For most of this week I’ve been wrestling with the book of James. It’s one of the best sections in the entire New Testament…you’ve got the actual brother of Jesus talking about how to live out this thing that his brother started. And one of the main ways James says to do that is to be a part of a community that doesn’t show favoritism.
Most of the run in with celebrities that I have had, have been disastrous. I met Houston Nutt one time, and I think he almost called security on me. But the worst (and I’m really tipping you off to how nerdy I can be) was when I met the theologian, Walter Bruegemmann. We were both at a conference, and I went up to him, shook his hand, and said something like:
“You’ve given me the capacity to dream again.”
Our conversation didn’t last very long. There’s not really many places it could have gone from there, other than talks of restraining orders.
I’m telling you this because I think James has a word for me, and probably you too.
In Donald Miller’s classic memoir “Blue Like Jazz,” he’s got a story tucked away in the end of the book about his friend named Nathan he met a Reed college.
He says that Nathan was this short, stocky kid with a speech impediment. Miller said that he actually sounded a lot like Elmer Fudd, and that his initial response when he heard Nathan talk was to laugh. He suppressed it, and tried to listen to the person behind the voice, and found out that Nathan was brilliant. He researched Nuclear chemistry, was actually kind and descent. He was, in other words, more than his voice.
A few weeks later, Miller was speaking to some preachers in California. They were asking him about how hard it was to live at Reed college (a college notorious for immoral behavior). And Miller’s response has stuck with me for years. Here’s what he says:
“I have never thought of Reed as an immoral place, I suppose it’s because somebody
like Nathan can go there and talk like Elmer Fudd, and nobody will ever make fun
of him. And if Nathan were to go to my church, which I love and would give my life
for, he would unfortunately be made fun of by somebody somewhere, behind his
back and all, but it would happen, and that is tragic….What I love about Reed
college is that there is a foundational understanding that other people exist and
they are important, and to me Reed is like Heaven in that sense.”
Here’s what James is saying. This is just as important as any other moral that you’ve got. Go back and read what he says. That caring about people, without showing favoritism, is just as important as not committing adultery.
One of the more frustrating things about churches, the thing that James is putting his finger on here, is that we tend to define much of our ethics based on what happens, or doesn’t happen, below the waist. God knows those kinds of ethics are important, but just as important, James is saying is how we treat others.
James is showing that Christian ethics is not only based on what you don’t do. It’s based on how you treat others, and the way people can tell what you think about God is by looking at how you treat people.
And so preachers, deacons, Sunday-school teachers, listen up…Those people, the Extra-Grace-Required members of your church, you need them, just as much as they need you. The ethic of James is to treat them just as well as anyone else. Because there is a morality of acceptance that you are showing, or not showing, to those you are leading.
And if we don’t treat those people well than our faith may be holy, righteous, and whatever other word you’d like to put there, but it’s not Christian. We treat people better than others because we’ve seen Jesus’ Glory. Not just in the tomb, but in the manger, in the dinner parties with hookers and religious elite, talking to the thousands, and to the promiscuous woman at the well.
We’ve seen his Glory, and so we look for it in others.