The text of the sermon, based on James 2.1-17 and Mark 7.24-37 with a reference to Proverbs 22.1-2, 8-9, 22-23, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 5, 2021.
James, writing to his Christian community, is 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.
In the first century Roman Empire, “gold rings and fine clothes” were outward signs of nobility; perhaps that of an aristocrat or a senator. Thus, in James’ reprimand, there is an insinuation of political deal-making, say, a legislator, as a powerful potential benefactor, offering protective services to the community in return for the people’s support. (And given the ages-old pre-election practice of politicians making pilgrimages 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 the seeking of special favors 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 defining a person’s worth and, therefore, deciding how one is to be treated.
Proverbs reminds us of the divine design of equality: The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.
And James pleads, “Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters”, reminding them that God calls and commissions the lowly to work out of the divine will in the world.
Amen! So be it that the heart of the Old Testament witness is that a people – enslaved in a foreign land, Israel in Egypt, once liberated under the leadership of Moses, though consummately contentious in resisting the divine will, thus, made to wander in the wilderness for forty years before standing on the threshold of the Promised Land – is a light to all nations, drawing the whole world to God!
Amen! So be it that 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 worldly terms, in his mission, being arrested and tried, convicted and condemned, nailed to a crude cross – is God’s Messiah!
Amen! So be it that 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: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love. Unconditional kindness. Impartial benevolence. Love. Not in word alone, for words alone are dead, but in action for the sake, for the good of another. Any other. All others. Love. So universal that James considers it “the royal law”; the sacred statute of God, the Ruler of the universe!
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.
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, that is, God’s life and presence. All others, including Syrophoenicians, are dogs; dispatched to dwell under the table of nourishment.
(Now, biblical scholars, preachers, and others, for generations, have sought to clean up Jesus’ language, suggesting that what seems to be his reproof of the woman was his stern test of her faith or that he spoke in jest. Although on this last point, I do not know how one can joke about another in dire need! In either case, I take Jesus’ word at face value as self-descriptive of his sense of his mission only to Israel.)
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.
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, “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 benevolence, 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!
© 2021 PRA
#GodusesthelowlytodoGodswill #faithwithoutworksisdead #loveisunconditionalbenevolence #loveisimpartialkindness #loveforanyone #loveforallpeople #Jesusistaughtalessoninlove
 See Isaiah 42.5-9, 49.6, 60.1-3