15th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 18) LSB #’s 702, 850, 587
Text – James 2:5
Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith & heirs of the kingdom, which He has promised to those who love Him?
RICH IN FAITH
In Australia, the year 1938, a young boy accidentally discovered a large black crystal while playing around in the claim where his father used to prospect for sapphires. Immediately after picking up the enormous rock the boy lost no time in running home to show his new treasure to his father, one of the pioneering miners of the Queensland gem fields.
Mr. Spencer was not impressed. After examining it he set it aside, saying it was just a large black crystal. Since the most common color for sapphires is blue, apparently the father did not suspect what the stone might be worth. Fortunately it was not thrown away as worthless, but ended up being used as a doorstop.
After about a decade Mr. Spencer came to know that sometimes sapphires do exist as black gemstones, & may be worth quite a fortune depending on its quality. So he subjected the humble black stone, that had served well for almost a decade as a door stop, to a thorough examination & realized that it may be worth a fortune.
He weighed the crystal & found it was an enormous 1,156 carats. Mr. Spencer was quite sure now of the quality of the stone, but not experienced enough to know that it could be transformed by an expert jeweler into a star sapphire. The humble doorstop began receiving royal treatment from the poor miner as he started the search for an appropriate buyer.
Word got around that an enormous gem-quality rough black sapphire was available for sale. In 1947, the Armenian-born jeweler Harry Kazanjian traveled all the way from his adopted hometown of Los Angeles, CA to have a look at the stone. Upon examining it he was impressed, & began negotiating with Mr. Spencer for the purchase. Finally the jeweler agreed to pay $18,000, which Harry Spencer accepted. Until then, he’d been running a sheep station scraping by with barely enough to live on, except for an occasional sheep dinner & the little money they made from selling the wool.
Eventually, the stone was cut by an expert, & in the year 2002 the black star sapphire, now at 733 carats, was estimated to be worth about $100 million. A valuable treasure had been sitting on the floor for almost a decade while the family was fretting & scraping, trying to make the mortgage payments & stay in business for just one more year.
Could it be in your life that there are blessings & opportunities from God, lying on the floor as it were, neglected & used nowhere near their potential?
With the state of the visible church today it is easy to get depressed. Commitment & attendance have been on the decline for many years. It’s a simple matter to give up hope & fail to properly apply our talents & energies. God’s Spirit is still preparing in advance good works for us to do, but the results we see often do not appear to be worth the effort.
The faith we have in Jesus as Savior, quite often, doesn’t appear to be anything special. Our role in God’s kingdom doesn’t always impress us as especially important. More & more our culture is ridiculing the beliefs that God’s Word clearly teaches. Comparing things to the way the church used to be, we’re tempted to be depressed, bitter & impatient.
The people James was writing were dealing with poverty & persecution. They too were tempted to be depressed at the fate of the condemned nation of Judah. They were tempted to be bitter at the fact they were offering God’s grace in vain to those doomed people. They were impatient in waiting for the times of refreshment which Jesus’ resurrection had promised.
They were, in this apathetic slackening of their energies – this decline in their Christian
stamina – tempted to relapse & accommodate their lives to the world which pressed upon them from every side. Satan was seeking to put his mark on them & in just 20 years the armies of Rome would burn Jerusalem to ground, killing about 800,000 Jews in the process. Exactly as Jesus prophesied, there was not one stone of the temple left upon another.
That is the future for the Christians to which James wrote his letter. There’d be no earthly glory or success for these congregations of God’s people. Nevertheless, the poor & oppressed people of God are heirs of the Kingdom. The Lord of the universe has chosen them to be rich in faith. That is their identity & that is their destiny.
The world mockingly refers to faith in Jesus as blind faith, because they cannot see what Christians do. The truth is this – it is the world that is blind. It is our calling to love them as Christ did for it’s only God’s love that will enable unbelievers to see. James is effectively telling the people, “You are able to love your neighbor as yourself because you are rich in faith.”
Many of our sinful choices come from our belief that we have less than we want – less time, so we drive faster; less money so we cheat others; less love so we seek it in wrongful ways. To combat our sinfulness, James wants all believers to remember their identity – that we are rich in faith & chosen by God. The devil would have us focus on our weakness, failures & sins.
The difference between Satan & Jesus is this – children of God confess their sins & then they are removed from us, as far as the east is from the west. Satan wants us to focus on what we lack & how we might achieve it with our own efforts. To boil it down, sin is basically this – doing it my way. Faith is this – doing it God’s way.
In the specific example from James 2, he warns us not to show favoritism to those who are rich. Verses 6 & 7 tell us that James’ hearers had dishonored the poor & favored the rich who had dragged them to court & had blasphemed the name of the Lord. They had closed their eyes to the destitution of the poor & they had closed their eyes to the sins of the rich. It’s one thing that reveals many politicians as so repulsive. That kind of partiality, James told us in verse one, is devastating to faith in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ. Since all of us struggle with it, we regularly pray to our Lord, after He has once again removed our sins:
“We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, & we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You & in fervent love toward one another; through Jesus Christ…”
What a treasure we have in the forgiveness of our sins, & in the repentant heart that Jesus has created within us. Yet, like the large black crystal used as only a doorstop for almost a decade, the richness of our faith in Jesus is frequently left on the floor doing nothing more than propping open a door.
The pains & struggles of life are often the very experiences that help us to appreciate the treasure we have with faith in Jesus as Savior from our sins. As we learn to appreciate that treasure, we find tremendous value then in sharing it. When we share that love & forgiveness other people too can learn from their pains & struggles in this life.
Much is said today of how people are being taught & encouraged to think of themselves as victims. St. Paul taught that, “…we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37 ESV) James teaches that “God has chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith & heirs of the kingdom…” (2:5 ESV)
The world would teach that we are victims. Our Creator teaches that we are conquerors who are rich in faith & heirs of an eternal kingdom. By the grace & power of God’s Holy Spirit our faith does not have to lie on the floor like a doorstop. Instead, it can be put to work in doing the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do. Much of that includes loving our
neighbors as ourselves, because God 1st loved us & chose us to be rich in faith. Amen.
Lo, the hosts of evil round us scorn the Christ, assail His ways! From the fears that long have bound us free our hearts to faith & praise. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the living of these days. Cure Your children’s warring madness; bend our pride to Your control; shame our wanton, selfish gladness, rich in things & poor in soul. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage lest we miss Your kingdom’s goal. Amen. LSB 850:2-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet