Welcoming with meekness the implanted Word - James 1.17-27 and Mark 7.1-8,14,15,21-23

Rev'd Sarah
Sunday, August 30, 2015 - 9:30am

Theft, murder, adultery, fornication, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly……..quite a list to choose from for my first sermon in St Mary’s!  So I thought we might leave most of those for Fr Alec on another day!  today I wanted to focus on walls, freedom & divine love... Welcoming with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save.

Since I arrived in Old Basing I haven’t watched a single moment of television –not only because of the compelling attractions which Old Basing and Lychpit hold, and the hard hard life of a curate!, but also because I haven’t had a working TV aerial in my house.  But even without access to the TV news, the continuing Afghan, Syrian, Libyan and Iraqi migrant crisis is overwhelming in our minds. It’s estimated that well over 300,000 migrants have risked the horrific boat crossings to Europe so far this year, with an estimated 2 ½ thousand having died in the process.

Even amidst such intense human suffering, solutions are not obvious. Migrants trying to enter Hungary now face a temporary barrier of razor wire – the real fence, the ‘wall’ is coming soon. At Calais, the miles of 4 metre high barbed-wire-toped British fence is now in place.  The crisis on both sides is real.  The ethical and practical dilemmas on how to solve such crises are complex. But we’re left wondering who makes the rules for whom? when do rules which protect the traditions and identity of some, become inhumane exclusions, even causing the deaths of others? When do walls constructed to keep people out, become monstrous barriers to people’s human rights to live equally in safety and dignity? 

Our gospel passage today connects directly with our contemporary dilemmas. It’s often easy to just right off the Pharisees as over-legalistic and obviously wrong – sticking rigidly to purity rules of their human making when clearly they should just lighten up! But I always think the Pharisees get rather a rough deal from the gospel writers, and perhaps that’s because we so quickly see in the Pharisees what we fear most in ourselves and in our church – a temptation to stick behind the safety of rules and traditions which fit relatively comfortably into our own lives, but which avoid disruption for the sake of others. We might safely hand out food packages to migrants, for example, whilst building that wall a little bit higher and a little bit longer.

Jesus is seen challenging the Pharisees over their focus on external rules which create barriers to living in the fullness of life. Yet Jesus is speaking here from within a Jewish framework to his fellow Jews. He’s not dismissing tradition and ritual but emphasizing the need to sit lightly to all that’s external. It’s not that external and physical things are bad, it’s just that the external is not the issue. ‘there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, says Jesus, but the things that come out are what defile. it’s from within where both good and bad external things emerge. It’s inner cleanliness of heart that matters.

Mark includes these debates on Jewish purity laws in the middle of Jesus’ great feeding and healing miracles. We are at a moment of change here, where Jesus’ Jewish ministry moves outwards to the gentiles, but without dismissing Jewish roots.

Questions for the Christians of the 1st century when Mark was writing, were should they hold on to their Jewish purity traditions, religiously followed in order to feel clean in the eyes of God, or risk moving into messy territory, moving outside in mission with the gentiles.

There was an obvious need to reach out, living the gospel and mission of Jesus, dwelling amidst a rapidly changing society. But a fear of losing security, tradition, and identity.  This is all sounding very familiar……….

……..and Jesus speaks directly to us in our 21st century dilemmas of identity and mission. How far do we hold on to elements we feel form our identity as individuals or church, and how far do we risk breaking down our walls and re-forming in mission to reach out and live with others in the abundant love of God?

Mission can be a confusing word, but the meaning of mission that strikes home most powerfully for me is ‘making God’s love visible’.

And here I think we come to the heart of the matter drawn from our readings today. We are human inside, and our humanity includes all those weaknesses that Fr Alec is going to help us with on another occasion!!  But part of being human is being made in the image of God.  We all have Christ as our centre, a free and perfect gift within us.  Christ, the Word, is our inner core.

As James explains to us, The Word, God’s love, is already implanted in us, already present in everyone. Our task is simply to let the Word, let that light, be visible in us, and spotlight it shining in others. 

As we listen to the Word in scripture and in prayer, receive the body of Christ in Holy Communion, simply open our hearts to God and to others, we welcome with meekness the implanted Word (Christ within us) that has the power to save.

In God’s unchanging light, always relevant as our world changes around us, we can risk living in the freedom where inner and outer walls fall. Living expansive lives, lives for others, free from our constraining rules. Simply letting Christ within be visible.

Living the Kingdom of God means giving out food parcels whilst also tearing down the fences, throwing open the doors and windows, and letting the bells ring out from within, deepening our roots but breaking down our walls - in our hearts, in our church, in our community, in our world.  ……… Welcoming with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save.   Amen