Sisters and Brothers in Christ, welcome back to the Gospel of Mark. For like 6 weeks we’ve been hearing from John, about Jesus as the Bread of Life. Now we shift gears again, as we begin a new school year, as we stop for a moment to celebrate Labor Day, as we brace ourselves for another busy fall, as we continue to go about our work as people of God — welcome back to the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus is short-tempered and quick, particularly with any who think they’re better than anyone else. With those who “lord it over” others.
You know, I’ve been known to do that. I’ve been known to lord it over others – maybe not out loud, but in my head, certainly. Thinking I know better. Thinking I deserve what I have, thinking my churchy life marks me, not just as different, but better, than all those slackers and non-practicers out there. Hypocrites! “Dang it, Jesus is talking to me here this Sunday.” And thanks be to God for that. Welcome back to the Gospel of Mark.
This text is obviously about much more than dirty hands: Not what goes in – churchy stuff, churchy friends, churchy house with crosses and bibles and jewelry and bumper stickers on display, the churchy life. It’s what comes out – love, compassion, and namely care for the marginalized: the orphan and the widow (code for any who have no advocates)…It’s Christ-follower ACTIONS that make a person clean….not just honoring Christ with our lips.
I always think it’s a helpful exercise to think back on all the words that you said this past week. What was on your lips? (Maybe even go home and write down what you can remember.) What came out of your mouth this week? What kinds of words were on your lips? Were they words of love, or words of anger? Words of slander behind someone’s back, words of bitterness, words of impatience, or gossip? What was on your lips this week—as you dealt with your family or your co-workers? As you “chatted” with your friends? Were they good words, or were they hurtful? Were they words of humility or words of “lording it over others”?
I’m going to take a risk, sin boldly, and “lord it over” someone right now...but I still think it’s an interesting illustration:
I’ll never forget how when I went backpacking in high school with our Lutheran camp in Colorado, we had to keep track of what came out of our mouths, what words were on our lips. We had to hold each other accountable for any cut-downs: any time you cut someone down in any way, we had to say 3 positive things to build them up.
And the one who was stuck constantly in this consequence of having to offer 3 positives, was the one in our group who never said a bad word, who always went to church, who dressed very properly, who had lots of Bible verses memorized – but she was full of contemptuous glares…and little comments that chipped away at other people’s self-esteems. (see how I’m “lording it over” her now?) And it was a struggle for her to think of positive things to say. But wasn’t that interesting: it’s not what goes into a person that defiles, Jesus says, but what comes out. Keep track of what you say this week…
(Maybe say a prayer for your lips and your tongue when you wake up every day this week.)
James, the book of James – we’ll be in it for about 5 weeks and I encourage you to read the whole thing during the week – the book James, like Jesus in Mark, isn’t concerned about putting on a show. It’s about pureness of heart. Religion that is pure and undefiled is this: it’s having the most glorious church building the world has ever seen ;) it’s having the brightest, most colorful Sunday School program in the ELCA, it’s having the sanctuary completely packed on Sunday mornings! NO, of course not. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, according to James (and the long line of prophets that came before him, including Christ himself) is religion that cares...for one another and for those with no advocates (widow and orphan).
It makes me think of the LORAX…“I speak for the trees!”
Take beliefs and churchiness — talking — out of it: who are the people who are actively caring for the voiceless in our society, for the 21st century equivalent of the widows and orphans? Who are the people actively reaching out to the poor, the planet (who’s going to speak for the trees, besides the fictitious Lorax)? Who is looking out for the immigrant, the disabled, the uninsured, the silenced, the oppressed, the powerless, for the one who is alone (even here at church on Sunday)…
Take religious beliefs and rituals out of it: who is doing the Word? Who shows up in times of distress and conflict? Who stays? Who gives generously?…You know, we can learn a lot about ourselves by looking at our credit card statements – I’d never want to share mine with you. Who shows you Jesus, not just tells you about Jesus? (Think of people in your life — doers of the Word.) Maybe they’re from inside the church, but maybe not.
Ever had that happen to you: a non-Christian, maybe even atheist actually teach you something about Jesus? The “happy reversal”? I’ve been blessed by many instances…pure and undefiled persons, not part of my Christian family, showing me about care for the voiceless and the powerless! These kinds of things happen all the time, but I invite you to pay more attention, to notice those people. (maybe say a prayer for our eyes too)
Now, I plan to stay in the church for as long as I live. This not church bashing. (Article a few years back: “So You’re Spiritual but not Religious, Don’t Bore Me”) The imperfect and yet faithful community, the Word, the Meal, the Font—these are just too important in my life to go without them. But these things alone don’t make me pure and undefiled…
Christ makes me clean. And I need the church to keep hearing that, reminding me of that. Jesus is the one alive in but also beyond the pages of Scripture – Christ is the one alive in my sisters and brothers outside of the church too! I need the church to keep calling me back to that. I need this inside to keep moving me outside.
Surround yourself with people who care for the “voiceless in their distress”. Who’s your Lorax? Your scratchy old voice that, while annoying, might just be right, and at the core is deeply loving?
Who are those who don’t just say the Word of God, they do it…as Francis of Assisi put it: they, “preach the gospel at all times, and only when necessary, use words.” Maybe they’re children, or people in their 20’s or their 80’s – crying out for justice and compassion, annoying the rest of us. But maybe they’re spot on?
These people are God’s gift to us, part of God’s on-going work in shaping you and molding us. We can resist them, “the Loraxes” but they keep coming and nipping at us, pointing us to greater faithfulness.
Will you pray with me… “God, we’re doing our best here. But we fall short. Take us the rest of the way. Continue to mold us and fashion us. God, you have washed us in the waters of baptism, you have cleaned our hearts. And we give thanks that you continue to cover us in your faithfulness, in your forgiveness, grace and love. Bless our lips and send us out now...to be doers of your joy and hope and welcome in a hurting world. Thank you for sending us prophets, advocates for the voiceless, to nip at us and call us back to what matters. Thank you for leading us in this journey, through your Son Jesus Christ, AMEN.”
#808 “Lord Jesus, You Shall Be My Song as I Journey”