In the 40’s and 50’s, there was this professional baseball pitcher named Bob Lemon. He was one of the greatest pitchers to ever play. He had over 200 career wins and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976. I read something he said one time and for whatever reason, it stuck with me. He said, “Baseball was made for kids, and grown-ups only screw it up.”
The first time heard that, I laughed. However, for me, his seemingly light-hearted statement is proving to be truer and truer for my view on sports. As I have gotten older and as I’ve become more attentive to the sports world, I have grown to believe that he was really on to something. Has anyone in here been to a youth sports event? Some of those parents and coaches are absolutely crazy!
There are those overly competitive sports parents who show up at every practice and make team sports a nightmare for kids, coaches, refs and other parents. There’s parents who can't let go of their own glory days, so they scream relentlessly from the sidelines at 10 year olds and threaten volunteer refs. You see coaches who no longer teach fundamentals of the game, but rather teach innovative ways to hurt the team’s players. What was once a sport being played in its purest possible form by kids who possessed a genuine love for the game has now been turned into a nightmare. Something pure and simple had been turned into something else that hardly resembles its original form.
Sometimes we do the same thing with Christianity. We can over complicate Christianity and completely miss the mark. We can become so consumed with dressing a certain way, talking a certain things, doing this, or not doing that we end up with some new gospel different from the one we started with. We started with, “We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus.” But now we’re living like we’re saved by faith in Jesus plus x, y, and z. It’s completely wrong and it’s exhausting!
In our text tonight, James is going to give us a clear and simple description of what pure, genuine faith looks like. Let’s pick it up in verse 26.
James 1:26 says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” This verse summarizes everything we went over a couple weeks ago in verses 19-25. Be both hearers and doers of the Word. Don’t live double lives. Receive the gospel and then live accordingly.
Pick it back up in Verse 27: “Religion…” And religion not meaning cold, dead practices but rather genuine faith. So when James uses the word religion, he’s saying genuine faith. Genuine faith “…that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
Why does James use orphans and widows? Why doesn’t he tell us to care for someone else? Orphans and widows, at the time this was written, were an incredibly vulnerable group of people. Orphanages did not exist at this time. Homeless shelters did not exist at this time. If you were a child and you lost your parents to disease, war, or something else, you were alone on the streets to fend for yourself. If a woman lost her husband and no other family member was willing to care for them, she would be in the streets. They had no economic support system. They had to beg, sell themselves as slaves, or starve to death. This is an especially vulnerable group of people right here. Also worth noting, this group of people could never pay you back. There was no “I help you, you help me” system in place here. These people were at the rock bottom of society with seemingly nothing to offer.
And yet, this is what Jesus demands, not suggests, of his followers. Now, we don’t always like to talk that way about Jesus. However, King Jesus makes demands. And the summary of the demands is this: Love your neighbor, specifically those who are most poor and vulnerable, as yourselves and to love the Lord your God with all you heart, mind, and soul over and above by which you love the world. That’s the royal command. Real, genuine faith is a love for our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable of our neighbors, and a single-minded love and devotion to God. That is real faith.
In our mission trip to India in 2016, we had the opportunity to go and visit two orphanages and a home for the dying and destitute. While we were at the first orphanage, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures or video. Sounds strange, but we had to keep our phones in our pockets. That was such a blessing. We were forced to stay in the moment of everything that was going on because we couldn’t escape through our phones.
After a failed puppet show, we all dispersed in the room finding ways to make connections with the children. We sang to them, read to them, rocked them, held their hands, and, very simply, invested time with them. Some of these children couldn’t play very much because of the severity of their medical issues. They were restricted to laying on a mattress and had no independent mobility. But even as they laid on that mattress, they would sway back and forth as Q sang worship songs. You could actually feel the joy they were feeling.
Amidst this, Q sang one song that absolutely broke me. He sang “This is Amazing Grace” by Phil Wickham. I’ve heard that song a hundred times, but this time was different. Q gets to the third verse in the song and sings, “Who makes the orphan a son and daughter? The King of Glory. The King of Glory”. I lost it. Here we are with these real children who really are orphans. They have been cast aside by society and are only receiving care because this Christian orphanage had taken them in. But they have not been forgotten! The King of Glory loves them and wants them! Their earthly father may died or abandoned them, but their Heavenly Father will never forsake them! He will make them His son or daughter. They are not without hope.
Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. This is what Jesus did for all of us! Before Christ, I was the orphan! Before Christ, you were the orphan! Now, because of Christ, I am His son. Now because of Christ, you are His son or daughter. We were once enemies of God. But because Jesus took on all of our sin on that cross and made a way for us to come back to God, we can now be called His children. We have been adopted into His royal family.
Jesus calls us to love the unlovable, to love the one who has been cast out, to love the one who has been forgotten, to love the one who is vulnerable, to love the one who cannot pay us back because that’s what He did and continues to do today! Jesus is merely calling us to do for others what has been done for us! We are to have love for our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable of our neighbors, and a single-minded love and devotion to God. That’s the Christian faith practically lived out in it’s purest form.
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