Sunday, June 8, 2008

You’ve Got Class

It was a beautiful morning again this weekend. Sunshine and the first hints of summer bathed the Northland.

After a welcome, Brook announced that Vacation Bible School will begin a week from tomorrow. Volunteers are always welcome. Be sure everyone with kids knows about it. The theme this year is Cosmic City.

Darlene opened the worship service with a moving rendition of Be Thou My Vision., and then the quartet led us in singing.

Today’s Scripture reading was from Genesis 12:1-9 and Romans 4:13-25.

You’ve Got Class

Pastor Brad Shannon brought to the service one of his high school yearbooks as an intro to his theme. It was from his freshman year in the 1980’s. He drew attention to the manner in which the school is not only divided by classes (Freshman, Sophomore, etc.) but also a range of sub-groups: athletes, drama, band, loners, stoners, in-crown, out-crowd, etc.

All through life people get designated by classes, and to our shame each of us tends to maintain secret lists in our minds of who is the in-crowd and out-crowd. Pastor Brad used this lead in to underscore the opening verse of today’s passage from James 2: “Don’t show favoritism.”

Jesus spent His whole life in the wrong crowd. God could have been born in a king’s palace, but instead he was born in a manger. Born to working class parents, in an insignificant village, He knew what life was like for people on the margins.

The problem with favoritism is that it evaluates people based on their outward appearance. God looks on the heart.

James wrote about this issue two thousand years ago, and it is still an issue today. We still, unfortunately, judge by externals, whether by appearance, or education level or social status. It goes both ways. We may look down on blue collar or we may pass judgments against white collar. We each have our inner lists of desirables and undesirables. But this list making is inconsistent with Scripture.

2Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

How does God feel about the neglected, the poor, the people on the margins?

5Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?

Many who first heard these words were slaves, or impoverished. And the words spoke volumes. They were revolutionary words. They said that inside the church things were different from the way things worked in the world. God’s values are radically different from the world’s values.

Taking a step further, James notes that the rich often obtained their wealth at the expense of the poor.

6But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?

Today, sadly, it remains no different. Predatory lending with obscene interest rates can be devastating to the needy. There are many ways in which the poor are exploited. James goes on by citing the Royal Law.

8If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. 9But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Pastor Brad stated that we often dismiss favoritism as a rather small sin compared to the big sins like adultery and murder. But James takes a different view. And the pastor opened his heart to us by stating how these words from James cut him this week. And reiterating last week’s message he implored, “We cannot just be hearers of the word. We must do it.”

Equality is not the goal, but loving all wherever they are at, because in God’s eyes they are equally valued.

Mercy is love in action. It is not just words. Favoritism looks at the outward appearance. Mercy looks on the heart. Favoritism says, “How can you help me?” Mercy says, “How can I help you?”
Most importantly, how we treat others reveals how we feel about God. Who is in your life who could use your mercy?

And in closing we returned to the beginning: 1My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism.

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