|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on September 10, 2012 at 5:30 PM|
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?
Haven’t you wanted to say something like that to other Christians some time? Maybe it’s not them showing favoritism that drives you nuts, but maybe it’s their hatred, their indifference, or their arrogance. But haven’t’ you, at times, wanted to give others a little “what in the world are you thinking putting on a Jesus t-shirt on and then acting like that? How can you really believe in Jesus and do what you’re doing?
Well, James had some of that same righteous indignation with some of the folks in his community. Because he’s seen how they treat the rich and how they treat the poor. And it stinks. They give the rich the best seats and the tell those who are poor to stand in the corner. They are thrilled to have the important people with them but it’s pretty obvious that they could care less about those that don’t have money. Their actions are so wrong, so opposed to what Jesus preached that frankly, these folk need to consider if they really believe this Jesus they say they follow.
We can obviously tell that this isn’t right. But in case we think we’re doing any better, think of what it would be like if the president of Towson came to worship. We’d probably be honored and proud and would go out of our way to make her feel welcome. We’d get her a good chair and help her understand what we were doing in worship.
And then think of what it would be like if someone came who obviously smelled different because of a life lived without a home. Sure, we’d probably also get them a chair and help them understand what we do in this place, but many of us have to admit that we would also talk nervously to each other and assume they just came for a handout and would try to get them out the door quickly after worship.
So, what is up with acting like that, James says, to his community and to us. “Are you sure you really believe in this Jesus?” He said to love your neighbor- all your neighbors- as yourselves. He said blessed are the poor. He promised that in his kingdom, everyone gets invited in with joy to the banquet he sets. But when you gather, you love on the rich and try not to look at those who are poor. Just like the rest of the world. Shouldn’t your community look a little different? Maybe a little more like the kingdom Jesus talked about? If it doesn’t, how real is this faith you claim to have?
It’s painful, but it’s true. James is just speaking the hard truth that we all know in our bones, the one we like to condemn others with but don’t like to admit to ourselves. The truth that says that if you really believe in Jesus, if you really believe in the kingdom he preached about and in his victory over death, then your life looks like you do. Because belief is not a bunch of words, it is a living reality.
And that’s because believing in Jesus is not like believing that the world is round. It’s not believing that Jesus was a real person and really God’s son. It’s not believing facts. Believing in Jesus means knowing in your heart that life wins and love wins simply because God wills it. It means trusting in God’s kingdom- where the poor are filled, the weak are lifted up and there is justice for all who are oppressed. It means being captivated and drawn to this one who is God in the flesh. Believing in Jesus is turning your face, your self, your soul and your life toward this one that calls us. And when you do that, it will be pretty obvious in your life. Because when you have given your life to something, it shows.
It shows whether that something is training for the Olympics, working to save the environment, being in a relationship or being a good parent. Whatever we believe in, whatever we give our lives to, changes how we live.
So if you trust that the kingdom of peace and forgiveness and life beyond death that Jesus preaches, is really true and is really coming among us, then you have to live differently. Because the truth of that kingdom changes how you see the world. And it changes what is possible for you.
When you trust this kingdom that Jesus preaches, then taking revenge on others is not an option. Using others for your own gain is not an option. And, James says, ignoring the poor and favoring the rich is not an option, either. Because it is the opposite of what life is like in the kingdom. And by living that way, you betray the truth that you have given your life to.
Now, that’s not saying that if you trust in Jesus and his kingdom , suddenly you will act perfectly in line with what God wants of you. You’re still going to mess up. And sometimes pretty horribly. We’re still going to forget how to follow Jesus at times or get lazy or be too scared to do what we know is right. And we’ll still doubt and sometimes want to give up on this faith thing because it doesn’t seem to do any good. And yet, when you have faith in this Jesus, it means that your heart and your mind and your spirit are turned in a different direction. And that means that your choices about how to live will follow. And others will see that you follow a different lord than the world calls you to.
And that is what James is talking about. That’s why he calls out his community on their acts of favoritism and that’s why he says those famous words, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” If your faith makes no difference in how you live, he says, it isn’t a living faith. It is empty words. It’s not doing its job.
And that’s not said to freak us out or to threaten us. It’s just speaking the truth- the good news of God coming into our human mess to love us is meant to change us. Open up a whole new freedom for us. Set us free to love with reckless abandon simply because we are loved. Give us a direction and a purpose that gives our life meaning. And if our trust in the love of Jesus isn’t doing any of that, then our faith is dead.
This doesn’t mean that we need to earn God’s love by doing a bunch of good stuff. It doesn’t mean that whenever we mess up, God is waiting to slap us on the wrist and send us to hell. But thee words simply tell the truth- that whatever we put our trust in and give our lives to will show in how we live.
And that means in the way we treat people. The reality of God is that every single person is beloved. Hear that- beloved!! Treasured. Celebrated. For all that is possible in them and despite all the messes they will get into. And that means us and everyone else. We are absolutely beloved. Deserving of the utmost respect and welcome and celebration. The good news is that this means us. The bad news is that it means everyone else, too.
And that means that everyone who comes into our community, everyone that we encounter as a community while eating lunch or serving others or walking on the sidewalk, is deeply beloved. They are loved not in some cheesy after-school special sort of way, but treasured by the Creator of the universe. And they are worthy of every ounce of welcome and friendship we can give. Simply because they are made in love by the same God who made us. They are someone that Jesus would give his own life to save and honor.
And that means that every person who comes into our midst is cause for celebration. They are deserving of a joyful welcome into the fullness of our community- into our meals, into our prayers, into our inside jokes, and into all of our life together. Not because we are such nice, friendly people. But simply because we see the world differently as followers of Jesus. We see people with the eyes of God, or at least we try to. We welcome others and love them recklessly simply because God does.
And that means the person who wanders into our gathering from the street is to be welcomed with as much joy as the new student. The one who does not believe treasured as much as the one who grew up in a Lutheran congregation. The one who suffers from mental illness celebrated as much as the popular kid on campus. Simply because that is what it will be like in God’s kingdom. And that is the kingdom that we trust as our reality. That is the kingdom we live into. That is the kingdom we give our life to. And that is the kingdom that changes us.
And thanks be to God for that.