Here we are more than eighteen months in to Covid-19. Much has changed. Some of those changes have been unnerving but some of them have been fun. One of the fun parts for me is the way that many people have decided that Covid was a perfect time for a makeover.
I did and so, like a lot of people, I changed my hair. Eighteen months ago it was short and brunette. Now it’s long and blond. When I retired from the military six years ago, I told Ruth that I was going to grow my pony tail back. I recall he just shaking her head. She’s used to me.
But eighteen months later, I have my pony tail. And I’m having fun with it. I’m learning all about hair products and styling hints. Last week on vacation, the girls decided that it was time to braid my hair so we did that.
I have found, however, that changes in appearance get some interesting reactions. There are people who keep asking me when I’m going to cut my hair. There are people who think it’s great to see all of us aging hippies reliving our teenage years with our long hair. And then there are those people who look at me like I’ve finally gone off the deep end.
But so what? It’s my hair and I’m having fun with it. But I’m also aware that people’s opinion of us and the way they treat us may be impacted by the way that we look. But is that the way it should be? Today, we are going to look at that by studying a passage from the book of James.
The passage I read this morning from James 2 is all about how we treat people. It starts out in James 2:1 (NIV) by saying, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” Then James goes on to talk about what happens when a rich man and a poor man show up for worship.
Let’s hear how that goes. James 2:2-4 (NIV) says this: “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?”
How are they treated? Is the rich man given a place of honour and the poor man told to sit on the floor? That could happen but James says that if it does then there is a problem. He says that if we treat the poor man any worse than we treat the rich man then are discriminating against the poor one. And then in point blank language he calls it what it is. He says that if we do that then we are judges with evil thoughts. That’s pretty harsh language but it’s also true. The bottom line is this. Rich or poor, young or old, male or female, black or white, it doesn’t matter. We are called to treat each other equally in the Church of Jesus Christ because all are one in him.
We are called not to judge others by their appearance, their race, their social economic status or anything else and yet we often find ourselves doing just that. When you look around this church, what do you see? You see predominantly white middle class families. We don’t have a lot a ethnic people in this congregation. We don’t have a lot of lower income people in this congregation. You know who else we don’t have here in Cottam United Church. We don’t see people with a lot of body piercings and tattoos. Why not? It’s a good question.
It was six years ago now that I made another change to my appearance. I got my ear pierced. Our daughter Rebekah wanted to get a forward triple helix. It was her seventeenth birthday present from Ruth and I. But she needed a ride so I drove her. After Rebekah got her ear done, she just kind of looked at me and said, “What about you Dad?” The truth is that I’d always wanted to get my ear pierced but never had. So I said, “Sure, why not?” So, we did it.
But that’s not the point of the story. This is. I remember that inside the studio were all kinds of people waiting for tattoos and piercings. Chris, the guy who did the piercings had people lined up to see him. He spent a lot of time with us and he was very professional. He didn’t hurry us. He spent a lot of the time he needed to explain what he had to do and make us comfortable. And he constantly said, “Don’t hurry. I have lots of time for you.” And he didn’t just say it. He meant it.
By the time we were done, there were even more people lined up to see him and it was after seven o’clock and he was only there until nine. No one seemed upset at the wait. No one was angry. They just waited. Some of them had waited for over four hours to see him. And I don’t doubt that Chris was going to get to all of them before the studio closed. And they were going to have to go back the next day and wait some more to see Chris to get their body piercings.
And so I asked myself. Why is it that these people – predominantly young – would wait patiently for Chris in the tattoo studio for hours on end but they probably wouldn’t wait five minutes to get into a church? How come someone like Chris can pull people into his studio for hours and hours on a regular basis but we can’t attract them into a church for an hour on Sunday morning? It’s a good question, isn’t it? And maybe it’s a bit scary too.
The cynical side of us might think that it’s their fault. They don’t want to do what we do? They’re not interested in spiritual things. They don’t want to have deep conversations about God and faith and how to live that out. All they want tattoos and weird body piercings.
That’s the cynical side of me. It makes it their fault. They don’t darken the door of a church because they can’t be bothered. But when I think about it a little bit more, I think my cynical side is lying to myself. I have to be honest and say that I really don’t know why they don’t come but I’m willing to find out because I think it says a lot more about the church than it does about those young people.
James talks about how the church is not supposed to make any distinction between those who are well dressed and those who a clad in shabby clothes. And then he goes on to say this in James 2:5 (NIV): “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: 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?” Isn’t that interesting.
My hunch is that people like those young folks at the tattoo studio aren’t often in church is because they feel judged. While they feel accepted at the tattoo studio, they don’t feel accepted in many churches. But I want to be clear about something. I’m not saying that generally about this congregation because I don’t think we would judge them. In fact, we’ve had people in this sanctuary with tattoos and body piercings galore and my sense is that they get treated just like everyone else. We don’t discriminate. We don’t judge others based on their appearance or anything else.
