There are two different sermons on this page, the first includes reference to the gospel reading...
30/8/09 Trinity 11/Proper 17 James 1:17-27, Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23.
James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. 19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
MK 7:1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2 saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles. ) 5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with `unclean' hands?" 6 He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: " `These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."
( 9 And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, `Honour your father and your mother,' and, `Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' 11 But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: `Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban' (that is, a gift devoted to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that." )
14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a man can make him `unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him `unclean.' "
( 17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 "Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him `unclean'? 19 For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.") 20 He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him `unclean.' )
21 For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man `unclean.' "
What makes someone right with God? What makes someone a true Christian?
Today's New Testament readings both deal with the answer to these questions.
Samuel Wilberforce (1805–1873) : Christianity can be condensed into four words: admit, submit, commit, and transmit.
James considers two types of people who would claim to be believers.
The first group is those who "merely listen to the word" verse 22. They listen to the teachings of and about Jesus but it doesn't make a difference to how they live their lives. If we read between the lines these people profess to follow Jesus but are involved in moral filth and doing evil. These are general terms but the context suggests that the recipients of this letter had a problem with speaking in anger, verses 19 & 26 and Chapter 3. They were also failing to help those in need verse 26.
Such conduct does not bring glory to God. Believers are supposed to glorify God by their lives by being holy, different, set apart for and by Him. We should endeavour to follow the ways of God so that we give as little ammunition as possible to those looking to criticise. There will be criticism. Jesus was criticised, despised, rejected, betrayed, suffered and died. He told his followers to expect no less.
Verse 26 also shows why they were not following the ways of God. They were being "polluted by the world". Influenced by the conduct and values of the people around them and not by the teachings of God.
Jesus confronted another group in our gospel reading. The Pharisees and teacher of the law. You could say that they trusted in tradition, rules established and taught by humans. Some of these actually went against God's revealed will in the Bible. They went through the motions of worship but their hearts were not really in it. They were there for their own self-justification, they thought if they behaved in the right way they would or should earn God's favour. They also used their traditions to manipulate people and condemn those who did not do what they wanted them to do.
J. B. Phillips (1906–1982): "There have been, and still are, religions which are concerned with the worship of a god or gods, but which have no influence on man's behaviour toward man. Christianity is not like this. The fact that the infinite God focused himself in a man is the best proof that God cares about people. In the teaching of that man, Jesus Christ, we find repeated again and again, an insistence on love to God and love to men being inseparably linked. He violently denounced those who divorced religion from life. He had no use at all for those who put up a screen of elaborate ceremonial and long prayers, and exploited their fellowmen behind it."
Jesus warns people not to trust in religious observance but to have a clean heart and a genuine trust in himself. James considers this group, the second in his letter. You might call them true believers. What does this involve?
" 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you."
James is encouraging his readers to turn from living a life of sin. Putting themselves first. Following he ways of the world. Failing to love God and love other people.
Last week in the Baptism service the parents and godparents of baby Sophia made three declarations that they would turn from everything that was wrong.
Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God? I reject them.
Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil? I renounce them.
Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour? I repent of them.
They then said that they would turn from wrong and follow Jesus who is the right way.
Do you turn to Christ as Saviour? I turn to Christ.
Do you submit to Christ as Lord? I submit to Christ.
Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life? I come to Christ.
James writes ".. humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you."
We need humility to come to God aware of our own shortcomings. The Holy Spirit helps us to do this. He shows us what we are like and what we should be like. He shows us we need someone to put us right with God.
"The word planted in you" is referring to the good news of Jesus. That He is man and God. Who came to earth to shows and teach us how to live. That he died and took the punishment for our sins so we can be free. Free from the power of sin through the work of the Holy Spirit. Free to know and obey God inspired by gratitude, a knowledge of the ways of God and the desire and power to follow Him through the work of the Holy Spirit.
This does not mean that we will be perfect this side of glory. But we should be growing in Christ-likeness.
Relationships change us. They form us into the people we are. Sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. The Christian life has to flow from a right relationship with God through the risen Lord Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. This will change the people we are. We should become more like him. Not by merely listening to and being aware of the good news. Not solely by living life according to religious rules or traditions.
This has got to involve keep on living for God. To persevere. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what he does.
On Friday evening Joshua and myself got on a train at the main Barcelona terminal to go to the airport. Instead, due to a misunderstanding with languages, we ended up 45 minutes later 55 miles South in a place called Sant Vincenc de Calders. Thankfully the English of the woman in the Ticket Office was better than those on the train! I suspect we were not the first to do this! We took a taxi to the airport and arrived before checking in started.
