Monday, September 10, 2012

Rich in Faith

There is a distinction that is made all throughout scripture.  It is a distinction between the rich and the poor.  The distinction is this: rich = evil and poor = good.  This distinction is important, because, as we know, it's much easier to be evil if one is rich.  Now, in our country, we are the wealthiest people in the world, our poor are in the wealthiest top 4% worldwide.  Our poor here are rich by comparison.  This should come into mind, when we are thinking of rich v. poor in America. All of you probably know someone who is American poor who has taken advantage of someone who is American rich.  It's because, in general, we don't really have poor in this country.  We are all rich by the world's standards.

The point I'm trying to make here is this verse in our proverb reading today: “The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all.”  As Paul writes in Galatians: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, man or woman: all are one in Christ Jesus.”  There is really only one distinction: Godly (those in Christ Jesus) and Ungodly.  Again it's very much easier to be ungodly if one is rich.  But what we have to work with in America is a difficult task.  We can't know people by their bank accounts here.  We must know them by their fruits.

We live in a country where many wealthy people voluntarily share their wealth with the needy.  Christians give to more charities in addition to church than any other group.  We have more liberty to decide where our money goes, and so we choose the best charities where our money will do the most good.  As John Wesley said, “Make All You Can; Save All You Can; Give All You Can.”  So, we can't tell who is ungodly by their wealth.  We have the “givingest” people in history living here.

So, we must know who is godly and ungodly by their fruits.  This helps us live out the psalms in our lives, fleeing from evil, and embracing the good.  In our epistle of James this morning, we have many clues as to what these fruits are.

Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? (James 2:6-7)

We tend to judge people by appearances, reacting to how people look, not how they act.  As James says, we make distinctions among ourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts. But here in verses 6 and 7 are three attributes of an ungodly person.  It says “rich” but we know by now that we cannot judge by appearances, neither in the positive nor in the negative.  The three attributes are oppression, litigiousness, and blasphemy.  We also can extrapolate the attributes of a godly person from these verses.  A godly person is kind, peaceful, and reverent.

James writes, “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?”  We have to judge someone on their faith.  Is the faith rich?  That is where the distinction comes in.  Again, it is easier for poor people to have rich faith, because they are free from worldly distractions.  Again, not in America.  The poor in this country have just as many distractions as the rich.  Maybe even MORE.  The distractions are of a different ilk.

James says the rich drag the poor into court.  Again, we can't have that distinction in our time and place in history.  The poor drag the rich into court just as much, if not MORE, than the other way around.  We can't distinguish between rich and poor, but we CAN judge by seeing WHO is dragging people into court instead of exercising a rich faith in God.  How is dragging people into court different from simple oppression?  By being litigious, one is getting another to do his “dirty work” for him.  Using a lawyer or the government to oppress another is, in many ways, WORSE than being simply oppressive.

And by contrast we have the attributes of a godly person: kindness, peace, and reverence.  This past Wednesday Evening Prayer Service, we read the parable of the Good Samaritan.  The parable was in response to the lawyer's question, “Who is my neighbor?”  It was obvious from the parable, that our neighbor is the one who is kind to us, even if that person looks like he was dragged behind a truck, has a long bad history with our family (remember Samaritans and Jews did NOT like each other), and has a different way of worshiping.

The Samaritan has a rich faith, and it came out in his kindness.  These are the things we look for.  How does he ACT?  Does he seek revenge on others through the government or personally?  Does he have a healthy respect for our Lord and Savior?

In our Mark passage, we see rich faith play out in Jesus' ministry.  He has come to minister to the Jews, but this gentile woman has shown a rich faith, and so he heals her daughter.  Once again, his healing was based on the rich faith of the woman, demonstrating that outward appearances, nor family history, nor being familiar with Jewish tradition stand in the way of being IN CHRIST.

Jesus died on the cross for all who have that rich faith in him.  We can be very successful in this world and be healthy and look our best.  We may be shrewd and smart.  And we may come to church every Sunday and read our prayerbook every day and pat ourselves on the back for knowing our Bible and keeping the law.

But all that means nothing without a rich, saving faith.  Without kindness, without peace, without true reverence for God we are lost.  There is no rich or poor, there is no slave or free.  There is only being IN CHRIST or out of him.