************ Sermon on James 1:27 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 15, 2017
"Religion that God Accepts"
World Hunger Sunday
I The Changing Face of Hunger
A A Washington University professor has studied the changes in poverty in the USA because of the Great Recession of 2008. According to his conclusions, poverty no longer affects a small number of Americans, the poor are not impoverished for years at a time, most of those in poverty do not live in inner cities, and poverty is not a result of not working hard enough.
None of this is new to us in Tulare County. We have had the working poor among us for a long, long time. However, the Great Recession has brought this kind of poverty across the country. So, today, you can find hunger in the suburbs as fathers and mothers have lost good paying jobs and now can barely make ends meet. The grim statistic is that one-sixth of Americans don't have enough food to eat.
B One of our news media sent three photographers to explore hunger in three very different parts of the United States. Here is one of their real-world examples.
On a gold-gray morning in Mitchell County, Iowa, Christina Dreier sends her son, Keagan, to school without breakfast. He is three years old, barrel-chested, and stubborn, and usually refuses to eat the free meal he qualifies for at preschool. Faced with a dwindling pantry, Dreier has decided to try some tough love: If she sends Keagan to school hungry, maybe he’ll eat the free breakfast, which will leave more food at home for lunch.
Keagan ignores the school breakfast on offer and is so hungry by lunchtime that Dreier picks through her freezer in hopes of filling him and his little sister up. She shakes the last seven chicken nuggets onto a battered baking sheet, adds the remnants of a bag of Tater Tots and a couple of hot dogs from the fridge, and slides it all into the oven. She’s gone through most of the food she got last week from a local food pantry; her own lunch will be the bits of potato left on the kids’ plates. "I eat lunch if there’s enough," she says. "But the kids are the most important. They have to eat first."
The fear of being unable to feed her children hangs over Dreier’s days even though her husband, Jim, has a full-time job. They pit one bill against the next -- the phone against the rent against the heat against the gas -- trying always to set aside money to make up for what they can’t get from the food pantry or with their food stamps.
It’s the same every month, Dreier says. Bills go unpaid because, when push comes to shove, food wins out. "We have to eat, you know," she says, only the slightest hint of resignation in her voice. "We can’t starve."
Chances are good that if you picture what hunger looks like, you don’t summon an image of someone like Christina Dreier: white, married to a working man, clothed, and housed. Yet, that is the new face of hunger today.
II Doers of the Word
A What is to be our response as Christians? Not just to hunger in the USA but around the world?
(James 1:27) Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress ...According to these words of the New Testament not all religion is acceptable to God. This, perhaps, is a shock to some people here this morning. We can sing songs, pray to God in Jesus' name, put money in the offering, send our kids to Sunday School and yet our religion can be unacceptable to God.
What is true religion? Is there a more important question we can ask ourselves? Will you ever be confronted with a more vital issue that this? What is the religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless? James mentions three things in our Bible reading: control your tongue, look after orphans and widows, and keep yourself from being polluted by the world. On this world hunger Sunday we look at taking care of orphans and widows.
B But before we do, let's backup for a moment to the opening words of our Bible reading this morning. James writes, "Do not merely listen to the word ... Do what it says" (James 1:22).
Pastor Stuart Briscoe was teaching the principles of Bible study. He showed how to pick out the promises and the commands in Scripture and what to do with them. He finished with a review and asked, "Now, when do you do with the commands?" A little old lady raised her hand and said, "I underline them in blue."
The point of the commands is not that we underline them and even learn them but that we obey them. This highlights a problem in many churches today: members often know the Bible's commands but they don't obey them. How sad it is for me to say there is really no difference between evangelical Christians and the general population on most moral and social issues. For instance, back in 2003 pollster George Barna found that a third of born-again Christians accepted same-sex unions; today, the number is much higher. Thirty-nine percent of born-again Christians believe it is morally acceptable for couples to live together before marriage. And, here is the saddest statistic: born-again Christians are more likely than non-Christians to have experienced divorce. Ouch: who can imagine that the church would ever be worse than the world?
James would be aghast! "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says" (James 1:22). Christians are to be hearers and doers of the Word.
Realize James is speaking to church-going people. He is not writing to pagans, but to those who regularly hear the Word of God. It seems that James faced the same problem we face: people who are hearers but not doers of the Word.
Don't be like the lady who shook the pastor's hand and said, "Wonderful sermon. Just wonderful. Everything you said applies to someone I know."
So what do you do if you are more than a hearer of the Word? What do you do if you are a hearer and a doer of the Word? You look after orphans and widows in their distress.
III Look After Orphans and Widows
A Why does James mention orphans and widows? Back then, at the time of James, in the Roman world, it was normal to expose orphan children to the elements in order to die, especially if they were girls. It was normal to let the aged, frail, senile widow die without care. Back then, they were the most vulnerable of people. So notice what James says: acceptable religion means we look after orphans and widows "in their distress." Let me emphasize those last words: "in their distress." James is speaking of the helpless people whom God in His providence brings into our lives. True religion, says James, looks after people who are in need.
B I mentioned earlier that James says true religion includes three things: control your tongue, look after widows and orphans, and keep yourself from being polluted by the world. These three things hang together. First, a person must learn self-control; she must learn to control her tongue. Then, second, he looks for people he can help. It has to be in that order. Someone who hasn't learned self-control would be like a stick of dynamite among orphans and widows. Third, true religion ends with avoiding the pollution of the world.
