I delivered a good sermon, my first as the new associate pastor at Old Presbyterian Church. After worship, decked out in my spanking new robe, I dutifully made my way to the back of the sanctuary and stood to the right waiting for the people to file by and greet me with the traditional and obligatory, “Nice sermon, Pastor.”
Some believe this tradition dates back to the 1500s and probably originated with John Calvin himself. Every Presbyterian church I have served in has practiced this grip and gripe ritual. So, you can imagine my shock when every single person filed out to the left without even giving me a glance much less a greeting.
My sermon couldn’t have been that bad, thought I as gray haired saint after saint sauntered by. I gave it at my last church and the people there appreciated it.
Dejected I stood there staring down at my shiny black wing tips. I felt a light tug on my sleeve.
“Pastor Scott, the preacher always stands on the left side to greet the people,” the tiny, wrinkled grandmother said. I started to argue but she gripped my arm and shot a piercing look up into my eyes. I moved across the doorway and sure enough the people began grabbing my hand and gushing, “Nice sermon, Pastor.”
Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.
TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)
1 Kings 15:25-17:24
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
1 Kings 15:25-17:24: God holds the many bad kings named in this section responsible for causing Israel to sin. This may seem strange to our radically individualistic ears. Why doesn’t God hold each individual responsible for his or her own choices? God may. But God also holds each of us responsible for one another. My decisions impact my family, friends, church, and culture. Moreover God calls leaders to a standard above that. We are our brother and sister’s keeper.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
That first Sunday at Old Presbyterian Church should have been a sign. But I’m a little slow. OPC was well over 100 years old and brimmed with ritual and tradition. I imagined it would only be a matter of time before I mastered enough of their traditions to find acceptance.
Why didn’t those folks greet me despite the fact I was standing on the wrong side? Because I was an outsider from the wrong part of the country. And a long haired, young whipper snapper to boot.
Little did I realize that though “God does not show favoritism,” many of us in the church have turned it into a fine art, using rituals, traditions, inside jokes, and insider language to draw lines of inclusion around ourselves–to the exclusion of all others. It’s our secret little sin, secret to us but not to outsiders who stand befuddled and hurt on the wrong side of the door.
In Acts we read how Peter struggled with and against favoritism. Jewish followers of Christ so feared losing their favored place they at first resisted Gentile followers of Christ and then restricted them with traditions.
This is the dark cave exclusive favoritism flows from: fear of loss. From the simplest loss of one’s seat to imagining a devastating loss of God’s love.
The truth is, however, that this strangling hold favoritism lays on us eventually brings on that which we dread. In grasping we lose.
The widow in 1 Kings 17 should have favored her son and herself. But with only enough food for one last meal, God asks her to share it with Elijah. Fearlessly she does so and finds God refills her jar with his everlasting supply. Her faith overcame her fear and its deformed twin: favoritism. In giving she gains. God made the his world this way.
Favoritism is strangling the modern church. We hold on to our buildings and budgets, our music and methods our traditions and rituals. We fear the loss of our place politically and culturally. And in grasping we have lost the ear of the culture surrounding us. They cannot hear or see the love of Christ in us because we are holding it too tightly.
Maybe it is time again to take a lesson from a poor starving widow and give to others all that God has given us.
- What does favoritism look like in your part of the world?
- How can faith in God eliminate favoritism?
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