James 2:1-8 Common English Bible
My brothers and sisters, when you show favoritism you deny the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has been resurrected in glory. Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags. Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, “Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.” But to the poor person you say, “Stand over there”; or, “Here, sit at my feet.” Wouldn’t you have shown favoritism among yourselves and become evil-minded judges?
My dear brothers and sisters, listen! Hasn’t God chosen those who are poor by worldly standards to be rich in terms of faith? Hasn’t God chosen the poor as heirs of the kingdom he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Don’t the wealthy make life difficult for you? Aren’t they the ones who drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism?
You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself.
You Are Gifted…You Are Called
Spiritual Gifts Series: Hospitality
September 24-25, 2016
We are in the third week of our sermon series on Spiritual Gifts. Over the last couple of weeks, we have looked at the gifts of Mercy and Teaching. This weekend, we are focusing on Hospitality and next weekend we will conclude the series looking at the spiritual gift of Evangelism.
With each gift, we are reflecting on how we have seen these gifts lived out in our own lives, in the lives of others, and in the life of the church.
The spiritual gift of hospitality streams through Scripture, so there are many scriptures we could use to think about hospitality. We heard earlier from the letter to the Hebrews that by sharing hospitality, we may be hosting angels without knowing it.
Now we will use a passage from the Letter of James to continue to think about the gift of hospitality. This letter also known as an Epistle, is short in length; just five chapters and is located near the end of the New Testament, right after Hebrews and just before First Peter.
There were four people associated with Jesus named James, including Jesus’ brother, but scholars don’t know for certain who authored this letter or to whom this letter was written. Still, the letter is filled with wonderful words about living our faith in everyday life and extending the spiritual gift of hospitality.
I remember back in my coaching days, we would pile into 15-passenger Dodge vans and head off to our weekend competition. If the trip was a long one, we occasionally got to take a coach bus. But the post-meet logistics of feeding dozens of hungry student-athletes and coaches was consistent…When the team vans or bus would stop for dinner at a fast-food restaurant, the team manager would jump out of the van or bus, run inside and check out the restaurant for its hospitality, willingness and ability to welcome and feed our large, hungry group. If satisfied, the team manager would swing open the restaurant door and wave us in and say something like, “Looks good!”
You see, the team manager was trusted enough to quickly discern whether the team would be welcome. Then, with enthusiasm, he or she would bring others in. I translate that to the life of the church by saying that the gift of holy hospitality motivates people to want to invite others in or bring others with them.
Today’s teaching from the Letter of James is clear, direct, and understandable; it’s not too hard to get the point from today’s passage. The emphasis of this entire letter is on the Christian life as a life of sincere and wide welcome and holy hospitality. It’s a letter that has a somewhat gritty feel to it. The writer urges us to “listen” to this straightforward, practical advice for living as people of faith within the realities of the world.
This letter offers a reality check or wake-up call to all who claim the name Christian by telling us that what we say, how we live and what we do are the best signs of our Christian faith and hospitality.
Our text today opens with a case study of human nature. The writer of James portrays a scenario: Two people enter a gathering; perhaps a church setting, one with gold rings and dressed in fine clothes; appearing well off; and the other is poor; maybe homeless, wearing dirty and tattered clothes. Special hospitality is given to the one wearing fine clothes, while the other person is ignored and cast aside.
One of our United Methodist Bishops, Robert Schnase, has written a book and study series called “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.”
One of those fruitful practices he calls ‘Radical Hospitality.’ By ‘radical,’ he does not mean “wild-eyed, out-of-control, or in your face.” But rather, ‘radical’ means “practices that exceed expectations and that go the second mile.”
He says, “Radical hospitality has us seeing people as Jesus sees them and seeing Jesus in the people God brings before us.”
For the church, that means creating a culture of holy hospitality that mirrors the character and teaching and life of Jesus.
I believe it’s true that the world judges the truth of the gospel on the basis of the sort of lives the gospel is able to produce.
