28 Aug 2021 • General news
Song of Solomon 2. 8-13
8The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. 9My beloved is like a gazelle or young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. 10My beloved speaks and says to me: ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; 11for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. 12The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land. 13The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.’
James 1. 17-end
17Every 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 fulfilment 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.
19You 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. 21Therefore 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.
22But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25But 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.
26If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27Religion 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
1When the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and 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.) 5So 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?’ 6He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honours me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;7in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.”’
14mes 1. 17-endThen he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’ 21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’
Reflection for Sunday 29th August 2021 – 13th After Trinity
Texts: Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23; James 1: 17-27
What, I wonder, are we to make of today’s Gospel?
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been hearing a lot from Jesus about spiritual food and drink, about the True Bread which we must eat if we are to have life within us.And now, this week, we have a Gospel passage which appears to change tack entirely. From hearing Jesus talk about how what we eat matters – “my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink,” and “if you eat my flesh and drink my blood, I will dwell in you” – we now switch to hearing Jesus telling his critics that it really doesn’t matter what you eat or drink, because nothing you put into your body can corrupt you.
This sort of statement would have come as a shock to many of those present; we are told that they are members of the Pharisees, a group of super-devout Jews who tried to follow the Law of Moses to the absolute letter and expected the same of everyone else. They would have particularly been conscious of the food laws contained in the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament, from a Christian viewpoint. Those food laws were, after all, an outward and visible sign of their faith, in an era when their homeland was governed by infidels from Southern Italy. The Romans ate some mad things – dormice, larks’ tongues, ants in honey; so for a practicing Jew, the food laws would have perhaps become more important than ever.
I’m not about to belittle or disparage the deeply held beliefs of another faith. But from a modern perspective, it has always seemed to me that the food laws of ancient Judaism look like the result of a primitive people struggling to understand what we now call Germ Theory. Certain things, if not properly prepared before you eat them, can contain bacteria which will make you sick, even kill you. Pork and shellfish – two items forbidden in the Jewish food laws – are primary offenders here. Our modern understanding of the world is that corruption can indeed enter the body from outside. If we’re sensible, we make sure that our food is cooked properly before we eat it. We have all sorts of secular laws – of the legally binding kind – governing how food can be stored, displayed, and prepared. We are actively encouraged to wash ourselves regularly, to wash our hands before meals and after completing certain activities. In the last two years, this idea of personal cleanliness has grown even greater, as we are encouraged to regularly sanitise our hands, to be careful what we touch, to wear masks in public spaces. Yes, we are very familiar with the idea that we can put things into our bodies to corrupt them.
But all of this has entirely missed the point. Jesus points out that his critics, latching on to the minutiae of the food laws, have betrayed their own shallowness. Eating the ‘wrong things’, or eating with unwashed hands, might make you sick, yes; but it doesn’t make you evil. It might not be very sensible, but it isn’t a sin. Sin, the act of falling short of God’s expectations on us, doesn’t come from outside. It comes from inside. Jesus’ response to his critics is very direct: “Do your insides match your outsides?”
To my mind, Jesus’s words aren’t about food, and they aren’t about corruption – they are about oppression. The Pharisees used the food laws to set themselves apart from other people – which is fine and dandy, and entirely their choice, if they want. If someone wants to wrap a long length of cloth around their head, or get down on their knees and bow in a south-easterly direction five times a day, or have “Jesus is my Saviour” tattooed in bright orange letters across their face, then that’s entirely up to them. But what the Pharisees were also doing, when they level their accusations at Jesus and his disciples, is using those food laws as a stick to beat other people with – and that, I’m sorry to say, is simply not on.
Jesus, in our Gospel passage today, reminds his listeners of Isaiah’s point, about people who pay ‘lip service’ to God. They speak the words, often quite loudly, but their actions don’t reflect what they say. It’s a theme that the writer of the Letter of James picks up and runs with, as he takes great pains to remind his readers that all the faith, all the zeal, all the words in the world, are meaningless if you don’t do anything with them.
Just before the first lockdown started, my eldest son, Tom, and I went out to the theatre to see ‘The Book of Mormon’ .I’m not sure what I expected to see – the show’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are also responsible for the crude adult cartoon South Park. What I wasn’t expecting, which we actually got, was a subtle examination of the nature of faith versus action. The hero of the show isn’t a very good Mormon – he has trouble remembering even the most obvious, basic things about his faith – but he turns people’s attitudes upside down, and motivates them to improve themselves and their situation. In contrast, his best friend is someone who can quote chapter and verse of the Book of Mormon, but who is so wrapped up in himself and the idea of being a ‘good Mormon’ that he ultimately has no impact on anything that happens around him. The basic message of the show is that it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as those beliefs inspire you to leave the world in a better state than you found it. Piety that doesn’t achieve anything is worthless.
