Faith and Works: No More Favorites

Sunday’s Scripture ~ James 2:1-9, 14-18

For the last ten years – in volunteer and employed opportunities – Andrew and I have had the privilege of weekly serving alongside incredible middle and high school students.  Together we laugh, sometimes cry, goof off, study Scripture, leave it all on the 9-square court, worship, and serve.

(And this week I have an even greater privilege and opportunity to do all these things and more as I and 500 of my closest friends spend a week on the holy grounds of the Warren W. Willis United Methodist Camp!  Week 5!  Woot woot!)

You may be surprised – or may be not – to know that the most fulfilling part of serving alongside these students is not what I teach them.  It’s what they teach me.  And I am thankful for each and every lesson.

It is incredible to watch these students blossom into young adults and mature in their faith as they engage in ministry.  Usually when students enter this ministry we can visibly split them into two groups:

1 – those that seek friends by way of pleasing others

2 – those that seek friends by walking the (sometimes difficult) path of being him or herself

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Those that seek friends by way of pleasing others show favoritism or partiality, I believe, as a way to cover or shield their own insecurities.  If this behavior is not addressed as teenagers, it continues – and I believe festers – in adulthood.  What may begin as innocently going out of your way to be noticed by someone in the popular crowd could become what James describes in our Scripture text this week:

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, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?  …  You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors (James 2:2-4,8-9).

//

Those that seek friends by walking the (sometimes difficult) path of being him or herself I believe draw closer to the heart of pure Christianity, which James defines:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27).

These students strive to remain unstained by the world.  They don’t play games.  They don’t show off to get the attention of the popular crowd.  They don’t show partiality.

What they do show is genuine care and concern for their neighbor – all their neighbors.  It doesn’t matter their family history, age, grade level, what sort of student they are, what kinds of extra-curriculars they engage, their economic status, or any other factor that might divide rather than unite.  They show their genuine care and concern through their speech, actions, service, and commitment – to God and to others.

//

I didn’t always find myself among this second group of students when I was in middle and high school.  I struggled with insecurity.  I struggled with learning the difference between friends in quantity and friends in quality.  I did eventually learn it – and frequently revisit the lesson – through the study of Scripture and walking alongside true friends and mentors that pointed me towards keeping myself unstained by the world.

I am truly blessed to now find myself as a mentor to amazing students that teach me the value of service, authenticity, and personal integrity.  Our world is in desperate need of more adults like these students.  Don’t worry; they are coming!

Prayer: “Still your children wander homeless; still the hungry cry for bread; still the captives long for freedom; still in grief we mourn our dead.  As, O Lord, your deep compassion healed the sick and freed the soul, use the love your Spirit kindles still to save and make us whole.”*  Amen.

*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 581.

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