SO…it’s Labor Day weekend. I’m remembering the many times West-Park celebrated Labor to the pulpit Sunday with special union guests sharing in service leadership. The time our unique music director Bill Schimmel brought in long time union musician and organizer Paul Stein to share old songs with us. And most recently, our friends from National Movement Against Sweatshops.
What I’m interested in this week is prejudice and partiality. And I start with James, talking about experiences that seem to come directly from his church experience. His critique of favoritism coming from a long tradition within Judaism.
He’s talking about what happens on any given Sunday when you have two visitors, one rich and well-dressed, the other poor.
2For 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, 3and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, "Have a seat here, please," while to the one who is poor you say, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
I love James, the brother of Jesus, because he is so direct.
Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
He’s saying that since we have been baptized in the name of Jesus, if we mistreat the poor we’re giving Jesus a bad name, in essence we’re cursing him. We who bear his name become responsible for what is done in that name.
His court reference means something to me too, remembering going with different members of this congregation to housing court, seeing wealthy landlord after wealthy landlord putting people out from their houses, on sometimes flimsy grounds, sometimes just because they couldn’t afford an attorney. I cases where they’d actually paid the rent. Just so the new empty apartment could flip from stabilized or controlled to market rate. And out own experiences in court with all the pressure from judges to settle paying large sums of money we didn't have just to make it go away.
I think about conversations about should anyone be able to sit in the sanctuary? Or will their presence make others uncomfortable.? Worry about cleanliness? (Remember: We had over 100 occupiers here for weeks and never a bed bug….good luck or maybe more….maybe God watches out..)
And once again the royal law, royal because it is the law on which Jesus’ reign is based…"You shall love your neighbor as yourself…and if you don’t do this, you are indeed a transgressor, that this is as important as adultery. Wish we could get that idea across…
SO here it is again The bottom line….17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
(Lutherans vs catholics)
So sandwiched between two feeding stories (of the 5000, of the 4000) we find a story about different bread. Or at least crumbs. Keep an eye on Jesus here. They’re up northwest of Galilee. A place despised by good Jews. A woman who Is most definitely not a Jew asks Jesus for help. And he responds with the language of prejudice. Of racial epithet.And she calls him on it. Was this compassion fatigue on his part? ( In at least 2 other places where a worn out Jesus is pressed to respond, as in Jairus daughter, Luke 8: 40-56, his response is different. But those cases were about Jews ) What’s going on here? Did Jesus have to grow? To change? People are very troubled by this possibility…
Brian Blount, President of Union Seminary in Richmond, Virginia…has written a long essay arguing that for Jesus, this is just an elaborate teaching scheme…Well, I just don’t think so…I believe that if indeed as we profess to believe that Jesus was fully human, then his wisdom and understanding and clarity and judgment just may not be full formed from the first. He needs to experience this,
The empire says us/not us. Not the Jesus’ community where we’re all us.(But how many of us are ready to go go beyond Christian inclusivity, IE, Christian/not Christian….
Before we end, I’ve been thinking about the difference between prejudice and Prejudice is all the ways we speak of and refer to those who are not us. Prejudice takes those feelings and has the power to impose them through policy and institutions.
This year is the 150th anniversary of the end of civil war…there’s a new examination going on of reconstruction and what it meant. At the very least, we know that it’s not enough to blame it on the south and their race related laws. None of that could have happened unless there was support buy the north. It’s now clear that thee was increasing anxiety that newly free slaves and lower working class whites would join together in a unified poor workingman’s movement. It had already begun. Thus Jim Crow laws took on the purpose of separating potential white and black allies.
And even then black elite like Booker T. Washington defined the problem as one of “race relations” vs reconstruction, justice. The same issues are with us today, little changed.
Has anyone ever heard of the Labor Temple? In the lost pages of Presbyterian history lies the story of the Labor Temple. …Around the same as this church was coming together in 1910, the Presbytery of New York City responded to requests of a number of committed former mission personnel. Their Labor Temple ran until 1957 long after other similar institutions had ceased to exist.
Charlie Steize, founder, wanted an extension of the church that would provide hospitality, spiritual guidance and education. He also believed that as minister, it was essential that he and his family live in the temple. ,One of his more popular lecturers there was Will Durant. His lectures at the Temple would one day become the acclaimed History of Civilization.
A later pastor ,Rev. Dr. Edmund Chafee, founded the Ministers Union of America (AFL/CIO) local 1. Where are they now that I need them? The MUA’s officers included clergy from two other long time activist congregations, Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn and ST. Jame s Harlem. And in line with the Temple’s sense of mission and core values, a number of the city’ rabbis drawn the desire for a collective expression of fighting for a better world. More just. More humane. I would like to have known these guys.
I’m proud that there was a Presbyterian Church once did this.
And I’m on the lookout for those who are burning to have a conversation on these and other classic texts.
Let us enjoy the rest of this weekend off.
1My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?2For 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, 3and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, "Have a seat here, please," while to the one who is poor you say, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11For the one who said, 'You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and 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? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
24From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." 28But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." 29Then he said to her, "For saying that, you may go — the demon has left your daughter." 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, "He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."