sermon 2 September
James 1: 17-27 Mark 7: 1-8, 21-23
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. (James 1:27)
Why did Jesus talk in parables?
· Raised questions
· Challenged behaviour
· Answers had to be sought – not obvious
From now to end November we are going to consider lots of questions raised by Jesus’ teaching, and God’s word.
Today, we heard about one of Jesus’ many encounters with authorities
They were obsessed with sticking to rules, exactly as written.
Jesus wanted them to realise that the rules were no protection in themselves, but the motivation – so are you doing this in order to be seen doing this?
Are you doing this to tick the box and add to your “score”?
Or, are you doing this because you want to, you need to, because you value your own life and that of others?
The apostle James’ Epistle has long been a source of contention; it very nearly didn’t make it into the bible.
Luther called it an epistle of straw, with no real substance; and James’ theology of works which we hear a little bit about today was a huge talking point:
Saved by our works?
Or saved by belief in Jesus as our saviour?
Saved by what we do?
Or saved by God’s grace?
James does not say we are save only by our works. But that if we are truly followers of Christ, then others will see that by our behaviour.
What he was observing was people who said they were followers of Jesus, but who did nothing to show it.
The crux of this is the final verse, highlighted on the front of today’s service sheet:
Pure and genuine religion means caring for orphans and widows and refusing to let the world corrupt you
Society in the first century was very different to now; widows and orphans had no status; they relied on family for support, and if they had no family they were literally destitute.
The new Christian Fellowships that were springing up were trying hard to exercise care and compassion; living as they had witnessed Jesus live; remembering his teaching, his parables, his arguments with the authorities.
Maybe there had been an argument about how far they were to go?
Maybe some were complaining about how many orphans and widows they had to support?!
We don’t know.
But what we do know is that there was sufficient discussion for James to write about it; we do know that James had paused to explain about what “pure religion” was.
Ironic that the Pharisees who had argued so vociferously with Jesus thought they were protecting “pure religion”
How easy it was then to slip into old ways; how easy it is still.
What are the things that cause us to slip?
What are the rituals that have become precious to us?
What are the things we hang onto to keep our religion “pure”?
And what would Jesus really say about that?
One of the most enduring memories I have of the two weeks I spent with our friends from Malawi is when we took them to visit two Food Banks, one in Selkirk and the other in Edinburgh. They were shocked that we, who seem to have so much in their eyes, have people who are genuinely poor in our communities. But they also saw that our churches are responding, and feeding the widows and orphans of our community.
The other memory is of the exuberance and joy they felt and showed when they were in worship.
My Scottish-ness keeps me from dancing in the aisles, but I do know, that there are times when I too feel the Spirit bubbling up in me…
What is cleanliness really? It is to live out Jesus’ teaching as it applies in our context today. Not ritualistic hand washing, but to keep away from things which distract us; to help when we are able; to allow God’s Spirit to bubble up occasionally; and to do our best to speak out, to act kindly and to give generously.