Following Jesus in the Way of Love

Pentecost 14th Sunday Sermon  – 10:00am Church of the Ascension and Facebook, Wakefield RI RCL Proper 17 Year B 8/28/2021

Scripture Text: Song of Solomon 2:8-13, Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10, James 1:17-27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Sermon Text:

Oh what a list of sins that was at the end of the gospel!

Some people think that Jesus was just

This sweet person, who never judged anyone,

In fact, one of the biggest criticisms,

That I have heard from people my age and younger,

About why they do not go to church,

Is that they like Jesus, because he’s not judgmental,

But they don’t like Christians,

Because we are so judgmental.

But here he lays out for us a list of sins,

Fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice,

Wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy,

Slander, pride, folly.

These things come out of us, Jesus says,

And defile us.

 

We might look at that list,

And say, well, I’m doing fine,

Because I really don’t have a problem with 9

Out of 12 of those things!

It’s just the murder one I struggle with…

But really, we tend to think about them

as being different in degree, or severity.

But Jesus does not do that here.

He simply lists these problems

All human beings deal with,

and notes that these are what defile us.

But the big question is, do these defile us

Just before other people, or before God?

 

Whatever is happening here,

Jesus is distinguishing

His teaching, God’s teaching,

from Human Tradition.

 

He states that the Pharisees, the dominant

Moral authority at the time,

Among the people whom Jesus taught,

were teaching their traditions as God’s law.

But He was not taking down their strict religious code,

And leaving nothing in its place.

He is showing that there’s a difference between human guidelines that may be useful for some things,

and the Law of God, that really gives life.

He’s not loosening the standards of the Pharisees, as they were afraid he was doing, but pointing to how his way was to focus on the bigger and deeper issues between us and God, and by doing that,

the little issues would take care of themselves.

He was showing us a better way, and two thousand years later, we’re still learning to follow that way.

 

So this week I didn’t go swimming early in the morning

off of Narragansett Town Beach,

as I usually do because of the reports of man o’ war and lion’s mane jelly fish.

But a while back I did later in the day than my usual,

The men and women I swam with gathered

on a windy evening,

And put on swim caps and goggles,

Many of these people were serious athletes,

Who were training for triathalons, and other such events.

And needless to say,

As I took my t-shirt off,

I felt a little shame,

I was one of the least fit people there.

There is nothing quite so vulnerable,

As going to exercise,

With a group of serious athletes.

We plunged into the surf,

And there were some waves that day,

And we fought off the seaweed,

As we swam to the start buoy.

Now sometimes when I do this,

I identified a sort of buddy on the beach,

So I know who to swim with.

This time I had not, but I figured I could just follow

The pack, as this group was much bigger than my early morning group.

But a little while after we started swimming,

I realized these conditions were different.

The pack spread out,

And I had to pick a point to follow,

So that I could see the goal.

But the fixed points on land were not visible,

And neither were the buoys,

As the waves were a little too high to see them.

So I had to choose a person to follow.

First I followed a person who was close enough to see,

But they were swimming much slower than I was,

So I went past and swam behind another person,

Who was going about the right speed.

I thought this would work out great,

And for a while it did.

Until the waves calmed down a little,

And I was able to see that the person in front of me,

Was swimming way off the mark.

So I departed from that person’s wake,

And swam to the mark myself.

I think I swam about 50 yards extra,

Following that person, who I thought knew the way.

We all made it around the buoys and back to the beach,

And no one was lost, in spite of the wavy conditions.

 

Now why did I tell you that story?

It may seem strange, but it does have a point.

 

We are all faced with the challenge of who to follow.

Who really knows the way?

What is the way that leads where we all want to go?

What if some of the people we have been following are going off course?

 

Jesus challenges his listeners about this,

And it’s what we hear from James, Jesus’ disciple

In his message to some early Christians.

How do we distinguish,

Between the law of God,

And Human Tradition, that may not be relevant to our deepest needs, even if that tradition started with the best of intentions?

Whom do we follow,

If we want to reach our goal

And live an abundant life here,

And into eternity?

 

Now I am going to make the assumption,

That since you are here, seeking to worship God,

That you’re interested in living a good life,

And following Jesus.

