James 1:27 (NKJV)
27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
Today is National Orphan Sunday and so I thought it would be appropriate to read today from James’ exhortation to visit orphans and widows in their trouble. The word “visit” is connected to our English word “bishop” or “overseer.” It means to visit so as to care for and relieve suffering – not just to say, “Hi”, but to minister and assist them in their needs.
James insists that this type of care – serving the needs of those who are suffering and in trouble, those who are weakest and most vulnerable to exploitation – is an essential component of pure and undefiled religion. Pure – clean, holy, distinct, the real thing; and undefiled – not soiled or painted over to cover some impurity or fault; religion – worship, service of God – is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble – their oppression, affliction, hardship, burden.
In other words, James is insisting that an integral part of our faith must be caring for those less fortunate than ourselves, those who are suffering or hurting or who are being mistreated by those in power.
What this means is that we as individual Christians and as a church body need to consider how we can assist those in distress. How can we put James’ admonition into practice? Happily one of the ways some families have done this is through adoption. Praise God for these opportunities to extend the grace of God to these kids in need through adoption. And thank God that you all as members of the same body have assisted with the financial burdens of adoption and welcomed these adopted children into our congregation and made them to feel one with us. May God continue to shower us with such grace and multiply such opportunities.
But the duty of serving the poor is too central to be left to the impulse of individuals – and so God ordained deacons in the churches to facilitate the service of the poor. As Calvin writes, “the care of the poor and the distribution of alms were committed to the deacons.” Given the centrality of this duty, is it not worthy of our attention and a cause for some distress that we have still only one man serving as a deacon in our congregation? So this morning let us kneel and confess that we need yet more of God’s grace that we might be able to minister more effectively to orphans and widows in their distress.
You have been gracious and longsuffering toward us. You have rescued us from our sin and folly, delivered us through Your Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus. Yet we have often proved unmoved by the sufferings and hardships of others, particularly widows and orphans. God we ask you to have mercy on us and forgive us. Grant us grace to reach out in love and care to those who are suffering. Add to the number of our deacons so that we might more effectively coordinate such care. And grant that hereby your Name might be exalted in our congregation and in our community. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.