I was having dinner with a colleague a couple of weeks ago,
and in talking about how things were going in his parish,
he told me about a couple who had recently joined.
Unfortunately, they can’t come every Sunday,
because they both work at Wal-Mart.
They hate doing Sundays at Wal-Mart,
not just because they have to miss worship,
But the worst part, they told their pastor,
is when the people in their Sunday best come in from worship.
And, they said,
‘They are the rudest, nastiest customers we have.’
This should surprise us.
How can this be?
These are people come from worship,
they hear in Scripture and preaching
of God’s love for all people in Jesus Christ.
Granted, sometimes church takes a lot out of you.
I sometimes want to just go home and sleep.
And Wal-Mart itself can make you grouchy,
especially when you just want to get home to that couch.
But that’s really not the point, is it?
If people are conscious of the Word,
if they are conscious of what they are hearing,
they are moved to joyfully serve others in obedience to the Word,
not to treat other people as if they are beneath them.
Of course, James wouldn’t have been surprised at all to hear this.
He has just gotten done telling his readers
to be doers of the word and not hearers only.
Now he describes in specific terms
how someone who merely ‘hears’ the word behaves.
We all live in a world of hierarchies.
We live with people above us and people below us.
We live in a world in which people are lords over us
and we lord it over others.
This is a fallen world.
It is not the world as God intended it.
There is one Lord in the world,
the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is one Lord in the Church,
the Lord Jesus Christ.
What happens when the Church curries favor with the rich,
and speaks dismissively to the poor?
It brings the lords of the world into the Church,
and makes the Church look like it represents the lords of the world.
The Church ought to be a different place,
and Christians ought to be different people,
but often we mimic the world so as to be indistinguishable from it.
This can happen to Christians who aren’t that serious about their faith
and it can happen to Christians who are very serious about it.
I am currently reading a book by the Christian writer Philip Yancey
called, Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church.
In the book he profiles the lives of thirteen Christians
who have served as sources of inspiration for him,
both from the past and the present.
One of the people he profiled was Dr. Robert Coles,
an author, a teacher at Harvard University, and a Christian.
Dr. Coles related a story to Philip Yancey
about how he had spent time among migrant workers in Florida.
He had been ‘the paragon of sensitivity and compassion,
entering the migrants’ shacks,
winning their friendship,
treating them with respect,
coaxing words from them,
advising them medically.
Yet when he crossed the state line
and stopped for a bite to eat at a roadside café in Georgia,
he caught himself snapping at the waitress
who took too long to refill his coffee.
Already, so quickly, he was settling into the entitlements of privilege.’
In a consumer society,
we treat people as servants,
instead of serving them even as they are serving us.
In a consumer society,
we look upon those who have more than us
as those with whom we must curry favor.
Perhaps this is so engrained in us
that we don’t even think about it,
we don’t even know that we’re doing it.
When an intelligent and spiritual man like Robert Coles
can so easily step back into lording it over others
after weeks and weeks of serving,
it must be in the very air we breathe,
part of our very nature.
This letter of James means to shake us out of our complacency,
but even more,
it makes us hear things not just that we don’t want to hear,
but that we really can’t hear.
The Word of God opens our ears to hear,
and opens our mouths to speak.
We are in just as dire a situation as the man of the Decapolis,
who comes to Jesus with his tongue seized up
and his ears plugged up.
We don’t want to approach the Church like that,
we don’t want to approach Jesus like that.
We don’t want to be the poor person coming to the Church,
we want to be the person coming to the Church
with something to offer,
whether it be money or a good singing voice or some sort of talent.
We want something that makes others treat us with respect.
But when we come to Jesus,
we must come as those whose eyes are shut up,
ears are plugged up, tongue is seized up,
so that he can speak to us and say, ‘Ephphatha,’
Be opened to your worth in God’s eyes,
and be opened to the worth of every other in God’s eyes,
so that you may serve the other as worthy of your best,
even when the other may not be at their best.
Be opened to one Lord in the world,
Be opened to the other who is there,
that the Lord in the other may be served.