James 2:1-10 (Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 18—Series B)
“How Do You Look?”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
September 5, 2021
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is from the Epistle reading from James, chapter 2:
1My brothers, do not hold the faith of Jesus Christ our glorious Lord with acts of favoritism. 2For if a man should enter your assembly with a gold ring and with fine clothing, and a poor man also enters with dirty clothes, 3and you should pay special attention to the one is wearing the fine clothing and say, “Be seated here in a good place,” and to the poor man you say, “Stand here” or “Sit there below my footrest,” 4are you not divided within yourselves and have you not become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen the poor of the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the reign which He promised to those who love Him? 6But you dishonored the poor man! Do not the rich oppress you and they themselves drag you into court? 7Do they not blaspheme the good name called upon you? 8If you actually fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9But if you show favoritism, you are committing a sin, convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one part becomes guilty for all the parts.
As students go back to school, there will surely be those “get-acquainted” games and times of sharing about oneself. Sometimes, the teacher will ask students what things that are their favorite. Favorite color. Favorite food. Favorite book. Favorite school subject. (Mine was recess!) Having a favorite stuffed animal or toy, a favorite hobby or tv show or music is just fine. We all have those. But when it comes to people, should we really have favorites? Cassidy and Anna had a little fun with that through Confirmation classes and afterword. I would find sticky-notes on my desk “Love you, Pastor. From your favorite.” Of course, then I’d get, “Love you so much. From your one and only favorite!” How could I possibly pick a favorite between those two? So, depending on whether it was Anna or Cassidy, I’d tell them that my favorite was really their brothers, Gage and Shane.
But it was a game. It was all done in good fun by two best friends and me. But playing favorites with people is pretty serious business, so serious in fact that James, our Lord’s brother, addresses it in his letter: “My brothers, do not hold the faith of Jesus Christ our glorious Lord with acts of favoritism.” Don’t do it! Don’t show partiality based upon what you see. The meaning of “show favoritism” or “partiality” has to do with the face, literally to “accept a face” and show preference because of what you see—their appearance, wealth, or status. A well-to-do individual walks into the sanctuary wearing an expensive Armani suit, silk tie, pricey, shiny shoes, gold rings—and he gets ogled over! “Sit here, sir! Best seat in the house.” A much-less well-dressed individual walks in. Casual attire. Jeans with a hole or two. Muddy sneakers. People look and ignore.
That’s the scene James sets us for his hearers. A person’s appearance communicates their status, their wealth, their giving level. But that’s not how Christians are called to look at others. Don’t lift your face up and look at people according to worldly criteria. The prophet Samuel had some experience with that. The Lord sent him to Jesse the Bethlehemite in order to anoint a new king over Israel because God had rejected Saul as king. Samuel looked upon Jesse’s first son Eliab, “Surely, the LORD’s anointed is before him.” And God said nope. “Don’t look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:6). Son after son got the Lord’s “thumbs down.” Samuel was getting worried. He asked Jesse if all his sons were there. But they youngest was still out keeping watch over the flock. He was sent for. And God said to Samuel, “’Arise, anoint him, for this is he.’Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward” (1 Sam. 16:12–13 ESV).
Even Samuel, God’s prophet, was inclined to look upon outward appearances and to show favoritism based upon what he saw. But that’s now how God looks at His human creation. And it is not to be the way His people look upon others. “If you actually fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show favoritism, you are committing a sin, convicted by the law as transgressors.” Looking upon someone with the eyes of favoritism because of what they wear, or the color of their skin, or the way they talk, or how much wealth or status or popularity that have or do not have, is wrong in the eyes of God. It is not showing love to your neighbor. One commentator gave this insight, “Since when does ‘the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’ . . . justify considerations which treat the man with a fine coat as being superior and the man with a shabby coat as being inferior? Is the soul of the one worth more than the soul of the other? Are not all men, rich and poor, equal in the house of God? Something is wrong with the faith of those who have not heard the Word of God sufficiently to learn this.”
Indeed! Something would be wrong with our faith were we to look upon the face of others according to the standards of this world and not according to the Word of God who Himself shows no favoritism (Rom. 2:11). As we read in Romans 3, “For there is no distinction:for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:22–24 ESV). According to our sinful human nature, the rich and poor, the high and low, the popular and the ignored are all alike. And were God to lift His face upon us in this condition, He wouldn’t say that you are a little better than me. He wouldn’t say I’m a little better than her. And she’s not a little better than you. We have all sinned and missed the mark of God’s royal law. We have failed to love God and we have failed to love our neighbors. We are, therefore, all equally under His wrath and displeasure. We have not kept the law of God in part or in whole. For God to see us is for Him to see a transgressor, a sinner, a lost and condemned creature, no better off than any other person. For God looks at the heart.
And God sees our hearts that are defiled, sinful and unclean. And according to His mercy and grace, God chose not to unleash His wrath and punishment upon us. Instead, He offered up His One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus Christ, to face to full punishment of sin on our behalf as He was nailed to a cross. In the God-forsaken cosmic darkness of Good Friday, Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of Man, endured the full wrath of God and paid for humanity’s sin with the shedding of His holy, precious blood. And God showed no favoritism. All sins of all sinners of all times and all places are forgiven in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He died for you. Shed His blood for you. Rose again from the dead for you. Ascended into heaven for you. Gave to you His Holy Spirit in Baptism and made new and clean hearts within you, putting upon you the good name of Jesus—In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Having been cleansed—forgiven—of our sins through the blood of Christ, God the Father no long lifts His face upon us in anger at our sins. They are no more, removed as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). Our God and Father looks upon us covered in the righteousness of His Son, Jesus. He makes His face to shine upon us with His gracious favor. God looks upon us with favor. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1).
As a result, we no longer have to look at people according to worldly standards of wealth, appearance, or status. We have new, clean hearts that are empowered by the Spirit to love the Lord and to love others in the name of Jesus. As Christians we see people for who they already are in Christ—people for whom Jesus has died and is risen, people for whom the Lord won forgiveness and everlasting life. By the power and grace of the Spirit, we are able to show love to others—a love that counts them more significant than ourselves, a love that is willing to go the extra mile for someone else. It doesn’t matter who they are, what they wear, or what their status is in the world. They are someone for whom Christ died and rose. They are loved by Him and are also loved by us as sisters and brothers in Christ.
What is your favorite color? Favorite food? Favorite TV show? Enjoy them! But when it comes to people, we are like Christ. We do not show favoritism or partiality because of what we see. We do show them love and mercy in the name of Jesus who died for us all, not showing favoritism, but being Savior of everyone. Amen.
 R.C.H. Lenski, Commentary on the NT: Hebrews, James (Augsburg, 1966), 566.