What Would Jesus Undo: Playing Favorites

What Would Jesus Undo: Playing Favorites

September 6, 2015

Rev. James Kjorlaug

James 2:1-10, 14-17

This morning, rather than opening with a normal prayer, I invite you to breathe deep and consider the words of Howard Thurman’s meditation, “We Yield to the Love of God.” This meditation we offer God as our prayer.

“We bare our lives to the scrutiny, to the judgment, to the love of God. There is so much that burdens the mind, that peoples the thoughts, that again and again we are confused even in the great quiet Presence of God.

We yield to [God] our confusions: the chaos of our minds and spirits; the tensions that tame the glory of the love of God out of our lives.

We yield to [God] our frailties and our limitations: our quiet physical pains and the long chain of anxieties they inspire; the fatigue of spirit, because with reference to our private burdens often we become so tired.

We yield the desires of our minds and hearts: the private intimate wishes by which again and again the springs of our activities are fed and kept alive.

We yield the desires of which we are ashamed: those desires that buffet our spirits and torture our minds and yet seem to cling to us with such tenacity.

We yield our joys: the joy in being alive; the joy in renewed friendships; the joy in re-established and reconciled lives; the joy in the day’s work and the night’s rest; the sheer joy of being loved, of caring and being cared for.

We yield our concerns for the world where we are exposed to much that casts down and depresses, to little that uplifts and inspires: war and the threat of war; the long loneliness and the deathwatch which seems to stalk our culture and fill our civilization with deadly dry rot.

We yield our lives, the nerve centers of our consent: lest the mainsprings of all our values collapse and we become like shadows in the night.

All of this — and more than tongue can say and heart can feel and mind can think — all of this we yield to the scrutiny, to the judgment, to the love of God.”

It seems a risky endeavor to offer such a meditation in the midst of this week. In the midst of a time where we, as a community, reflect upon this question of favoritism and how Christ calls each of us to reject favoritism. It is a risky endeavor to offer this meditation in the midst of a world that consistently faces the painful reality of what preferences for certain people and the alienation of others, what the destructive reality of favoritism, can create. It’s a week where the suffering of so many has become embodied in the image of a three year old’s lifeless body lying face down in the sand of a beach in Turkey, one of so many from so many different places trying to escape the horrors of violence and war. It is risky to offer this meditation as we recognize this reality extends to so many who have been forced to leave their communities, to face devaluation and dehumanization at the hands of others. In the light of this the epistle of James seems an appropriate space to start.

This letter is written to Jewish Christian communities who are isolated from Israel. It is in this space of scattered isolation that the words of this letter find them. The epistle speaks to these communities, calling them to reflect upon their practices, to reflect upon how they interact with the people around them. Importantly, this letter exposes the particular ways that these worshiping communities show favoritism and promptly explains how doing so is wrong.

While this passage of text was written for communities far removed in space and time from us, the words speak to the reality that we all fall short. That we, as a community before God, cannot rest in our actions. It is with thankfulness that we can proclaim that God does not resign in the midst of our failing. 

Sisters and brothers, today we celebrate communion. Today we hear anew the invitation that Christ Jesus offers to us all. We hear Christ once again call us to the space of the table, to his body and his blood. It is an invitation into the life of Jesus that Jesus offers to all with complete and utter equity. In this invitation Jesus states his stand on favoritism, for him there is none. Forgiveness is bound up in the invitation and is offered to all just the same. It is in the Holy Spirit that we are bound to Jesus, and through Jesus, we then come before God. 

It is in our thankfulness we respond by recognizing how we have failed, how we are broken, how we have fallen short. It is our response, one simple way that we respond because of our faith. In that confession we take joy because we recognize that we do not confess trusting only in ourselves but we rest in that space of confession as a response to the forgiveness and grace that God has already given to us, through Jesus, and in the Holy Spirit. So that, as we eat of the bread and drink of the cup we participate in an act of worship that transcends time, that involves all believers as we worship together being led by Christ.

This moment, as we stand convicted by the ongoing life of Christ, with whom we participate in this holy mystery, consider what it means that God has not shown favoritism. What it means that Christ Jesus invites all with equity. What it means that the Holy Spirit is present with all regardless of status or worldly worth and that the Holy Spirit is seeking to reshape us to be more and more Christ-like. How will we respond? How will we wrestle this day with the question of favoritism? 

As we share this morning in the table, as we journey through this liturgy that may seem stale and an act of worship that may seem simply routine, see with renewed vision and listen with great care. Ponder the words of the meditation, “we bare our lives to the scrutiny, to the judgment, to the love of God,” and take heart for that love which God offers is so very vast and we stand in the scrutiny, the equitable judgement, never alone but always with Christ.