Friday, June 24, 2011

What Have we done to "the least"? Part 1

James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
The true test of the church is how we serve "the least" among us.  "The Least" is defined as the poor, minorities, disabled, children without fathers(or mothers), the widow (including the divorced), mentally-ill, refugees, homeless--anyone that doesn't fit the majority profile.  Anyone who finds him or herself among the disadvantaged in a culture.  These people struggle to survive in communities.  They are often invisible to the majority.   They are invisible in part because "the least" try to blend in with the majority.  They are invisible in part because the majority can choose not to interact with them.  Honestly, "the least" in a society make us uncomfortable.  It's much easier to encourage or even force those who are different from us to conform.  "Become one of us, then we can love you."  It's  hard to love people who are "different".

How can we as the church serve "the least" in our communities, in our cities and the world, when we don't serve" the least" in our on church body--those sitting beside us on the pews?  How can we convince the world that God loves them and that we genuinely care for them, when we can't love and accept those whom we call brother or sister?  I'm thinking that this isn't a new issue in the body of Christ for James talks about this issue in his letter.

JAS 2:1 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. [2] Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. [3] If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," [4] have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

james 2:8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. [9] But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.

I know what you're thinking.  "I would NEVER do that!"  Well--we do it in our churches ALL of the time.  We're just unaware of what we're doing.  When we choose the style of music that we worship to based on the majority of our member's preferences, we choose to show favoritism toward the majority culture. The preferences of  "the least" in our church are ignored.  "The least" is forced to conform, or leave. No wonder churches are so segregated.  (When I say majority culture, I refer here to the majority culture of the particular local church and its surrounding community.)  When we focus all of our efforts on reaching the majority, "the least" among us are devalued.  Take note that even James recognizes that the poor man is welcomed into the meeting, but he is pointing out how the poor man is treated when he gets there.  

How do we treat "the least" in our worship services?

Aiming the bulk of our resources towards the majority works great in a business, but not in God's economy.  God is a God who leaves the 99 (the majority) to rescue one (the least).  God Himself rejoices over one who receives the gift of salvation.  This is because every person is valuable to God.

MT 25:40 "The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

 Interesting that Jesus calls "the least" His brothers.  It's also interesting that he didn't say, whatever you did for "some" of the least, or "most" of the least,  but "one" of the least.  Jesus seems to be emphasizing that every single person matters to God.  Overlooking one person grieves the heart of God.

 MT 25:45 "He will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

 How are we treating Jesus in our churches?

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