Being God’s people, by Pastor Noel

September 2, 2018     Proper 17 B     


      “Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works.”

      Those words from the Collect this morning sound like a list of separate ideas. They are all really the same idea: having hearts that are totally dedicated to loving service for God and all God’s people.

      When the love of God’s Name is grafted in our hearts, it doesn’t rest there. Grafting something to another brings new life, new energy.

      My step-father used to graft several kinds of citrus onto one tree—what started as an orange tree then bore much fruit of all kinds—lemons, orange, grapefruit.

      New life, new energy. We have that when we allow God’s Name to be grafted in our hearts.

      We have to invite God in, and God is always waiting for us to do that. God doesn’t use force to be in our hearts: that graft would not take.

      What do we expect when we ask God to “increase in us true religion?” Does that mean we have to serve on the Vestry? Join the Altar Guild? Get on a committee?

      No. We heard about true religion in the Letter of James.

      Here is how Eugene Peterson tells it: “Anyone who sets himself up as ‘religious’ by talking a good game is self-deceived. That kind of religion is 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.”

      Religion makes a system of our faith. It can enhance and promote our trust in God, or it can become defiled and promote itself. This is what Jesus was railing against when he criticized the Pharisees.

      The essence of the law is compassion. Jesus was saying that the religious leaders had perverted the essence of the law, and the religion they promoted showed no compassion or caring.

      God calls us to welcome and include, they were using religion as a wall to keep out, to exclude.

      Religion and faith are different. Faith is what we believe. Faith is what we give our lives to. Religion is the set of rules and regulations that others set up to tell us what to do and how to do it.

      God’s goodness is never far from us, and we can totally ignore it. Even as we try to build systems to put us in control of the world, and find they don’t work, God feeds us, nourishes us, with forgiveness, with love and compassion, shows us better ways.

      Jesus was criticizing the Pharisees because they were twisting the law, not hearing God’s call to have compassion and see the goodness in everyone.

      They thought that were keeping the law, but their way of doing that was leading them far from God and God’s goodness. They used their privilege to mislead others.

      When God’s Name is grafted in our hearts we have hearts filled with compassion—compassion means “suffering with.” We show this by being with those in need.

      By helping. Sharing with. Being with.

      When God’s Name is grafted in our hearts, we have “true religion” we do “bring forth the fruit of good works” as we let God “nourish us with all goodness.”

      We take soup to the docks. We build homes with Habitat. We care for all Creation. We put up a railing to help folks to the altar.

      The “fruit of good works” is not our own efforts to be good and look good to God. The fruit of good works comes as we let God nourish us and give us hearts of holiness: the will to be loving toward God and our neighbor.

      Jesus would have loved Labor Day. NOT so he could buy a new car or mattress. Labor Day, like the Sabbath, is meant to be a time OFF work. A time to relax and refresh.

      Like the Israelites in Egypt, many people in this country had horrible working conditions. Some still do.          

There was no concern for workers except that they do the work. If they couldn’t, too bad.

      No time off, no break room for lunch (no lunch, maybe). No bathroom break because no bathroom. And if you got hurt or sick, no health insurance or death benefits for widows.

      Labor Day honors the hard fought battle between workers and bosses, between uncaring privilege and the rest of us.

      We can celebrate and give thanks for the benefits we enjoy, as we also hear of Jesus trying to change a system that benefited only those who made the rules.

We can be like John McCain, as described by President George W Bush: (He was one) “to speak for the forgotten people in forgotten places.”

      Our care for others and our worship are connected, intertwined. Worship is not an end to itself, nor is it the sign of our goodness. Worship is our response, our thanks, to God.

      Worship is our recharging for the next week. In worship we hear God’s call to be loving. In worship we are nourished and strengthened and empowered to be loving.

      As we are loving, we share that strength with others. We transform their lives with the goodness of God. Then, we return to worship to be nourished and strengthened again. Then, we can go out again and be the fruit of God’s good works.

      “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.”

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details