A Lesson in Love x 2

A sermon, based on James 2.1-17 and Mark 7.24-37, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, September 9, 2018

James writes to the Christian community. And he’s not happy! Compelled by his love for his brothers and sisters in faith, he confronts them, chastises them for their zealous cultivation of the favor of the rich and powerful.

“Gold rings and fine clothes” in the Roman Empire of the first century indicated noble rank, perhaps that of an aristocrat or a senator. Thus, in James’ reprimand, there is an insinuation of political deal-making; a legislator, as a powerful potential benefactor, offering protective services to the community in return for the community’s support. (With the coming mid-term elections, given the now customary pilgrimages of politicians to houses of worship in pursuit of votes, it seems that through time and change some things remain the same.)

But, then or now, who can begrudge the ostensibly enlightened self-interest of a politician and a community, whether secular or religious, seeking to establish a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship?

James can! Because favor-seeking always excludes, ignores the poor who have nothing to offer in the oft-crude commerce of quid pro quo. Even worse, the unity of the community is destroyed by dissension as socio-politico-economic class distinctions become the standard of estimating a person’s worth and, thus, determining how one is treated.

James pleads, “Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters!”, reminding them that God uses the lowly to work out of the divine will in the world.

So, it is that we know…

The heart of the Old Testament witness is that a people enslaved in a foreign land, Israel in Egypt, is called to be a light to all nations,(1) drawing all peoples to God!

The heart of the New Testament witness is that a child – born to an unwed mother in a feeding trough for animals who grows up to be a common carpenter, inaugurates an itinerant ministry supported by handouts, seeks the friendship of pariahs and prostitutes, proclaims a message of liberation that flies in the face of established authority, fails in his mission, nailed to a crude cross – is the one who is God’s Messiah!

Aye, amen, God uses the lowly to work out of the divine will in the world!

Catering to the powerful may be…is the world’s way, but, for James, to dishonor the poor violates God’s will; the essence of which is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Love. Unconditional, impartial kindness. Love. Not in word alone, for words alone are dead, but that acts for the sake, for the good of another, any other, all others. Love. So universal, it is “the royal law.”

It is this lesson in love that we behold in Mark’s gospel in two ways. The first, Jesus is taught how to love. The second, Jesus demonstrates the love he has been taught.
Syrophoenician woman asks Christ to cure (c. 1650), Pietro del Po (1616-1692)

A Syrophoenician woman, a Gentile, a non-Jew begs Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus declares, metaphorically and tersely, that his mission is only to Israel, whom he characterizes as God’s children who enjoy God’s kingdom-food, God’s life and presence; all others, including Syrophoencians, being dogs, consigned to dwell under the table of nourishment.

The woman, in love, acting for the sake, for the good of her child, boldly steps across the clearly marked cultural line of bigotry. In love, she risks rejection. In love, she retreats not in the face of the harshest rebuke. In love, she replies with a heart-rending, soul-stirring word of God’s love that speaks truth to the Son of God, who, then, heals her daughter.
Jesus heals a deaf man, Bartholomeus Breenbergh (1598-1657)

Then, when a deaf man is brought to Jesus, he, with love’s sensitivity, “took him aside in private” away from the curious, perhaps uncaring eyes of the crowd, “put his fingers into his ears…touched his tongue…looking up to heaven,” with love, in pantomime, demonstrating what was to take place, thus, “speaking” in an intelligible language that the man could understand.

This, in both cases of the Syrophoenician woman with Jesus and Jesus with the deaf man, is love in action.

This is love in flesh.

This love, unconditional, impartial kindness for the sake, for the good of all others, by the Spirit, is enfleshed in us.

Therefore, let us go to be and to do likewise!

