Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Song of Solomon 2:8-13
The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look, there he stands behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
"Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away;
for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away."
Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10
1 My heart is stirring with a noble song; let me recite what I have fashioned for the king; * my tongue shall be the pen of a skilled writer.
2 You are the fairest of men; * grace flows from your lips, because God has blessed you forever.
7 Your throne, O God, endures for ever and ever, * a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom; you love righteousness and hate iniquity.
8 Therefore God, your God, has anointed you * with the oil of gladness above your fellows.
9 All your garments are fragrant with myrrh, aloes, and cassia, * and the music of strings from ivory palaces makes you glad.
10 Kings' daughters stand among the ladies of the court; * on your right hand is the queen, adorned with the gold of Ophir.
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.
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. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
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, ongoing 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.
If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 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 by the world.
James, as most of the letters in the New Testament, were written in encouragement of a church that was under attack. But it reminds us that God’s unmerited grace, generosity, and love in Christ has saved us. For his own purpose, His own cause and reasons, God brought the Word, Jesus the Christ, among us. God’s purpose is to save us. God’s purpose is that we allow ourselves to be his light in the world, bearers of His Word into the world. God saved us not only for our own sakes, but for the enrichment and blessing of the world. And the first fruits of God’s grace is that we behave in a manner that reflects the light within. We do not pay people back for their unkindness – we act toward them in love. At the same time, we are also called to let them know the source of our light and, at times, let them know that their behavior is not acceptable.
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
When the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 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: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
In Chapter 6 of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is first rejection in his home town, and then, John the Baptist is killed, he feeds the 5k, t hen goes on to and walk on water, and suddenly, as his fame grows, the religious class begins to question his authority (not for the first time, but now it intensifies). And Jesus pushes back hard – calling them hypocrites – not because they are questioning him but because they would hold onto tradition rather than heal, clinging to empty promises when He is right in front of them.
Doctrines don’t grant eternal life. Rules and particular ways of worshiping do not make us God’s children: God in Christ alone has baptized us into his life and death.
Mother Teresa reminds us: “Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. How does a lamp burn? Through the continuous input of small drops of oil. … What are these drops of oil in our lamps? They are the small things of daily life: faithfulness, small words of kindness, a thought for others, our way of being silent, of looking, of speaking, and of acting. These are the true drops of love that keep your religious life burning like a living flame.”
Something that seems different has its own beauty. But, when we see it and think it is out of place we must sometimes remember that God by God’s grace, put that thing exactly where it is supposed to be and it is our job to listen, to be patient, to love.
The crayfish – beautiful, out of place, strange to me but not to God, created by God; needing water, a certain kind of nurture, in order to live; though strange to me it is just as important as God. Imagine another human.
The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. My beloved speaks and says to me: "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.”
Do the words of the Song of Solomon not sound like the blush of intense and full in-loveness! The writer in the Song of Songs expresses the breathlessness of romantic love when we see the other as an idealized person, full of promise and hope. We yearn for that person, to be with them, to fall into them completely so that we might become at one with him or her.
The Song of Solomon does not speak much of God directly but many have seen the love song of Solomon as the expression of love that Christ has for His church: a longing and desire to have us be his. But what if we took the church of out of it and said, “The love that God in Christ has for all of us, the need for us, a desire for us to belong completely to Him that is constant and unrelenting. In God’s determination to make us His, as James tells us, “in fulfillment of His own purpose, He gave us birth by the word [that is Jesus], so that we would become a kind of first fruits of His creatures.
We all love God, right? And on some level we understand that, again to quote James, “the implanted word [Jesus] has the power to save our souls.” But is our love – the love that we have for family is easy to quantify – but is the love that we have for the man from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth, is it a love that moves us, challenges us, shapes us, and inspires us? God in Christ has saved us and loves us where we are. But, when we ask the question, “Who is Jesus, to me – what is Jesus to me” – do we come up with images of inspiration, joy and energy that is a raging fire or do we have more of a small, smoldering flame? Do we feel moved by our love of God in Christ to do anything in particular or do we think that our faith, our devotion and love for God is private and personal? When we ask ourselves, “Who is Jesus,” do we feel poetry coming on or do we feel the slow consistency of a carpenter’s sander…?
