RCL Scriptures: Song of Solomon 2:8-13; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8,14-15
Author’s Note: I have edited this post to more accurately reflect what was preached Sunday September 2, 2018. Considerably shortened from the “sermon” length it was, material excised from this post will be shared in the next sermon/post, “Faith and the Future of the Church.”
Let us pray: Illumine for us your word, O Lord, that the Light you bring, the words I speak, and the Spirit you send inform us of your truth for our lives. Amen.
I have some questions for the Church in this day and age of pluralism. Primarily, for us, what part do committed Christocentric communities have to offer where absolutes have become relative? Where truth is shaded to fit what one needs to say or do for one’s one personal agenda or gain? Connected to those questions, what might God think of the world in which we find ourselves today? Perhaps most importatnly for us, how best can we, the Body of Christ, serve the highest and greatest good – which we define as the Kingdom of God present now but not yet fulfilled in its totality? These questions have begun keeping me up at night, and I suspect will be the focus of part of this year’s research as I begin classes again on Tuesday.
Let’s think about that just a bit. We have our scriptures, of course. Looking at a selection of them; say today’s passages from the Revised Common Lectionary that many Christian denominations share in common, we have some interesting examples…
The passage from Song of Solomon is love poetry. One young lover looks raptly out the window and see’s the dearly beloved coming, seeking, looking in at the window. Beautifully penned words evoke the season of late spring, when all things are growing, unfurling with their passion for life. The beloved seeks and calls out, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; 11for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone… Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”
The Letter of James, one of the early letters of the followers of Jesus, begins to address how best to be witnesses to the Way of Christ they have come to believe in.
17 ”Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”
And again, as James goes on, I have to hold a mirror up to myself, for this teaching strikes right to the heart of my own struggles to be a faithful follower:
19 “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness…but be doers of the word and not merely hearers…not hearers who forget, but hearers who act-they will be blessed in their doing.”
And then there is the reading from Mark’s Gospel. Here is a story handed down from the times when Jesus was actually physically with the disciples on this Good Green Earth, and the tension fills the room of every hearer as the challenge to differentiate between human tradition and divine intent as the very moral code upon which to act is called into question.
Hmmm, now isn’t that interesting. It’s almost as if Jesus and the Pharisees are going at it similarly to the Silent Generation and the younger Gen-X’ers and Millennials, isn’t it? “But this is the way we have always done it. This is right, this is wrong!” “What is right? What is wrong? Why can’t we all just live and let live and get along?” And there, perhaps, is one of the cruxes in our post-modern times: a cross-generational conflict of interest, echoed down from a long time ago as a thirty-something Rabbi from Palestine challenged the status-quo of a deeply religious establishment spread across the Middle East and abroad two-thousand years ago.
But my friends, this isn’t the last word. There is hope in our old stories. What is it? The Gospel is for everyone. “Behold, I am the bread of life” says Jesus. And he gives of himself for the life of the world. Come, my beloved, arise and come – to the table of our Lord. Amen? May it be so.
Questions for Reflection
How can we know the difference between human tradition and the commandments of God? How can we know that we serve God from the heart?
Household Prayer: Morning
Help me walk blamelessly and do what is right, to speak the truth in love, to avoid gossip and slander, and do good to all I meet, that I may abide in your presence and dwell in fellowship with the Holy Trinity. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Lord, you have been my light this day. As evening comes, be my light in the darkness. With meekness I welcome the word you have implanted in my heart, and with confidence I claim the power of salvation in Jesus Christ. And let me rest from my labors, confident that in you there is no shadow of fear. Amen.