The Whole Measure (Pentecost XIII)

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17, 30 August 2009

Trinity Episcopal Church, San Francisco, California


Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

James 1:17-27

St. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23


INI

 

A Manner of Looking

I'd like us to begin this sermon, this morning, with something that I suspect many of you haven't done for a long time. One person at the eight o'clock mass claims to have never done it. Please pick up a Book of Common Prayer in the pew and turn to page 350, and rise.

The Decalogue: Contemporary

 

Hear the commandments of God to his people:

I am the Lord your God who brought you out of bondage.

You shall have no other gods but me.

Amen. Lord have mercy.

 

You shall not make for yourself any idol.

Amen. Lord have mercy.

 

You shall not invoke with malice the Name of the Lord your God.

Amen. Lord have mercy.

 

Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.

Amen. Lord have mercy.

 

Honor your father and your mother.

Amen. Lord have mercy.

 

You shall not commit murder.

Amen. Lord have mercy.

 

You shall not commit adultery.

Amen. Lord have mercy.

 

You shall not steal.

Amen. Lord have mercy.

 

You shall not be a false witness.

Amen. Lord have mercy.

 

You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Amen. Lord have mercy.

 

Last night I posted on my Facebook page that I was going to preach a very Lutheran sermon at my Episcopal Church this morning. With these texts I realize that I still have "Lutheran eyes" upon which I put Anglican glasses. So let us together look at the law that we have just prayed, confessed, and proclaimed.

Moses, in Deutoeronomy, is preparing his people for a huge transition, as they move from the desert into the Canaanite highlands, and eventually into the cities. What they will carry with them is the Law ­ God's Law ­ God's good will for them as a people and as a society. Moses wants them to identify completely with this will of God for them. He wants them to "submit", to use a perfectly good Islamic word. More importantly, this submission is not to be limited to a single generation, but is to be shared by parents with children, down through the ages. And thus we all learned the Law

A Manner of Being

Jesus wants to wrestle with our human nature. I am thinking about those readings in which we see Jesus looking at the Law, such as the young lawyer who is able to repeat the Law to Jesus (you shall love the Lord your God) but when he asks what is next, cannot comply with Jesus' invitation to give up everything and follow. Then there is the Samaritan woman, who says that she has no husband, and Jesus says, "Right you are" and goes on to explicate the sixth commandment (Opps. I'm an Episcopalian now, make that the seventh commandment). Jesus looks at the Law and sees human nature for what it is ­ troubled.

In the Gospel today, the Pharisees are upset with disciples of Jesus who have eaten dinner with sullied hands. They complain, and Jesus responds by pointing out the weakness of their vision. Don't be worried about what goes into you, but do be very concerned about what comes out! Jesus wants us to understand what we are ­ wants us to understand our manner of being. That the young lawyer didn't get it right, and that the Samaritan woman was in a state of denial was to be understood. They are human ­ and the perfrections of the law are beyond them. That is the "isness" of the human condition (and here my Lutheran underpinnings begin to show).

Bishop Barbara Harris got it right when she preached at the Integrity Mass at the General Convention of the Church in Anaheim earlier this month. She preached on baptism, and she pointed out baptism as making for an existential difference in us. This act of word and water changes who we are, making us known and loved of God. For her, Baptism is the starting point, the common ground shared in the Church. This logic guided her in seeing that concerning ordinations whether as deacon, priest, or bishop is dependent only open this. No other consideration, gay, straight, man, woman, celibate, non celibate, matters.

In a Lutheran sermon there always needs to be the distinction of Law and Gospel. The human heart that is the source of Jesus' amazing list of faults, also is the seat of the "new man" or the "new woman" born of baptism. The Law is proclaimed, and the Gospel is proclaimed. Jesus wants the question of being to be followed by the question of living (doing), and not visa versa. He wants the Pharisees to be clear that their demands can never be met ­ and that God has put a different face on all of this.

A Manner of Living

All of my Lutheran pastor friends are utterly delighted with the texts that we have before us this morning. Especially delicious is the reading from James, which Epistle Martin Luther called the "straw epistle." He didn't like it much ­ too much talk about works. So my friends are delighted to deal with "forbidden fruit" as they explore James' study in Sanctification ­ living in holiness. So then, for what are we made holy? Both James and Jesus are clear in their understanding of our holiness. Such holiness is directed toward others. It is a holiness that would warm Amos' heat. Listen to the second lesson again:

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

And again in the third paragraph.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act-they will be blessed in their doing.

James has a vision as well, a vision of the "perfect law," the "law of liberty" and it is here that we get our frame of reference ­ the law that invokes the liberty won in Christ.

It is difficult to talk about the Law in this day and age, when the commandments we just remembered have been characterized by some wag as the "ten suggestions." We don't like to talk about the law because we think that it ends with condemnation, with judgment and sorrow. Jesus tries to fill us in by take a radical stance on the Law. He pushes it to the radix, the root of things. In the story of the Samaritan woman Jesus pushes the understanding of marriage to the extreme. He avers that her husband is indeed not her husband because she has had five of them. It is like the unfortunate interview of Jimmy Carter in Playboy magazine when he talked about "lust in the heart." Jesus talks about the human destiny to never meet the demands of the law - there is always some small catch. Jesus want us to move beyond these understandings, and James gives us the momentum.

Redeemed and made holy we move beyond the Law to see our neighbor (and love your neighbor as you love yourself). Please don't think that we read through the Decalogue as an exercise in the esoteric. We read it now what it is that God expects of us in our holiness. And please don't think that our manner of living is excused because we have more difficult things with which to deal. The mirror of the law shos us our being ­ what we are. The Gospel leads us to how we can live.

 

SDG

 

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MTH 04/18/09