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Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
September 2, 2018 –Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
I have been talking to you recently about reading the Bible as literally true or as metaphor, and Ollie explained the difference to me very clearly on Tuesday.
I was cooking supper and Ollie walked past. I said, “Hey, what’s cooking?” He turned and looked at me with surprise and said, “Why are you asking me? You’re the one who’s cooking.” That’s the difference.
Last week, we talked about how urgent things were for Jesus. He only had so much time left and there was much to do.
Jesus was impatient because he wanted to do all he could in the time he was given. He enlarges the time when he can. He accelerates the activity when he can. He does all the good he can to all the people he can in all the places he can in all the ways he can…so long as ever he can.
Today he gets criticism for letting his disciples go through a field picking and eating kernels of grain without ceremonially washing their hands first. They are unclean.
No, Jesus says, they are busy and it’s not what goes into a person that makes them unclean…I think he probably looked right at the Pharisees when he said this next part…it’s what comes out of them that makes them so.
Again, he is talking metaphorically. I am the Word made flesh. I am the bread and the wine. I am the Good Shepherd, the body and the blood, the Way and the Truth and the Life.
I am he, to whom you are speaking. I AM is who the Messiah is. So who are you….? Who am I….? Who are we…in the world?
Who is it that we want to be? How do we lean into that wind…into that wave…into that current…to become the gift that God sent into the world to become known by the names that our parents picked out for us? How do we do all the good we can to all the people we can so long as ever we can?
We are followers of God’s gift of love to the world, but we are also recipients of God’s gift of love to the world. We are blessed to be a blessing.
As I have complained to you before I was supposed to be named Susan. My older brother was supposed to be named Susan. My younger sister is named Susan. So my name is ‘not Susan.’
I am not the firstborn. My father was. My mother was. My brother was. And then there arrived ‘not Susan…yet’
So my parents named me John… until my mother’s mother saw my red hair and from that time forward I have been named ‘not Susan’ and ‘not John’ but ‘Kelly.’
I know more about who I am not than I do about who I am. So…as a good friend of mine once said to me: What are you going to do about it?
We could all ask for a more perfect circumstance. Even the billionaires can say, here and there…now and then, “If only I had done this or hadn’t done that, I would have another million.” So what are you going to do about it?
I’m not asking you what you…or I …should think about it. I’m not asking what you…or I…should say about it. It was such a great gift to hear that great question being asked in someone else’ life: What are you going to do about it?
James…widely believed today to be the brother of Jesus…writes to us today to share that same message of urgency that confronted our Lord and Savior every day he was given to walk upon the sod of this world …and to walk upon the waters covering this world.
We can be enraptured by the Promised One. We can be lifted up by the Promised one. We can be humbled and empowered by Jesus. We can be inspired by him. But then what?
How do we honor that? How do we profess our witness to the truth in that? What are we going to do about it?
I will tell you how you might see that you have hit the sweet spot…how you have arrived at the threshold of the gate that is narrow and the way that is straight.
Duke Ellington said…about music, “If it sounds good, it is good.” I am coming to believe that…when it comes to ministry…”If it feels good, it is good.”
This morning Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees as they see the disciples are not ceremoniously washing their hands before they eat.“Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders,” they ask him,“but eat with defiled hands?”
What we do, they seem to be saying, is more important than why we are doing it…and there is something to that. As Abraham Lincoln presided over the Divided States of America, he faced a terrible crisis.
Would the nation continue? Would government of the people, by the people and for the people perish from the earth?
We were it…the only continuing experiment in representative democracy in the world. All those who had been so ambitious had seen the sun rise and set on their ambitions. Lincoln asked a country in the midst of a struggle for life or death whether it could survive in a world such as the one they lived in…Or was it about to blink out?
It was about the Union, still, by the time he went to Gettysburg and our own Brother Van…then a growing boy…got to hear him breathe that immortal phrase….government of the people, by the people and for the people.
It was about something else, too, though. By the time we got to his Second Inaugural, that other issue had become obvious to him and many others. What we were doing was saving the Union, but why we were doing it was even more important.
“[S]laves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war….Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease.
“Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other…. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”
As his understanding of the war and its causes deepened and his understanding of his call to the presidency became clearer, he began to see himself not as an actor upon the stage of history, but as one who was being acted upon.
He said in an newspaper interview, “In the very responsible position in
which I happen to be placed, being a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father, as I am, and as we all are, to work out his great purposes, I have desired that all
my works and acts may be according to his will…”
When he was asked by a clergyman if God was on the Union’s side, he quickly responded, “The question is whether we are on God’s side.”
It is in that same spirit that Jesus responds to his critics this morning. You complain about the way the disciples behave, but they have made straight the way so that we can feed the multitudes, cure the sick, give sight to the blind and set the captives free.
It isn’t about what you think about God’s claim upon our lives. It’s about what you are going to do about it.
James writes to us, “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.”
I do not say these things to criticize you, for you are doers of the Word. The Welcome Back luncheon for the teachers and the Thursday meals for the students qualify you as doers.
The ACES concert that has so stirred up support for young people gave the community an opportunity to express their love and hopes for the young people of this age… revitalized our sense of mission to be in ministry in the local mission field…and gave the young people and the staff in the ACES program an affirmation that the community sees their work as important to many people they never hear from, and precious in the sight of all who call Bigfork home.
The trouble with ministry is that it never ends. It’s like Harry Truman said about economists: if you laid them all end to end, they would never reach a conclusion.
I like to think about it as Lewis and Clark crossing the mountains of Idaho. They would climb to each ridgeline and see that there was another ridgeline waiting for them across the way.
Then it was their task to descend from their lofty perch to the floor of the next drainage and climb to the next ridgeline…where they would see another valley…inviting them down…onto the floor of one more drainage…so they could climb to the next ridgeline.
It seemed like they had to undo what they had done to do what they had to do. It sounds like bad news, I suppose, but it’s not. A house that does not need to be cleaned is not a home. A dish that does not need to be washed has served its last meal. A car that does not receive regular service will fail to deliver you to your destination just when it is most important for you to be there.
You are that house. You are that dish. You are that car. And the world calls to you, not to bleed you or burden you, but to revitalize, reinvigorate you, make you one with each other, one with Christ and one in ministry to all the world… and show you the great gift to the world you are.
A quilt…a meal…a ride…a call…a card…a prayer…a smile…a kind word…these are things we all can do…and if we all pull ourselves off our Velcro couches and do any of them or all of them…then we do not just honor him with our lips.
We honor God and Jesus…and bear witness to the Spirit that is in us and among us…in truth and in our lives.
We are doing so much and it is so fun. I can hardly imagine how happy we will be when we see all the ways we can be doers of the world…quick to listen and slow to speak…and fill our lives with the light that does not fade in the night or in the winter or at the end of all our days.
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the word through me this day? Amen.