Can I encourage you to board the right train?
Don't board a train of listening without it affecting your life.
Don't board a train of just living by tradition, rules, or religion.
Board the train with Jesus. He will come alongside you for the journey. Trust wholeheartedly and radically in him if you want to get to the right destination. The journey may be scary and difficult at times. But he will always be with us by his Spirit, living within us. Helping us to become more like Him.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "The Cost of Discipleship".
"Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance,
baptism without church discipline,
Communion without confession,
absolution without personal confession.
Cheap grace is grace without discipleship,
grace without the cross,
grace without Jesus Christ living and
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has.
It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all of his goods.
It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble,
it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.
It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.
It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.
Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "You were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.
Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
Year B; Trinity 11/Proper 17 : James 1:17-27 ;
17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. 19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
What makes somebody a Christian ? Many people get confused between the cause and effect. The cause, what makes someone a Christian, is God's Spirit being invited into someone's life in response to what Jesus has done for them. The effect is to transform the way that person lives.
So people see Christians living better lives, or trying to live better lives and think, 'That's what makes a Christian.' They think that they can be a Christian if they try to be good. They may even think they are a Christian if they live their life according to a moral code.
In his letter to the church at Galatia Paul writes that " a man is not justified ( i.e. put right with God ) by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ" (2:16 ). The reason he wrote this was that there were false teachers in Galatia who taught that you had to have faith in Jesus and observe the Jewish Law to be put right with God.
In today's gospel we have a dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees. They insisted on people adhering to their oral traditions, man made rules that had been added to the written Law given by God. At this time a son could withhold money or possessions that were due to his parents by declaring that it was 'korban'. 'Korban' was a gift promised to God, yet retained by the son and still used by him. This was part of the religious 'Halakic' tradition that came after the law, and was used to avoid it's obligations. This goes against the fifth commandment. Exodus 20:12 "Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
Jesus criticised the Pharisees for using their oral traditions to break the law of God. He called them hypocrites, play actors, because they pretended to be religious yet did not uphold God's law.
James addresses a similar problem where there are people who claim to have faith in Jesus, but it doesn't affect the way that they live their lives. It is not that James and Paul disagree about how we are 'justified'. Indeed, later in Galatians Paul writes that they are to reject the acts of the sinful nature, and to live by the Spirit. But James and Paul are writing to correct different problems.
At the start of his letter James has written how God can use trials to bring people on in their faith. But he writes that God does not tempt people do to wrong.
We then start our passage for today. This centres around three responses needed to the word. God's revelation to us found in Jesus and in the Bible.
The three responses are:
Being saved through the word, verse 18.
Listening and receiving the word, verses 19-21.
Obeying the word, verses 22-27.
Being saved through the word, verse 18.
God isn't the author if evil, verse 13, but the source of everything that is good, verse 17. Verse 18. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. The best thing that God can give is new birth. The birth of a baby is a wonderful and exciting time. It is a time when we can be brought near to God by the creation of this tiny person. But James is picking up on the words of Jesus to Nicodemus. "You must be born again". Talking about a new start with God in humble trust like a child, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This comes through the word of truth. Centred on Jesus who said "I am the way, I am the truth, and I am the life. No-one can come to the Father except through me" (John.14:6 ).
Listening and receiving the word, verses 19-21.
This is how we should receive God's revelation to us that we read in his word, the Bible, and as we are taught from it. James addresses three things that can block this in verse 19.
A failure to listen. We should be quick to listen. It is often very difficult to really listen. To take in what is being said and to reflect upon it. We can often be too busy to do this properly, so we need to make this a priority. In our private times with God, and in our corporate acts of worship. Some are reluctant to hear God's word, perhaps because of ignorance or fear.
A tendency to talk. We are to be slow to speak. That doesn't mean that Christians are to be characterised by speaking slowly. But God has given us two ears and one mouth. Sometimes we are too busy thinking about what we will say next, rather than listening to what is being said. Our words should be carefully thought out as we come to God's word.
Anger. "We should be slow to anger because man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." verses 18f.
This does not mean that we are never to be angry, for there are times when it is right to be angry. Jesus was angry when he saw the way that the Temple in Jerusalem was being misused by the traders and money changers. This is talking about man's anger, not God's. One that is in response to the challenge of God's word.
One of the reactions that people have when they feel threatened is to hit out. To get angry. As God's word challenges people it will provoke some to anger. Some people try to count to ten when they feel angry. I try to adopt the principle of reciting the nine fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5 :22f.
