By Paul Koch –
Life in the church can be a strange thing. I mean, we gather together in this place every Sunday. You sit in your usual spots and have your favorite hymns and go through the typical routine. But when you stop to think about it, this place is sort of odd. It’s quite different from life outside of these walls, and I don’t mean that it is all sunshine and rainbows in here, or some sort of utopian escape from the drudgery in life. Church can be fun and enjoyable and uplifting, but it can also be disappointing and hurtful. In many ways a church isn’t all that different from a family. It has highs and lows, good times and bad. What makes it odd is that you don’t have to be here. There is no law binding you together in this place. You could go somewhere else. You could just as easily have slept in and done something else with your day. But you are here; here with one another sitting among this wonderful hodgepodge of saints and sinners that make up the church.
It is precisely because this gathering of God’s people is such a mixed bag that we struggle in the church. We struggle because we slowly but surely make distinctions amongst the body of Christ. We gather together in the same place, but we know that we are not all the same. Each one of you is a member of the body, to be sure, but you are all different. You have different gifts, different strengths and weaknesses. And though we try not to, it is impossible for us to go for very long without seeing that some of those gifts of more valuable, or at least they seem to be that way to us.
So, what does this lead to? It leads to you making judgments concerning the worth of the members of the body of Christ. In other words, you will value one person over another. You will see a particular person to be more worthy of your time and energy than some other. You will make these judgments based on how you perceive their overall contribution to the congregation and how friendly they are on the one hand and their public sin on the other. Perhaps she is wealthy and a leader in the community; then her voice is of a little more worth than the guy that can’t hold a job and has been in and out of rehab several times.
Now, James in writing to the church and its leaders says this, “If a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:2-4)
Judges with evil thoughts, that is what he accuses you of being when you make these distinctions of value within the body of Christ. Furthermore, he seems intent on pointing out that this is foolish for a Christian to do because it undermines the very nature of the Gospel itself. That is, the message of hope and assurance that brings you together in the first place doesn’t allow for such judgment between brothers and sisters. “Has not God chosen,” he says, “those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?” (James 2:5) Recall how the beatitudes of our Lord begin. He starts by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for there is the kingdom of heaven.” Not blessed are the rich, or blessed are the wise, or blessed are those who have the most to offer someone else. No, those who are in need, those who are poor, even poor in spirit are blessed by Christ. Or recall the famous song of Mary, when she confesses that God is one who “has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
It turns out that God does not judge as the world judges. He could. He has every right to. He is the giver of the law, the One who hates sin and despises the sinner. Yet, He does something that we could not expect, something that no one saw coming. He is gracious and kind. And this grace of his turns everything over on its head. For you see, it was never a matter of degree. One person isn’t of more value to Him over another. All were guilty and worthy of judgement, but He sent His only begotten Son to bear that burden for you, for all of you. He punished your sin in his flesh so that you might live. On him was laid the iniquity of us all so that you might have hope and confidence in your salvation. A salvation then that has never been dependent upon your worth or value before the Lord but only on the value of the blood of Christ.
This gift, this grace of your Father in heaven is the root of your faith. It is what gives it its shape and strength. Our fellowship here today flows from the confidence that our salvation is established by Christ alone. He is the way and the truth and the life that stands at the heart of what we do. You see you are the poor in spirit, you are the weak and the foolish, you are the ones in need of his gifts, so he has given them to you in great abundance. Though you may have different gifts, though you may come from various backgrounds and though you are all struggling with different temptations and hardships in your lives, you are brought together here by one Lord, one faith and one baptism. You are all equally sinners in your flesh and equally saints in the gifts of Christ.
And so, your faith that flows from Christ himself has ramifications in your life. For faith is not a dead thing. Faith does things. James says, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17) Faith is active, moving, powerful. It doesn’t lie dormant in your life but is always at work. Ho could it not be? For it flows from the work of Christ himself. It flows from pure love and compassion that speaks hope into despair and life into death.
So just what does a working, living faith, do? Well to begin with it doesn’t operate out of fear. It doesn’t need to judge men and show partiality. Faith is sure and whole in Christ alone. He is our hope, he is our confidence, he is the author and perfector of our salvation. So by faith in Christ you can love the lowly, you can be compassionate to the wayward, you can forgive one another over and over again. Faith listens to those who are hurting and lonely in this world. It makes room for them though it may know what to say or how act. Faith dares to speak to those who are lost and angry, those who doubt God’s gifts and his promises. Faith will whisper into their ears, “He still died for you, he still loves you, he still misses you.” Faith raises our heads when we want to give up, when it all seems too much, when throwing in the towel seems to be the best option. Faith rises from deep within our hearts and would inspire us to charge the hill one more time. To press on, for this temporal life is not all there is.
Your faith isn’t dead. It is felt right here. It is a reality in your lives. It clings to Christ day in and day out. I see your faith when you care for each other, when you love and forgive and rally together. It’s not perfect, and sure it fails at times. In fact, it can get downright ugly and crooked. But Christ’s works don’t fail. They don’t come up short, they don’t linger incomplete. No, they are given yet again to each and every one of you. See, there is no need for partiality, for we are all working by faith. We are all daring to love again, because of the love of Christ.
Look around. Look at the incredible opportunities for your faith to work. In Christ you are free, free to love, free to care, free to forgive. Thanks be to God.