Updated: Aug 28, 2020
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If 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," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers and sister: 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? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. Read the full chapter.
This is the third Sunday as we are wrapping up this series on overcoming racism. If you've been with us through the series, you'll recall that the first Sunday was about reaching in and looking at what biases do we maybe have in our lives that lead us to judge or make determinations about other people. Sometimes there may be explicit biases that we have that we're consciously aware of. But other times it's more subtle, more below the surface and unless we really step back and look deeply, we may not be aware of them. So part of this overcoming racism involves the introspected look of being honest with ourselves and who we are and the ways that we might be complicit in allowing or perpetuating racism in our communities. So then last week I had us take a look at what does God has to say about how we should view or perceive other people. For me, those foundational pieces are that in Jesus Christ, those walls of barrier and separation have been torn down. We're reminded that it is God who created all human beings in God's image and that spark of the divine, that holiness, that resides in each and every person is something that we need to see and recognize.
Then this week, we come to the final portion that I'll be speaking on of how do we reach out? What does it look like for us to be a part of making this world a little bit of a better place? There was a speech that Barack Obama gave during his time as president and within that speech, he'd said "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." We live in a world that has had conflicts, had divisions among people. Often ones that lead to violence. We can look at the world and particularly in this country, we can look around and say things are better than they used to be. And they are. And yet, we still have ways in which we can improve. The recent unrest is what brought this conversation to the forefront. As people of faith, I think we do need to reflect on and think about how do we respond. We need to realize that to simply say 'I'm not a racist' isn't enough. But rather, we need to be proactive and be a part of the solution and maybe not just say 'I'm not a racist' but rather 'I am anti-racist'. That I am against those views, those positions, those policies that treat others as less.
While the current issue has been the result of the tension within relations between law enforcement and black communities, there's racism, there are issues that have existed in the history of our country. We could say that it may have been the treatment of women decades ago. It may have had to do with the way that Irish immigrants were treated, or Chinese immigrants, or the result of Japanese internment camps, or the displacement and genocide of native people. There are issues that are part of our past and we cannot go back and undo any one of those. But we can be honest and admit that they're part of our history. We can learn from them. We can say we can and will do better. And if we don't, there may be dire consequences for everyone.
Martin Niemoller was a Lutheran pastor in Germany. He was a conservative Christian. And as a younger person, he actually supported Hitler and the labor party when they were first coming to power in Germany until they began to see what things started to unfold with the emergence of the nazi party. He became involved in that movement known as the confessing movement of churches that stood up and vocally opposed some of the things that they nazi's were doing. Unfortunately, it came very late, Martin Niemoller did end up in a prison camp for a period of time. He was a friend and a colleague of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was also involved in that movement and died in the prison camp. Niemoller survived and spoke prolifically after the war had ended about the missteps that he felt that he and others in the German culture had made. There's a poem that emerged out his experience. There are different variations of it but this is a version of it that is actually printed in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me-and there was no one left to speak for me.
To make a comparison to what happened in nazi Germany, I sure hope is a far stretch. But I think his point is well taken in that it's easy sometimes for us to say that that's not directly affecting me, so why should I speak up or why should it better? But as Niemoller experiences sometimes that distancing ourselves from the plight of others can have a snowball effect. Where those issues affecting others are building up and building up to the point when it gets to us, it's too late. So why should it matter to us? Well, it should matter to us that anyone in our society is treated as less than others. It should matter to us that there are those who have experienced oppression and maybe even continue to do so without us speaking up, becoming involved, or thinking about our vote, or whatever ways that we can maybe be involved to bring about a change.
There's a lot of politically charged terms that we hear in the news and being tossed around. Your opinions may be very different than mine. As I've worked through and processed some of it, one of the things that we hear about, and I know people struggle with is that term white privilege. I've heard a number of people say, 'you know what I've not really had any benefit in my life simply because of the color of my skin. In fact, I've worked for the things that I have. I've earned what I have'. And that may be true for many people. Let me simplify it this way, that most of us have probably not had someone come to us and say, 'oh because you're white please come to the front of the line.' Maybe we've not experienced privilege in that way. But we've also never had someone come to us and say, 'Oh because you're white, you need to go to the end.' There's a little bit of a difference but yet not being told to go to the end of the line is a benefit. So when we hear that term and as people talk about that, one of the things that we need to be mindful of is that no one is saying you need to be knocked down a few pegs. At least that's not the way I hear it. Nor is it the way that I think that we should be working to bring about an improvement. Rather it's recognizing that maybe we are blessed. What can we do to help lift up the lives of other people?
We can't go all gaga over the rich person and say, 'come and sit here in the place of honor' while the poor person comes in and say 'oh you go sit over there or sit at my feet.' That's making a distinction. That's making a judgment saying this person is of more value to us as a community than this person is and we're going to cast them aside. They're welcome, but they have to sit down there. That's why often some of those initiatives of separate but equal really didn't work. Because the minute we begin categorizing and making those distinctions between people, there's an imbalance that happens. At Aldersgate, our mission statement is wrapped around that tag line of "Love Reaches All". In the context of this passage, that love reaching all also needs to imply that love reaches all equally. That all receive this same love. That we don't dole out our love a little bit at a time and say, 'oh you get a bunch of it because you're like us or of value to us or you're important to us.' And 'well you can have a little bit, you're different, you're not as important, you can have a little bit.' Love reaches all is our attempt to love as God has loved us. Thanks be to God that God doesn't dole out love based on our worth or our merit, but rather that love is poured out equally and generously for all. Likewise, as a people of God, we are called to do the same. So our love needs to reach all people. We need to own those times in our life when maybe we've fallen short. But we also need to be bold enough and courageous enough to say, 'I want to be more that person that God has called me to be and in doing so speak up if I see something that's not right. Ask questions that I might be better informed and draw near to the people who need a voice, who need a friend, who need an ally at their side.'
We can have all the conversations that we want separated and distant from the issues that are affecting people on a daily basis. But one of the best ways that we can become a part of the solution is to get to know people who are different from us. To open up, to be vulnerable ourselves to admit that maybe we don't know. To admit that maybe the information that we have was based on an isolated incident and get to know people personally. Now we're not all going to change the circles of friends and connections we have. But I'm talking about just opening it up a little bit more. Is there someone that you know who is part of a minority group, Black or Asian or Hispanic or LGBTQ? Who do you know that might be a part of a group that's been on the fringe that you can say you know what helps me understand what things are like for you. Help me understand how I can be a part of making things better in our world to bring some healing, to bring some hope, and to bring God's love, to bear.
James gives us a few insights. He points to the fact that favoritism of having people that you treat better than others is not good. So he suggests that we would do well to fulfill, to really fulfill that loyal law of loving others as ourselves, of helping others to feel valued and important. In the passage that I read this morning, it concluded with that statement that faith without works is dead. What works, what ways can you put your faith to practice? James told us that if brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food and one of you says to them go in peace, be warm and eat your fill and yet you don't do anything about their situation, what good is that? What good is that indeed? Our faith, our trust, our confidence in the hope and the promises that God has shown us through Jesus Christ are something that requires action on our part. So reaching across the aisle, speaking up, bringing God's light to bear upon issues of injustice in our world are the things that we are called to do. What action will you take? How will you reach out? That racism, division, the brokenness of our world can be set right. We can't wait for someone else. It's up to us. We are the ones that we've been waiting for.