The story is told about a church who had just hired a new Sr. Pastor to lead them into the future. The morning of his installation and his first sermon came and the congregation was excited to meet him and hear his first sermon, and his vision for the congregation. As they gathered together that morning a visitor was among them. This visitor was unlike any other. He sat on the steps of the church building, smelling, wearing old ratty clothes, and carrying his few meager possessions. While the congregation flooded into the church building, they were stopped by this homeless man asking for some spare change, to buy some food, but no one gave him any. He then went into the sanctuary, but hardly anyone even acknowledged his presence. He headed towards the front of the sanctuary and began to take a seat, but the ushers asked if he would please sit in the back.
As he sat there, he listened to the music and to the announcements. Following the announcements the elders of the church got up and began to share their excitement about the call that they had extended to the new Sr. Pastor. They said to the congregation, “We would like to introduce you to our new Sr. Pastor.” The Congregation began to clap with joy and anticipation. They began to look around trying to find the new Sr. Pastor. And that is when the homeless man got up and began to make his way to the front of the sanctuary. The clapping stopped and all eyes were on him. He approached the microphone and began to recite these words, Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ ‘The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry, and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?” He then dismissed service until next week.
Now this story may be just that, a story that someone made up to make a point, but the point is very very clear. This story leads right into our text for the morning and our theme in our A Third Way to Follow Jesus. Today we are going to look at 2 Scriptures, James 2:1-9 and Galatians 3:28 as we explore the idea that a third way to follow Jesus involves the fact that there is an insistence on church without class or division.
So let’s turn first to James 2 and see what it might have to say to us about this third way to follow Jesus.
“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 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?
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? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? 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.”
So as James transitions from Chapter 1 to Chapter 2 (not that there was chapters when James wrote the book that is something that was put into the Scriptures later on), we read the last words of chapter 1 which says, “and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” And then goes right into showing how Christians show the fact that they have been polluted by the world every time they show favoritism. Which in this example is based around socio-economic status. This is the way that the Kingdom of the world works. It always establishes a pecking order and by showing favoritism to the rich and well off, instead of the poor, shows us who our God actually is. It showed a deep carnality within the church.
You see James wrote to a very partial age (really no different in some ways than our very own age that we are living through right now) filled with prejudice and hatred based on class, ethnicity, nationality, and religious background. In the ancient world people were routinely and permanently categorized because they were Jew or Gentile, slave or free, rich or poor, Greek or Barbarian. A huge part of the work that Jesus was sent to do was to break down the walls that divide humanity. Ephesians 2:14 puts it this way in relation to Jews and Gentilesspecifically“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,.” All the walls- socio-economic, race, class, gender, nationality, etc.. is broken down and torn asunder by Jesus.
The Early Church, in some parts, had a beautiful rule that they sought to live by, which confronts the favoritism that James mentions. If a regular member of the congregation came into the building where the church was meeting, an user would look after them. But if a stranger, especially a poor stranger, would show up, the Bishop would leave his chair and go to the door to welcome the stranger. The Early Church, though definitely not perfect, determined to live under the rule and reign of King Jesus- even if it was seen by the world as upside down. And one huge way for the church to live under the rule and reign of King Jesus was to live out the royal law- to love your neighbor as yourself, and not just the rich neighbors, or the ones that thought or acted or believed the same things as you. To love your neighbor as yourself meant that you didn’t show favoritism to the rich, the powerful, the elite. No, you treated everyone as equal. And the walls that the system of the world put up that divided humanity, gets pulled down by the followers of Jesus- or at least that is what we are supposed to do.
You see, the church, the body of Christ, has only one head. Third way faith communities and individuals who seek to follow Jesus in a third way, while acknowledging functional diversity, seek to set aside all racial, ethnic, class and sex distinctions because these are subsumed in the unity and equality of the body. Which plays itself out in so many ways, including destroying the clergy/laity divide, which means that all followers of Jesus are missionaries and priests. When you become a member of the family, old distinctions cease to be relevant, in terms of their status within the family. We are all brothers and sisters. All previous statuses are irrelevant in terms of your status to Christ and in the church.
That is the way that it is supposed to be. Paul unpacks this a little more in Galatians 3:28 when he says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” You see Paul is attacking a primary system that was in play at the time. According to the way things were in the world, there were 3 primary divisions in Greco-Roman society. Ethnicity (Jews/Gentiles). Class (Slave/Free) and Gender (Male/Female). Even Rabbis were known to pray and thank God that they were not born a gentile, a slave or a woman. Another thing that we need to understand is the context of who the Apostle Paul is actuality writing his letter to. The audience of his letter is Christians in Galatia. Why is that important? One of the biggest problems that the church in Galatia was facing was the belief by some of the Jewish Christians that to be a follower of Jesus you had to observe Jewish customs regarding circumcision and dietary laws. Paul is saying that you didn’t need to be Jewish to be a Christian. You didn’t have to be circumcised if you were a male (thank God for that). You didn’t necessarily have to follow the dietary laws. (Anyone who likes Bacon can say Amen.)
Paul is saying (along with James) that in our standing before God in Jesus, that every dividing wall/line is torn down and erased. Now that Jesus is (and should be) our identity, every other identity prior to Jesus is (and should be) subsumed in Him. We are all one in Jesus. That is the ideal. That is what King Jesus desires from us. Jesus died to not only reconcile us to himself (he did that) but also reconcile us to each other. Look further in Ephesians 2 which says, “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace( to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access) to the Father by one Spirit.” The King, through his death, creates a new humanity made up of Jew and Gentile, Slave and Free, Male and Female, Rich and Poor, Black and White, and whatever else which can divide us. That is the what the Kingdom of God is all about. But as we look around, we know that is not yet the case, in full. Racism still abounds within the church. Nationalism still abounds within the church. Favoritism still exists in the church. Our status within the world has crepted into the church and kept us divided and fractured.
But this is not the way that it should be. This is not the way those who live under the rule and reign of King Jesus and the Kingdom of God are supposed to live. We are one in Christ, whether we are American or Syrian, Rich or Poor, Doctor or Homeless, Black or White, Republican or Democrat, conservative or progressive etc.. Whatever identities that we have and continue to describe ourselves with are secondary to the identity as Beloved Sons and Daughters of the King. These identities all too often divide the people of God. Walls go up, borders are drawn, arrows and darts of hate are thrown and we lose site that, if we are in Christ, we are one. Republicans and Democrat Christians are Christians first and party affiliations second. Conservative Christians and Progressive Christians are followers of Jesus first and for most. American Christians and Syrian Christians are brothers and sisters, not enemies based on our nationalities. The Kingdom of God transcends all of these divisions. The heart of God is grieved. Jesus heart breaks when his body continues to divide over things like class and other divisions. His death tore down the walls and we continue to build them back up again. Each one of us have taken a brick and built up the dividing wall that has kept us separated. We have allowed class, race, theological beliefs, politics, socio-economic status, life status, etc… to divide us and not lived out the reality that in Christ we are one. We are one family. We are one new humanity. We are one because of Jesus and in Jesus alone are we one.
But what does it look like to insist on a church without class or division? How have you done your part in erecting the dividing wall that Jesus death sought to bring down? How have you done your part of break down the wall that divides us as the body of Christ? And what can we do together as Veritas to be a church without class or division and be the one body that Christ died to establish? Let’s talk about that together.
1. What thoughts, insights, questions, etc.. do you have regarding a church without class or division, the Scriptures and/or the message?
2. Where have you done your part to erect the dividing wall? Where have you done your part to tear down the dividing wall that Jesus brought down by his death and resurrection?
3. What can we do together to live into a reality of a church without class or division?