These three together make our ministry of mercy distinctively Christian. As you know, I am a member of Rotary. And help I give to people around the world through Rotary I do in Jesus' name. But the good done by Rotary is not the same as the good done by an organization like Word & Deed. Word & Deed looks at the human problem from the point-of-view of Scripture, from the point-of-view of James. It recognizes that man's problem is the pollution of the world and the lack of self-control that comes from the fall into sin. Orphans and widows and others are in distress because the Fall has ruined mankind. This colors all the good we do in Jesus' name. We know every person is a sinner who needs the redeeming love of God in Christ.
C True religion looks after orphans and widows in their distress. James is speaking to members of the church. He is speaking to Christians in churches and reminding them of their duties. This is something they are to do as part of the church. Today, however, in Western Society, this is something done by the government. I believe this is one of the worst things that has happened to our country -- that we allowed the government to do what the church should be doing. Government programs generally are ineffective because they don't deal with the problem of sin. And they certainly don't point people to the redeeming love of God in Christ.
True religion looks after orphans and widows in their distress. Of course, this requires organization and time on the part of the church and her members. In the Jerusalem church there was a daily distribution of food to the widows in the church. There was food to be collected and prepared, tables to wait on, dishes to clean. This was hard and dirty work. In fact, this required so much work that the Jerusalem church appointed seven men filled with faith and the Holy Spirit to supervise the daily care of the widows. Under these deacons true religion was being practiced.
D "Look after," says James. The phrase "look after" can also be translated as "visit." This means more than a social call. It comes from the same word that describes the work of elders. It means to look out for, care for, be concerned about. To show this concern for orphans and widows requires that a person takes his focus off of himself and his needs and thinks about others and their needs. This means we cannot be like the priest and the Levite on the Jericho Road. Both hurried by without stopping to help the man who was beaten, robbed, stripped, and left for dead.
IV Because of Jesus
"Look after orphans and widows in their distress ..." The reason we do this is because of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus helped and served those in distress. He was full of mercy, love, and compassion for the people He saw. Jesus was the first deacon, the greatest deacon. He was the richest deacon the church has ever had, but for sinners' sakes He became the poorest. He poured Himself out in costly service. He dealt with our sins and our misery.
Who is going to bother with needy people? Those who know God bothered about them. This is our sacrifice to God. How can I show the Lord Jesus how much I love Him for giving Himself for me? What can I give Him? What can I do for Him? Jesus is not here on earth. But whatever you do for the poor and the hungry and the naked and the sick and the prisoner you do to Him.
Notice, this all stems from the cross of Christ. Because the Lord Jesus gave us His blood, His life, His all, we want to give Him our soul, our life, our all.
Once you have Christ, you want to be like Him. You look beyond yourself. Your life is absorbed by other people in their need. You enter into their loneliness, their hopes, their fears. And, as you have opportunity, you tell them about the Lord Jesus Christ.
V What We Can Do
A James calls us to look after orphans and widows "in their distress." This means, as I said, that we are to look after the helpless people whom God in His providence brings into our lives. True religion, says James, looks after people who are in need.
Who are the needy people today? The list of needy people in today's world is incredibly long: of course, it still includes orphans and widows in distress; but it also includes a neighbor with cancer or with AIDS, a Viet Nam vet who is homeless, those with disabilities, the drug addict, alcoholics, street children, flood and hurricane and fire victims, refugees, elderly who are home bound, children who need a temporary place to stay, prisoners and ex-prisoners, and the list goes on and on.
God is calling us, for Jesus' sake, to look after people "in their distress."
B As I explained to the children, you are being sent home today with a world hunger devotional booklet and a Peter Fish. Next week you are asked to bring full Peter Fish back. And, our first offering is for Word & Deed.
Did you know Visalia has a Word & Deed business group. I am a part of this group and together with the other members we have pledged over $20,000 for two projects: first, an agricultural project in Nicaragua; second, to provide biblical training and practical help to poverty stricken and persecuted believers in India. We are always willing to accept new members -- and their donations -- to this group.
True religion means we give money for orphans and widows and others in their distress.
C As I have said more than once, this church is a giving church. So very generous. But giving money is only part of what we can and should do. We need to be generous not just with our wallets but also with our calendars and our talents and abilities. Many people have an easier time being generous with their wallets then with their time. True religion means we are generous with both.
Our prayer chain often sends out requests from Love In the Name of Christ. Help is needed to deliver mattresses. Someone needs a fridge or a stove. I am so very thankful that members respond to these requests.
About a year ago we became a "Safe Families for Children" church. Our families take in children who need a safe place to stay because mom is in the hospital or dad is in prison or Family Services of Tulare County has taken the children away from the parents. It is a group effort because the family who takes in the children needs help with transporting the children to school or medical appointments or picking up groceries. I am so thankful that in this way we are looking after orphans and widows in their distress.
Reformed Mission Services has work groups going overseas. And, they respond to the needs of hurricane and flood victims here at home. We have members who have participated in RMS work groups.
Our youth have helped Food Link more than once. They have worked at Gleanings for the Hungry in Dinuba.
Our hospital always looks for volunteers. I know some of our members have done this throughout the years. Others are so very faithful at visiting our sick and shut-ins and widows.
I heard a presentation at Rotary this past week from the Superintendent of the Visalia Unified School District. Less than half of our public school students have adequate reading skills at the time of graduation. The ability to read is one of the keys to finding a good job, being a productive citizen, and staying out of poverty. You can help by volunteering, as some of our members do, for one of the reading programs.
Over the years members have been involved with driving cancer patients to and from their treatments. Other members have participated with the Visalia Gleaning Seniors and delivered food to low-income elderly. And, we have a number of people involved in prison ministry -- some going to the jail and others marking prisoners' Bible Study papers.
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress ..." (James 1:27).
In Jesus' name and for Jesus' sake do you practice true religion? Are you a doer of the Word?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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