Sunday, September 06, 2009

Sermon, Proper 18B, James 2:1-17, Mark 7:24-37

"Care for orphans and widows." So ended our reading from James last week. And if you recall, I pointed out that James is less a theological treatise than a how to book on Christianity. In other words, James is less concerned with liturgy and worship than he is with shaping the lives of those involved in the church. At the end of Matthew, Jesus says to "make disciples of all nations." The goal of James is to show how that might be done.

Just what is a disciple? A disciple, remember, is a person who follows and emulates another. For instance (and because it's football season), disciples of Bill Walsh include Sam Wyche, George Siefert, Denny Green and Mike Holmgren. Those men learned from and tried to emulate what Bill did with his team and for the game. Likewise, we who are disciples of Christ should be trying to emulate how Jesus lived. Being a disciple of Bill meant more than sitting around drawing X's and O's on a chalkboard. Being a disciple of Christ means more than sitting in a pew on Sunday morning. In both cases, it's about changing the way the game is played.

For Bill and his staff, it meant creating and perfecting the West Coast Offense and changing the game of football. For us, it means changing the game of the world that demands winners and losers. The world demands that the powerful make the rules. It demands that some people are more equal than others. It demands that our success is based on the toys in our garage and the size of our bank account. It demands that we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and make something of ourselves.

But God, Jesus and Christianity say something else.

In one of the few instances, maybe the only instance, where Jesus is wrong or misguided, he attempts to dismiss a Gentile woman by stating that he has come strictly for the Jews, comparing "her kind" to that of a dog. She changes the game by pointing out that even dogs are not ignored by their owners and receive the scraps from the table. Even the dogs are part of God's creation and worthy of our attention, compassion and love. Jesus recognizes this change and heals the woman's child.

In doing so, he shows us that it is not our job to cut off from the life of the church, the body of Christ, those whom we deem to be unacceptable dogs. It is not our job to cut off from the church those people who are different from us or annoy us or who seem to cause a scandal. Even "those people" are worthy of our attention, compassion and love. If we become focused on who's in and who's out, who are the owners and who are the dogs, then we will ultimately cut ourselves off from the unity of the body of Christ. And this is where James comes in.

"Show no partiality," James says. Treat everyone equally. This is a place, or should be a place, where all are respected, loved, cared for and nurtured -- whether we pledge $1000 a month or $5 a month, whether we wear 3-piece suits or tattered jeans, whether we are Democrats or Republicans. It might even seem that James is pointing to the Magnificat and urging us to treat the poor and the outsider with more respect than that given by the world. Care for the orphans and widows, show no partiality, change the game.

We claim to have the indwelling of Christ -- we in him and he in us. Part of that indwelling, certainly, is our spiritual life; how we pray and worship. Jesus taught us that prayer is important. Whether we pray alone or corporately, whether we pray the psalms or gain strength from our Eucharistic prayers, prayer should be a large part of our spiritual and religious life.

But Jesus DID more than he prayed. Through the indwelling of Christ, we pray, certainly. But we should also do. We do by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, among other things. Or rather, that's what we should be doing. How are our donations to the food bank coming? How many socks and gloves have we collected for the homeless? Being the church means more than simply showing up on Sunday morning to pray. It means more than, upon seeing a person who is homeless or grieving, calling me and asking to have them put on the prayer list.

As we do as Jesus did, we must also remember that there are no strings attached. We don't offer a meal as long as people sit through a sermon. We don't offer clothing as long as people promise to look for a job. I met a couple in the bar last week who understand this. They offered to donate money to help us feed people over the holidays, effectively challenging us to match their financial donation. I will be talking with the vestry this afternoon to think about how we might best accomplish this. This to reiterate that we care for, provide for and love for no other reason than Jesus did it and that "those people" are God's beloved children -- just like us.

This, then, is the work of a disciple: to care for the orphans and widows and to welcome the dogs of society into the body of Christ. Show no partiality, because Jesus, through us, invites all people to follow him. Let us do more than pray for "those people" on Sunday mornings -- let us do.

Let us change the game by allowing the faith we exhibit here to shine forth by what we do out there.


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