Practical Christianity: Caring for the Vulnerable

Practical Christianity: Caring for the Vulnerable | James 2:1-13
Brian Hedges | July 8, 2018

So, turn with me in your Bibles to James chapter 2. We’ve been studying together this letter of James, and it’s one of the most practical letters in the New Testament. It’s all about practical Christianity, or authentic Christianity, and it’s one of those kind of in-your-face letters. We read it and it critiques us from the inside out; it begins to transform us and change us when we let this letter have bearing on our lives. We’re going to see that especially this morning.

Let me just kind of set it up in this way. I think James can help us in thinking about how to defend Christianity from some of its critics and James can help us when we think about some of the major objections that people have to the Christian faith.

So, for example, anybody know who this guy is on the screen? The screen’s not up! Well, let’s see; do we have my PowerPoint? Okay. Well, I was going to give you a quote from Karl Marx. Do you remember who Karl Marx was? Karl Marx was the father of communism, and Karl Marx, his major objection to the Christian faith, the way he put it was this, that religion – there he is. “Religion,” he said, “is the opium of the people.” “Religion is the opium of the people.”

Here’s the larger quotation. He said, “Religious suffering is at one and the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

What he meant by that was that just as opium, as a narcotic, would take away pain. In his day it wasn’t so much used as a recreational drug, so he wasn’t thinking of it in that way. Rather, it’s a narcotic that eases pain, it takes away pain, it masks pain. So his idea was this, that religion kind of masks the real problems in the world, and especially among the poor. It doesn’t really solve their problems, it masks the real problems and it keeps us from getting down to the root of the disease. So his critique of Christianity is that it was a narcotic that just numbed us to the realities of suffering in the world rather than helping us actually deal with the suffering of the world.

So, one of the major objections to the Christian faith is that Christianity doesn’t actually prevent injustice and oppression. In fact, some would even go so far as to say that religion empowers injustice and oppression, and that when you look at the history of the Christian church you can actually see the church is complicit in all kinds of injustice. Of course, the reality is that that objections has some weight to it, doesn’t it, because when you think about the Crusades or you think about the Inquisition or you think about the complicity of the American church, especially in the south, in defending chattel slavery or the Jim Crow laws; or you think about even the way some Christians today will talk about groups who are not part of our group, you think about the way sometimes Christianity has been tightly woven to the power structures of the world, so that it’s empowering the rich and they’re using religion to oppress the poor… When you think about those kinds of realities, this objection holds some weight. Religious people have been some of the most unjust people in the history of the world and even today, and so it’s a legitimate critique.

Now, the question is this: does Christianity, rightly understand and embraced, lead to injustice, or perhaps has the church missed something? I’m not speaking in a broad generality here. Certainly some Christians have missed it and some have not, but is the problem with the church’s application of Christianity, or is the problem with Christianity itself? I think that as we study James we’ll actually see that when James describes for us what real Christianity looks like, there are the resources within Christianity itself to deal with injustice and actually lead us into lives of love and compassion and mercy and justice for others. That’s what we’re going to see in the text this morning.

So, we’re looking at James 2:1-13. James 2:1-13. This is one of probably about four passages in James that addresses the rich and the poor or addresses the issues of poverty and wealth. I’m not going to cover all of those passages this morning, but this on in particular I want us to dig into, James 2:1-13. So let’s read it.

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

This is God’s word.

Alright, so let’s break it down like this. I want us to notice three things here, and as we do I think you’ll see that these three things give us the resources for addressing the issues of injustice, the issues of poverty, and they challenge us deeply in how we apply Christianity practically in our lives. So here are the three things we need to see:

1. The Integrity of Faith
2. The Law of Love
3. The Triumph of Mercy

1. The Integrity of Faith

Alright, first of all, the integrity of faith. We just need to note that James’s central concern in this letter is that believers have an authentic, consistent, integrated faith. His concern is that we have a wholeness to our faith. That’s the basic concern.

You can see that in verse 1, where he says, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” Okay, so he’s saying [that] as you hold the faith, there has to be a consistency in how you hold the faith. If you’re a believer, there should be a consistency in your practice of the faith, and it is inconsistent for you to show partiality. Let me read that verse again in the NIV. He says, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.”

