Sermon for August 29 2021 Fourteenth of Pentecost “Perfect Gift”
I know you all listened carefully to the reading from the letter of James and nodded in agreement. And I would argue that this is a great teaching…all the teaching are. In this case the compilers of the lectionary missed the hard work part. So let’s back up a bit and look at the verses that precede this reading. In verse one; ‘count it joy when you endure trails that test faith for that is the path to patience’, ‘if you lack wisdom ask God for it, but ask without doubt’, ‘exalt the lowly and be humble with what you have’, ‘blessed are those who endure temptation for they will have life’.
There is a scene in the Chosen where Jesus says ‘I ask little of those who do not follow me, but I ask much of those who do’. Being a follower of Jesus is hard work, it takes constant effort. The letter of James goes on to say ‘be listeners, be slow to wrath, set aside filthiness and wickedness’, and live out the Word and teachings of Jesus in all you do. So yes it is hard work. But like most hard work the more we practice the easier it becomes.
I remember when Nicholas started Tae Kwon Do and Jennifer figure skating, the moves were awkward, they fell a lot, they were shaky on their feet or skates but after time they got it, they learned more complicated skills and had less bruises. I am sure you can relate. The same is true for our Christianity. At first there were lots of questions, I expect there were doubts as we wrestled with the answers, we may not have been good at studying scripture or praying or listening or rage or wanting to do things ‘my way’. With time, even lots of time we got better. Just in case you are wondering perfection is not happening in this life. For the more we learn the more we want to learn about how to live into the teachings of Jesus in our 21st century context.
Kathy and I were chatting this week about the texts (she is leading worship at Harmony) and we were reflecting on the saying of Socrates: “Is it true; is it kind, or is it necessary?” That fits the teaching for today about being quick to listen and slow to speak. In the midst of our current context in NB or Saint John or even the world, there is too much speaking and not enough listening. We are in the middle of a federal election and I wonder what would happen if those vying for seats would listen instead of speak. In the midst of COVID I wonder what would happen if we could listen instead of concocting our own theories.
The world is a noisy place as not enough are not leaning into the teaching to practice listening. We have been gifted this perfect day and time that the glory of God will be revealed and we miss it because we have not learned listening. Proverbs 17:28 says better to be silent and have people perceive you as wise than open your mouth and prove them wrong. The teaching to be silent, to be still, to listen is ancient and wise, and yet so many are slow to learn.
The Gospel reminds us to be aware of those teachings that are of God. We humans and our institutions (the church being the biggest) have designed rules. The challenge is to understand which of our rules match with the teaching of God and which do not. The Hebrew people developed food rules that made sense for their day but not so much in the 21st century. In Mark it is about washing hands. In the days of Moses and even Jesus and to our time, washing hands was important but in the 21st century does hand sanitizer serve the same purpose? I grew up where you ate fish on Friday. I never knew why exactly but now I eat fish on any day and I do not consider whether it is Friday or not.
Again we are asked to listen for the teachings of Jesus that have abiding impact on our lives and the lives of those around us. This perfect gift will be different for each person. The question I wonder about is will I or you chatter your way through it or listen and learn of the wonder this gift is for you? Be as ones who are quick to listen and slow to speak and this message will not self-destruct in 5 seconds. Amen