’s majesty.  We must hear God.  We must see God.  We must listen to God.  Second, we glorify God because of this majesty, and because we need to make sure for our own sakes that we do not glorify anything else to seem higher or more important than God.  Finally, we represent the magnificent God that we are glorifying by taking the faith that we have gained from seeing God, and using it to inspire faith in others – most often those who have never felt the love of God or who never feel like they will feel the love of God again.  We were made to glorify God, not only in private, but through our own works and our own actions serving our neighbor and doing our best to bring more into the peaceful, enfolding, and joyful love of God.  The joy of being a Christian is seeing God’s majesty all around us, through renewed hearts, new-found devotion, and hope in the middle of defeat!  Wherever you are today, and wherever you are this week, challenge yourself to these three steps.  Your name means something.  See it.  Believe it.  Make it.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
22:1 A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.
22:2 The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all.
22:8 Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail.
22:9 Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.
22:22 Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate;
22:23 for the LORD pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17
2:1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?
2:2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in,
2:3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,”
2:4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
2:5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?
2:6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court?
2:7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
2:8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
2:9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
2:11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
2:12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.
2:13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
2:14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?
2:15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food,
2:16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?
2:17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Mark 7:24-37
7:24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice,
7:25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.
7:26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.
7:27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
7:28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
7:29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go–the demon has left your daughter.”
7:30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
7:31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.
7:32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him.
7:33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.
7:34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”
7:35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
7:36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.
7:37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

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