Mediation on James 5:13-20
Sept. 23, 2018
Merritt Island Presbyterian Church
13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. 19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
We have many reasons to be cheerful today after the wonderful outreach event we hosted at the church on Friday night! The Silent Auction and Spaghetti Dinner were an example of how staff and volunteers at the church and preschool are working together for a powerful ministry to our community.
We have many reasons to sing songs of praise to the Lord for His faithfulness! God blesses those who labor to touch hearts and lives, drawing others closer to Him. We are motivated to do the good works God leads us to do, as James teaches us in the second chapter of his letter, so that our faith may be shown and Christ may be known by our works!
The Lord is preparing all our hearts and minds so he can use us even more. An image came to mind yesterday, thinking and praying about the church. I remembered when I wove a reed basket in elementary school. I imagined God as the weaver. Have you ever woven a basket with reeds? You can’t use fresh cut reeds. You have to first dry them out completely in bunches —that takes time—3 to 7 days, depending on local humidity. In Florida, probably more than a week! Once they are dried out and you are ready to weave, you have to rehydrate the reeds, putting a couple at a time in warm (not hot) water and letting them soak about 10 minutes until they are pliable but not soggy. When you weave, you use only one reed at a time. It can be a slow process, especially for the beginner.
I imagined we are that basket that God is weaving together—the church, with all its ministries, including the preschool; we are not only a work of art, we are becoming a strong, useful vessel God can use more and more! In His time.
We all have the same job to do while our weaver works. Just wait! Be patient! And pray, in faith! Pray God will heal us and make us whole.
Prayer and healing of the community are the main topics of our reading in James. But it might seem random if you only read this piece of the 5th and final chapter and nothing more. The letter was meant to be read its entirety, all at once. Knowing what came before is important to our understanding this text. So, here’s a quick recap: James has already told the church to be joyful during times of trial and suffering for God is building our faith. He says we reveal our faith by caring for people in need and other good works. Ask the Lord for wisdom, for he generously gives wisdom to all who ask. Don’t be greedy; stop doubting, coveting, and favoring the rich. Stop evil talk, for the “tongue is a fire.” Stop your “conflicts and disputes,” because it’s really about pride and satisfying your own cravings and desires. Don’t judge one another. Don’t boast of what you will do tomorrow, for tomorrow belongs to the Lord. Don’t oppress the poor who labor in your fields.
Then, just before today’s reading, James says, “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.” Everything that James wrote before this in the letter is leading to this teaching. Instead of doubting, evil talk, and becoming embroiled in conflict and disputes, the Church needs to start living like it believes in the promise of Christ’s return for His beloved—and the hope of everlasting life with him. “Strengthen your hearts,” he says in v. 8, “For the coming of the Lord is near.” Job is our example, he says in 5:11, of one who suffered, but “showed endurance,” ultimately revealing “the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
On the other hand, suffering in the Body of Christ should not be ignored. Remember, this is the writer who says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to care for widows and orphans in their distress…” What does James mean by “suffering?” NT scholar Scot McKnight says the word James uses for suffering, kakopatheo, appears in 2 Timothy (2:9 and 4:5) and may “describe physical persecution” (McKnight, 432), “hardship in war,” or “ordinary hardships in life.” It could mean depression or it could mean the same thing as the word translated “sick” in James 5:14. In any case, if you are suffering, you should pray.
Next, James contrasts those who are suffering with those who are “cheerful.” If you are cheerful, euthymeo, you are not necessarily the “life is good” happy, smiley person all the time. The word Euthymeo “evokes enthusiasm, courage, and a confident faith…often in the context of stress.” These are the encouragers of the community. Those who are cheerful should “sing songs of praise to God,” thanking the Lord and giving God the credit for His gift of “enthusiasm, courage and confident faith” (McKnight, 435). We have many encouragers in our flock, whose enthusiasm lifts others up.
