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:

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)

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?

But what should we change?

How many fundamentalists does it take to change a light bulb?


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

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!