James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-end
15th Sunday after Trinity
St Barbara’s 09.09.18
Rev Tulo Raistrick
We said last week that James’ letter is all about giving down-to-earth practical advice. Well here we have some very practical advice – how we welcome others in church.
The church in the first few decades after Jesus’ resurrection was this incredibly mixed group of people. It attracted wealthy merchants, spouses of important politicians, but also run-away slaves and poorly paid labourers.
And because the church was seen as being on the margins of social respectability – there were wild rumours going around that the church was into cannibalism (caused by a misunderstanding of communion) and upsetting the established order of masters and slaves (caused by Christian teaching on the equal value of all people) – it was tempting for the church to treat anyone with power and influence with extra respect. Maybe if they could be got on side, they could influence others. Maybe if they started coming to church, they would share their wealth with them. In comparison, what did poor people have to offer?
James is quite clear. Such favouritism is unacceptable. We are all brothers and sisters, he says. We are all believers in Jesus, the one, after all, who scandalised those in power by welcoming everyone, rich and poor, influential and uninfluential, to eat with him.
And because of that, we should welcome and treat everyone with love and generosity.
Maybe money and influence matter slightly less to us today, but maybe we find it easier to welcome people who are “like us”: people who are the same age as us, or who wear similar clothes to us, or who speak the same way as us, or seem to have a similar background to us.
Is each of us good at welcoming others into church? How can we make sure that everyone is welcome? that everyone is valued?
With lots of James’ teaching, he gives a specific example. But there is also a wider application.
The question is not just about how we treat people when they arrive in church. It is about how we treat people generally.
It seems to be part of our human nature to want to treat some people better than others. I remember at school how as boys the most popular boys in the group, the ones everyone else would follow, and look up to, and try and impress, were those who were best at football. You treated him differently from everyone else.
At work I found that things weren’t too different – maybe just better disguised. Some people spent time cosying up to the boss; others up to the funny colleague or the most popular person in the workplace that everyone wanted to be friends with.
And we allow those desires to shape the way we interact with others. We laugh loudly at the jokes of some, and put down the jokes of others. We warmly praise some people, and coldly ignore others. We give lots of time to talk to some people; and barely greet others.
The challenge for us all is to treat all people as special, as people made in God’s image and loved by Him.
I wonder who are you tempted to ignore, or treat less warmly? What can you do this week, at school, at work, or in the community, to treat them well this week?
The second half of our reading from James re-enforces this message. Words are not enough. We need to put our faith into action.
If our faith makes no difference to how we live, James tells us our faith is dead. It is no good saying “I believe in God” or “I am a Christian” or “I believe in the creed” if I then live as if there is no difference. Faith is more than intellectual assent – it is about living, acting, as though it is true.
If I believe that God is a God of love, then I should live a life of love, caring for others.
If I believe that Jesus died to forgive my sins, then I should receive his forgiveness and not live feeling guilty for things in the past I have done. I should also be ready to forgive others.
If I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, then I should be able to look forward to the future with hope and not with fear.
Our faith should radically affect how we live. If it doesn’t, we need to take James’ words seriously: Is our faith dead?
But James’ words about caring for the poor are more than just an illustration. He is not just saying “faith is a bit like helping those in need…” He is saying that part of faith is specifically helping those in need. That what shows that we have a living faith is the way that we care for others.
I am delighted that over the last few years as a church we have supported peace work in Burundi, toilet construction and water sanitation in Uganda, visiting the elderly in our community, and many other things. And it is good for us to ask, as individuals and as a church, what more can we do? How can I support others?
Our faith is meaningless unless we put it into practice. And some of the ways we put it into practice are about how we value people and how we care for those in need. Another way is through prayer. And I hope you will take the opportunity the Prayer Week provides to pray for our community.
May God help us all to live lives that reflect our faith in him.