Sermon Ideas 4U - Archived Sermons -- AFTER Advent 2002
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August 30, 2015 -
James 1: 17-27
Avon United Psalm 45
Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23
My mom used to love the expression, “more holy than righteous” but she meant it spelled like this: “holEy” as in “filled with holes”. That was back in the day when my mother darned socks and was tired of us wearing holes in our socks. Since we didn’t have carpet she wanted us to wear our sneakers in the house, to save our socks! I don’t think most socks are worth darning anymore - at least mine aren’t!
One of the perennial questions of people of faith is: What does God require of us? What is faithfulness? Is it more than following the ten commandments and the golden rule? If the gospels are any indication, Jesus was harassed on more than one occasion by a group of people who liked the “look” of righteousness; they wanted to look “holy” (no E) and they were upset when Jesus disregarded the rules, such as washing hands before eating! Now we all make our kids develop the habit of washing hands before eating, but that has more to do with hygiene and not religion! In Jesus day it was a religious rule but in the days before wet wipes in plastic containers, I suspect most people could not follow the rule when they were out!
Are such rules important? Determining what was and what wasnt important became even harder once the gospel began to travel beyond the places where everyone was Jewish and familiar with the Jewish rules, with which Jesus would have grown up.
As the church grew and expanded across the world as they knew it the apostles struggled to explain the faith and the life of faith im terns the people could understand.
Jesus’ message seems to be, “Stop with focussing on the picky laws and look at the lives people are living and look at how to make them better.” In another version of this story he is recorded as having said, “Don’t complain to me how bad it is to eat with dirty hands when some of you are looking for loopholes to avoid helping out your own parents in need”!
For the past 2,000 years Christians have been trying to answer the questions, “What does God want from us? and “How does one have a “right relationship” with God?” Do you have to just “believe” in Jesus or do you have to “do” certain things? Jesus talked about the “results” of one’s life as the sign of one’s faithfulness, not what could be considered arbitrary rules. “Stop proclaiming how much you love God. LIVE God’s love”, the writer of James would say. The apostle Paul wrote of “salvation through faith alone”. Martin Luther, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation was very critical of the Epistle Of James because it seemed to contradict what he saw as the centre of the Gospel (as interpreted by Paul) which was “salvation by faith alone”; he called James “an Epistle of Straw”. I don’t think that there is as much difference as Luther thought there was because the audience is very different.
You see, it depends what you mean by faith - if by faith you mean ideas and concepts that stay in your head, as theories or correct thoughts, then you do need works but if by faith you already mean an integration of what you believe with what you do, as Paul would have believed, then they are really saying the same thing!
James talks about the fleeting image of a mirror; unlike a portrait, it goes away as soon as you turn away.
Some of you will have figured out that I am a Harry Potter fan. In the first book, Harry stumbles on a magic mirror that shows, not what is in front of it, but the hearts desire of the one looking. He sees his parents. He gets his friend Ron to come and have a look, but he does not see Harry’s parents, he sees himself as the winner of the Quiddich Cup and Head Boy!
There is a legend told about the wife of a governor of New France. She carried a mirror as a pendant around her neck. Everyone who looked at the pendant was amazed that she thought enough of them to carry their picture around her neck!
We all remember Snow White. What does the evil queen say to the mirror which cannot lie? “Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is the fairest of them all;?” Once the mirror acknowledged the beauty of Snow White the trouble began!
Some would say that righteousness involves not sinning! If the only thing that can be said of us is that we avoided as much sin as possible, I would argue that we haven’t really done much at all.
Every time you access the news you find out about a serious accident or fatality involving an activity you do yourself: such as drive on the 101 or use a crosswalk. You could stay home but many accidents happen at home! So where do you go and how do you get there so that you avoid accidents? I saw a joke once along this line which asserted that since very few accidents happen in church you should go to church! However, we all know that we cant live life in a protective bubble if we expect it to have any quality. In the end, we live as safely as possible and try to avoid excessive worry but then we have to live.
Wait a minute, doesn’t James say that it is important that we should be “unstained” by the world. If this is not achieved by avoiding sins such as “sex, drugs and rock and roll” how do we achieve it?
We could see it though as not “buying into the myths of the world”. What are the myths of this world? One is the myth of unbridled capitalism. One is the myth of self-centeredness (look out for yourself first). One comes about when we deny any responsibility for the stuff we buy, use and throw away as it relates to reducing our imprint on the planet. One is along the lines of, “If I didn’t break it, I’m not going to fix it!”, so we don’t help out those in need who are far away or whose situations don’t touch our own.
Or we could learn from God, the father of lights, as James puts it, in the terms of Greek philosophy; God has given us everything we have. One of the biggest myths the world teaches us, either overtly or covertly, is that we humans are self-made and that we deserve what we have- and deserve to use it for our exclusive gain or profit.
A long time ago I saw a scratchy old movie (and it was scratchy and old when I saw it about 1981) which featured a former Moderator, Dr Robert McClure. As I remember it, he was talking with someone from an indigenous community in a developing country who asked him, “Tell me was it you or your ancestors who put the gold in the rocks of Canada”. As Canadians, we act as if our natural resources, whatever they may be, belong not only to us as a nation, but often specifically to certain provinces or even certain communities. We’re from Nova Scotia and you cant have OUR FISH for example.
Some corporations want to make water into something that is bought and sold, and available only to those who can pay. Basic health care in some countries is like that as for profit corporations control who receives whata and how much it costs.
Where IS the line between reasonable profit and unbridled capitalism?
Where is the line between healthy and un-healty sexual appetite.
Where is the line between ambition that drives excellence and ambition that clouds all other parts of our lives, especially our relationships with family and friends.
What is the purpose of Christian Community and the Church. Are we a private club carefully preserving our resources for contributors or are we opening doors in generosity and love.
I guess the real question is: When money is tight, and when hasn’t it been that way? do we look at God’s abundance or our our scarcity? When we can free ourselves from the responsibility to be self made; when we realize that we are made by God’s generosity and grace, we can be freed to live with grace and freedom.
We will come to know more clearly (without a guidebook) what the life of faithfulness looks like. Some who look at things differently may criticize us (and the United Church has often been in that position) but we need to keep our vision in mind.
We are a people of grace who have received God’s generosity and bt grace we step out in faith (and sometimes risk) to be God’s people in the world.
We don’t need to EARN anything because we have already received what we need most. Because we have been recipients of free and unmerited blessing we can go out and be a blessing to others.
1995- 2015 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.
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