That’s the message that Jesus and James are giving us in our readings this morning. Do our inside and our outside match? Do we give lipservice to God, or do we act on what we believe?Do we moan about the state of the world, and pray to God to make it all better – or do we take responsibility for our part in that prayer, and go out and try to do it?
An American Pastor whose online blog I follow, John Pavlovitz, has a book coming out, which I intend to buy. The title of the book sums up, for me, James’ message – it’s called, ‘If God is love, don’t be a jerk’. How many Christian communities are there out there, preaching the unconditional love of God, who then put conditions on anyone wanting membership? How many Christians saying, “Jesus loves you for who you are – but if you want to come in here, you aren’t allowed to be black, or divorced, or a drug user, or in a relationship with someone who’s the same gender as you”? Jesus said to us that he is the Gate of the Sheepfold – so why do we continually use him as a barrier to keep people out?
Jesus is quite right – evil doesn’t originate anywhere outside us. Evil is a very human failing, generated inside human beings; and as Christians we must fight against that. Not just on a Sunday morning, when we are here, but continually. Always, and in all ways. If we want to call ourselves Christian, then yes, what we believe is important – we must write the Word of God upon our hearts. But we must wear it on our sleeves, too. We must be doers of the Word, not merely sayers. Jesus told us that we shall be known by our fruits. God is Love, and Jesus came to demonstrate that Love to us, and now we must pass that Love on to the rest of the world. We are ambassadors for the Christ who says, “Come in” – not a Christ who says “Go away until you’re decent.”
We live in an increasingly secular world, a world to whom God means less and less with each passing day. Men like Richard Dawkins write books that allege that religious faith is only ever harmful. Is he right? If our faith is to mean anything at all, then we must fight to leave that world in a better state than we found it – even if it’s just for one person. We must be the people of whom it is said, “Look at what their God inspires them to do; I want some of that. ”Let us go out from this place today determined to be doers as well as speakers – let’s not tell people about the Love of Christ until after we’ve shown it to them.
Intercessions for Trinity 13 (29th August 2021) by Malcolm Tyler
Heavenly Father, we pray that you would preserve your Church to be steadfast in faith, firm in your Word and zealous in good work. May we be ever ready to serve the needs of our local community and as Covid restrictions have eased may we restore some of the things and services we have lost over the past 18 months.Keep your people strong when discipleship seems costly or the burden difficult to bare.
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer.
Father God, have mercy upon your human creation that struggles to recognize its true identity. We pray especially at this time for the people of Afghanistan, both those who have taken on the responsibility of government but also for those who in fear for their lives and livelihoods are seeking to find safety in other lands. Enable the aid agencies and governments who seek to deliver people to safety to manage their task efficiently and with respect for those who seek their help. May stability be restored both to the people and the country as a whole but engender in those in authority a respect for each human being made in your image, whatever their creed or way of life.
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer.
Heavenly Father, fill us with praise for the good gifts that you have given to us in families and friendships. As many will be celebrating with each other over this Bank Holiday weekend we pray that we may have a sense of old relationships restored and new ones possible. We look forward to the possibilities of new relationships being forged as school children return to schools and colleges in the coming weeks and pray that we may be welcoming to those who appear at first sight different from ourselves. Here at St Mary’s we give especial thanks for the rich diversity of traditions represented by members of our own congregation and pray that we may learn from each other and give us grace to use our gifts in the service of you and each other.
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer.
Loving God, we pray that you would relieve all who suffer either through illness or through injustice. Especially we pray for Audrey Curtis in hospital at this time asking that she might know your peace and love for her. We remember too the injustices suffered by so many in our society – those who endanger their own lives in small boats or other perilous transport seeking a new life in which fear is not the predominant factor. As our government attempts to deal with the issues of illegal immigration and genuine refugee crises, may those responsible be ever mindful of the dignity you have given to every person you have created, treat them with respect and deal with them fairly.
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer.
Heavenly Father we give thanks for the peace of the departed, whose suffering is over and who rest in your care. We remember the families of Linda Ford, Dorothy Bates and Margaret Pettipher who have died recently and pray that their families may find consolation in the funeral services they attend. May Linda, Dorothy, Margaret and all those who have died find a share in the glory of heaven
accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.