Do we really look like the God whom we worship here? Have our songs and prayers changed us, making us into that which we proclaim? Has hearing God’s love proclaimed in the Scriptures had an impact on how we live out our faith? That is the test, says James.
The radical challenge put forth by the writer of James in a nutshell is Jesus’ Gospel command or what James calls the ‘royal law,’…”You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These are strong words in James, just as they are in the gospels, and they require a strong response.
For James, being ‘other-focused,’ or neighbor-focused is about giving of ourselves, our resources, and our hospitality as a natural response of our faith.
The bottom line for the writer of James and for us in the Sun Prairie United Methodist Church is that our love and care for others, and our hospitality flows out of knowing we are loved by God. When we are in relationship with God through who we know Christ to be, it is that relationship of love that motivates love of neighbor.
Then experiences in love of neighbor strengthen our belief in God’s love for all people. When this cycle of love, with belief and action occurs within community, it deepens both our faith and our ministry beyond ourselves…And that translates into Holy Hospitality.
Bishop Schnase also tells about a midsize congregation that noticed while they received many new visitors and a high percentage of those visitors were joining the church, worship attendance was staying the same and participation in other ministries was not growing.
The church practiced wonderful hospitality with visitors and new members feeling welcomed in worship. But then after a few months, these folks became less consistent in attendance and then discontinued altogether.
So, to better understand, the pastor visited with some of the newer members. What the pastor discovered was that people felt welcomed and supported when they first visited the church and continued to feel a sense of belonging in worship. But when they tried to become part of a class or small group or music group or outreach project, they found the groups cliquish and uninterested in welcoming new people.
Bishop Schnase said, “The front door was working well, as people felt invited and welcomed. But they were slipping out the back door because they were discovering too many of the middle doors were closed tight.”
One of the ways we are trying to keep the front and middle doors of this church open and keep folks from slipping out the back door unnoticed, is by being intentional with our connecting of new people and new members.
Those that come to our Newcomer’s class are invited to look through a ministry packet to see where they want to connect or how they want to ‘plug in’ to ministry within the life of this church. Then each person is invited to meet with Deb Mulhern, who is our Director of Connecting Ministries. She uses her spiritual gift of hospitality to connect each person and let those in leadership know that a person wishes to become involved in their ministry area.
Then it is up to the persons in those ministry areas to continue extending the gift of hospitality as new people come among them.
One of the greatest gifts of hospitality we can offer is to invite someone else or help a newcomer feel genuinely welcome so that he or she receives what we have received. The true gift of hospitality is a quality of intentional spiritual welcome and the opening of our church and ourselves to receive others because God has sent them among us. Intentional hospitality continues to ask how we are doing at inviting, welcoming and supporting new people among us and how we can improve.
St. Benedict is known to have instructed the monks in his monasteries to welcome every visitor as if that person were Christ. A seminary professor tells the story about a student who spent a summer working in a Benedictine monastery that was a place of refuge for the poor in a large city. Those at the monastery worked all day handing out food and ministering to other human needs the best they could. As one particular long day was drawing to a close, the student and one of the monks were finally taking care of the last person in line that had come for help. As they were pushing the big oak door closed for the night, they looked out and saw yet one more needy soul shuffling his way up the sidewalk toward the monastery.
The tired student looked out at the man shuffling toward them and muttered, “Jesus Christ…” The monk replied, “Could be, could be. We had better open the door.”
When we are living and modeling holy hospitality, it becomes an obvious and compelling culture of hospitality that is alive in this place. And a culture of holy hospitality is noticeable because it stands out, it reaches out, it invites, it welcomes, it waves other in, and it makes a place at the table for all people.
Whether we share in taking the bread and cup of Communion in a given worship service or not, the Communion Table is always here to remind us that this open table of God’s love and grace is a symbol of the Holy Hospitality that invites all people to have a place of belonging.
May we continue to share the spiritual gift of Hospitality well in this place.
This is the Good News of God this day.
Thanks be to God.