Just as a building is only as good as it's foundations, so is the way that we receive God's word. It has to be built on humility, that is to say thinking of God and His word more highly than ourselves. This can only come about through a change of heart inspired by God's Holy Spirit.
To illustrate this James uses the image of removing one set of clothes and replacing it with another in verse 21, Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
This is how we can move on to the final section :
Obeying the word, verses 22-27.
Verse 22 is the key to the whole letter of James. If you were to sum up the whole message of it this would be it in two sentences. You can have a Doctorate in Theology, be a Professor of Hebrew, recite the gospel of Mark off by heart, read your New Testament in the Greek, but if you don't do it, it is useless. A sham.
This is not to say that we will be perfect, but it has to have an effect upon our lives.
Here James illustrates this with the story of someone who spends time looking at himself in the mirror, and then forgets what he looks like. This forgetful mirror watcher is contrasted with what God wants for us as we see in verse 25.
"looks intently" - this doesn't mean that Christians should go around staring ! But it should mean that we examine the word of God very carefully. Trying to understand the original situation that it addressed. Seeing where this fits within God's plan to save humankind. Then applying it to our lives today. Not the type of thing that comes from a superficial reading.
"continues to do this" - we are not called to act according to God's will on only one occasion, like a divine driving test. We are to continue to follow God's ways all of our days.
"not forgetting what he has heard" - we are to remember God's ways. Why? Because the word has been planted in you ( verse 21 ). How do we remember ? By reading it again and again. Discussing it with others. Coming to Church and House Groups. By memorising Bible verses like Jesus did. When the devil tempted him he replied, "It is written...It is written...It is written..."
"doing it" - God wants you and I to be more like Jesus. As a church he wants us to have vibrant worship, a loving and forgiving fellowship, meaningful prayer, Bible-based teaching to equip us to live for him, a church where everyone exercises the gifts that God has given them...
This is all centred around "the perfect law that gives freedom".
God's law is not a set of rules handed down from a spoilsport God who doesn't what us to enjoy ourselves. They are there for our benefit, and the benefit of others. They are given because God wants the best for us. Once we realise this, and receive the love that God has shown us in Jesus we are then set free. Free to obey the ways of God rather than to be restricted by them.
When we follow God's way this will result in us being blessed, says verse 25.
For those who are unsure of exactly what is being asked for James spells this out in verses 26f. Three areas of life are involved :-
1) Our Speech.
Alice Roosevelt Longworth said : "If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me." This is probably typical of many people today.
Read verse 26. 26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
James talks more about this in the whole of Chapter 3. Verse 17 of Chapter 3 gives a good yardstick for what our speech should be like. Read 3:17. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
This contrasts with the conversation of many which is impure, hostile, inconsiderate, proud, biased, and insincere. We should ask the questions : Is it true ? Is it necessary ? Does it build up the one who is being talked about ?
Often truth is not allowed to get in the way of a good story. We saw this in The Sentinel two Fridays ago when they claimed around half the gravestones in our graveyard had been 'toppled'. In fact, 60 out of 825+ were carefully laid down.
Sometimes hundreds of people dying get little coverage because they are abroad, and not British. A recent coverage of a French train crash was reported with the words that the one Britain on the train was O.K.
As Christians we are called to consider very carefully what we say. We should not get involved in gossip, or condemning others.
2) Practical Caring.
Read verse 27a. Orphans and widows had no-one to provide for them in these days other than their families. The early church appointed deacons to serve widows and others with food in Acts 6 so that the apostles were free to teach.
We are called to care practically for those who are in difficulty. Perhaps getting a prescription for an infirm person. Providing company and a meal for someone who would otherwise spend Christmas alone. Giving money to an agency like TEAR Fund. Something that we will do on Harvest Sunday as a church.
This caring is based on an understanding of what God has done for us and given us. It is a sign of gratitude, and a realisation of a need.
3) Our Holiness.
We are to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. The world around us would rather we imitate them, than imitate Christ. The reason that they crucified him was that he was too radical. Too God-centred. A threat.
This doesn't mean that we have to become hermits. Hiding in a cave on a hillside. But we have to take measures to ensure that we do not get polluted by what goes on around us. Like a cyclist who bikes in the city and wears a gas mask to combat the fumes. We are called to take measures to prevent ourselves from being affected by the filth that is around us.
Turning off the television when something that is unwholesome is on. Not joining in when people gossip, maybe even pointing out the other point of view if we feel people are being unfair.
We are not to be sucked in to doing what everyone else does. The way of knowing what is right is rooted in God's word. The perfect law that gives freedom from slavery to our sinful nature.