Alright, so favoritism, or partiality, means privileging the rich and discriminating against the poor. That’s the basic issue. The illustration is really clear in verses 2 through 4. Imagine a worship service, and someone comes in who’s obviously wealthy, they’re obviously important. “Ah, here’s a potential donor, here’s a potential giver. This is someone who’s going to be able to bless our community. This person has influence in the community. Let’s be sure to treat this person with a great deal of respect.”

Another person comes in, they’re obviously off the streets, they’re wearing dirty, tattered clothing, maybe they don’t smell so good; there’s obviously some social disparity there, and James is saying, “If you privilege the rich person and ignore the poor person you’re showing discrimination against the poor, and that’s inconsistent with your faith.” Alright, that’s James’s point.

James gives a number of reasons why we must not do this and why to do this is inconsistent with the faith. He reminds them that God has chose the poor. You see that in verse 5, where he says that “God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him.” God has chosen the poor.

Now, this doesn’t mean that only poor people can be saved, but certainly if you look at the majority of Christians, even today, in the world, did you know that the majority of Christians in the world are in the southern hemisphere and they are in third world countries? That’s where Christianity’s spreading! That’s where Christianity is really taking root. It’s not in the western world, it’s not in the richer parts of the world, it’s in the third world countries. That’s where Christianity’s really taking root, especially in the last century.

Certainly, when you look at the history of Christianity, those who are poor have been the people who’ve been most receptive to the gospel. Now, I think one reason for that is because they know their need, right? They understand their need for God’s grace, they understand their need for the gospel, and they’re not distracted by the worldliness that comes from riches. So oftentimes we see, as Paul would also say in 1 Corinthians 1, it’s not the noble, it’s not the rich, it’s not the wise of this world that God has chosen, it’s the weak and the foolish, it’s the poor, it’s the weak things of the world; that’s where God’s kingdom is so often found. So James uses that as a reason why the poor must not be discriminated against.

He also reminds them that the rich are guilty of oppressing the poor. He says, “These are the ones who oppress you, they haul you into court, they blaspheme the name by which you are called.” If you go over a couple of pages into chapter 5, James 5, he actually just does a full-frontal assault on the rich for their oppression of the poor. He says, “You have kept back their wages by fraud, you are living in luxury and self-indulgence, you have exercised violence against the righteous, you have murdered and oppressed them.”

So James sees this and he says [that] understanding this, you should in now way exercise discrimination against the poor.

Now, what I want you to understand is that this is just an application of a broader principle in James that we’ve already seen a couple of times, in James 1:27. James there says that “religion 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.” So, James is concerned that we have a real faith, an integrity to our faith, a wholeness to our faith, a completeness to our faith. We’ve already seen that he’s said that if you say that you have religion but you don’t bridle your tongue your religion is vain and worthless, right? We talked about that last week.

And now he’s saying that true religion is religion that cares for the needs of the vulnerable, and he highlights here the widows and the orphans, “the orphans and the widows in their affliction.” It’s interesting that when you take the widows, the orphans, and the poor, right there at the end of James chapter 1 and James chapter 2 you get three of the four categories that are highlighted so often throughout Scripture. The vulnerable people, what Tim Keller calls the “quartet of the vulnerable,” the vulnerable people that God has a special care for. Those four people, in the Old Testament, are the orphans or the fatherless, the widows, the poor, and the immigrants, or the sojourner.

So, for example, in Deuteronomy 10:18, “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” That’s just a thread that runs all the way through the Bible, that God has concern for these kinds of people.

James is saying, “If your religion, if your worship of God is genuine, then it’s going to get fleshed out in the way you treat people.”

Integrity to our faith is seen when our worship of God has a direct impact on the way we treat the poor, on the way we treat the oppressed, on the way we treat the marginalized in society. So let’s not miss the application here. If your Christianity has not deepened your compassion for needy, vulnerable people, something’s missing. If your faith has not led you to be more merciful and more compassionate towards people with very practical needs, something’s missing from your Christianity; it’s not whole, it’s not complete. The faith lacks integrity.

Now, what might this include? Let me just give you kind of a quick list based on what James says. What would caring for the poor look like? This isn’t all going to be up on the screen, so just listen, and if you want to write down the verses, I’ll give you these.