Then James moves to a new theme —sickness, sin and healing. The word he uses for sickness can mean “physical, spiritual (or) mental weakness…or on the verge of death” (McKnight, 434). If one member is seriously ill, the whole community is affected. James puts the responsibility for calling for the elders to come and “pray over them” on the one who is sick. The one who is sick—did you notice?— must also have faith in the healing power of prayer and confession.
I love that he brings in a reference to Elijah, the beloved prophet of Israel, near the end, when he urges the church to believe in the power of their prayers. For he was “a human being like us,” James says, and yet when he prayed “fervently” that it might not rain, “for three years and six months, it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.”
Friends, this Tuesday is the anniversary of my ordination to the ministry of word and sacrament—Sept. 25, 2011. This is a very special time for me, remembering when I first heard that call and answered, with all my heart, “Here I am. Send me.” On that day, I was asked the constitutional questions in our Directory for Worship—and you who are ordained as elders and deacons will recognize these, for your answered these, too, and made the same promises:
Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?
Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?
Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?
Will you be governed by our church’s polity, and will you abide by its discipline?
Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit?
Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world?
Do you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church?
Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?
I said yes, with God’s help.
And then, I was asked the questions that only ministers are asked: Will you be a faithful minister of the Word and Sacrament, proclaiming the good news in Word and Sacrament, teaching faith and caring for people? Will you be active in government and discipline, serving in the councils of the church; and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?
I said yes.
And then, a ruling elder asked you these questions:
Do we, the members of the church, accept Karen as our pastor, chosen by God through the voice of this congregation to guide us in the way of Jesus Christ?
Do we agree to pray for her, to encourage her, to respect her decisions, and to follow as she guides us, serving Jesus Christ, who alone is Head of the Church?
Do we promise to pay her fairly and provide for her welfare as she works among us; to stand by her in trouble and share her joys?
Will we listen to the Word she preaches, welcome her pastoral care, and honor her authority as she seeks to honor and obey Jesus Christ our Lord?
And you said yes.
And then you, the Church, laid your hands on me and prayed for me —and promised to continue praying for me.
I have felt the strength of your prayers and encouragement.
And I have prayed for you and will continue to encourage you to do the powerful ministry that God has called us to do. I will serve with you, with all my heart.
You were a strong witness for the Lord on Friday night, reaching out to bless others, giving generously of your time, talents and resources. I was so inspired by you! The preschool is the kind of incarnational ministry that I want to do, when we embody the gospel and reveal Christ through our relationships, our words and deeds, by being who God has called us to be. You have chosen to fully invest yourselves in this fruitful ministry to our community, because you love the Lord and you love His Church.
We are like a reed basket that God our maker is weaving together. In His time, our church will grow stronger, a beautiful vessel that God will use even more for His purposes. If we listen to and obey James’ teachings on how to live in beloved community, we will live looking to the future—not worrying about tomorrow—but living in joyful anticipation of the Lord, who is with us now and whose time of coming is drawing near!
Let us be patient, then, and encourage each other. Trust in the God of Elijah, who held back the rain when he fervently prayed and gave rain when he prayed again, so the earth could yield its harvest. Our prayers are as powerful as Elijah’s, when we pray in faith. Pray for one another. Pray for your church.
Pray God will heal us and make us whole.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for hearing our prayers and for your love and grace that we have done nothing to earn. We lift our voices to sing praises to your Holy name! We pray for healing for all who are sick or grieving in our church family. Help us to be patient, wait and pray during times of suffering. Give us the gift of cheerfulness and stir us to encourage one another. We thank you for equipping us to do compassionate ministry for your sake. Thank you for our church and all its ministries, including the preschool, and for our director, teachers and volunteers. Thank you, most of all, for the children. Draw them closer to you and open up more opportunities for us to nurture their faith. Bless them and their families, Lord, watch over them, and keep them in your tender care. In Christ we pray. Amen.
