Stuart's Thought for the Day Video

Pause for Thought

I suspect I’m not alone in sometimes feeling rather inadequate. That usually happens when I think someone has done something with much more skill or pzazz than I ever could. It doesn’t make much sense, but when I listen to an amazingly talented young musician – or even a brilliant older one – I sometimes wish I could play as well as them. I’ve even spoken with a few over the years, but I always worry (unfairly, I’m sure) that they’re looking down pityingly on my more modest talents. But then I hold on to President Roosevelt’s famous dictum: “comparison is the thief of joy” because there’s little more depressing than always looking at others to see if they’re doing better. Or for that matter if we’re superior to them. So with drink to hand and candle alight, let’s take a moment to reflect not on our own distorted perspectives, but on how the loving God sees and relates to us.

Who knows best?

Friends, those who really follow the way of Jesus our Lord and Master, God’s Chosen One, d shouldn’t display snobbery or one-upmanship. Suppose someone dressed to the nines and wearing expensive jewellery comes to your gathering, and someone else looking dirty and scruffy comes in at the same time. If you pay extra attention to the wealthy one and offer them a good seat but tell the poorer one to stand at the back, you’re being snobbish and making judgements on the basis of prejudice. Let’s be clear, dear friends, God has chosen the poor to serve as the best examples of what it means to be a Christian, and to be at the forefront in building God’s kingdom. They’re the ones who really love God, so why look down your noses at them? After all, it’s the rich who oppress you! They’ll take you to court over trivia and get you a bad reputation. Keep to the number one principle in Scripture, “love one another as you love yourself,” and you’ll do well.  (James 2:1-8)

Many years ago, when I was but a curate, I remember a lively discussion on the topic of ‘what makes a good sermon?’ A good friend offered his somewhat tongue-in-cheek view: “the best sermon is one where several hard-hitting points fly a little way over my head and hit the person behind me between the eyes!” No one minds the preacher making a strong, pertinent point – just so long as it applies to someone other than me! Yes, my friend was laughing at himself, but he was also pointing up how easy it is to take the moral high ground and look patronisingly down on those who fail to make the grade. Or as Jesus put it memorably, “Don’t criticise the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and ignore the plank in your own!” The temptation to position ourselves above others on moral grounds and use religious beliefs or practises to justify ourselves is both subtle and powerful.

We’re not told who the writer of this letter – traditionally James the brother of Jesus – was wanting to reach. It would have been read aloud in many of those earliest Christian communities, pacross a wide range of locations and social contexts. But the practical questions addressed seem just as familiar and relevant today as they were nearly 2000 years ago. We laugh at stories of newcomers or visitors sitting down before a church service only to be told that “Mrs Jones always sits there”, but the same issue was equally in evidence 2 millennia ago. Those with greater resources and power were using their assumed status to domineer those who had less, underlining their superior position in the church pecking order. The well-dressed and well-heeled had their status acknowledged, while the scruffy or ill-kempt were pushed to one side. This is in the opposite corner to Jesus’ teaching. He invariably gave time and commitment to the poor, the underdog and the oppressed and restricted his sharpest condemnations to the rich and powerful. Few things disfigure a community like the divisions between poor and rich. Despair, then anger, create fracture lines which soon threaten to tear relationships apart. The Christian community must model a better way, in which the poorest are cared for and affirmed as God commands.

Sadly, we still see the underprivileged and vulnerable left at the bottom of the pile with a few inadequate handouts. But we equally see people disregarded because their views or lifestyle don’t quite fit in with the status quo, especially in a church setting. Ethnicity, gender and disability and other factors all contribute to people feeling damaged and marginalised. James in his letter would be first to say to our churches and communities, “Don’t look down your noses!” – instead, “love everyone as you love yourself”.

Take a moment to consider who are the left-behind groups and individuals we should be including and protecting in post-pandemic 2021. Who are those downgrading them and making their lives miserable? And before your candle is extinguished, think how we might live up to our Christian calling to treat the poor as equally valued in God’s sight.

Prayer for today

Loving God, when we see others as inferior, 
help us to see them as you do.
Before we think too highly of ourselves,
help us to realise you create all of us equal.
And when we see those around in need or despair,
help us to treat them with your compassion. Amen.

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