At least we don’t think we do. But I can remember at least on example where that happened right here in this sanctuary. It was about years ago that a young man in his early twenties came into church one morning as a guest with his friend. But he didn’t take his ball cap off. I imagine that was because he’d seldom been in a church and didn’t know the expectations. The man seated behind him was a regular attender and told him, in no uncertain terms, to remove his hat. What do you think happened? The young man never came back. That was sad because he was searching and what he found didn’t suit him. I confess that I don’t particularly like men to wear hats in worship but that’s the way it was when I was raised. Women were expected to wear hats and men were not. Then again, I was taught that it was rude for a man to wear a hat in a restaurant and that happens all of the time these days. And to be honest, it still irks me when I see that but I also understand that it’s really none of my business. But just to be clear, we’re pretty good here at accepting people as they are, but we’re not perfect and we always have to be aware of that.
The Church can be a very judgmental place and we constantly have to guard against falling into that trap.
LOVING YOUR NEIGHBOUR
James is very clear. We have to be very careful not to judge others based on their appearance. He talks about the person with shabby clothes. But it could be anyone. It could be a person of colour or with an accent. It could be someone with a deformity or a disfigurement. It could be someone who is extremely obese or very, very short. It could be someone with a disability. It could even be that person who loves to sing but sings horribly off key and everyone knows it. There are all kinds of reasons we could discriminate in favour of some people and against others.
As we read in James words this morning, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” But then, later in the same passage, he gives us the remedy for the temptation to show favouritism. In James 2:8-9 (NIV) we read, “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.”
It all comes back to that old standby commandment: Love your neighbour as yourself. James is simply echoing what Jesus said. When asked in Mark 12 to define the most important commandments he said to love God and then in Mark 12:31 (NIV) he said to, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” We have to remember that Jesus didn’t just make this up. He got it from the Old Testament. Leviticus 19:18 (NIV) says the same thing, “… love your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus didn’t make it up. I simply quoted what every Jewish person of his day knew. This commandment has been part of the religious teachings of the Jewish faith since the time of Moses, 3,400 years ago and maybe even before that.
Love your neighbour as yourself. If you want to avoid showing favouritism, love your neighbour as yourself. If you want to avoid being judgmental of others, love your neighbour as yourself. If you want to welcome the person who comes to church wearing shabby clothes or a ball cap, love him like you love yourself. If you want to help the person with tattoos and body piercings to feel accepted in our midst, love her as you love yourself. That’s what it comes down to.
And here’s the thing to remember. This is not a new teaching. I’m not telling you anything profound or something that you don’t already know. You know this stuff. Every Christian should know this stuff. It is not what they teach in theological colleges. It’s the stuff that we teach our children when they are young and we reinforce it as they make their way through Sunday School and through all the stages of Christian education right up to adult Bible study. Love your neighbour as yourself.
But some people will claim that while it is easy to understand it is not so easy to put into practice. And my response to that is simple: Yes, it is. It’s not rocket science. Some things in the Bible are difficult to understand. This isn’t one of them. It’s not hard. It’s not complicated. It’s not difficult to put into practice. It’s the simplest thing and it is something that every single one of us can do right now. The only reason you can’t do it is because you don’t want to. Does that sound harsh? Maybe it does but sometimes we need to teach what Jesus taught as clearly and as succinctly as we can. This is one of those teachings. Love your neighbour as yourself. It really is that simple.
If you’re still not certain what it means to love your neighbour as yourself, Jesus also said something else that explains it very clearly. Luke 6:31 (NIV) says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” That’s not difficult to understand. If you want to love your neighbour as yourself then you’d better be prepared to treat them the way you would want to be treated. If you wouldn’t want someone to treat you in a particular way, then don’t treat anyone else that way either. If you don’t like it, why would you expect anyone else to like it. Conversely, if you would like someone to do something for you, then you should be ready to do that same thing for others.
How many people here this morning have a job that brings them into contact with other people? If you’re a salesperson, this includes you. If you’re a secretary or receptionist, this includes you. If you work in a store, at a school or in a government office this probably includes you. Now here’s a question: How many of you go home in tears sometimes because of the way you are treated by the public?
Just recently, I have spoken to three different people who told me that they go home crying because they are treated so poorly by rude people who come into their office or place of business. Some people don’t even have to walk through the door. They can be rude and ignorant on the phone or in an email. They can name call. They can swear and threaten all in an attempt to get their own way because somehow they feel that they are being hard done by even though they are being treated the same way everyone else is being treated with the same policies that apply to everyone who walks through the door or calls on the phone.
What I want to say to you is this; as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t be that person. You don’t need to make people cry. That does no one any good. Don’t be rude to people who work with the public. Don’t swear at them. Don’t belittle them or threaten them. Would you want anyone to treat you that way? Then why would anyone think it is okay to treat someone else that way?
Treat everyone with respect and dignity and do you know what will happen? Chances are that you will get what you need and what you want. I’ve told you this story before but it’s worth repeating because it illustrates precisely what I’m talking about. Before I retired from the military six years ago, I was called to Ottawa for a conference. I had made reservations at the Merriot Hotel in downtown Ottawa. It’s a nice place but I made a mistake. I didn’t realize that there are two Merriots in downtown Ottawa. All of the other people at my working group were at one Merriot and I was at the other one. I didn’t know that until I went to register at the hotel and they could not find my reservation. I showed the reservation confirmation and that’s when we discovered the error. But since I was there, I asked if there were any rooms available. I was told that there weren’t, that they were filled up. But I was really nice and most polite. I told the receptionist a dozen times how much I appreciated her help and she offered to call me a cab to take me over to the correct hotel.