Here’s the video link to this morning’s sermon, “The Good Listener,” based on James 1:17-27. Just click here to watch the video: September 16, 2018
Meditation on James 1:17-27
Sept. 16, 2018
Merritt Island Presbyterian Church
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. 18 In 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. 19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. 26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
While Jim and I were away in Montreat in August, our denomination announced the passing of a very special person who served the Church all her life. Katie Geneva Cannon was the first black woman ordained in the United Presbyterian Church, a predecessor to the PC (USA). She was the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary in New York. She was the Annie Scales Rogers Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond when she went home to be with the Lord August 8 after battling leukemia. She was 68.
She had recently said, “Teaching is my ministry. I love to teach. To empower. To equip. To set people free… to live into the graces and gifts they have been given.” Speaking at Princeton Seminary last fall, she said, “The call to teach is like fire shut up in my bones.”
For many students, she was their first encounter with a seminary professor who was an African American woman. She sought to “instill an embodied, mediated knowledge,” (Aug. 12, Christian Century), “opening the students’ eyes and hearts to the world as it truly is. She lifted the veil of racism, sexism, and classism while affirming who her students were and making them feel valued.”
Katie was the pioneer of womanist theology, a branch of inquiry that didn’t exist before Katie’s writings. For the term “womanist,” Katie credits her friend Alice Walker, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple. Womanist theology is an “interpretive approach that seeks to empower the neglected voices of African American women and the entire African Diaspora.” (Aug. 12, Christian Century). The approach “seeks to inspire, equip, connect and support black women to be change-makers in their communities…. She saw that in the academy and the church… the voices of African American women had been too often mocked or seen as insignificant.”
Born in 1950, she grew up in the highly segregated town of Kannapolis, North Carolina. “It was against the law for Katie to go the library, play in public parks or swim in the local pool. She could not even enter the Kannapolis spelling bee.” But she had a genuine faith, accepting Jesus Christ at an early age and attending Covenant United Presbyterian Church in Kannapolis with her family. Her parents were both ruling elders. Her view of the Church was shaped, however, in the context of the segregated Catawba Synod. The only school open to black children in her community was part of a local Lutheran church—and that’s where Katie went. By 5, she could recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, Psalm 23, the Ten Commandments and answers to catechetical questions, such as “Who is God?” and “Why did God make us?”
Even as a child, she recognized that there was a “profound disconnect between the egalitarian spirit of the gospel and her oppressive, racist context.” She asked herself, “What did we do as black people that was so bad? A good God would not do this.” Her struggle with these questions would stir her as a student and professor to focus on “Christian ethics and the culpability of human beings in perpetuating systemic injustice.”
Katie’s was not always a voice that the Church, her community and world wanted to hear.
The NT epistle of James has also not always been a welcome voice to everyone in the Church, though it is one of the “catholic” or universal letters and not addressed to one particular worshiping community. Luther hated it, calling it a “letter of straw” in the preface to James in his 1522 NT translation
Zwingli had a more favorable view, arguing, “the letter is misunderstood when read in the papist fashion” (Zwingli, Defense of the Faith) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huldrych_Zwingli
Calvin, not naming any names but you know he’s talking about Luther says, “There are also some at this day who do not think it entitled to authority. I, on the other hand, am inclined to receive it without controversy.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, James, 142)
Luther thought it contradicted Paul’s teaching on grace, works and faith. Calvin held that Paul and James are “not in disagreement” (Johnson, 143). Other theologians have complained that there’s not enough about Jesus, for his name only comes up twice—at the greeting and in 2:1, where I imagine he speaks from a place of emotion, “My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Jesus Christ?!!!!!” (Exclamation points added.) In modern lingo, “How can call yourself Christians and behave this way??????”
James would be dismayed to learn that certain passages of his letter have been used to argue over hot button issues and sometimes divide the Church. For example, in the 17th and 18th centuries, James 5:14-16 was cited during heated debates about the anointing of the sick.
But the Spirit stirs us to open our hearts to hear something new from James that will strengthen our witness and help us serve as the Body of Christ for the world today. If we were using a womanist approach of interpretation that Katie Cannon pioneered, we would listen for the voices that were not being heard in the text—the voices of women, children, poor and oppressed–and then listen and speak for the voices that are not being heard now. But the truth is, we aren’t really good listeners as a society. We all want to speak and have our voices heard, and we get upset when we think others aren’t listening to us! I think that’s why blogs and FB posts have become so popular. They don’t require having an actual conversation– listening and responding to someone else. For listening is an act of love and obedience in Scripture.
