Charles Drew (1904-1950) was a brilliant medical doctor. His discovery of blood plasma resulted in saving thousands of lives in World War II, Korea, and the Vietnam War. At Pearl Harbor, for example, 96% of those who received plasma survived. Dr. Drew’s accomplishment did not go unnoticed. At the conclusion of World War II, he was named director of the National Blood Bank Program and devoted himself to teaching doctors at Howard University Medical School. That is what makes the rest of the story so cruel. On April 1, 1950, while driving some young doctors to a conference, Dr. Drew was involved in an automobile accident in Burlington, N.C. He was rushed to a hospital, where his life could have been saved by plasma. But Dr. Drew was denied admission to the hospital because his skin was black. He died at the age of 45 on the way to another hospital 26 miles away. I find that story to be very upsetting. I hope you find that story upsetting because God does too. That takes us to our scripture reading for today.
We find ourselves in the second chapter of the Epistle of James, the first thirteen verses. The topic James is addressing is favoritism. Webster defines favoritism as, the practice of giving unfair preferential treatment to one person or group at the expense of another. Its synonyms include inequality, unfairness, discrimination, positive discrimination, and reverse discrimination. In the text it is the rich who are given favorable treatment. The rich have always received favorable treatment. That is why any American citizen can get a Corina virus vaccine for free. That is why less than 1% of Haitians have been vaccinated. The rich have always received favorable treatment. James is telling his scattered congregation favoritism will not be tolerated because God does not tolerate favoritism. It is as true today as it was in James’s time. The problem is our churches practice favoritism on a regular basis. Can I be honest with you?
I am innocent in many ways, so maybe I have missed it. I have never had a new individual, or a group join the church who felt entitled. It is my experience it is the established church membership who feel entitled. You can call it reverse-favoritism. Some long-term members feel entitle because they have quatres’ rights. They have seen preachers come and go. They have seen other members come and go. They have endured it all, so they feel entitled. They are the true members because of longevity. Could I be talking to you? Some talented members feel entitle. They have a special gift to offer the church and they believe the church cannot exist without them. You find it in various corners of the church. At first, we say we could not have done it without you and at some point, they begin to believe it. Could I be talking to you? Some generous church members feel entitled. I am not talking about money. They are generous with their time, so they believe they deserve to get what they want. Could I be talking to you? Many spend more time in this church building than me. I work from home because I get nothing done here. It is my experience newcomers are not the problem. They problem of favoritism comes from the established congregation. However, that does not mean the scripture does not speak to us. Favoritism is a danger to any church. The most effective churches are united. The least effective churches are divided. Do you think we are a united church, or do you think we are a divided church? James 2:1 says, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.”
The Covenant Life Church in Tampa, Florida is co-pastored by two men, Justin Perry and Drew Tucker. They planted the church in 2015 and have been extremely successful. It is part of the Evangelical Presbyterian denomination. They write a regular blog. One of their blogs is called Reasons Why God Hates Favoritism. These are the reasons:
- Favoritism is inconsistent with God’s character. God loves everyone. God loves the rich and the poor. God loves the educated and the uneducated. God loves both men and women. God loves everyone regardless of race. God loves liberals and conservative. God loves Americans and Non-Americans. God loves everyone equally, so God hates favoritism. Favoritism is inconsistent with God’s character.
- God hates favoritism because God alone is the judge. When we practice favoritism, we become the judge and most of our judgements are based on superficial appearance. Our judgements are based on ignorance, not wisdom. God hates favoritism because God alone is the judge.
- Favoritism damages the church’s witness. The secular world loves to tell ugly church stories. They love to tell those stories because they want to tell the world we are not insincere. The secular world wants the church to fail. People are must more comfortable telling critical church stories than they are affirming church stories. Favoritism damages the church’s witness.
James 2:9 says it clearly, favoritism is a sin. “But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” How much sinning have you done within the life of this church? When you look at someone else do you see how different they are from you, or do you see what you have in common? God sees what we have in common. Humans see how we are different and fair too often evaluate that person based on ignorance.
History tells that Adolf Eichmann (1906-1962) was one of the primary architects of the Holocaust. When he was tried for his war crimes at Nuremburg, Yehiel Dinur (1909-2001), who had survived Auschwitz, faced Eichmann for the first time since leaving the concentration camp. When he saw Eichmann, Dinur sobbed and fainted.
Years later, Mike Wallace (1918-2012) of 60 Minutes asked Dinur what happened: Was he overcome by hatred or fear or horrid memories? Dinur’s answer is stunning. He said he suddenly realized that Eichmann was not some God-like authority in a military uniform who sent thousands to their deaths. He was just an ordinary man. And then, said Dinur, “I was afraid about myself… I saw that I can do this. I am exactly like he.” Do you get the point? We are more like others than we care to admit.
Several weeks ago, Kathryn and I were in Washington DC. I love visiting Washington because it is full of energy. This trip was no different. We arrived just hours after a ten-inch snowstorm fell. The capitol was beautiful, but it was partially closed. The various museums were closed or opened late to compensate for the snow. When we arrived at the National Art Gallery, it was closed. We had to wait about an hour until it opened. It really was not an issue. We found a Starbucks for a cup of coffee. Everyone there was in a festive mood. They found the snow fun. The man in front of us in line was obviously homeless. There is no shortage of homeless in Washington DC. He wore an old coat with a Washington Redskins towel around his waist. His feet and legs were bare except for a pair of flip-flops. Did you hear what I said? His feet and legs were bare except for a pair of flip-flops. There was ten inches of snow on the ground. When he went to buy his coffee, he was $1.12 short. He debated with the barista for a few minutes, but then he surrendered and walked off to the side empty handed. When I walked up to buy my coffee, I offered to buy the bare footed man a cup. The barista responded, “It is nice of you, but he will be fine. He is a regular. His name is Jake and I bought him a cup earlier. He has money. He just doesn’t want to spend it.” I thought about Jake the rest of the day. I was frustrated with him because no one should be homeless in America. If you cannot make it in the United States of America, then you cannot make it anywhere. I thought about going back to Jake and tell him to get a job. Every business is looking for workers.
I thought about Jake the rest of that day and I thought about Jake when I went to bed that night. Jake and I were both customers at Starbucks, but we were living in two different worlds. Jake was homeless and barefooted on a cold snowy day. I was employed and warm. I will be the first to admit it. I have a good life. I was born into a stable Christian home. My parents made sure I got a good education. I found a job that did not just pay the bills but filled me with passion. My success in life was easy because all I needed to do was take advantage of the opportunity laid in front of me. I did not know Jake’s story. Perhaps, he made countless mistakes. Perhaps, he missed his opportunity. Perhaps, he had no opportunities. Then it hit me. What if I would have born into Jake’s life? I may have been standing at a Starbuck’s in Washington DC on a snowy day wearing flip-flops with a Pittsburgh Steeler towel around my waste. (No, it would not be that bad. I would wear a Cleveland Brown towel.) From my warm bed I discovered was not much different from Jake. I was not much different from a homeless man in Washington DC, and either are you. However, this is the point.
We are all the same. Your longevity does not matter. Your natural gifts do not matter. Your generosity does not matter. In the life of the church, the only thing that matters is your spiritual state. We are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. God’s expectation. It has been said: Entitlement is a delusion built on self-centeredness and laziness. How self-centered are you? How lazy are you? How entitled are you?