Okay, caring for the poor is going to mean concern for the vulnerable, chapter 1:27; I’ve already read it. It’s going to mean visiting them. James says, “…visiting the orphans and widows in their affliction.” It’s going to mean welcoming them, so an embrace of social relationships with them. That’s chapter 2:1-13. It’s going to mean loving them as our neighbors, chapter 2:8. It’s going to mean showing compassion and mercy, verses 12 and 13. It’s going to mean giving them the needs needed for the body, verses 14 through 17. And it’s going to obviously mean that we don’t treat them with fraud or violence or oppression, chapter 5:1-6.

That’s just what James says. In other words, there has to be some practicality to this in the outworking of our faith.

Now, this can take a wide variety of application for us, and so I would just think of things like this. I mean, one way this might work itself out is through foster care and adoption, and as I was preparing this I was just thinking very gratefully on how many families in our church are involved in foster care and/or adoption. That’s a very practical way of caring for the orphans, the fatherless.

It will involve how we think about time, money, and space. How do we invest and use our time, our money, and our space, and we have to think about that both as individuals and as a corporate body. Where do we invest ourselves in ministry? What kind of other ministries do we partner with?

It will have application to the way we think about the poor, obviously, in our own area. I’m grateful that we have a deacon team that cares about the poor and that ministers and people call in to our church; they have needs, and our team ministers to them. So, obviously, those kinds of things are included, but also our partnership with ministries to the homeless, like Hope Ministries and others.

It also has implications for how we think about issues such as racial reconciliation. How do we treat people of other races?

It has application for how we think about immigration. Now, I know immigration is a politically divisive issue in our world right now, and however you parse that, however you dice it up, I think the least that can be said is this, that Christians, of all people, cannot be people who are indifferent to the crisis that immigrants are facing. We can’t be indifferent to that. We must care about them, and we must care about them as people, and that should influence the way we talk and the way we speak and the way we vote.

All of these are potential kinds of applications to this basic issue in our lives. Do we care for the people, needy people? If we don’t, James is saying there’s a lack of integrity to our faith.

2. The Law of Love

Okay, here’s the second thing that James says, point number two. James highlights not only the need for integrity in our faith, but he highlights the law of love. Look at verse 8. He says, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.” Of course, what he means here is that as we care for the poor we are loving our neighbors as ourselves. That’s what he means.

He says, “If you really fulfill this royal law according to the Scripture…” Now, why does he call it a royal law? Well, he’s already said that the poor are the heirs of the kingdom, okay, and that word “kingdom” and this word “royal,” those are related words, especially in the Greek. So the idea seems to be that if you’re members of the kingdom then you’re going to follow the law of the kingdom, and right at the heart of the law of the kingdom is love! Love is the ethic in Christianity. Love, the love command, and it’s the command that, of course, we have it in the Old Testament, but then it gets reinterpreted and newly applied by Jesus. Both Jesus and James quote Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” but Jesus took it to a whole new level, didn’t he?

You might think, for example, of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Do you remember that story? Someone came to Jesus and asked this question, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

So Jesus asks him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”

And this person said, “Well, the law says you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, with your strength and your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus says, “You’ve answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

But then this person, he’s looking or the loophole, and he says, “Okay, but who’s my neighbor? Who do I really have to love?”

And then Jesus tells this story, and he tells this story about the man who’s beaten and he’s robbed and he’s left on the side of the road and the rabbi comes by and the priest comes by; everyone’s passing him by. But then the Samaritan comes, and the Samaritan is the one who spends his time, his energy, his resources, his money to care for this man.

Now, the shocking thing in the story is that no one would have expected the Samaritan, who’s half Jewish, mixed race, historically the enemy of the pure-blooded Jewish people – no one would expect the Samaritan to be the hero of the story, but the Samaritan is the hero of the story.

If we were to retell the story today it would be something like this. Jesus might say, “An African American man was mugged, beaten, and left half dead outside of town. A liberal law professor saw him but passed him by. A conservative evangelical preacher saw him and he passed him by. Then a member of the Ku Klux Klan saw this man on the side of the road, picked him up, took him to E.R., and paid the full bill.”