The Lord always listens to us, ready to respond in love. First Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Matthew 7:7 says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” So, with the Spirit’s help, we study the epistle of James with open hearts, ready to listen for the voices of the poor and oppressed and for God’s voice speaking to us today.
James tells us everything we have has come from a gracious, good and generous God, who longs to give us every perfect gift from above. Every generous act of giving, he says in 1:17, comes from God! When we are stirred to give, it’s because God’s love compels us. James reminds us of our purpose and identity as the Beloved of a God who will never change. And we are, James says in 1:18, becoming a kind of “first fruits” of his creatures. What does this mean? Here’s a mini-stewardship sermon. In the OT, the acceptable offering to God is the “first fruits.” We don’t give what’s left over to God. We give to Him from our increase FIRST, and we give our best. But James is saying we are the first fruits. Our lives are an offering to the Lord!
After he talks about God’s gifts to us and reminds us who we are—the Beloved of God, first fruits of God’s creatures, James tells the Church how they have lost their way. They have stopped listening to each other. Good listeners aren’t always talking. Actually, if you are talking, you aren’t listening, you’re talking! Good listeners are “slow to speak.” Good listeners don’t get angry, for once we are angry, it is even painful to be with that person, let alone speak to them. Once we are angry, the conversation is over and the relationship has suffered. Good listeners are “slow to anger, for anger doesn’t produce God’s righteousness.” The Church in James time–which was all the churches since this is a letter not just to one congregation–has ceased to bear the fruits of righteousness; they have become people who consider themselves “religious,” and are judgmental of others. They are caught up in political battles over what to believe, how to do church, and even who to accept into the fold. They have become people who hear scripture read in Church, but it doesn’t penetrate their hearts! The evidence is that they have neglected the poorest members of their community. They have forgotten how to love God and neighbor!
And then we have come to the voices that we have been listening for—the ones who were not heard during James’ lifetime and the ones for which we must speak today. James says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
In honor of Katie Cannon and to continue her legacy of encouraging and building up women so they may use their gifts for the Church and be change-makers in their communities, the PC (USA) has founded a scholarship called, “The Women’s Ministry Fund.” https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/presbyterian-mission-agency-announces-scholarship-fund-in-memory-of-katie-geneva-cannon/
I hope her story inspires you to want to be a good listener, listening for voices in Scripture and in our society that others might not want to hear, voices of women, children and the poor and oppressed and seek to correct systemic injustice. May we all learn to be good listeners, for the Lord always listens to us, and responds with love and mercy.
These last few lines from Katie’s obituary seem to sum up a life faithfully lived, despite the pain of her childhood, growing up with segregation.
“With all her works and accolades, Katie Cannon was an approachable and kindhearted person. She was generous in sharing her time, talents, and resources. She lived the words of the song, “If I Can Help Somebody As I Travel On Then My Living Shall Not Be In Vain.”
Let us pray. Lord God, we thank you for all the faithful saints of the Church, people like Katie Cannon. Thank you for her service for so many years, for sharing her gifts of teaching and her prophetic voice, urging us to hear the voices that the Church had long ignored, believing they were not significant, and speak for those whose voices have been silenced. Thank you that for Katie pain has ended and she has entered into your loving embrace. May we all live as doers of your Word, Lord, bearing the fruits of righteousness by the power of your Spirit. Teach us to listen, really listen, to one another with open hearts and minds. May we never allow anger or pride hurt the Body of Christ. Help us to hear your voice every day as we seek to walk with you and live for you. In Jesus name. Amen.
Meditation on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Sept. 2, 2018
Merritt Island Presbyterian Church
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.” You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’ Then he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’ For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’
I have just returned from Montreat where I took a 30-hour class called, “The Art of Transitional Ministry.”
