Book of James: “Favorites”

Sermon Series on the Book of James: “Favorites”
A Message on James 2:1-12

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
August 13, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 2:1-12 (NRSV)

 

1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. 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? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.

 

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This past Friday our oldest daughter, Sarah, graduated from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galeston with her doctorate in physical therapy.  It took three years full time of hard work but she did it, and we are very proud of her.

 

To celebrate this accomplishment Sarah had made reservations at a nice restaurant in Galveston for all the family members who attended her graduation ceremony. She called the place a couple of times to confirm everything and updated them on the number of people in our party.

 

Well we get to the restaurant right on time and it’s a nice restaurant.  I walk up to the the maitre’d stand and tell them our name and that we have reservations. He looks up at me kind of funny and said, “Oh, Wintermute? We’ve been trying to get in touch with you. There was some question as to whether your party would have 8 or 10 people.”

 

I replied, “We were at a graduation service so our phones were off. But, there are nine of us.”

 

I look across and I see a table set for about that many people. It’s really nice looking with cloth napkins and fancy glasses, the kind of setting that I don’t frequent very often.

 

He then looks at me and says, “Well because we didn’t know we might be able to seat your party outside on the patio. Would that be okay?”

 

“My daughter specifically requested inside seating. Her grandfather just had a pacemaker implanted and we want to keep him cool and comfortable.”

 

“I’m sorry, but we can’t seat you inside.”

 

“What about that table?” I ask him, pointing to the fancy lay-tee-dah table.

 

“I”m sorry, but that’s reserved for another party. We can seat you outside on the patio, though. And we have some fans…”

 

Sarah was very upset about the situation, and frankly I wasn’t too happy about it, either. And I thought we might have to physically restrain Pam.

 

The patio had shades, and it did have fans, and there was a nice breeze blowing, but there was also a excessive heat advisory in effect from the National Weather Service.

 

We ended up going out to the patio, but on one side of the long table there was a metal bench, not chairs. Pam told the hostess, “Uh-uh, we’re not sitting on a French bench. (She didn’t say “French,” but something I can’t repeat here in the pulpit that kind of sounded like it might be French.). So we moved the bench out of the way and the staff found us some chairs.

 

We ended up have a very good dinner and the temperature wasn’t intolerable as the sun went down.

 

We got the check, which, by the way, had no discounts for being moved outside, we paid and left.

 

As we were leaving Pam’s sister, Chris, asked our waiter who owned the restaurant. He pointed out a guy inside (in the air condition) who was sitting at a table with about 8 or 9 people around it. There was food on the table, drinks in the glasses, and they were laughing and having a great time. The manager, we were informed, was sitting there with them.

 

Now I have to tell you, I don’t think I will ever eat at that restaurant again. The food was great, mind you. It was really delicious. The service was good as well. But I couldn’t help but feel that we had gotten bumped outside so the owner and his friends could have the table originally reserved for us. It left a bad taste in my mouth (pun intended). I felt as if we were second class people.

 

I think there is a lesson that we, as the church, can  learn from this experience and from the scripture we read from the epistle of James today.

 

Do we show partiality in regards to who we want to attend our church? Do we view some people as second-class citizens? Do we play “favorites” when it comes to the work of God and making disciples of Jesus Christ?

 

James, in the second chapter of his power-packed, toe-bruising letter, warns the churches of his day to be careful of showing favoritism.

 

Here is The Message paraphrase of verses 1-4: “My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted.”

 

Ouch!

 

Part of our challenge of treating everyone equally and viewing them through God’s eyes (instead of the world’s) is that it runs counter to our culture.

 

Our culture segregates and puts people in boxes and categories. It happens everyday in front of our eyes.

 

We flew to Florida for our vacation a few weeks ago. It was the first time that all four of us flew on a plane together. We flew on a particular airline whose name will not be uttered [cough while saying “American”] and I was surprised by all the ways they kept trying to get me to “upgrade.” (I got the feeling that the word comes from the Latin root which means, “spend more money.”) If I would get their credit card then my first bag would fly for free, instead of charging me $25. While looking at the seating arrangement online I could select seats more toward the front of the plane, but of course it would cost additional fees.