There is no right or wrong answer but it is important to engage the question. Because, how we answer the question, “How (and perhaps why) do I love Jesus?” brings us to the question, “What am I gonna do about it? James tells us that God gave us new birth in Christ to fulfill His own purpose – which is to become the first fruits. We have in us the fruits of salvation, the richness of God’s blessing through Jesus, and we are called, as Christians before us have, to share the fruit and make more fruit that will last and grow. James called the community that it is not enough to believe in God through Christ we must be motivated to act in this broken world – to be “doers of the word, not hearers only.” WE to whom the Gospel of Jesus Christ have come are called to action in the world. Paul, James, Peter, Mother Teresa, and so many more have acted on the conviction of their belief that Jesus was God among us, savior of the world. They did not act perfectly but they acted, nonetheless.
For Paul there was fire and immediacy. For Mother Teresa, there was a slow burn. She wrote,“Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. How does a lamp burn? Through the continuous input of small drops of oil. … What are these drops of oil in our lamps? They are the small things of daily life: faithfulness, small words of kindness, a thought for others, our way of being silent, of looking, of speaking, and of acting. These are the true drops of love that keep your religious life burning like a living flame.”
Mother Teresa’s journal spoke of doubts, of struggling to hear God’s voice in her later life. But what she did was not small. She built a ministry that is an enormous part of the caretaking of the least of these in Calcutta, among others, in ministry to those that no one else wants to see, let alone minster to. She and her sister of Charity are mothers of mercy, doers of the word because they believe that God came among us, loved us fiercely and passionately, and gave all in the name of love and salvation.
Many of you know that I spent most of last week at a conference that happens every two years called Nuevo Amanecer, or new dawn. Hundreds of Latinos came from all over the country (and world) to participate in a community that is about empowering Latinos/Latinas for ministry and partnership. Three of the four plenary speakers were Latino: Bishop of Puerto Rico, Bishop McLaughlin, and Bishop Gutiererz. Each spoke of the need for unity, community, and oneness in the world while acknowledging the challenge of bias and racism against Latinos in the past and present. The worship we engaged in was sheer joy and energy and love for Jesus and community. Even the songs played in more reverential moments, like the Sanctus, couldn’t quite hold back from that paradigm of joyful celebration. And it took nearly nothing to elicit applause from a speech, clapping and movement for music, and an unbounded joy and hope in what Christ can do and is doing among them. That is what the power of understanding a love for Jesus can do; it is not necessarily everyone’s way but all of us can learn from it.
I have primarily avoided saying much about illegal immigration, which has been targeted mostly at the southern border with brown and dark-skinned people of Hispanic origin taking most of the heat, along with a very small number of people from various Middle Eastern countries. But it is, and has always mostly been, about people coming to our country through or from Mexico. And we all have our own ideas about political policy – what we should do about people coming to our country illegally. But, I must name as evil, the policy of separating children and parents at the border. It is not, to me, a political issue but a divine one. If we believe that Christ died for all, then we must treat all of God’s children with the same respect, gentleness, and love that we would for Jesus himself. People trying to escape danger and poverty may take matters into their own hands, when it comes to trying to get into our country, but we, as people of a Christ who loves us all helplessly, are called to act, even if it is to pray for the safety of God’s people, and a humane and loving way forward that respects the dignity of every person. This is my doing and speaking. Yours may be something different. But how we see Jesus has a great deal to do with the passion, energy, and willingness we have to be doers of God’s implanted word in the world.
On my first day at Nuevo Amanecer, this conference, my dear friend and fellow priest, Alfredo Gonzalez were walking to morning worship. As we went along, I noticed something crawling on the paved walkway. Have you ever seen a moose walking down the middle of Main Street in Farmington? It isn’t impossible to imagine but it would be rare thing, right? So, as I say this thing making its way down the walk, my brain wouldn’t let me know what it is. A centipede? No, it’s too big. A scorpion? No, this is Western NC. It’s a crayfish, a crawfish, a crawdad! There was no water within 300 hundred yards but here it was. I picked it up as it tried to pinch me, and Fred and I took to a little brook nearby and deposited him there. Los Salvadores! The Saviors! And when we speak and act in this world, in Jesus’ name, we are sometimes like that crayfish: out of place, an alien. But – what does our belief in Jesus, the Christ bid us do in the world? Like Paul said last week, we must speak, the love of Jesus dictates that we be people of hope and love in the world and act in the world, in the name of that inspiring, big, and all-inclusive love that is Jesus. Be doers of the word, and not hearers only. What does our love of Jesus, which must equate to the love of neighbor -what does it call us to do?