James 2:1-10, 14-17

September 6, 2015 by Ken Dale

Two young children built a club house.? On the wall of the clubhouse was scribbled their club rule:? ?Nobody act big, nobody act small, everybody act medium.?? I think in many ways that captures a basic message that runs through all three of the lectionary lessons this morning ? though we have only heard the epistle from James.? The verses from Proverbs 22 put wealth in proper perspective and remind us of the importance of being generous to those in need – for God pleads their cause as well.? The gospel lesson from Mark 7, the story of Syrophoenician woman?s faith in not taking no for an answer from Jesus when she requested her daughter?s healing, reminds us of the importance of being open to take care of those who are in desperate need.? And James continues that theme reminding us that God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom and that we in fact are dead in faith if our faith has no works ? if it is not lived out in concrete ways of helping others who are in need.? ?Nobody act big, nobody act small, every body act medium.?

Medium is a good Congregational word ? right up there with moderation.? It?s odd though, how almost by human nature I guess, we in our contemporary culture use language that reflects categories of identity that connote otherness ? rich, poor, men, women, immigrants, rednecks, gays and lesbians, straights, young, old, and the list goes on.??? Yet in Proverbs there is that very simple reminder they/we ?have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.?

We all have the same maker ? we are all equal ? so we need to be careful about those categories of identity that connote otherness ? labels that we use that very well may cause us to be suspicious of those ?others? in such a way that we think and act in unjust ways, treating those ?others? in such a way as to bring calamity and misfortune to their lives.? Justice, care and generosity result in blessing. ? We cannot betray the family of God and we are to live in the wisdom of acting generously, reputably, honestly, justly.

James is concerned with class distinction in the early church ? distinctions that baptized Christians were making among themselves within the community of faith.? In a similar way James issues a challenge on how we act using the illustration of when we encounter a person who is obviously well off as compared to a person who is obviously not.? James opens with a person in fine clothes coming into the room and how we would welcome them bringing them near.? Then raises the question of how we respond to one in dirty clothes directing them away from us.? I read a simple yet thought-provoking way to process the passage.? Reverse the roles!? If you were the poor dirty clothes person and walked into the worship service Sunday morning ? maybe feeling ashamed, maybe embarrassed too ? not to mention hunger and possible physical pain.? And say you came in search of hope ? you came out of a desire to hear a word of encouragement in your state of despair – and some reception from this people of God.

There?s a classic story when such a person did walk into a worship service ? down the center aisle and sat by himself right in the front pew right in front of the pulpit, creating quite a stir in the congregation.? But then one of the ol? life long members dressed in his Sunday-best suit got up and made his way down the aisle.? People were thinking ? here we go, he?ll take care of him ? he?ll escort him to the door right quick and let him know what we?re all about here!? Because the ol? deacon was quite elderly it took him some time to get down the aisle, but when he reached the man with the dirty clothes he just sat down next to him and offered hospitality.

God?s image is within us all ? regardless of our outward appearance ? and as people of faith, as followers of Christ, we are called to embrace that image regardless of that outward appearance.? James cites the law of love ? love your neighbor as yourself.? But then follows it with if we show partiality we commit sin.? That love James calls for is agape ? divine love – and it is something that calls us to rise above the distinctions between us ? both within and beyond the walls of the church.? It is a radical call to unconditional justice ? even merging our differing self-understandings, even merging our differing perspectives and understandings into something larger than ourselves ? a richer unity of identity that is the church ? the Church of Jesus Christ.

What a timely lesson for us today as we learn of the plight of all those refugees flooding into Europe ? people that undoubtedly have a huge variety of whatever tags like rich or poor on them ? we are stirred by the picture of the officer on the shore carrying the body of a little boy who drowned when the boat he was in capsized and we are saddened all the more to know that his mother and brother also died.? Can we even begin to imagine what it would be like to be one of those parents putting their child in a boat hoping that it makes it across ? putting the future of their child ahead of their own?? Yes the numbers are overwhelming ? but so is the need for humanitarian aid.? What is our response?? Just saying how awful it is isn?t enough.? We can pray and we can pray for action and dare ask ?what about this country?? What can we do??

Anyone here like lobster?? ?What happens when a lobster grows?? It discards its shell.? As the shell firms up the lobster continues to grow. But the shell that confines it and constricts it must be shed to allow for that growth.? As people of faith can we be any different ? we too need to shed outworn prejudices and ways in which we distinguish ourselves from one another ? overcome the barriers to our fellowship with one another and with others who are in need.? I wonder if we raised our voices on behalf of the millions of refugees ? shed the shell of silence?

And where does it start?? Where do we see the signs of that kind of faith ? it starts in our interactions with one another, as individuals, as families, as church and community ? and it grows from there.? James says faith by itself if it has no works is dead.? What we believe ? what we believe God in Christ calls us to do ? we must do ? and live out in concrete ways ? not just accepting each other, but embracing each other — even though we differ.? That is how the realm of God continues to come into being in this world.? That is how the good news of God?s love is shared.

Nobody act big, nobody act small, everybody act medium.? And everybody act.

So may it be for us all.