Sunday 2nd September 2018, Revd Ijeoma Ajibade
Deut 4:1-2, 6-9, James 1:17 – end, Mark 7: 1-8, 14, 15, 21-23
Our readings this morning are like different verses of one song. They are reminding us to put our faith into action and live what we believe.
In our first reading Moses instructs the people of Israel to pay attention to the rules he is giving them because there is wisdom to be found in the law which God has given the people of Israel. Moses tells the people to ‘take care and watch yourselves closely’ and he tells them this so that they don’t forget the teachings he has given them.
Moses reminds the people of Israel that as they learn these teachings and live by them they will become witnesses to other nations, he shows the people that other nations will understand who God is by observing the way the people of Israel conduct themselves.
Our second reading from the book of James echoes the first reading by reminding us, the Church, that it is not just the hearing of the word of God which is important, it is the doing of the word of God that counts.
James complements Moses teaching by telling us to be ‘quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger’ and James goes further to encourage us to ‘rid ourselves of ‘all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness’. We are instructed to be ‘doers of the word’. Just like Moses James is encouraging us to be obedient to the teachings that we receive.
Both readings emphasise the need to pay attention to our lives, to pay attention to how we speak and how we behave. We are encouraged to think about what we learn in church and reflect on how to put what we learn into practice in everyday life.
This is important because just like the people of Israel in the wilderness, what we do and how we live forms part of our Christian witness. It is our acts that will show people around us what we truly believe.
We need to understand the importance of this for our world because there are many things in our world today which are deeply troubling. We are living at a time of deep political division and it makes people fearful. It doesn’t help when politicians seek to harness that fear for their own ends. It doesn’t help our country when our political leaders forget that they are supposed to lead by example. When political leaders spread fear it only results in division and hatred, but if we put our faith into practice we can show something different to the world.
I am a great fan of comic books. I have one comic book called ‘The Other Side.’ It is a serious story which shows the impact of conflict. It tells the story of the Vietnam War through the eyes of two young men who are fighting on the opposing sides. The first young man, Bill Everette is a 19-year-old Alabama farm boy who is drafted into the US Marine Corps. The second young man is a 19-year-old Vietnamese farmer called Binh Dai and he enlists in the People’s Army of Vietnam.
Both men are determined to fulfil their duty to their respective countries but the war takes a toll on both of them and they suffer. They go through training, fear, long marches, and then the two men encounter each other on the battlefield. Of course only one man survives the encounter because this is an encounter which is rooted in hatred and conflict. It is a very sad story, written from the memories of the author’s uncle who was a soldier in Vietnam. War is the extreme result of differences leading to conflict.
I like happy endings and I like to think that perhaps their encounter could have been different if they had met at a more peaceful time, but we all know that relating to people who are different from us, can be difficult even during peace time.
When we put our faith into practice we can show something different to the world because Jesus brings people together in his name, despite differences in race, age, gender, sexual orientation and so on.
In order to show this difference we need to put our faith into practice. Instead of war and death like the story from my comic book, Jesus through his words and actions shows us that real love calls us to go beyond ourselves. The love of Jesus calls us to step beyond the barriers of race and difference, and to welcome into our lives people who are not the same as us.
Our readings this morning encourage us to live this way of love by reminding us to put the words and teaching of our faith into action.
James reminds us that ‘Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…’ Love comes down from the Father of lights.
We can disagree about religion, culture, sexuality, gender or any other issue but there is something about allowing our lives to be guided by respect, by dignity, by grace and by love. We need to do what the book of James says and seek to keep ourselves ‘unstained by the world’, no matter what other people are doing.’
This means that we must not copy the hatred, and intolerance that other people are espousing. It also means that we should challenge one another to do good and encourage each other to be the very best that we can be at putting our faith into practice, not because of the fear of being caught or criticised, but because of the love that Jesus has for us, and because we are inspired by him.
In our third reading this morning Jesus warns the religious leaders of the day about true worship. True worship isn’t just about what we say. True worship starts with our hearts and comes alive in how we live.
Jesus is speaking to the religious leaders who are following their rules and traditions but not allowing those rules to touch their hearts. Jesus tries to show the people listening to him that our inner lives are important and that we must pay attention to our hearts, because when our hearts are right with God this inner life will then shape our actions and our outer lives. Our hearts must be near to God. Our hearts must be rooted in the love of God
All three readings are challenging us to allow the word of God to shape our inner lives, to shape our hearts and minds, our attitudes and beliefs and when we do this it will then be easier to put our faith into action.
Compassion, love, just acts, kind speech, generosity, patience, joy, peace, caring for others, bit by bit and day by day is one way to show the world around us that we believe in Jesus.
And when we live this way God will give us the wisdom to respond to the problems of the world.
Today our three readings remind us that God has called us to live differently. To live as people who are part of his kingdom and people who have been blessed with his gifts and talents and who know his love.
In these days of polarised views and anger, we as Christians must model something different. We must live in a different way and not get caught up in hate.
As we begin to live in this way we will be witnesses to the world and show the world what it truly means to live without barriers and division.
Everything we do must be shaped by our belief in Father, Son and Holy Spirit and in this way we become children of God and participate in God’s love for the world.
Revd Ijeoma Ajibade