 

When it came time to board they called for all the first class passengers first, then business class, then by boarding group numbers. We were group 6, by the way. When they finally call us peasants to board we get the honor of walking through the first class cabin with the privileged ones enjoying their complimentary drinks, larger chairs, and lots of legroom. We go through business class, whose chairs are not as big and which don’t have as much legroom. The further back in the plane we go, the smaller the seats get and the less legroom there is.

 

I barely fit in the seat, and my knees were up against the seat in front of me.

 

I know the airline is in the business of making money. I know they want me to upgrade and spend a lot more money for the nicer seats.

 

But what they ended up doing is to make me feel that I wasn’t as important as those in first or business class. I was a lower class, therefore I had to ride in the back of the plane where the ride is bumpier and where it takes longer to get off of the plane after we land.

 

God doesn’t view people through the world’s eyes, though. To God, everyone is precious, everyone is valuable. What the world labels and categorizes and separates into groups God unites and loves.

 

The scripture from James is evidence that even the early church had problems in terms of who should be members and who shouldn’t. It isn’t anything new.

 

But James’ response also provides guidance for us today as we seek to fulfill the great commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We don’t need to show favorites.

 

A few years ago there was a story of a successful church that was located in an urban area. One Sunday as people began to arrive there was a homeless man asleep on the porch of the main entrance. He was dirty, his clothing was tattered, and he smelled of alcohol.

 

Most people avoided the man. Some ignored him completely and wouldn’t even look at him. Others started whispering to each other as they went inside after passing him. A few people actually talked to the man, some compassionately, but others telling him “You shouldn’t be here,” or worse.

 

When the worship service began the homeless man appeared at the front of the congregation. The homeless man had actually been the pastor of the church in disguise, and he had a few things he wanted to preach about.

 

It reminds me of a story about a man who showed up to a small church in a rural area for the first time. The man was wearing worn overalls and work boots and took a seat toward the back of the church. Nobody knew who he was, and prior to the service beginning he got more than a few looks. A murmur went through the congregation as collective whispers talked about the new visitor.

 

After the service one congregation member came up to the man, looked him up and down, and said, “Sir, before you attend here again I suggest you read the Bible and listen to what God says about how a person should dress to attend this church.”

 

The man, somewhat taken aback, said, “Oh. Well, okay, I’ll do that.”

 

The next week the man shows up again, again wearing overalls and work boots.

 

After the service, the same congregation member comes up to him and says, “I thought I told you to read the Bible and listen to what God says about how a person should dress to attend this church.”

 

“I did,” replied the stranger.

 

“Well what did God say, because you obviously did’t get the message,” said the congregation member very condescendingly.

 

“No, I got the message alright,” said the stranger. “I did what you asked me to and read my Bible and asked God how I should dress to attend this church. His reply was that he didn’t know because he hadn’t been here.”

 

Folks, don’t believe the lies the world, through the work of the deceiver, wants us to believe. Don’t place value on people the way the world does, but instead the way God does.

 

Here are a few scriptures about this subject:

 

“What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:12-14)

 

In Matthew 25, toward the end, we find Jesus talking about the Judgement of the Nations and separating sheep from goats. He tells the disciples, and us, this:

 

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)

 

In the second chapter of Mark the Pharisees criticize Jesus for eating and hanging out with sinners and tax collectors. Jesus’ response?  “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

 

Get the picture? Jesus tells us to shine the light of love on everyone, not just those we like or that look like us or that are in our social sphere.

 

I have a flashlight that has I can focus into a narrow beam. Being a follower of Jesus Christ means broadening that beam out all the way, not shining it like a spotlight on only those we like.

 

We are not to play favorites. We are not to treat people differently the way society does but to extend the love of Christ to everyone equally.

 

That is my challenge to you this week. I want you to meet someone beyond your normal social sphere, someone who is beyond your comfort zone, and invite them to church. And if they come, I want you to be a gracious host and invite them to attend Sunday School with you, to have coffee and donuts with you, to sit with you in worship, and maybe even take them to lunch.

 

And do it with an attitude of equality, not condescension. Remember that God loves them just as much as he loves you.

 

And tell them if that it’s even okay if they want to wear overalls.

 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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