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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Pentecost 14 Proper 17B   August 29, 2021

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8. 14-15, 21-23

Our opening reading today is from the Song of Solomon. It is a celebration of human romantic love, and, over the centuries, people have also seen it as a poem about God’s love for us. The images of spring and growth at the end of the passage speak eloquently to the fact that love, both human and divine, is a powerful source of new life.

This morning, we begin to study a series of passages from the Letter of James. Traditionally, Christians have thought that the author of this letter is James, the brother of Jesus. Over the years, there has been much scholarly debate. Luke T. Johnson, Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia, makes a convincing argument in favor of the traditional view that this letter was written by James, the brother of our Lord. James became the first Bishop of Jerusalem and led the early followers of Jesus through some very challenging times. 

If James is the author, this is one of the earliest Christian texts. As we read it, we can remember that the person who wrote it was very close to Jesus and knew the mind and heart of our Lord.

James begins, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, from whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” All love and all generosity comes from our gracious and loving God who showers us with gifts of grace. God’s love is infinite and endless. Nothing can change that love or separate us from that love.

Because of God’s gift of love, we have the grace to follow the guidance James is giving us. “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” The word “righteousness” can be defined as “right relationship with God.” We humans are called to listen to each other very carefully. We are called to be very slow to speak.  And we are called to “be slow to anger,” because anger impairs our relationship with God and with each other. In other words, we are called to listen to each other heart to heart, seek the mind of Christ, and do the will of Christ.

James writes, “Be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” Our faith is shown in our actions, and the center of our faith is loving God and our neighbors. James continues, “ Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” In the time of James and Jesus, if orphans and widows did not have a male relative to protect them and give them a place in society, they had no power, no voice, and no way to gain respect. Caring for those who are vulnerable is a crucial way for us to express our acceptance of God’s love and our sharing of that love with those who have little or no power in our society. We are called to express God’s compassion, caring, and justice.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is in Galilee, where observance of the law is a bit more relaxed. He and his disciples have not washed their hands before they began their meal. The Pharisees are scolding them because they are not following the rules of ritual purity. Washing the hands is seen by the Pharisees as a way to show that one is following the law.

In Jesus’ time, germ theory, bacteriology, and virology were unknown, so the first thing we need to do is to say that washing our hands before we eat is a very good idea. The gospel is not dealing with biology. It’s a very good idea to wash our hands and eat from clean dishes with clean forks and knives and spoons.

Jesus tells the Pharisees, “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.” On a biological level, there are many things that we can eat or drink that can make us very ill. but that is not what Jesus and the Pharisees are talking about. 

Our Lord is saying that what comes out of us, from our hearts, which are the seat of our will, our intentions, our intuitions as well as our feelings, that is what matters. Are we living lives of love and compassion and generosity? Are we loving God and our neighbor?

Mark’s gospel was written at a time when some of the followers of Jesus were Jewish and some were Gentiles. One of the biggest controversies was whether the followers of Jesus should be required to follow the Jewish law, including the dietary laws. Peter had a vision in which God told him that all foods are lawful, and all people are loved by God. This led the leaders of the community including James, the brother of Jesus, to conclude that following the Jewish law was not essential. The new faith was open to everyone. 

Both our epistle and gospel today make it very clear that outward observances are not the source of faith or a deep relationship with God. Our inward and outward selves must be congruent. We are called to be hearers and doers of the word. Outward observances can be beautiful and inspiring, but they need to be sincere. They need to come from the heart.

Yesterday, our Church calendar commemorated Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, one of the great theologians of the Church. Here is the collect for his day.

Lord God, the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serve you: Help us, following the example of your servant Augustine of Hippo, so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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