Pentecost 14, Year B

James 1:17-27

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. 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.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 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.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 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.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 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.

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

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.”

Prayer 

In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. 

AMEN

 

Sermon

 

 Today’s Gospel asks us what authentic Christianity looks like.     

It speaks to the big difference between having 

a flashy Jesus bumper sticker, and 

actually living as Christ calls us to.  

 

Are we a lighthouse, in the darkness, or just another player?

 

‘You honor God with your lips, but your hearts are far from God”. 

You talk a lot about Jesus, while you drive on fancy wheels.

As far as God can see, you’re “all hat and no cattle.”

 

It was hard for the Pharisees, to imagine that a humble man, 

from a bottom tier Dustbowl town like Nazareth, 

would say such things to them.    But he did.

 

 

In ancient Greek, the word “Gospel” meant “Good News”

It’s about any kind of good news: 

A healthy baby, or good business deal, 

a winning bet, or getting a diploma or degree. 

It wasn’t about something sacred. 

The ancient pagan God’s practically never brought Good News. 

Those Gods weren’t beneficial, or helpful, or loving or kind.   

But Yahweh was different.   And Jesus is His Son.

 

And so, as time went by, the word “Gospel” 

began to refer to Jesus’ Good News. It still does. 

 

In the early days most people saw Christianity as a Jewish sect,

But over time Christianity grew into what we call a “church”.

And as the church was integrated into the ancient societies, 

it began to influence them … as they influenced it.

 

Many thought that Jesus’ resurrection, 

was the beginning of The End. 

John the Baptist and Jesus’ himself, seemed to say so. 

Paul and the Apostles, said that the End Times  were coming, soon. 

In fact, in one  early letter, Paul said Jesus was coming so soon,

that Christians shouldn’t bother to bring in their crops, 

or bother to get married , 

“ What I mean …”, he wrote, “is that … time is short”.

 

But  Time wasn’t so short after all. Jesus didn’t come back.

And People noticed. 

So the “church” began to organize itself.  And Gospels were written.

Peter and Paul and other leaders changed their tune. 

 

St. Paul counseled patience.  St. Peter wrote a letter saying:

“A day with God is a thousand years, and a thousand years is a day.”

 

Mark’s Gospel hinted that change was afoot.   And it was.

It wasn’t the End Times, after all.

Instead, Jesu came to show us how to live in the New Times,

The Kingdom of God. Right here. Right now! 

 

The Pharisees and Temple leaders, tweaked God’s ancient rules.

They insisted on compliance with every little thing. 

They’d  used those rules, for generations, to 

subdue the working poor, and to get rich.

Jesus was the new Sheriff in Town.

Peter  and Mark  sort of saw Jesus as rabble rouser. 

He acted with authority that blew their minds. 

 

Jesus really was that kind of guy.  He pushed back. 

He wanted folks to know what God really wants from us.  

      God doesn’t expect us to jump through a bunch of hoops.

 

Jesus was a very brave and very committed man.

He always seemed to know where he was headed. 

He never shirked his Divine mission.

Jesus is our role model.

 

Jesus was the Son of God.  He did his Father’s work. 

And the Jerusalem elite did theirs.   Not so Divine, I guess.

 

They watched. They took notes. And they planned,

As Jesus took up a strong position against them. 

 

He opposed their hypocrisy, cruelty and legalistic pickiness.

He showed that even when they followed the letter of The Law

they used God’s law to their own advantage. 

Jesus spoke about Isaiah – the most righteous of prophets–  about avoiding phony piety, and making a 

personal commitment to living under God’s will.

 

Those Pharisees and Temple guys really seem to hate Jesus. 

It’s no wonder! 

 

He reminded folks that that God said to Abraham: 

“I will bless you, that you may be a blessing to others.”

 

And he told his followers – as he still tells us, today —

that God’s love will transform our lives,

and it will transform the lives of those we encounter.

 

Life is short – let’s do all that we can to gladden people’s hearts. 

These COVID days are tough times.  We need God’s blessings. 

But haven’t we always? 

 

When we leave church today, let’s all agree that we will 

share the seeds of God’ love, because 

a crop only grows when the seeds are spread. 

 

Try to be kind.  Smile,  when you don’t feel like it.  

Bite your tongue, even if you’ve got the perfect zinger. 

When you do that, watch how the Spirit will transform your life. 

It’s worth the effort. 

It’s what Jesus would do. 

 

AMEN. 

 

 

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