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My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ
with an attitude of personal favoritism.  For if a man comes into your
assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes
in a poor man in dirty clothes,  and you pay special attention to the
one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place,"
and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,"
 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges
with evil motives?  Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose
the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which
He promised to those who love Him?  But you have dishonored the poor
man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court?
 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?
 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture,
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well.  But
if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the
law as transgressors.  For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles
in one point, he has become guilty of all.  For He who said, "Do not
commit adultery," also said, "Do not commit murder." Now if you do not
commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of
the law.  So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the
law of liberty.  For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown
no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
As they say back home, "James
has stopped preaching here and gone to meddling." I say that because our
natural inclination is to do what James is talking about here-show favoritism
to one group, while ignoring another. James illustrates his point with
the preference most people will show the rich over the poor.
Now most churches have ministries
to the poor, like we do. We have a dedicated group of people who distribute
food to the needy every Tuesday morning and another group of unsung heroes
who prepare a meal for the homeless one Monday every week and prepare a
place for them to sleep here in our buildings. These are good ministries
and I am proud of the people that work in them.
But I don't think that is
what James is talking about here, he isn't encouraging a church to do something
for the poor, he is encouraging the church to welcome the poor into their
fellowship and to treat them in the same way they would treat a wealthy
How does a church do what
James is teaching here? While doing research for my upcoming book, The
Future Church, (http://www.thefuturechurch.com)
I ran across a church that has made the transition from ministry to the
poor to ministry with the poor. Their story is remarkable, and I know I've
told some of you about them in private conversations, but this morning
I'd like to share a portion of their story with you.
Parkview Community Church
in Glen Ellyn, IL has an unusual ambiance. There are guys sleeping on the
floor, smoking outside and they smell. It can be quite a sight to visitors.
The first time the "Morgan's" walked in the building they had to navigate
through a cloud of smoke in the main hallway. What kind of a place is
this where you have to walk through smoke to get to church? They thought.
Not exactly a positive first impression. But by the time they took their
seat they realized, this is a good thing; this is the place where these
people should be. According to the pastor, "They are still there three
me tell you how it all began. For fifteen years, Parkview fed the homeless
every Thanksgiving, providing a traditional turkey dinner with all the
trimmings to a couple hundred people. The ministry was low key-no sermons,
no "turn-or-burn" confrontations, just a warm meal and friendly conversation.
Patrick Murnane was new in
the church and wasn't planning on helping with the "1998 Community Thanksgiving
Meal" that Pastor Ray Kollbocker announced. It wasn't that he didn't want
to; it was that he had plans to go to his Sister's house for the holidays.
But when he discovered the church event would end by 2:30 and he could
still make it to his sister's by 4:00, he signed up.
That same week he got his
assignment. He was to be the host for a table of homeless men that always
came early every year. Little did he know how much that assignment would
change his life. And his church.
Things didn't go well.
Around his table was quite
a cast of characters. On his left was a couple of men in their 50's. Joseph,
was raised in a home with one Jewish and one Gentile parent. Next to him
was Dominick, a man with a Catholic upbringing.
On Patrick's right was Ron,
a twenty-something man, and Rich, a Catholic man in his 50's. In between
Ron and Rich was Steve, a slightly intoxicated man, who wore a bandanna,
pirate style over his head.
Patrick did the best he could
to keep a conversation going around the table. He asked questions like,
"Where's your hometown?" And "Where did you go to highschool?" Small talk--
no big deal. At least Patrick didn't think so.
Slamming his fist on the
table, Steve shouted, "Who do you think you are? What gives you the right
to ask us these questions? You may think you're better than me, but you're
not!" Steve stood up. Seconds later, he turned and stumbled away from the
"Thanks a lot," Joseph said,
"Because of you, somebody's gonna get hurt tonight."
Sure enough, a fight broke
out. Kent Woods, one of the deacons went over to break it up, and Patrick
saw visions of the riot police showing up and he knew it was his fault.
But, that didn't happen, cooler heads prevailed and everything calmed down.
Patrick felt bad and searched
for Steve to apologize for offending him. He found him outside, waiting
for a cab. "Steve, I want to apologize to you for ruining your Thanksgiving."
Steve squinted in Patrick's direction, and said, "Who are you? I've never
seen you before in my life."
Steve will never know the
impact he had in Patrick's life. It was the first time he would humble
himself before a homeless person, but it wouldn't be the last.
Patrick was hooked. But he
wanted to get it right. He wanted to do more than feed the homeless; he
wanted to open the door of the church to them. What's going on at Thanksgiving
is great, Patrick thought, but what about the rest of the year?
Patrick went inside and walked
over to Glenn. "Can I sit here?" Patrick asked. Glenn smiled, shook his
head up and down and giggled. Glenn didn't say much, not much Patrick could
understand anyway, he was too busy wolfing down his meal.
"Would you like to come back
to church next Sunday?" Patrick asked. "Sure." Glenn said. "Then I'll come
pick you up. Where are you going to be?"
With that conversation, the
ministry began. The first Sunday there was just Glenn. The next week there
were two, Glenn and Kevin. The next week there were five and the next,
Some weeks, Patrick would
drive up to 150 miles transporting the homeless around town. He helped
them fill their prescriptions and made sure his "guests" had a warm meal
in their stomachs before he dropped them at their "domiciles."
Scores of the homeless have
come to Christ through this ministry, and have become a part of the church.
The week I interviewed the pastor, he baptized ten people who repented
of their sins and committed their lives to Christ. Six of them had homes
to go to after the service, four of them didn't. But they all have something
in common-they have a church, a place all of them call home.
The church accepts all comers.
"You don't have to come in a suit. You can come in tattered clothes." The
pastor said. "We have downtown Chicago executives sitting next to homeless
It wasn't always this way.
There was a time when the homeless were a "ministry project" not a part
of the church family, but today, the homeless are integrated into the fabric
of the church-they are as much a part of the church as the wealthy members
are. Some of them work on the parking crew, assisting worshipers find a
parking place, and others of them come early to make coffee.
James wrote, "For if a man
comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes,
and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes,  and you pay special
attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, 'You sit
here in a good place,' and you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there,
or sit down by my footstool,'"
At Parkview, the people will
pay special attention to a person wearing fine clothes, but they also pay
special attention to a poor man in dirty clothes. That's the key, it isn't
that we should show favoritism, it is that we should show favoritism to
everyone. Because everyone that walks through our doors is someone for
whom Christ has died.