James 2:1-17 (NRSV)
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 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, 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', have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 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? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 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. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill', and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
Labor Day weekend is upon us. I often think of Labor Day weekend as the unofficial end of summer. Most schools are back in session now. Many people are putting away their summer gear and getting ready for the fall. Our churches are making preparations for Sunday school to resume. Labor Day weekend is a time to rest, and I think it is a great opportunity to reflect on our lives and the fullness of the fall season as it approaches.
Our lectionary reading from James gives us a lot to reflect on this weekend. "Favoritism." "Distinctions." "Judgments." "Partiality." These are the kinds of words James invites us to think about. In what ways do we, in 2015, show favoritism? Make distinctions? Judge others? Show partiality?
I'll never forget being a 4 year-old boy: my mother borrowed a neighbor's truck to move our belongings after my parents divorced. This was in rural North Carolina. As part of the move, we made several trips to the county dump. On one of those trips, we ran out of gas at the dump. An unshaven man appeared with worn clothes and dirty skin. I judged him. "Oh no, he's going to ask us for money or something," I thought. He approached us and said, to my surprise, "What's wrong and how can I help?" He then proceeded to find a used water hose in the dump, and used the hose to siphon gas from his vehicle to put into ours. He accepted no money for his deed.
In many ways, that moment changed my entire life. I've probably told that story in twenty different sermons, and I think of it very often. I'm now 37 years old, and to be honest, I'm still working on showing less partiality and making fewer judgments. But I'm thankful that stranger has stayed in my heart, reminding me to keep working. And I'm thankful for James' words, too. Never forget: there is still so much work to be done. Take time this weekend to reflect on your life. Keep praying, and keep working!
Loving God, may our hearts be open to strangers, to see You in all of them, so that we may show less partiality, make fewer distinctions, show less favoritism, and make fewer judgments. Amen.