The words of our lips and the actions of our lives
Sermon for Trinity 13 at St James
Song of Solomon 2:8-13, James 1:17-27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
To hear the sermon as you read:
Readings today are about what comes out of your mouth – the things we may say – and, as a result, the things we may or may not do (unnerving if you’re in the pulpit).
1. Starting with the gospel – Jesus’s words are the basis of our faith. More than anything else, we should pay attention to our Lord’s words. But how easy is it to say about this passage: I never do that:
- Jesus’s list in Mark 7 – how often have you said, thought or done any of those things recently? For most of us, the answer is not very!
- But it is the little words, the thoughtlessness, the insensitivity to how others may react, humour that isn’t - that does the damage, e.g making jokes about me not switching on!
- More people are driven out of church by unintentional hurt than they are by styles of worship or sermons or how good the coffee is.
- Christian life is about relationships between people, not about theories, dogmas or specific ways of interpreting the bible or ways of doing things – it is about how we live together (James says ‘help the poor’ but it is the care that we take of everyone that counts.)
- Jewish proverb: “Before you speak, ask yourself – is it necessary, is it true, is it kind?”
2. Readings point out that Christian life is about doing as well as saying. When it comes down to doing, how often do we actually say: We never do that (or ‘But we’ve always done that’?)
Some light bulb jokes! - Yes, God likes jokes. So may this spread some illumination! Notice that hey get at other denominations who are not here to defend themselves – but how many really apply to the Church of England too?
How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb?
10. One to actually change the bulb and 9 to say how much they like the old one. (Or to form a committee for the preservation of the old light bulb)
- We are often more ready to express our opinions than we are to take action
- But change is key word today – nationally and locally – everyone is concerned about the diminishing profile of Christianity, not least as a national religion. And everyone is concerned about getting people through the door to pay the bills. This isn’t the most important thing by any means, although it sometimes seems that way. New initiative in Hereford – both bishops coming out to talk with us about what makes a living faith and how we can share it – Follow meeting (following Jesus) 9th September – sign up on board.
Or does this sound familiar?
How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb?
Well, it should require about five committees to review the idea first. If each is staffed with half a dozen members, that's what ... 30?
- In the C of E, we talk a lot about change, but we are slow to do it!
- Change does obviously need to be thought through – but not for ever!
But what should we change?
How many fundamentalists does it take to change a light bulb?
THE BIBLE DOES NOT SAY ANYTHING ABOUT LIGHT BULBS!!!!
- Perhaps we have to ask ourselves: Do we really believe in change?
Back to the Gospel – the bits missed out by the lectionary this morning are about how habits fossilised into tradition are strangling living relationships between people and God.
Unashamedly borrowed from the Internet:
“We each have traditions that are more than traditions. They are markers of what has been accepted as right and wrong and thereby serve to lend us a sense of stability.
Just how much is our congregation willing to change in order to reach a new generation with the Gospel? And, perhaps just as importantly, what are they unwilling to change. What tradition, that is, is so important that no matter whether it helps us achieve our mission or not, it preserves our sense of the orderliness of the world and shores up our identity and therefore can’t be touched?
You’ve probably heard the old joke, “How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?” “Change? Change? My grandfather donated that lightbulb!”
The struggle that every community in every age faces - including our own - is how can the 'tradition of the elders,' which has given us our identity, now be changed so that what was good in it - the desire live according to the will of God - can actually be expressed in our current circumstances."
My answer: we are the elders of tomorrow. We shape tradition as much as our ancestors did. There is no one definitive set of ‘elders’ (the Victorians, the Tudors of the Reformation, the Medievalists). Each generation shapes its living according to how it perceives living to the will of God. We are the generation that the next will look back to. So, how do we desire ‘to live according to the will of God’?
What traditions concern us?
The language? Who is worthy to come to the table? How we receive? Are vestments vital? Forms of service? Length of services? Ideas on the pad at the back or email me or just send a postcard. We need to know what is important and what we must let go of.
Is this what we are afraid of, if we do allow change?
Unitarians changing a light bulb: We choose not to make a statement either in favour of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that light bulbs work for you, that is fine. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal relationship with your light bulb, and present it next month at our annual light bulb Sunday service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, three-way, long-life and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.
3. It’s the words we speak and the way we carry them out
- Can we change? Yes – we’ve proved it a bit today with a lovely new hymn and an unexpected reading.
- What makes a priest? Thinking of this because the anniversary of my ordination is coming up. Not theological knowledge or holiness or being the best person. It’s God prodding you in the back and saying “I gave you a gift – now use it!” Gift of speaking when too scared even to stand up in public, in my case.
- God gives us all the gift of communication – by speech and by action
- Irony of Song of Songs at this time of year. Wasted if only at weddings!
- It is about speaking of shared experience, words of rejoicing, invitation to come out of the house and into the glory of God’s world. To invite people to join in with really living.
Fulfilling the prophesy in Isaiah: “My word ... shall not return empty, but shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
Barry reminded us last week that we are messengers. We are messengers who should be speaking out words of invitation and working to provide opportunities for others to learn and to grow in their spiritual life.
Inside ourselves and in others, in our church right here and in the world in which we live: let’s turn on some light-bulbs!