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The view in the mirror

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Looking at James’ letter
James 1:17-27
13th Sunday after Trinity 
(2-9-12)

We are just about to start on a new series of sermons based on the letter of James. Before we hear the reading here's a brief introduction as to who James is, who he was writing to and what his letter is generally about.

James was the brother of Jesus and even up until the cross probably thought that his half-brother Jesus had some bizarre ideas to say the least. It seems likely that he only came to faith after Jesus died and rose again because from the cross Jesus entrusted the care of His mother to John. After the resurrection appearances he came to faith and realised his relationship with Christ is more spiritual than physical.

This letter James has written is one of the earliest pieces of New Testament writing we have (AD45). He wrote it to the Jews who had become Christians and were now the church. Problems had become evident.

There were those in the churches that James was writing to that considered themselves to be more spiritually mature than others. They asserted this so-called maturity and attempted to seek positions of authority, social prominence, and power within the church.

The early church faced great difficulties. Many were oppressed in their poverty by the wealthy. For some Christianity was becoming a mere formality. The practice of partiality demonstrated a lack of love. Bitterness was reflected in their speech.

Too often there's a gap between what Christians say we believe and what we actually practice. This is what concerned James. His teachings relate to the practical problems of everyday living. He deals with disappointment and hardship; he insists that we get our priorities right. The common sins of the quick temper, the loose tongue, class discrimination, and the tendency to judge others all come in for a sharp look. He even deals with the sin of doing nothing!

These are all things the church today needs to hear about too. James touches on so many areas of a walk with God. The book of James has a practical and straightforward method of approaching the subject of living out one's faith. James doesn't spend a lot of time discussing doctrine but concisely proclaims how believers are to respond to various people and situations and in doing so truly demonstrate their faith: to 'walk the walk' and not just 'talk the talk'.

Now, for this morning, let's look at just one of the things that James writes in his letter.

Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who knows where that saying comes from? The wicked witch in Snow White had a mirror that spoke back to her. She really liked it when she asked it who was the fairest one of and it told her she was. We all like it when we look good!

Mirrors don't talk but they usually do give us an accurate picture of what we look like. Sometimes we don't like what we see and the wicked witch most certainly didn't like it when, one day, her mirror told her she wasn't the fairest: Snow White was. That made her jealous, angry and determined to get rid of Snow White.

For an accurate reflection of what we really look like we do need to look into a proper mirror. I wonder if you've ever looked into one of those wobbly-type mirrors they have in fun fairs that make us look very big or very small – very distorted. We laugh but they don't show us as looking how we really are do they. Here are some other examples of mirrors that don't give an accurate reflection of how we really are. And I'm not talking really about how we look on the outside – more of what we are like on the inside.

This mirror is made up of tin foil. When I look into it I can only see a vague reflection of what I look like it's nice and glittery but very blurry. That's like looking at the world really to find out what we are like. The world doesn't give us a clear view of what's right and wrong, its distorted and blurry.

This mirror shows the reflection we get about ourselves from our friends. Again it might look nice – all those people we like and are fond of but it's not much good either. For a start our friends will all have their own views and problems. When they tell us what we are like, how good or bad we are that won't be an accurate picture either. It will just reflect what they think.

This mirror is broken. Now this may be a bit harder to understand because this is the mirror I'm using to show what religion tells us about ourselves. Many people might think that would be good but 'religion' isn't good. It might contain little bits of truth but 'religion' is a man-made thing – it is not the same as 'faith'. Religion is cracked and broken because it is man made and is incapable of telling the truth.

Ah, now this is a good mirror. Small, but accurate and true. Need to get really close up to see into it properly. It represents what James was talking about when he wrote his letter.

This mirror represents the Bible: God's Word. It accurately shows us our strengths and weaknesses. BUT it can only show us if we get up close to it and really look into it.

In that letter we heard from James. He tells us how silly it is to look into God's mirror, see ourselves as we really are and then just go away and do nothing about it. It's silly avoiding looking too closely too. We need to get up close and personal with God's Word and teaching. And when we do we see all of our imperfections. Those things that we really should do better at, like not being selfish. Not seeing our self as ore important than anyone else. Those are the very things that God's Word tells us are sins.

The Bible is a pretty unique mirror because it can actually change us. If we really do take the trouble to look in the right mirror we will see that there is a way of putting these things right. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, for my sin.

All of us are looking with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord as if we were looking in a mirror. We are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to the next degree of glory. This comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

By His Holy Spirit, God is able to change us and make us beautiful on the inside.

This baptism service is not really an accurate reflection of faith. It is rather like the broken mirror. Faith is different to 'religion' with its ceremonies. Faith is when we recognise that Christ went and died on that cross for us as an individual person. This is a BIG issue. For us to see and know God we need to get close to Him, not keep Him at arms length, just glancing towards Him occasionally. We need to draw close to Him and the promises that the parents and godparents will be making in a few minutes will be that they will ensure that Georgette and Kristi will become members of God's family, the church. They will come and hear about Him and His teachings in order to show them the way to live according to His instructions.

My prayer is that the parents and god-parents of Georgette and Kristi will see those promises through, that all of us here today, even if we are only glancing at God's Word will look properly and come to know and love Christ, that we will all grow into a closer and more loving relationship with Christ.

Let me just remind you of those verses that I've been talking about again:

22 But don't just listen to God's word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don't obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don't forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

Lord of all time, we thank you for your word across the years, to encourage, inspire and challenge us, as much today as for the early Christians who first read it.

Help us to hear your word and to act upon it. May we continue to follow you. Amen.

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