Now, that’s almost offensive to say, isn’t it? But that’s how offensive it would have been for Jesus to say, “The Samaritan is the person who did this,” and what he’s saying is that loving your neighbor means even caring for your avowed enemy and doing that in a way that is personally costly.

So, that becomes the definition of what it means to love our neighbor. It means anyone who’s in need is our neighbor and it means we have a responsibility not just to love them with words but to put that into practice and, by use of our time and resources, to meet those needs.

Here’s how someone defined love. This is a great paragraph. This is a guy named Gary Inrig. He said, “Love is not a sentimental feeling, rather it is sacrificial action. It means interrupting my schedule, expending my money, risking my reputation, ruining my property, even for a stranger, so that I can do what is best for him. Love is the compassion that feels, the care that involves, and the commitment that endures. Love originates in the giver of love, not the object of love; love initiates, love takes the first step in reaching out to those in need. Love pays the ultimate price, going to extraordinary lengths to help the hurting.”

Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the law of the kingdom, it’s the law of love, and Jesus is telling us, James is telling us – both are telling us, actually – that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, and if we do that we’re going to care for the needs of the oppressed, we’re going to care about showing justice and mercy.

Now, here’s the catch. In verses 9 through 11 James shows us that to fail to love our neighbor is to transgress the law, and he’s making a point here that there’s a unity to the law, right? So, if you don’t commit adultery but you do commit murder, if you violate one point of the law you’ve transgressed the whole thing! But he’s telling us that the essence of this is to love the poor, it’s to love your neighbor as yourself, it’s to care about the vulnerable. So what that means is that if we fail in this point of the law we are transgressors of the law!

Someone once compared the law to this: it’s not like a heap of stones, which if you just take one stone off you still have a heap left. The law, rather, is like a sheet of glass. Throw a rock through it, it’s broken, it’s shattered, the law is broken. What that means is this, that if we have failed to love our neighbors as ourselves, we’re toast! It means that we’re condemned. It means that we are transgressors of the law. So right here, we are humbled by the law when we see how far we have fallen in keeping the law. We’re utterly undone.

That means that we need something else. We need not just a law of love, which we’ve failed up to, we need something else. What is it that we need? We need mercy.

3. The Triumph of Mercy

That leads us to the third point, the triumph of mercy. Look at what James says, verses 12 and 13. He says, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty, for judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” So that last phrase, the triumph of mercy, “mercy triumphs over judgment,” that’s where I’m getting this phrase “the triumph of mercy.”

I think what James is saying here boils down to these couple of things. First of all, he’s saying that we must speak and act with mercy, okay? Now, that’s just one more way of saying what he’s already said. He’s already said if your faith is complete and there’s an integrity to your faith, you’re going to care for the needy. If you’re living by the law of love, you’re going to care for the poor, you’re going to love your neighbor as yourself.

That’s also called mercy. It’s showing mercy to others. In fact, at the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan, the answer to the question, “Who was his neighbor?” is, “The one who showed mercy to him.” Alright? So, mercy-showing.

So James is telling us that we must speak and act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty, the law that brings freedom. That’s the law as it comes to us through Jesus, and it’s in Jesus. It’s not law that is strict justice only, it’s law with mercy. James is saying, “Speak and act as those who are to be judged under this law,” which means speak and act with mercy if you want to receive mercy!

Do you remember what Jesus said? This is in the beatitudes. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,” right?

And then, do you remember this one other parable? This is in Matthew chapter 18, the parable of the unforgiving servant. There’s this guy that owed an incredible debt to his master, he couldn’t pay it, and his master forgave it; and this same servant had another servant who owed him some money, and he went and he demanded that he pay everything, he was going to turn him over to the authorities. He’s received all this mercy, but he’s showing no mercy, and in the end he doesn’t receive mercy either because he hasn’t been able to show it.

That shows us that there is some correlation between having a merciful heart and us receiving mercy. Now, I don’t think it means that we earn mercy by being merciful; I think it means that if we’ve experienced mercy it should produce a merciful heart in us, but there’s some correlation there.

So, James is showing us here that we need to speak and act with mercy, and then he’s showing us both our need for and God’s provision of mercy when he says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Now, one of the commentaries, in talking about this, gave me some help. This is hard verse to interpret. What does it mean, “Mercy triumphs over judgment”? The commentaries are divided on this. But J.A. Motyer in his commentary asks, “What do these words mean?” He says, “The words are not a command or an invitation, but an unqualified statement. We need to ask when and about whom such an assertion can be made.” And then he quotes another guy named Albert Barnes. He says, “[Albert] Barnes gives us the lead we need. He says, ‘In the plan of salvation, respect is done to justice, but mercy triumphs. Justice demands as what is due that the sinners should be condemned; mercy pleads that he may be saved, and mercy prevails.’”

Mercy triumphs over judgment. We need mercy, and God provides mercy. The big question, then, is how does God provide mercy? The answer – and we have to read between the lines a little bit with James, because he’s not overt and obvious in his gospel proclamation, he assumes that, alright, unlike Paul, who’s overt and obvious. But James assumes it, and I think the assumption here is this, that we receive mercy, mercy that triumphs over judgment, and we receive that mercy through what Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, has done for us.

Let me tell you a story that I think illustrates this well. I read this story years ago. Some of you have probably heard it before, but I think it’s been awhile since I’ve shared it. So here goes.

There’s a story about this nomadic tribe of people that were led or ruled by a chief, a tribal chief, who was renowned for his justice. I mean, here was someone who ruled by law, he was utterly fair, he was always equitable in his decisions, he was always righteous, he was always just. Because of this, there was very little crime within this tribe, within this little community of people.

But one day things started disappearing, and everybody realized, “There’s a thief among us.” So the chief immediately said, “When the perpetrator of this crime is caught there will be punishment. They will be lashed with so many lashes, they will be whipped, they will be beaten. We will not tolerate this crime in the community.”

Well, the person wasn’t caught, and the stealing keeps happening. Things are disappearing, it’s getting worse and worse, and so he raises the penalty. It was ten lashes, not it’s 20 lashes. It was 20 lashes, now it’s 30 lashes. Eventually the penalty is raised so high that it’s virtually a death penalty, that whoever is finally caught and is beaten and punished for this crime will die.

Finally, the perpetrator of the crime is caught, and it’s the chief’s mother, this frail little old woman. So everyone knows, “Okay, what’s the chief going to do?” I mean, there’s an obvious tension here! He loves his mother. Will he have mercy on her? But he’s renowned for his justice! Will he uphold the law? That’s the tension.

She was tried, convicted, the sentence was guilty, and the day for reckoning comes and she’s taken to the middle of the village square, the tribal square. She is lashed to a post, her back is bared, and the executioner is there with the whip. Everyone wonders, “Is he going to save his mom?”

Sure enough, the whip is raised, and at that moment the judge raises his hands. “Stop!” He doesn’t stay the execution, but instead he walks up to his mom, he takes off his own shirt, and he wraps his strong shoulders around her, and then he lowers his hand and he receives the penalty in her place. In doing that, he satisfies both justice and mercy, so the mercy triumphs over judgment.

Now, do you see the picture? I don’t know if that’s a true story or not, but you see the picture? Jesus has taken our place, he’s our substitute. He’s taken the judgment that we deserved, he’s taken justice on our behalf, and he’s done that at the cross, so that he can show mercy to us.

No one has described this better than John Stott. Here are the words of John Stott, from his wonderful book The Cross of Christ: “At the cross, in holy love, God through Christ paid the full penalty of our disobedience himself. He bore the judgment we deserve, in order to bring us the forgiveness we do not deserve. On the cross divine mercy and justice were equally expressed and eternally reconciled. God’s holy love was satisfied . . . Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice.”

That’s the gospel. That’s the heart of the gospel. That’s what Christ has done for us. Christ brings us mercy by taking the justice, by taking the judgment that we deserved.

Now get this (this is my last point; I’m almost done): when we understand this, when we grasp this, God’s just mercy for us in Christ is what transforms us into communities of justice and mercy. This is what happens! This is what has to happen. It’s only when we have grasped the depth of God’s mercy to us in Christ, it’s only when we’ve grasped that that we are transformed and we then become communities of justice and mercy where we begin to embody this. We are so overwhelmed by the mercy that’s been shown to us that we can do nothing more or less than show mercy to others.

