There is a well-known story told about a church that invited a famous guest preacher one Sunday. When the congregation gathered Sunday morning, many important people attended and dressed in their finest.
As the time of the service approach, the famous preacher had not appeared.
The leaders became nervous. But they were also bothered by a poorly dressed barefoot man who waited in the narthex to be seated. The leaders considered asking this man to leave. Finally, they decided to seat him, but put him on the back pew. Those seated nearby shifted away.
When the music paused, the poorly dressed man got up from his seat, walked up the aisle to the pulpit and opened the Bible. He read a passage from the letter of James.
“My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Stand there,’ or ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4).
In that moment the people listening knew that they were listening not to a poor beggar, but to a famous preacher.
God cares for all people equally. Poor, rich, young, old, weak, strong, neighbors, strangers – all are God’s children. Sometimes we draw lines between us. We forget that we are all equal in God’s eyes. We forget that despite our differences we are all precious to God.
James reminds us that our distinctions are not God’s: “If you show partiality, you commit sin...”
Instead, James reminds us to let the work of our lives – our actions – reflect our relationship with God.
“If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
In other words, faith that can’t be seen in the actions of our lives, really isn’t faith in God.
As the followers of Jesus we are called to put our faith into action. We are called to let his compassion be seen in our lives. This happens when we help someone in need. It happens when we listen to someone who is lonely. It happens when we pray with one who is hurting.
Sometimes this call pushes us beyond our comfort zone. We may not think we have the skills to help. We may not think we have the resources needed to do the work. We may not be comfortable in the environment we are called to. I remember a time in my life.
Before seminary I was asked to serve a one-year internship in a church. I waited anxiously to find out where I would be assigned. I hoped that it might be one of the big multi-staff parishes that had lots of resources. To my dismay I was assigned to a small inner-city mission. I was nervous. It was in a poor neighborhood. I came from the rich suburbs. It was mostly black and I came from a church that was mostly white. I didn’t know what to expect.
But the members of this church welcomed me into their community. They hugged me at the Peace. They fed me with their wonderful community dinners. They allowed me to teach their children. They treated me as one of the family. They loved me despite our differences. Through their actions, I witnessed their faith.
And from their witness of faith, my life was changed. I grew. Eventually I no longer saw a distinction between us. I no longer saw black or white, rich or poor, weak or strong, young or old. All I saw was God’s family.
Actions matter. The way we treat others matter. This is because we are all God’s children. God loves all of us. But the only way in which God’s love is known in his world is through our actions. When we act, others see our faith and their faith grows. When we act our faith is alive and thriving!