 
Footnote:
(1) See Isaiah 42.5-9, 49.6, 60.1-3

Illustrations:
Syrophoenician woman asks Christ to cure her daughter (c. 1650), Pietro del Po (1616-1692)
Jesus heals a deaf man, Bartholomeus Breenbergh (1598-1657)

3 thoughts on “A Lesson in Love x 2

  1. Dear Paul,

    Thank you for the gift of your sermon. I wrestle once again, as I’m sure you regularly do, with the story of the Syrophoenician woman’s request and treatment at Jesus’ hands. So many possibilities for why his initial response was as it was, with all of them suggesting perhaps a slightly different lesson for us to learn about the nature of love. Suffice it to say, as you did here, both this story and the story of healing the deaf man illustrate unconditional generosity, kindness, and love for the sake of one or more people who are suffering. In both cases, Jesus opened his eyes and his heart to the need before him and responded by granting relief for those suffering. What if each of us did only what we could to relieve the visible suffering of each person we encounter? A glass of water for someone who is tired and thirsty, a couple of dollars for one who is clearly destitute, a kind word for someone who seems sad or lonely, a smile for a harried salesclerk, a door held for someone struggling with crutches or heavy bags, a smile and a wave for a frustrated driver, a gentle word to an upset child. These things don’t heal in the same way that Jesus did, but they offer kindness and understanding in the same spirit, and perhaps they do go some way in healing the spirits of one who feels at least momentarily abandoned or isolated.

    Thank you for the reminder of the importance of even small gestures of kindness and openness in a world and a time in which such actions are all too rare.

    I am thinking of you and Pontheolla and all who may be in line for a more or less direct hit from Hurrican Florence. I see that the possibility of torrential rains from the storm are high in Spartanburg and north into the mountains. May all of you be safe from harm and feel God’s peace even as the storm threatens.

    Much love,

    Karen

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Paul,

    First and foremost, like Karen I’ll be thinking of you and Pontheolla this week as Florence approaches, and praying that you’ll be safe and Clevedale will escape any damage.

    As for this sermon, it is just what we need in this world right now….. reminders of how to be love, give love and receive love….the sermon made me smile because there are so many examples for us to choose from, especially loving our neighbors as ourselves. This week I’ve been the recipient of so much love such as my neighbor mowing my grass (and another neighbor’s too now that he and his wife are retired)….

    I also tried to give as much love and I received such as calling a widow on her late husband’s birthday because I know how horrible those days can be for a new widow….

    Like Karen I’m appreciative of this sermon as a reminder of what we need to strive to be….every day!!! I want to reach out more even when I don’t feel uplifted from all the love I received this week. I’d like to give love on my worst day, when I really just want to stay in bed and not deal with the world… that’s when I should give a compliment to lift someone up, buy a meal or give a gift to someone just because I love them….

    Your sermon gave me ideas…. ideas I think I’ll need as we go into this week of nasty weather, AND more drama in our government …. maybe @45 could learn a thing or two (or three) about giving love, and about understanding that no matter what he says or does, he is loved unconditionally.

    Much love

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Always, my dearest sisters Karen and Loretta, I thank you for reading my sermon texts and commenting; your words ne’er failing to inspire me to continue and to offer me additional avenues to follow to ponder the meaning of Jesus’ life and that sacred, cosmic, real-time connection with my life and lives of all.

    One thing that pops up in my head at this moment, having reflected on your dual commentary of the calling and need for daily small acts of kindness and service, is my renewed awareness of my lack (that’s a good thing!). For I’ve oft thought if I was not ordained and given to preach, which requires continued study of the scriptures (which remind me of God’s will), how far would I, in my native selfishness, stray from this righteous path of service? Doubtless, quite far!

    As for this sermon, the one glaring thought for me is my sense of God employing the lowly to manifest the divine will in the world. If this is true, as I believe it to be, of Israel and Jesus – taking into consideration the summation or synthesis of the Old and New Testaments witness, respectively – then it is equally true, coming back around to your points, of our daily, small acts of service; again so necessary (especially when I contemplate the bitter tenor of our times.

    Thanks, too, for your kindly thoughts and prayers concerning the coming of Hurricane Florence. I pray for the safety of all.

    Love you

    Like

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