Sermon at St James, Trinity 13, 29 August 2021
James 1: 17-27; Mark 7: 1-8,14,15,21-23
To listen to the recording of the sermon as you read:
K.I.S.S, kiss. Its an acronym rather than an instruction for two people to put their lips together and it was first used in this way by an American engineer called Kelly Johnson. Johnson was the lead engineer of Lockheed in 1960. He was heading a team of engineers to design military aircraft which could be easily repaired by an average mechanic in the field under combat conditions and with basic tools. He came up with this acronym – K.I.S.S – Keep it simple, stupid or keep it simple, silly.
Our readings this morning are both examples of keeping things simple.
Take our gospel reading from St Mark. Jesus and his disciples are confronted by some strictly religious Jews, who notice that they are not observing the tradition of ritually washing their hands before eating. The implication is that they are putting themselves out of favour with God by being so casual. You have to remember that the Jewish religion in Jesus’ day was a minefield of rules and regulations – 613 of them on top of the ten commandments – and to be right with God it was important to obey them all. But Jesus argues forcibly against this. How can eating food with defiled hands affect your relationship with God? It’s much more our thoughts and words that must be cleaned up. Keep it simple.
So here is an example of religion making people petty minded and legalistic, when a simple faith is what is needed.
Now consider our reading from the letter of St James, which he sent to his fellow Jews, who had become followers of Christ. He first of all writes, “Every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow.” He is stressing that we must first acknowledge our dependence on God as our source and strength and this is the basis of our faith. But then James adds his definition of religion. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself unstained by the world.”
So no legalistic doctrinal arguments for James. Just a simple requirement of deep-seated faith in God and that faith put into action. Simplicity. Keep it Simple.
Jesus was a master of simple, clear communication. He wanted his followers to be people of simple faith, based on truth and inspired by grace. “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Someone once said, “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.”
And yet how we Christians through the ages have mangled this simplicity. Even in the days of the early church, controversies raged and the apostles had to bring their followers back to the core of the faith. Since then our human weakness, our human ambition, our love of disputes and arguments have tried to wreck the simple teaching of Christ, but it has survived. Millions of men and women have suffered and died because of divisions within Christianity or because of power-hungry Kings and unprincipled clergy. Our history provides an agonising picture of how we have distorted the simple teaching of our Lord.
So it is not surprising that there have been many calls for simplicity. Martin Luther’s call for ”a living, daring confidence in God’s grace” was perhaps the most effective in history,, although sadly it led to division upon division and more wars. The saints from Saint Francis to mother Theresa have tried to keep it simple. The Society of Friends, the Quakers, have contributed too with their Testimony of Simplicity.
We have to ask ourselves where we stand in the need to keep our faith and, indeed, our church life simple. How can we pare down our theological and doctrinal hang-ups to find the core of our faith? In their search for simplicity it is therefore troubling for some to note what our church leaders, although not in Hereford, are doing at the moment to attract more worshippers. The recent trend by the bishops to build a centralised bureaucracy of middle management, with chiefs of staff earning up to £90,000 a year and taking money from our parishes, looks like a disastrous move away from what has been simple and local and valued in this country for more than a thousand years. Hence the movement in Synod to ‘Save the Parish’.
It is always useful to look for the simple solutions, as our Lord and St James did.
Keep it Simple, Silly. KISS.