“What’$ He/$he Worth?”

Pastor Don raised that question in his message last Sunday. He reminded us that we continually evaluate the people we meet. Far too often  cultural norms shape our judgments more than biblical teaching. Does he/she look like “my kind of person”–prosperous, put together, like me or the Me I’d like to be? Do we want him/her in our church–or in the church down the street that serves “his/her kind”? Do we want him/her in our life, as our friends? Will he/she help us climb the ladder of success or drag us down?

Don’s provocative question arose from this Bible passage: “If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a sreet person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, ‘Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!’ and either ignore the street person or say, ‘Better sit here in the back row,’ haven’t you segregated God’s children…?” (James 2:2-4 MSG)

What’s a person worth? Their stock portfolio? Their bank balance? Their intelligence, skills and abilities, attractiveness, personal magnetism? Our consumer society teaches us to evaluate others by their usefulness to us. That street person looks (and likely smells) like more trouble than he’s “worth”. “Better sit here in the back row”–where most people won’t see you, close to the door we hope you’ll use quickly, permanently, and very soon. But we want to make the best possible impression on that prosperous-looking Suit. We don’t want him getting out the door without getting attached to us. We can use him. That impressive package usually comes with many helpful abilities and assets, including a deep checkbook and the ability to attract others like themselves. “Sit here, sir…the best seat in the house!”

“Haven’t you segregated God’s children?”As surely as if we made them use separate restrooms or water fountains, eat at separate lunch counters, or sit in the  back of the bus. We fought that battle in this country decades ago. We decided clearly that all our citizens should have equal access to public facilities, education, employment, etc. We’ve since extended that protection beyond racial discrimination to those who are discriminated against for various other reasons.  Granted, “all” doesn’t yet mean “all” for everyone everywhere in our land. But we’ve established the principle. Old patterns of segregation are unacceptable. All people in this country deserve equal access to public facilities, resources, and opportunities.

It’s no accident that Christians were, and continue to be, at the leading edge of the civil rights/human rights movement. We understand that human beings–every single one, no exceptions–are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). We know that a person’s worth isn’t measured by assets and liabilities, appearance, or a resume of gifts and abilities. Our worth does not lie in what we’ve accumulated, accomplished, created, or built. Our worth lies in our createdness that is the overflow of God’s limitless love. We–and every person who’s ever lived on this planet–are equally and infinitely valuable to God not because of what we’ve done, but simply because we are.

Last Sunday’s service moved from Pastor Don’s message into the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. In that transition, I realized (and Pastor Don later agreed): “The best seat in the house” is right here at the Lord’s Table! We United Methodists place no ecclesiastical hurdles in anyone’s way. We welcome everyone who wants a place at the table. After all, “[God’s] kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God.” (James 2:5 MSG) Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we affirm and proclaim that promise. We celebrate God’s love that has drawn us together in Christ even as we recognize that our table still has empty placesto be filled as more and more folks discover their worth as precious children of God.

Now it’s the middle of the next week. I’ve been watching and listening to endless versions of the question: “What’s he/she worth?” I hear too-easy answers rooted in money, power, and celebrity. I hear fearful answers based on believing what’s right (according to me and my tribe) and condemning, even demonizing those who hold any other belief. I hear and see disturbing answers that say, “Unless you’re like me/us/our group/clique/cult, you’re worthless.” I hear, see, and feel too much ungodly segregating of God’s children going on–even by God’s children!

Jesus show us a different way to live together. The world I see desperately needs a different way. I’ll do what I can. Will you help? Good. He’s promised that he will too. Working together with him, we will see that promised Kingdom become a deeper, fuller, truer reality than we dare to dream.

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