Sermon, July 6, 2014; ‘The Law That Sets Us Free’
Scripture Reading: James 1:19-25, James 2:8, Romans 13:8
40 Day Journey with Howard Thurman, Augsburg Books, 2009.
New Interpreter's Bible Commentary – James; Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1998.
Pastor Ruthie Tippin, Indianapolis FFM
It’s been under our noses all the time. Like an unspent firecracker waiting to pop. Like a sparkler, waiting to be lit. Like fireworks waiting to be sent into the sky, exploding their colors for all to see… the law that sets us free is the warrant that we must love. We must love one another. There is no choice, if we truly want freedom. Personal freedom, freedom in our relationships, freedom in our communities, freedom for all peoples and all nations.
What James’ slim treatise tells us is that freedom comes at the cost of love. It is a choice. It has been a choice. Whether it was 1776, 1965, or yesterday… our freedom is determined by our choice to love. And this is most costly.
Do we believe this kind of freedom is possible? James believes it is so. James believes we can. And James – Jesus’ brother – has a very strange way of finding freedom... one that many people would resist. We must follow the law. But… what law is this? It is not a law of death, but a law of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is not a law of oppression, but of freedom. It is not a law of cruelty, but of mercy. It is not a law that means a smaller life - a harsher existence. Instead, this law means a much larger, more expansive life – a much more generous way of living. This law is the law of love.
In the first part of James’ letter, he speaks of joy, happiness, and the receiving of gifts, and then goes on to remind us to listen. To listen. To remember, and then to act. I love the way the New English Bible translates James 1:23-25:
‘A man who listens to the message but never acts upon it is like one who looks in a mirror at the face nature gave him. He glances at himself and goes away, and at once forgets what he looked like. But the man who looks closely into the perfect law, the law that makes us free, and who lives in its company, does not forget what he hears, but acts upon it, and that is the man who by acting will find happiness.’
The law that makes us free… not glancing quickly, but looking closely into this law, and then living in its company. Making this law a part of one’s life. What is James talking about? What is he asking us to listen to? To remember? To act on? He explains himself just a bit later… In chapter 2:8, James advises, “You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The royal law – the highest law – the most authoritative law. The Apostle Paul puts it this way: ‘Owe no one anything except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.’ [Romans 13:8] To complete all law, follow this one command: love one another.
So many of us glance quickly at this idea, like the person and the mirror. “Oh, right, I get it. This is one of those two-part exam questions about God, right? That lawyer and Jesus thing a long time ago? Right?” Not so much… We always remember part of the story, but we forget a lot of it too… kinda like the person, and the mirror! Luke, chapter 10:25;
25A certain teacher of the Law came up and tried to trap Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to receive eternal life?” 26Jesus answered him, “What do the Scriptures
say? How do you interpret them?” 27The man answered, “ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your
mind’; and, ‘You must love your fellow-man as yourself.’ ” 28“Your answer is correct,” replied Jesus; “do this and you will live.” 29 B The teacher of the Law wanted to put
himself in the right, so he asked Jesus, “Who is my fellow-man?”
We always forget the tough part… the man’s last question. We always forget his qualifier. Just who do I have to love? Do I have to love that person? That person? THAT person??? And this is why, I am convinced, we do not live in freedom, in this world. We qualify who we will love. We qualify who it is God loves. We qualify who Jesus would have us love.
We are glancing into the mirror, rather than looking closely for the true reflection. Perhaps we don’t want to see what it shows. Friends – Quakers – took the time for reflection. For seeking. For Truth. Through the long slog through Civil War, civil disobedience, and civil discourse, they determined that God dwells in each person… ‘there is that of God in every one’. From the start. In the beginning. Each person has value and worth. It is intrinsic to who we are. And because of this, we are to value that of God in every other person.
When Friends look in a mirror, it is as if we are in a wonderful mirror room at an amusement park. We do not see our own image alone. Rather, if we look long enough, we see many images reflected, one after another, of all persons, looking into the same mirror with us, each holding their place as a person of God. And it is from that reflection that we grow in our understanding of what love is. Our sense of freedom – freedom to live, freedom to express ourselves without fear, and freedom to become more of who we are, multiplies. (Imagine me in the center with a mirror, and a young person, and old person, a gay person, a straight person, a rich person, a poor person, etc. reflected in layers behind me.)
This is not an easy thing. Seeing others as persons of worth and value – as persons who hold God within them is easier said than done… especially those who are difficult to love, like the one beaten and left by the side of the road. Many of us don’t know how to love. We don’t know how to love ourselves. We don’t know how to love others. We don’t know how to love God. So I’m going to give you a lesson.
The secret is that God is love. And love is God. They are the same thing. Scripture teaches us that. If no one else has ever told you that, I want you to hear it today. God is love. Love is God. If you know love, you know God! It’s just that simple. And if you know God, you know love…
Here’s your homework. You need a mirror, a piece of paper and a pencil, and piece of tape. Stick the piece of paper up on a mirror with the tape, and then look into the mirror. Find something about yourself that you love. For some of you, that’s going to be really easy. But for some of us, it will be really, really hard. So, I’m going to give you the first one… your smile. Everybody looks great with a smile. Some of you smile with your lips closed… some with your lips open. It doesn’t matter. Your smile is beautiful. So… write down ‘smile’ on your piece of paper. All day long, think about how much you love your smile. But don’t stop there. Look for other people’s smiles. You’ll be surprised how many people smile at you! And then, think about how much God loves your smile. How God gave you such a great smile. And how many things you have to smile about.
Tomorrow’s homework… Look in the mirror, and write down one of those things that you have to smile about. Now – go looking for that same thing in everyone else. And think about how much God loves that, too. It won’t be long before you start realizing what I already know. As Friends say, we each hold the Seed of Light, the Seed of Christ, the Seed of Love inside us. And if we tend that Seed, it will grow, and grow, and branch out, and bear fruit. And before long, we’ll begin to see, and hear, and speak, and feel, and touch love, love for ourselves, for God, and for others… and freedom is not far behind.
It is not enough to listen, and forget. If that were true, there would have been no discrimination, no war, no inhumane treatment, no poverty, no harm or fear of any kind in our world. We must look deeply, remember, and then act. We must look closely, continue to pay attention, live in love’s company, and practice – we must act out the law of love. Then we will know true freedom.
36And Jesus concluded, “In your opinion, which one of these three acted like a fellow-man toward the man attacked by the robbers?” 37The teacher of the Law answered, “The one who was kind to him.” Jesus replied, “You go, then, and do the same.” [Luke 10]
Let freedom ring. Amen.