Sermon for August 26, 2021
Sermon for August 29, 2021
Pentecost Proper 17B
Have you ever encountered a rule that was unfair, a rule you thought didn’t make any sense? Rules were things to be tested when we were younger but may test us even now. Some people have found creative ways to avoid a rule. If you were ever like that, you may enjoy these two stories.
A student’s school decided to ban jackets. Maybe they did that so students wouldn’t show the name of a gang they belonged to. One student was cold and decided to wear his jacket to the lunch room. The Vice Principle came up to him and told him to take it off. The student tried to argue. He pulled out the student handbook and asked where it says that you can’t wear a jacket. The Vice Principal looked through the handbook and finally picked the all inclusive answer which said “Or anything the administration seems to be disruptive.” While the student thought this was a little bit of a stretch, he took off the jacket. The next day, the student came to the school wearing the exact same tweed sports coat that the Vice Principal wore every day to school. I guess the Vice Principal had no complaint about his choice.
Rules can lead to outcomes that are not what was desired. In fact, they can cause bigger problems. "In French Indochina, well before the nation became Vietnam, there was a major problem with rodents eating supplies and bringing disease. Given the plentiful supply of cheap unemployed workers, the colonial authorities thought they could be used to kill the rats and bring their numbers down. The French had a somewhat racially prejudiced view of the work ethic of the locals, so they decided to pay them per rat killed rather than per hour worked. Each was compensated for every dead rat they handed over. A year or so later, the colonial authorities discovered the peasants had set up rat-breeding farms in the jungle.” That is a creative way to make money. The peasants used the rules to their own advantage.
Today’s scripture readings are about rules. I actually believe we should follow rules. But rules can be difficult. All of us now will follow a rule that means I cannot talk with the people of this church for a year. We understand the rule is meant to help the new priest but it is not one we like. We have rules for our behavior that have been given to us in Scripture. Jesus was questioned about a particular “rule”. Why didn’t his disciples follow that rule he was asked. Jesus responded that this particular rule took their minds and hearts away from what was really important.
In the passage from Deuteronomy, Moses gave a sermon on the importance of following the law. He said, “give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe.” Their response was crucial. They must follow the law in order that they “may live to enter and occupy the land”. We most often think of an eternal reward for following God’s law. But the Israelites were required to follow God’s law to obtain an earthly goal, the ability to enter and occupy the promised land. Have you ever felt that you must follow the rules to obtain some earthly goal? This wasn’t an individual activity. Everyone was expected to obey the commandments so that together they could be rewarded. Furthermore, the obedience of God’s people would generate obedience from the people who occupied the promised land. The wisdom and discernment of the Israelite people will change the behavior of others. Our behavior is always watched by other people and does have an effect on them. How often do we think of our sins as keeping the community from achieving what is desired? And yet it happens.
The letter from James continues this theme of following the commandments. You are to “ 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”. And furthermore it is about what we do, not just about what we hear. We are to obey through our actions not just our intentions.
And then, we come to the gospel. It sounds a little different doesn’t it. It may seem that Jesus is not following the laws that have been passed down. But a close look reveals that these “laws” were actually traditions that had been established in the Hebrew culture. They were not actually laws. Jesus supported the laws that came from the scripture but not always the traditions.
The washing of the hands they did was probably a lot like the ritual I perform at the offertory. I wash my hands symbolically and ask God to help my hands do God’s work in the world. But Jesus does’t want the washing of the hands to be the main focus. He said that rituals can keep us from dealing with the words we say to others and the feelings that they harbored in their hearts. Our evil intentions may come because of things other people do to us. But Jesus spoke strongly about the evil that people had in their hearts. Jesus wanted each of us to look deep into our hearts and deal with whatever evil intentions we find there. I have found lately that I can be easily upset by the behaviors of people I encounter. It comes from a lack of patience with things that are happening in this world and frustration over how things have been changed by this pandemic. My frustration, the evil that is inside of me, isn’t really caused by others but rather by my reaction to our situation.
While Jesus talked about the evil intentions that can lurk in our hearts, he spoke at other times of the good that can come from people’s hearts. One of the beatitudes says, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. He encouraged people to take heart, for your faith has saved you. We have so many expressions about the heart. We speak of people who have an honest and a good heart, people with a contrite heart, people whose heart is full of love, people who have a broken heart, people who have a thankful heart. Inside of each of us and inside of me there are many good intentions. We all just need to focus on the good and let the frustrations and evil go to some place outside of our bodies, away from our hearts.
Today should be more about the goodness of our hearts. I want to share some feelings that are on my heart. Today, my heart is sad because I will be leaving this community. You might even say that I have a heavy heart.
I have been so blessed to be your rector, your priest. I want you to know how thankful I am that I came to be in this place. I believe that God brought me here, guided me to this specific church. Some people think it was hard for me, that I worked too much or that I gave too much. I actually believe that I was fortunate to be here. You invited me into your hearts and gave me so much love. I was welcomed in times of great joy like a wedding, in times of sorrow, such as a funeral, in times of prayer and worship, in times when we all felt God’s presence among us. I felt your generosity for this church and for those in need. I remember all those people who have volunteered to make this a special place, a place of love and a place where the spirit fills our hearts. I have a thankful heart.
We do all these things because we receive the love of God in our lives and we wish to share God’s love with everyone around us. We know that Jesus loves us with all of his heart. Remember, this is what Jesus said to us, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” The heart of Jesus will be our place of rest.
Transfiguration will now enter into a time of change. With change comes some uncertainty. I say that now more than ever is the time to share God’s love with each other. Rather than stand back and wait for what will happen, I ask you to reach out in love to each other. For Jesus will give us the strength to deal with whatever comes next. It is Psalm 124 that reminds us “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Jesus will be our help.
I will be praying for all of you and each of you as you go through this time. As Christians, we live in hope. On that first Pentecost, the apostles spoke confidently of their hope. They knew that Jesus was their Savior and that he had conquered death. They shared that news with everyone. Peter spoke of Jesus using the words of King David, "therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover, my flesh will live in hope.”
This is a sad day for Jan and me and for many of us. While we may be sad, I ask you to live with gladness and live in hope. For I believe good things are coming for this church and for Jan and I. Let us live in the hope and love of Jesus. As Jesus said many times, “Take heart your faith has saved you.” May all of us feel God’s presence every day.
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