Thursday, September 3, 2015

Everyone is equal in God's eyes

Sermon on James 2:1-17

James 2:1-17
I have a friend who moved up north a few years ago. I’ll call her Tina. Tina is far away from her family and friends and has struggled to find a way to get to know other people. Specifically people she might like to date.
Tina’s a good southern girl who’s always dreamed of the husband, kids, and whole thing, although in her vision he might be a stay at home dad. In her 30’s Tina is struggling to meet people who have similar plans and thoughts about the future that she is actually finds interesting enough for a second date.
Tina turned to the world of online dating at the advice of a friend, or family member and began a series of less than stellar dates. Each man quickly showed at least one or two if not 20 undesirable traits and were dismissed from the list of possible suitors. Fed up with the whole thing, but too practical to waste the money she’d spent, she sent out her information to a group of guys that she thought where “out of her league.” She called them “pretty boys” who would never look twice at her profile.
Tina had judged herself, and the males in this group too harshly. Less than a week later one of these “too good for her guys” had contacted her. They went out on a couple of dates and are really enjoying one another’s company.
Sometimes when we judge others instantly we miss out on great opportunities. Some times when we judge ourselves too quickly we keep opportunities at bay.
Our scripture lesson this morning talks about a group of Christians in worship. This may seem an odd thing to compare to online dating, but bear with me here.
The writer of James has taught about pure religion; that is a religion that cares for widows and orphans. The point of this is a religion that cares for those who are less fortunate. Jesus himself said that we must become servants to the least of these. What the writer saw happening in this particular congregation was behavior of blatant favoritism.
When a new person entered the assembly, or church, they were sized up immediately. Are they wealthy? Could they be upstanding citizens? Will they improve our standing in society or our bottom line?
With these questions in their hearts the people would offer seats of privilege to those who seemed well off. However, if someone came in who looked poor, someone who looked somehow less than the reception they received was completely different.
These individuals were seated wherever they could be closely watched. It is almost as if they see this poor person as nothing more than a transient who might dare to hit up church members for money after service concludes.
These two receptions show that this congregation has its heart in the wrong place. Because everybody is equal in God’s eyes!
Favoritism is something that the scriptures are against from the get go. Throughout the good word we are told to care for widows and orphans, for the alien, the strangers in our midst. Jesus time and again preached and showed love to and for the poor.
And yet. And yet the followers of Christ have far too often ignored or worse, denigrated the poor, as if being poor was the worst sin one could commit.
There has long been a sense of disrespect for the poor, which is odd considering the elevated status Jesus often gave the poor. God who gives to all, and gives generously, raises the lowly. God promises the poor the very kingdom of God if they are rich in faith and love.
Often our faith is played out in acts of mercy for the poor, which is wonderful, but at times it is easier to do so for the distant poor and not those who we might actually have to smell or touch.
While at one point in the history of the church the poorest of the poor, beggars were seen as reflections of Christ, that changed during the middle Ages. As more and more people found themselves in desperate straits the church began seeking to teach skills and trades to lead to self-reliance. Those that did not, or could not learn new skills and continued to beg were seen as to lazy or unworthy to receive charity. The distinction between the poor and the working poor was drawn clearly in the church. The working poor were worthy of help, but others were just too lazy to pull themselves up by their boot straps.
The writer of James calls the church to a higher standard. James reminds the people, and us that Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. To find worth in the fellow creations of God. To once again see God’s image in even the poorest of faces. Everyone is equal in God’s eyes.
When we show partiality we show that in our hearts, gold weights more than faith or love. Favoritism based on wealth or status does not show God’s love. In fact the polar opposite of favoritism is mercy.
There was a church in downtown small town USA. It was the big Steeple church in town, where everyone wore suits and ties, where the ladies still wore hats Easter morning. Services were beginning and the elders had started to shut the doors. A young man slipped in. His smell hit the sanctuary before he did. He hadn’t bathed in a while and his reeked of cigarettes and body odor. His hair was long and unkempt. He had holes in his shoes and dirt on his face. As he walked up the center isle of the church people began getting nervous. They spread out so that pews that would have sat 2 or three more suddenly looked too full. They did not make eye contact but you could hear a slight buzzing as he passed each row.
Finally he reached the front and sat down on the floor in front of the front pew. The minister was taken aback and had no idea what to do. The service was at a standstill.
In the fourth row, Gospel side, an elderly man stood up, grabbed his cane and began making his way to the front. You could feel the tension release. This man was an elder of the church. He had been there forever. He was third generation Cumberland Presbyterian. He would know how to handle this vagabond.
The pastor nodded his head in approval and waved to the organist to signal that she could begin playing the opening hymn. When the old man reached the front of the room he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder. He leaned forward, and lowered himself onto the ground next to the young man. They sat together the rest of the service, praying together, singing together, and joining in communion with one another. They sat there as children of God, as equals in God’s eyes. And in their actions the gospel was preached and received.
As the writer of James points out, faith without works is dead. What good is it to see someone in need and say go on your way, be blessed without offering some help? Or as Jesus put it in Mark 8:36 “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
Everyone is equal in the eyes of God. The poor, the rich, the elevated, the downtrodden. All are equal, all are loved. And as children of God, heirs to the kingdom, members of the body of Christ we are called to view people with the eyes of Christ our Lord.
When we exhibit favoritism, when we leave out words of justice and hope for the poor, we are leaving out huge parts of the word of God. Did you know that in the first three Gospels, Matt Mark and Luke, there are one out of 10 verses that deal with the poor, in Luke its closer to one in seven. If we were to remove those words from the scriptures we would indeed have a “wholly” Bible, one missing the psalms, prophets, and many of those precious words in red.
How can we live lovingly and justly? By reaching out. By offering love and support. We do this in numerous ways here at Christ Church. In fact I want to share one with you right now. For the past month we have been collecting underwear and other hygiene items for downtown rescue mission. This has not been a huge sacrifice for most of us. A few dollars here and there. But this week those items were delivered and this is the thank you note we received.
“Thank You so much for gracious donation. God’s timing is always impeccable.
We had just put the undergarments on our need list when you came thru the door with the Blessing. Thank you so much for being sensitive to the drawing of the Spirit and being His hands and feet.
May God Bless you as much as you have been a blessing to us!!
Thru Him,
Cara”
A simple thing like new underwear can and will make a difference for someone in need. Generosity is giving and sharing what you have with others. When we are generous with fellow human begins we are sharing love with those created in God’s image. We honor God with this love and generosity.
Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves. We must learn to value the Jesus in us and the Jesus in others. We cannot sell ourselves short, but at the same time must not put others in their place.
Today we celebrate Holy Communion, one of the sacraments of our church, and perhaps the most leveling of all of the things we do.
Each of us is invited to the table, no matter our net worth, no matter our cleanliness, no matter our condition. We are all invited to come, share, taste and see that the Lord is good. One bread, one body. Because everyone is equal in God’s eyes.


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