Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 9, 2018
James 2:1-10, 14-18
Partiality According to Faith
Aren’t you partial to certain things? You have a flavor of ice cream, a color, a model of car, an airline. You are partial to each of them for some reason; the way it tastes, the way it handles on the road, the comfort it provides, or just the way it looks. Each of us shows partiality when it comes to some things. But there are times when partiality is to be suppressed and ignored,
Iustitia is the Greek word for justice. She was a goddess in the pantheon, elevated by Augustus. We are familiar with her form – a long flowing robe with scales in one hand and a sword in another. According to sources, her blindfold didn’t appear until the 16th century. That blindfold was incorporated to show that justice is no respecter of persons. She is blind to wealth and power. That may be so most of the time but we all know that it doesn’t always work that way because humanity still sits at the judge’s bench, in the jury box and at both defendant and prosecution tables.
We even have nicknames for some of these instances of partiality, such as teachers pet and favorite child. We may joke about such things from time to time with these labels but because we use them, we readily recognize that such partiality exists. Even in instances where we would think that they should not exist.
James, the brother of our Lord and the bishop of Jerusalem recognized that such partiality was happening in the early Church and the Holy Spirit’s response by way of his pen, was that this was adamantly not to be so. Wealth can buy many things but it cannot by status in the congregation of God’s saints. Every manner of man’s judgment of who may be important or who may be influential and deserving of preferential treatment is thrown out the window. We should remember what our Lord said concerning the rich, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.” Wealth is of no advantage in the kingdom of God. In fact, it can be an impediment.
Yet, it has happened time and again that when planting a new church, the team analyzes the demographics of any area to decide the best location and the most ideal population to whom they can minister. How often in that analysis does somebody look for the most marginalized population and say, “That is where we need to plant a church.”? Or is consideration given to average income and likelihood of giving and fiscal viability of the potential congregation? Is not the real question, “Who needs the gospel and how can we get it to them?”
As nothing changes under the sun, we have to ask ourselves, “Do we show partiality within the church?” Do we look upon those within the congregation and regard them according to their financial ability to give? Do we accord the wealthier members greater deference when it comes status in the church? Are they given more leniency in their sinfulness than others? Afforded more neglect of their faith than others?
While the contrast that James sets up has to do with wealth and power, there are many other ways in which partiality is exhibited and should not. Easily we can regard people differently on account of their intellect or education, their physical beauty, their youthfulness, position in society, even simply because they are easier to get along with than others. Churches have split over partialities such as these that have gone unchecked and uncorrected.
I may have relayed this story to you in the past but, I’m sure it has been long enough that many of you have not yet heard it. I was cutting grass at church with another gentleman one Saturday many years ago. Our church was in the south and the gentleman I was working with was a wonderful guy, loving and giving. I would say he was a great Christian example of piety and service. I looked up and noticed a woman looking at the doors of the church and I made my way over to her to see if I could help her. About the time she said that she was looking for the service times for the next day, the other man approached as well. Immediately after I told her what time the service would be the next day, the other man interjected that perhaps she would be more comfortable at the church downtown instead. I was taken aback as he went on to explain to her that this congregation was white and the other congregation was colored.
James begins this section recognizing that such partialities are the way of men. We show partiality when hiring, when making friends, and where we eat. But, he makes it explicitly clear that such things are not to be connected with the faith in Jesus Christ the Lord. That is, our faith in Jesus means that we are to love the poor as much as the rich. We are to respect the marginalized and the downtrodden just as we respect those that seem to have everything together. We are to regard the disabled as we regard those not. We may predominantly be a middle class anglo church body but that cannot be our target demographic. Conversely, when we look upon the highly respected in society, we are to see them as every much the sinner as the those judged unworthy by the world. When we look at a person, we should see one whom Jesus loves and for whom Jesus died. We should see in everybody, a sinner in need of redemption and the saint that is created only by God’s grace.
The word that James uses that we translate as partiality, literally means to shine one’s face upon, that is to look upon someone with favor. Such language should be familiar to you as it is what you hear each week in the Aaronic benediction. It is in the second of the three phrases given by God for Aaron to speak over the congregation by which God blesses His people. It is the phrase that you hear spoken over you, “The Lord make His face shine upon and be gracious to you.”
This is not prayer or request, it is the word of God bestowing upon you what it says. His face shines upon you. He shows partiality to you on account of His grace that overflows in Jesus Christ. It is not that God is blind in His justice, it is that He is perfect in His justice. He does not regard sin where faith clings to the forgiveness that is in Christ Jesus. And James is telling us that we must be the same. Justice is not blind but it regards all that have faith in Jesus as equal heirs in the kingdom of God.
James is telling us to take off the blindfold of the world and to regard all as God has regarded them, that is, as those that are redeemed in Jesus Christ. As God has shined (shone) His face upon them, so too, are we to shine our faces upon them and show the same partiality as God. We are to see every member of the body as if he or she were Jesus Himself.
We may not have the same class structures as the Roman world but we certainly have divisions among us still. But Christ breaks down every one of those divisions. God’s Word shows each as equally sinner and bestows upon each equally His grace. Divisions within the Church do not accord with the faith that we share in Jesus. That faith expects and demands that we love as we have been loved, that we forgive as we have been forgiven, that we show partiality as God has shown it to us, that we let this good work give witness to the faith that is within us and by which we are saved.
All glory be to Jesus. Amen.