This was the second part of the basic course I took 2 years ago to strengthen my skills and help the church navigate the adventures that are ahead of us. One of our instructors told us, after her greeting, “All pastoral leaders are leaders of transition because we live in a time of constant transition.”
We brainstormed a list of transitions churches are going through today. Do any of these sound familiar to you? Some are moving from larger, multi-generational congregations to smaller, aging congregations, with fewer children, youth and young adults. Some are experiencing a decline in pledging and giving. Some are going through leadership transitions—pastors and staff, elders and deacons. Some have sessions of only 5 or 7 and are still having trouble filling openings! We talked about shrinking Sunday schools and choirs; change in regular attendance and change in attitudes about joining a church; change in activities and programs. We talked about churches struggling with divisions because of “national politics” or struggling with congregational splits, due to actions of the General Assembly to open up ministry leadership to all who possess leadership gifts, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Many of the changes and transitions are not negative; they are cause for joy and celebration! A church is re-opening a closed nursery after new families have come! Others have thriving preschools and mid-week enrichment or tutoring programs; others are enjoying new energy and purpose, looking for new ways to do hands-on ministries and welcome neighbors and strangers in the changing neighborhoods around their churches. One church is reaching out to Cameroonian refugees. Isn’t that cool? Others have growing interfaith relationships or are incorporating new technology and new music styles in worship.
We are reconsidering the language we use to talk about church. We are rethinking our definitions for “mission” and talking more about being “missional.” “Missional” churches aren’t just gathering places for the saints; we are people whom God is equipping and sending out to serve in Christ’s name! Our “mission” isn’t just telling people how they may be saved, so they will go out and tell others how they may be saved, too. There’s a kind of superiority to that—that we have all the answers and people just need to listen and do what we say! Our shared “mission” is more than coming to church on Sunday, though that is foundational to our faith. Our “mission” is to live lives of worship, learning to walk humbly in Christ’s ways, love tenderly, doing justice and showing mercy and grace, so that others will see Christ in us and want to know Him more.
During our discussion, on that first day at Montreat, one church’s transitional experience stood out to me as profound. A pastor said her congregation is moving from being “consumers” to “disciples.” Some of us whispered, “Wow.”
That made me think of the Pharisees—and the problem they had—that human traditions got in the way of being obedient to God’s commands. And that the problem was with their hearts. And how easy it would be–for some who love the church and our Sunday worship and the music as I do—to fall into the sin of being “religious consumers” and place too much value on human traditions. We could begin to think that the sum of our human traditions is what being the Church is, rather than being the spiritual Body of Christ, formed for His loving purposes.
How easy it could be to make worship all about us. When it’s all about Him! At the heart of worship is loving Jesus with all our hearts.
The Pharisees in Mark’s gospel have come from Jerusalem and have been following him around and plotting against him since he healed a man with a withered hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath.
So, they are looking for something to use against him—and the hatred they feel toward him is intense. They aren’t just wanting to embarrass or humiliate him; they want to, scripture says, “destroy him.”
They see his disciples are eating without washing their hands. That doesn’t seem like a big deal to us, but it is. They are drawing a line in the sand and saying that Jesus and the disciples are not one of them.
They are outsiders and outlaws, disobeying the “tradition of the elders” and by doing so, they and not just their hands have become defiled or unclean. They exaggerate, though, when they say, “all the Jews do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands.” Scholars can’t find biblical support for this as a universal requirement. Numbers 18:8-13 talks about this requirement only for Jewish priests and their households who eat meat sacrificed to the Lord in the temple. (William Placher, Mark, 101).
But this is key to understanding the passage; the Pharisees are looking for something to hold against Jesus and his disciples—something that they may sincerely believe is true, when it isn’t—that if they eat without washing their hands, they will be made unclean, even if what they eat is permissible by dietary laws. They are consumers of their religion, knowing and relishing all the rules and knowing how to use them to their favor and, they hope, to bring about the downfall of their enemies.