Meanwhile, there was another man talking to the receptionist three feet from me. He was rude. He was belittling. Basically, he was being a real jerk. The young woman who was serving him was almost in tears she was so upset but she kept her cool and did her job. But in the end, the rude man was sent away. There was no room at the inn.
As soon as he left, the woman who was serving me excused herself and went to talk with the other receptionist. I waited patiently for a couple of minutes. When she returned she checked her computer screen again and said, “Sir, you’re in luck. A room just opened up. I think you’ll like this room.” I went up to the room or should I say the suite. It was quite the upgrade. Along with the bedroom, it had a kitchen and sitting room with TVs in every room. It was very nice and I truly did enjoy my stay. But I couldn’t help but to consider the coincidence that the room by sheer coincidence opened up minutes after the rude man was sent away. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you really want to get your way and get what you want, treat others the way you would like them to treat you.
But don’t only do that with the hope of a reward. Do it simply because it’s the right thing to do. Everywhere you go, you are a representative of Jesus Christ. Every person you meet will judge your faith by the way you treat them. Every time you interact with someone else it is an opportunity for you to put your faith into action. Don’t be that rude person. Be that good person who treats others properly, who doesn’t discriminate and doesn’t judge. When you do that, you are faithful to what and to whom you believe.
James closes this passage with a challenging verse. James 2:12-13 (NIV) says, “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.” And then he closes with these words, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
As believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism. Keep that in mind the next time you meet someone who doesn’t look quite the same as you do. The way you treat them may just open a door that will make it possible for the Holy Spirit to sew seeds of faith in their life. And when that begins to happen, you’ve done your job and God is glorified.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Creation, we come before you in thanksgiving and wonder. You have blessed us in abundant ways. You have given us a smooth path to walk and offered your guidance in the Holy Spirit.
The signs of autumn are beginning to emerge. Days are warm but evenings cooler. Geese are honking in the sky as they make their way south. Crops are ripening in the fields. All this, O God, is part of your plan for creation, your wonderful and amazing creation which is the work of your hand. Help us to appreciate all that you have made and help us to do our part to be good stewards of the earth.
Once again, we pray for the people in Afghanistan as they wait for what will happen next. We pray for safety/ We pray that those who need to leave will be able to leave. We
We offer our prayers for those who mourn this day, especially for the family and friends of Gary Pillon. Thank you for his life and bless those who loved him that they may come to that place of peace that only you can provide.
We pray, also, for the children, teachers and others staff who returned to school this week. We are aware that there are still Covid-19 issues that must be worked out and would ask for your protection, wisdom, patience and justice in these situations.
We pray your blessing, O God, upon those who are sick or recovering this day. We think especially of Carol, Mark, Richard, Angela and others who come to mind. Touch them with your Healing Spirit that they may be well in your sight.
Help us, O God, to honestly evaluate our lives: our words, decisions, and actions, or lack thereof. Do our lights shine brightly? Can others truly see you in our words and actions? Help us to receive into our hearts the honest answer to those questions. May our lives illustrate your character and way of living in all that we do, in every word, every interaction with other people, so that we may clearly point others to the light of your grace. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
September 5, 2021 / Pentecost 15 / Proper 18
Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Psalm 45; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
CALL TO WORSHIP
We are truly blessed to be in the presence of God.
Let us lift our voices and sing our praises.
Let us proclaim the name of the One who saves us,
and magnify the God of heaven and earth.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Loving God, we seek your presence in our worship this day. You are powerful and loving, strong and compassionate. Your wisdom far surpasses our human intellect. Still you call us your children as we gather before your throne of grace. Regardless of the struggles and distractions that we face in this life, help us to always remember that there will come a day when we will be called to stand before you, our Judge and Redeemer. Thank you that you have given us the assurance of eternal life with you. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Hear our confession, O God of the Ages. There are times when we fall victim to the sins of prejudice and narrow mindedness. Help us to recognize and appreciate the unique callings, talents, and gifts of each member in the body of Christ. Every part is important and has a needed function. When we fail to understand or appreciate a person role and ministry, help us not to reject or criticize them, because we are all part of the one whole. Forgive us when we fail to accept others as you have accepted us. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
When we fail to love others, there is still a God who loves us and accepts us just as we are with all of our blemishes and sin. Not only does God forgive us, through the Spirit we also are enabled to walk the sanctified life of Christ.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Our gifts we offer, our hearts we bring, our lives we give to you, O God. Use our offerings for the service of your Kingdom that all may hear your Word and seek to live the sanctified life of Christ. We ask your blessings and your grace, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Go into the world as servants of the Living God to be a light in the darkness and a fresh scent in a lonely land. God calls us to reach out a hand to our neighbours and welcome them as Jesus welcomed all people. Open your heart, open your home, open your life to those around you that the Spirit may shine through you and transform the world.