James is the brother of Jesus. I imagine James heard his brother talk about the importance of loving your neighbor; he saw with his own eyes Jesus put the walk to his talk when he died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. James may have heard Jesus tell the parable of the Good Samaritan and what it means to love your neighbor. Jesus gave himself without expecting anything in return.
Don’t discriminate is the simple command for today. The world elevates one person over another based on age, accomplishments, ancestry, background, status, wealth…. James addresses favoritism as a critical component of living your faith. What this has to do with survival? “The devil is in the details” as the saying goes. Sometimes small things have a huge impact: We just passed the 30th Anniversary of Space shuttle Challenger, with its crew of seven, when it took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on January 28, 1986 ~ 73 seconds in, it broke apart killing its whole crew. I was one of the millions of people watching live tv. What caused the explosion? A defective o-ring in the right solid rocket booster. The experts concluded that if the temperature at take-off was a few degrees warmer it would have been fine. The details make a huge difference.
Here is a poem that expresses it well: “For want of a Nail”
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
Treat others fairly without discrimination. It seems so simple. It’s a detail, but a vital detail. But if we get this principle wrong as we seek to follow Christ, everything else that follows will be off. “for the want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” People sometimes get frustrated in their faith, feeling they are going backwards ~ they search for the perfect small group study to turn themselves around, seek out fresh worship experiences, add spiritual disciplines ~ doesn’t it make sense to increase your faith by improving yourself, learning more, lifting up your spirits? YES. This scripture is about something less dramatic, something potentially quite a bit messier: you find peace with God by getting in the trenches and loving people, loving the unlovable, deliberately disciplining yourself to not overlook anyone. Loving others as Christ loved you is the horseshoe nail of the Christian faith. If you get this wrong, everything else that follows will be compromised. Jesus himself affirmed the foundational truth of loving others: READ Luke 10:25-28. There’s the horseshoe nail! “Love your neighbor as yourself” is repeated in James 2:8.
Your faith is strengthened when you focus on others. James outlines problems with elevating certain people above others.
Favoritism is not Christian. READ James 2:1. We are a family. This church is a family, but it extends beyond these walls. At the beginning of the week I went to meet the new interim pastor of SCRC. I knocked on their door. They had no idea who I was, didn’t ask, invited me in, said I looked familiar and wanted to know if I attend their church…. I eventually told them who I was…. It felt good to be welcomed into the home of a fellow Christian family, Pastor Phil and Joyce [?] Kok… If there is any place in the world there should be no discrimination let’s make it the church…. In the world it is often about competition, the more you accomplish the more important you are, the more money you have the bigger your voice, status sways...
Another problem with favoritism: Favoritism is dehumanizing ~ those not “chosen” are overlooked; we elevate people based on outward appearance. If I show favorites, it becomes about what that person can do for me. READ James 2:2-4.
The Word “meeting” in James 2:2 is instructive. This word is used only a few times in the N.T.; referring to the synagogue. James is writing at an early time in the life of the fledgling church when Christians, most of whom are still Jews, are worshipping with the Jews in synagogues.
Centuries before Christ, Jews scattered around the Mediterannian Sea, Asia, into Europe….many Jewish communities sprang up far from the temple. The synagogues developed in order to organize the Jewish populations. Instead of sacrifice, the synagogues took on the central role of teaching the Jewish traditions. The modern Church is modeled more after the synagogue than the temple.
Christians, at this early date, are worshipping in the synagogue, but the relationship between Jews and Christians becomes strained. Why does James talk about not favoring the rich? I found one answer that makes sense to me. As Christians in the synagogue, the temptation is to schmooze the rich people that come into the synagogue because it is the rich that are most influential and can sway a positive attitude towards the Christians. This is the problem with favoritism: it is what they can do for me…
James is saying, do not schmooze those that can benefit you. Those are the “evil thoughts.” When we treat people as a cash cow, a means to our ends, somebody who can elevate my status by association, we are taking a person that God loves and using for our gain. It’s not them we love, its their outward appearance. Jesus did not love only people who could do something for him. James is saying to his congregation, just love people and let the chips fall where they may as far as your relationship with the synagogue goes. Treat people fairly. Value one another for who they are, not what they have accomplished.
Perhaps one of our great callings is to be an oasis for people to be themselves ~ to be real.
Pastor Chuck K. told me a story from his home church in Iowa. It’s the same home church of the well known Pastor Robert Schueller, a small country church. I cannot imagine the pressure Robert Schuller had on him as Pastor of the Chrystal Cathedral, world wide impact…. he has passed away now. Chuck told me that Robert Schuller’s mother lived for years attending the little church in Iowa. Several times a year Robert Schuller would go home, the pastor would recognize “Dr. Schuller” as a visitor, but they never made a big deal out of it…. Chuck said he thought Robert Schueller always appreciated being just another person who put on his trousers one leg at a time and bled if poked with a needle. Let’s seek to be a community for all where you can bare your soul, a place that welcomes sinners in need of a savior, a church made up of people that need their batteries recharged on a Sunday morning. Let’s be a place where people can be real.
Loving others as Christ loved you is the horseshoe nail of the Christian faith.
Favoritism is not Christian, it is dehumanizing, and it is unreasonable. READ James 2:5-7. It doesn’t make any sense….the “poor” of this world have a tremendous amount to offer because they are loved by God, because they are people. Basic logic, according to James, tells you that our arbitrary categories to treat people don’t even make logical sense: rich people are often the ones that crush us and poor people often have a tremendous amount to offer. Logic tells us that you will miss the blessings of people and you will likely invite problems if you treat people according to outward categories.
Finally, the reason to not show favoritism is because Favoritism is unloving. READ James 2:8. Gal. 5:4 says something similar: “All the Law is summed up in one sentence: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” If I play favorites I am unloving. If you have a goal, and you deviate at first by just a small degree, it may not look like much at first, but if you keep going, it is not long before where you want to go and where you end up are a long way apart. It is so easy to show favoritism, it may not seem like a big deal, but how quickly it can get us off track of fully living for Christ.
Favoritism is to love conditionally: READ James 2:9-10. How many links in a chain do you have to break to break the chain? [one] How many crimes do you have to commit to be a criminal? [one] James is saying that we tend to think of favoritism as a small sin, not a big deal…but to love others unconditionally is vital to God, because it is the beginning point of following him and commiting our whole life to him. “For want of a horseshoe nail the Kingdom falls.” Loving others is the horseshoe nail. Loving others is the essence of why the Lord Jesus Christ came to earth, why he died on the cross. If we get our calling wrong to love others, to love those who others reject, to let people be themselves, then anything else we do will be compromised. But to get it right, to live and practice the conviction that all are precious in the sight of God is freeing.
James 2:12-13 is the antidote to playing favorites. READ. Mercy triumphs over judgment. God is the judge AND the one who shows the greatest mercy. God never enlists our help to judge who is in and out of the kingdom, he never asks our advice as to who is more or less worthy, he never enlists our help to read the human heart. But he constantly invites us to join him in his great work of acting merciful to others. There is no room for discrimination in God’s great kingdom work, no room to elevate some over others based on the outward appearance, but instead, those that the world puts in second place, we are called to love, accept and forgive.
Loving others as Christ loved you is the horseshoe nail of the Christian faith. Get that right, and you are well on your way to laying a strong foundation to thrive as Christians. Amen.