Jesus isn’t flustered or startled. He has a plan. He uses their attack as a teaching opportunity. They are hypocrites, he says, and he quotes Isaiah 29:13; this is the first “scriptural rebuttal” in Mark (Marcus, 449).
“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,” he says; “in vain, do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines”—meaning their worship, which is how they live their whole lives in submission to God’s commands—is ALL ABOUT THEM. “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition,” Jesus adds, meaning human tradition actually replaces and violates God’s commands.
Unfortunately, the lectionary omits an important piece of the passage, when Jesus gives an example of how the Pharisees use human traditions to break the commandment to “honor your father and mother.”
The sons dedicate their property to the temple. If their father or mother gets into financial trouble, the sons are supposed to help them by selling some of their property and giving their parents the money. But if they have dedicated their property to God, they can say, “Sorry, I can’t help you,” “thus making void the word of God,” Jesus says in 7:13, “through your tradition that you have handed on.” You’ve been doing this a long time and teaching it to your children! “And you do many things like this.”
Jesus isn’t finished with his lesson, which isn’t just for the Pharisees and his disciples; it’s for everyone, including us. He calls the crowd together and tells a short parable. “Listen to me,” he says, Listen up! “all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” With his parable, Jesus declares all foods “clean” and blasts those who hold to the dietary laws—that’s everybody in his community! Think how many people he is offending with his message, especially the religious authorities! He criticizes those who hold to the food laws, but fail to love, as he will say in Mark 12:30-31, the Lord their God with all their heart and soul and mind and strength…and their neighbor as themselves. The evil intentions that stir us to sin against God and neighbor, he says, come not from the devil! We can’t say the devil made me do it! The evil intentions come from within the human heart!
What’s interesting is how this passage seems to foreshadow what will happen with the early church in Acts. Some of you have been reading Acts in Sunday school– how the food laws are, at first, a stumbling block for the Jewish apostles to share the gospel with Gentiles. But in Acts 10, Peter has a vision of a sheet of animals that the food laws proclaim unclean coming down from heaven. Some of my Bible professors called this the “meat blanket .” A voice commands, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” Peter says, “Oh, no, I couldn’t do that,” because he’s never done that before. He was taught this was wrong! But the voice from heaven repeats the command—isn’t that what God does when we don’t listen the first time– and says, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
Peter eventually realizes God isn’t just talking about food; he’s talking about people. “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile,” he will say to a Gentile named Cornelius, who invited Peter to his home to share his message of the Risen Christ. “But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”
In a few moments, we will gather around the Lord’s table.
Our Lord welcomes all to come to Him, wherever we are on our journeys of faith. We come to spiritually partake of a heavenly banquet, to feed on Christ’s body, broken for our sakes and His blood shed for the forgiveness of sins. We come as people who still struggle with sin and doubt, but also as the Redeemed. We come with sincere faith—because if we don’t have faith, it won’t mean anything to us. We come with open hearts, praying for a glimpse of God’s Reign, to experience God’s presence, and receive His grace. We come not as religious consumers but as joyful disciples, seeking to be closer to the One who loves and accepts us as we are, but loves us too much to leave us that way. We come to be transformed, united, reconciled. For there are no divisions in Christ’s Body. We are one in Him.
We come with gratitude for all that God has done, for the promise of eternal life with Him. We come to be strengthened and encouraged, equipped and sent out as Christ’s Body for the world! As we come, we can’t help but remember that worship is not about us. It’s all about Him.
Let us pray.
Holy One, We love you and thank you for Jesus, who died so that we may be reconciled and brought into right relationship with you and one another. Thank you for your promises to us—that you will be with us always, that by your Spirit we are made one in You. That we are Your Church, so therefore we do not fear for our future, for in life and in death, we belong to you. Strengthen us through all the transitions you have planned for us. We trust in you for all the adventures that lay ahead. Make us, Lord, into your faithful, joyful disciples. May we never be merely religious consumers, seeking to have our desires fulfilled, rather than seeking to be pleasing to YOU. Draw us closer to you in worship. May it be all about you. Send us out to live as your Redeemed in gratitude to YOU. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.