This is what took hold of early Christians and made them such a revolutionary force in the ancient world. This, I think, is the answer to the criticism of Karl Marx and others about Christianity and religion being an instrument for injustice. Sure, it has been, but not when people have actually held to the gospel itself so that it transforms their hearts.

Rodney Stark is a sociologist who has studied the sociological factors that accounted for the spread of Christianity in the west, and he did this in a wonderful little book called The Rise of Christianity. I want to end with this from Rodney Stark.

Stark said that “Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose in response to the misery, the chaos, the fear, and the brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world.” He says that “Christianity revitalized life in cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships, able to cope with many urgent urban problems.”

And then he gives examples for how this happened. “To cities that were filled with homeless and impoverished people Christianity offered charity and hope. To cities that were filled with newcomers and strangers,” think immigrants, “Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities that were filled with orphans and widows Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities that were torn by violent ethnic strife Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity.” “There is neither Jew nor Greek,” right, “slave or free.” I mean, we’re all one in Christ. “And to cities that were faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes Christianity offered effective services,” because here’s the deal: in the ancient world, when a plague hit the city, everybody left, except for the Christians. The Christians were the ones who stayed.

Did you know that the very first hospitals were built by Christians? Did you know that the very first person to say something against slavery was a bishop in the fourth century, Gregory of Nyssa? He’s the first person who drew the connection between man being made in the image of God, and if man is made in the image of God it’s wrong to enslave man. A Christian did that. A Christian did that. Everybody accepted slavery in the ancient world. It was just the norm.

It’s Christianity that has had the resources within it to stand against oppression, to stand against slavery, to stand against injustice, to actually get on the street and meet the needs of the poor and the impoverished and the needy. The Christians are the ones who have done that, when they have really understood the gospel, when they’ve really embraced the gospel in their heart of hearts.

The great challenge for us this morning is very simply this: have we so deeply embraced the gospel that it’s begun to change us in the way we think about needy and the vulnerable people in our communities and in our world. Has it begun to change us? I think to some measure it has. I can see evidence of that in our church. But how much more that needs to happen, right? It needs to deepen so that we will become a community of justice and mercy, but the secret to that happening is in seeing the vast mercy and love and justice of God that is given to us in Christ.

Let me end with these words from the hymn writer William Rees:

Here is love vast as the ocean,
Lovingkindness as the flood,
When the Prince of life, our ransom,
Shed for us his precious blood.

Who his love will not remember,
Who can cease to sing his praise?
He can never be forgotten
Throughout heaven’s eternal days.

Hear this. This is maybe one of the most beautiful verses in all hymnody:

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide.
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.

Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And heaven’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.

Have you been caught in the flow of that river? When you’re caught in the flow of that river, that flood of God’s grace and mercy, do you know what it does? It carries you to the needy. It carries you to the vulnerable. It carries you, with a heart full of compassion and mercy, to meet the needs of others. Let’s pray that that would be so for us.

If you’re not a Christian this morning and you’ve never received that mercy, let me invite you to do so now. There’s mercy, free mercy, given to anyone who will believe in Jesus Christ. If you’re a transgressor of the law, then look to the mercy that triumphs over judgment. Let’s pray.

Father, how we thank you this morning for the grace and the mercy that has been given to us through Jesus Christ. It is overwhelming to us, when we think about the depth of your love for us, that you would give your Son and that Jesus would go all the way to the cross, all the way to that cruel death, and do that on our behalf, that, like that tribal chief, he would take the punishment that we deserve. He lived the life we should have lived, he died the death we should have died, and he did it so that we could be free.

Lord, we need that mercy, we look to you for that mercy, and we need that mercy to so touch us and so transform us that we ourselves are becoming merciful people. I pray that that would be so. I pray that, Lord, for me, I pray that for our church, for every person that’s here this morning. I pray that we would drink from that flood of mercy, that it would change us from the inside out, and that the results would be a deeper compassion for the needy people of our world.

So, Lord, work in us this morning, and even as we come to the table, I pray that our observance of the table would be a reminder to us of just how deep your love and your grace for us is, and I pray that as we take the bread and as we take the juice we would do so with a living faith in Jesus Christ. We are drinking from him mercy. So work in these moments and draw near to us as we draw near to you. We pray it in Jesus’s name, Amen.