Sunday, August 29, 2021

Don’t just listen, believe and live like you believe 

Proper 17B 

The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector 

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church 

Katy TX 77493 


Wow, I thought when I read the epistle and Gospel for this week. If ever the Bible spoke to me, it did through these two passages. Wow I thought do we as a community, nation and world need to hear and examine these words! Wow, how do I begin to unpack all that is in these two passages? My homiletics professor always warned us not to do two passages in one sermon, but these two are so closely linked and interrelated, I do not begin to have a clue how to pull them apart. 

 Sadly, that is exactly how I started a sermon on this set of readings in 2012! These passages were relevant and timely then and they still are advice and teachings we need to listen to today! In fact, I believe the situation is even worse. 

 So you see the words from James where he says, “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness,“ were already resonating with me. Especially the quick to listen and slow to speak part. There is the first problem along with listening more than speaking.  

 We cannot listen when we are all shouting at each other. More importantly we cannot listen to God when we are shouting. That is what I am so concerned about and what I believe James addresses in this passage. 

 The volume of the arguments and the debates being hurled from each person’s silo is destroying our society. One of the ways I monitor what’s going on in real people’s lives is to read the advice columns in the paper, well now the website since I do not get a physical paper anymore.  

 Just Thursday morning it was a daughter trying to figure out how to re-establish communication with her parents who spend all day on the internet reading every conspiracy theory they can find and then they expect her to agree with them. Yet she also expects them to agree with her and the communication in the family has completely fallen apart. I was at an event the other day and I found myself just sitting in silence, for my viewpoint was clearly not particularly wanted or accepted. There was no point in speaking since I didn’t want to start an argument that I knew I had no chance of winning because we were operating from different sources of information.  

 This James passage is at the heart of the prayer I say before every sermon. Gracious and loving God, so over-rule my words that your words may be heard and being heard may be believed and being believed may be lived. This is the essence of the “be doers of the word not merely hearers of the word.” If we hear God and read, mark and inwardly digest the word of God we must be changed. We must act in accordance with that word or we risk the hypocrite label. 

 This is where our gospel comes in. Jesus is not criticizing the Jewish faith, or the adherence to the law, but is criticizing those who only appear to follow the law. These Pharisees have not undergone any change of heart. They only appear to be faithful. It is all function and no faith. 

 I have a favorite story about this. A woman was late for an appointment. Weaving in and out of traffic, blowing her horn, yelling curses and making rude gestures. In general driving like a manic or like she is a native of Houston. A policeman pulled up behind her and turned on his lights. He walked up to her asked for her license and went back to his car. A few minutes later he gave her back her license and told her she could go. Furious at being made even later the woman demanded to know why he stopped her. The officer replied, “Well I saw all the stickers on your car. Follow me to Fellowship Church. God is my copilot, Honk if you love Jesus.  Given the way you were driving and cursing I just assumed that you had stolen the car. You might trying to drive like you believed your bumper stickers.”  

 We see our modern-day Pharisees all around us. The media in particular love to play up this element. Just look at the sex scandals that seem to constantly be happening. This is particularly painful when some of these same people are claiming to be for “biblical family values.” Well maybe they are if we are talking about King David, but that is not an example of good family life that I want to hold up.  

 One of the challenges in reaching out to young people who have been turned off about church is that this generation in particular has a very good sense of when they are talking to a modern day Pharisee. They have an uncanny ability to see through the act and see into the heart. To attract these young adults and to retain our children we must be doers of the word, and not just hearers.  

 A friend of mine was out front of his church one Sunday welcoming worshippers in.  A young man walked up to him, pointed to the sign and said, “Do you mean it?” Puzzled he said, “Mean what?” “Your sign says the Episcopal Church Welcomes You,” he said. “Do you really welcome me?” Now what the exact nature of this issue of rejection for this young man is unimportant. The point was he was calling my friend to back up in actions what we as a church say on our sign. Or are their certain qualifiers to that all are welcome message. Young people today are great detectors of hypocrisy.  

 Those qualifiers are also very subtle at times. Stephanie Spellers in her book about radical welcome breaks down the various types of churches. There are the club churches that say welcome in unless you are and then fill in the blank. There are inclusive churches which say, come on in as long as you don’t disrupt what we are doing and become just like us. Then there are radically welcoming churches that say, come on in and lets see what you can add to our life. You don’t have to become just like us, but how can we enrich you and how can you enrich us. 

 The sad truth is that many of the un-churched are un-churched because they have been so badly wounded by people who say one thing and then do the other. They are quick to criticize others yet, all the while, these same people are claiming to be model Christians. This causes problems for the faithful.  

 It is a challenge at times to walk around town dressed the way I do. When Wendy was doing campus ministry, students would ask her if she was some sort of religious person. I will say it is more comfortable here than anywhere else I have lived. It also makes for some interesting driving experiences. By the way the slow to anger part can be very hard as I sit in my car while some idiot cuts me off or does something stupid and I have to remind myself that yes indeed I am sitting there in a black shirt and a collar 

 You see I have a daily challenge to live into this message from James and from Mark. So, I leave you with a thought. How would you change your actions, your way of being if like me, you walked around town all day dressed in clothes that proclaim I represent God, Jesus and the Christian faith to the world. What would have to change if you really tried to live according to the last words of James all the time? 

 Message translation: “Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.”1 

 Go, be doers of the word not just hearers.