SCRIPTURE – James 2:1-8
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 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,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
Body Building – Broken Hearts
March 7, 2010
Do you remember your first love? I do. First grade. Chenoweth Elementary School in Louisville, Kentucky. Her name was Pheobe and she sat in front of me in class. She had long blond hair that I thought looked like spaghetti. I loved spaghetti, so I would just stare at her hair and imagine adding marinara sauce and parmesan cheese. I just knew that she was the one for me. Until one day, at recess, she came up to me and said the two words that I would hear repeated by women over and over again: “You’re weird!” At least it’s more direct than, “I just want to be friends.” Pheobe and I were just never the same after that. We drifted apart. She stopped sharing her glue during craft time. My first love had come to a tragic end.
My heart was first broken by Pheobe with the spaghetti hair. I wish that were the last time, but like each one of you, I’ve had my heart broken time and time again. And the pain doesn’t get any easier, does it? It hurts. It’s no fun. To give your heart away to someone, and then to have it given back to you in pieces, is a level of suffering that none of us wants to feel.
And yet, here’s James again. Have you noticed that as we’ve begun our Body Building routine with him, James is encouraging us to make ourselves over in ways that go against what we might choose? First he wanted us to have big ears, so we could listen more and talk less. Then he told us to pierce our tongues, so that we could better conform our words to God’s will. And this week, this week James wants us to all have broken hearts.
James writes, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.” The word “neighbor” here is all-encompassing, it shows no favoritism, as James demonstrates earlier in the passage. If you are willing to let yourself love someone as you would want to be loved, you are living the life God has called you to live. But to do so comes with a risk.
Pet-owners understand this very well. When I was in elementary school, my mom got me a dog for my birthday. His name was Rusty and he was a Weimaraner. I loved that dog…for all three days that we had him. What my mom didn’t know was that Weimaraners are very hyper dogs, and when we left Rusty alone for the first time he tore up our living room. So Mom said Rusty had to go back to the animal shelter. I don’t know that I’ve ever cried as hard as when I walked Rusty back to his cage at the shelter. My heart was broken.
Losing a pet can be hard enough, but the pain we feel when we share in a loved one’s suffering is even greater. Giving our hearts to something or someone means entering into their lives to such a point that we feel the pain that they feel. Another word for that is empathy. In the training for Stephen Ministry, we spend some time talking about the importance of empathy. We can only be helpful to someone if we do our best to understand what they are going through. And we can do that because we all have had our hearts broken at some point in our lives. I’m amazed at the ways God brings people together who share common wounds as a way of fostering healing. The challenges we have faced in our lives can be incredible learning experiences for others. God can use our painful experience to help us empathize with someone else going through the same thing.
In his book The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen says, “It seems necessary to re-establish the basic principle that no one can help anyone without becoming involved, without entering with his whole person into the painful situation, without taking the risk of becoming wounded in the process.” The apostle Paul says it even more clearly in Romans 12: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” In other words, love others as you would want to be loved, treat others as you would want to be treated, take the risk to fully enter into their pain with them.
We can see what this looks like by watching Jesus. He wasn’t afraid to eat with tax collectors and sinners, he didn’t shy away from touching lepers and healing the sick. We see God’s heart through Jesus’ actions in our reading from John’s Gospel. Jesus has heard about the death of his friend Lazarus, and goes to Bethany to visit the tomb. Jesus knows this story is going to have a happy ending, but when he is confronted with the raw pain of Mary and Martha, he his moved to tears. Jesus cries, not so much out of his own pain, but out of the pain he sees in those with whom he is connected.
A person who loves with God’s heart does everything out of love, not obligation or pity. That’s an important distinction. Serving someone out of pity implies looking down on them from where we are. Serving someone from our hearts means regarding them as brothers and sisters and reach out to help out of the compassion, the empathy, we feel for them.
Mother Teresa said it this way: “When we ultimately go home to God, we are going to be judged on what we were to each other, what we did for each other, and, especially, how much love we put into that. It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into doing – that’s compassion in action.”
In my former church, we had a member of our congregation, Denise, who took a trip to Kenya to look into the possibility of doing missionary work there. While in Kenya, she stayed at an orphanage filled with children who were the victims of the AIDS epidemic. One little boy stuck out in her mind.
His name was Kamau. He was five years old. Both his parents had died of AIDS when he was three, and he also had the disease. Denise said Kamau stuck out in her mind because of how sick he looked. And yet he had a vivacious spirit and a hunger for God.
After she returned to the States, Denise got word that Kamau was sick. He spent two weeks in ICU before he died. Denise shared Kamau’s picture with an attorney friend of hers who put his picture on her computer as a reminder of the importance of reaching out. Several coworkers stopped to ask her about the picture, and she was able to not only tell them about Kamau, but to share the importance of her faith with them.
Denise took the risk of giving her heart away to this five-year-old Kenyan boy. She let herself love this person she had never met, and would probably never see again. I could hear the brokenness of her heart when she requested prayers for Kamau. Yet out of Denise’s love has come the blessing of new believers and the reminder that we are called to reach out beyond the church walls, even beyond national boundaries, to help those in need.
I don’t lift Denise up this morning because I believe she’s a better Christian than anybody else. And I’m certainly not suggesting that we have to go to Africa to find a person with whom we can empathize. We all know that there are plenty of people all around us who need someone to cry with them, to laugh with them, to listen to them, to feel with them. This church gives us ample opportunity to share in other people’s lives at a deep soul level.
Kamau’s story is a reminder to us Christians that when we are faced with the struggles of the people next door, the people in the next state, the people halfway around the world, when we recognize that someone in the body of Christ is experiencing pain, we should be moved. They are not Americans or Africans. They are not black or white. They are not rich or poor. They are brothers, they are sisters, they are a part of us and we are a part of them and we are connected by the love of Jesus Christ.
We are Christians, followers of a compassionate, loving God. If our hearts don’t break when we see injustice, homelessness, poverty, disease, then what chance does this world have? We are called to be God’s hands and God’s feet, but we can only do so if we have God’s heart, a heart that has been broken by watching the pain and suffering of his children, a heart that is moved to reach out to others to share their pain and bring healing. Jesus wept because of the pain he felt, and out of that pain God brought forth resurrection. May we be willing to cry tears for the pain of others, and may those tears be used by God to bring forth the blossoms of new life.