So I don’t have to do what we sometimes do,

With people who are not yet believers,

And try to convince them that the obviously wrong

Ways of life we see all around us,

Lead to nothing but ruin.

 

Sure from that list that Jesus gave us,

There are many things that are obviously wrong,

And dangerous, and there are some that seem not so bad.

Some things that many, even those who would call themselves Christians,

Take less seriously, and even seek after.

What’s the problem with a little folly now and again,

am I right?

And many of the things we’re told we need to do to get by are not at all about living our fullest life.

But for the sake of focus, I will not discuss those now.

The point that Jesus is making is that there is a difference between the human traditions we need to follow,

and God’s law.

 

Moses taught the people to neither add from,

the extensive law he gave them,

Nor take away from the law that God had commanded.

But when people got started following the law, they immediately started asking, what if that law does not cover the very specific question I have about living?
What if the law, does not tell me

If I may take an elevator on the Sabbath,

For example?

Or if I should wash my hands before I eat?

Those are the kind of intentions,

That lead to the practices the Pharisees were keeping,

“Washing cups, pots, and bronze kettles,”

And many of them with the best intention,

Of finding a good life.

But the law of God was not meant to be about focusing on rules that dealt only with external details,

it was meant to heal the heart and from there the details would follow correctly.

But if true religion, religion that leads to life,

Is about following external rules religiously,

The Pharisees certainly seemed to do it right.

 

The apostle James was teaching a group of people

Who were likely mostly of Jewish origin.

To begin with, they knew what it meant

to follow all those detailed laws,

But found that something was missing.

While they sought to follow Jesus,

James still needed to teach them,

Something that many Christians

would do well to hear even today,

That they need to be careful about what they say,

“bridle their tongues,” as James puts it,

And do things which show love.

For that is true religion.

If Christians did this more,

Maybe we would not have gotten the reputation,

Of being so judgmental.

 

Jesus, led a blameless life

And did what is right.

“But look where that got him,” some would say.

By looking at the heart of the law all the time, he felt free to make exceptions with the surface of the law, in times when the heart wasn’t being followed by the surface.

That upset the status quo.

 

He didn’t let the way they were offended,

sway him from keeping to the heart of the law.

 

He was vulnerable with people,

Not telling them what he thought

Would make them happy,

But what would give them true life.

 

Not worried about whether

The things he said and did would make him look

Undesirable to people,

whether his actions and words would defile him

Before other people.

But whether he was living for God,

And holding to God’s high standard of love.

 

And that vulnerability

Ultimately lead to the cross.

 

This is the shocking,

Controversial part.

Jesus’ way of living,

Trying to draw others into a higher way,

that challenged the status quo,

Lead inexorably to his death,

But that painful death, he did not shy away from,

Even when he knew,

That the things he was saying,

And the challenges to the surface rules,

He was making, would get him killed,

He knew that love was stronger even than death.

 

He let love be the lead guiding all his decisions,

Leading to the cross (point to it)

And that cross has become the symbol

Of the ultimate in vulnerable love.

We can be grateful,

That the one we follow,

Jesus the Lord, is the one who judges

Between human tradition,

And the law of God.

He is the one who will judge each of us.

When we stand before him at the end of our life on earth.

And the standard to which he will hold all of us,

Is how did you love?

Did you love others as I did?

 

We may ask him,

how much do we have to love,

How far do you want us to go with you Lord?

For Christians throughout history,

The answer has been,

Love THIS much!

 

Our Presiding Bishop has rightly identified following the Lord Jesus, as The Way of Love.

That is the way we are invited to follow.

 

And that’s where the beautiful verses from the Song of Solomon fit in today.

This is a love song, that some have said is a love song from Jesus to his bride, the church. . . a love song from Jesus to us.

Jesus invites us into this better way,

Saying “Arise, my fair one, and come away.”

Come away from the judgmental and mean ways

Of people around you,

Come away from the sinful behaviors that destroy your life,

Come away from following surface level rules and details without thinking about their meaning.

Come away with me to a place life-giving and beautiful,

A different way of life that will offend some for the way that it is starkly different from how everyone else lives,

A way of Love that leads to eternal life.

 

Are you willing to follow this leader?

Even if it means being vulnerable to criticism,

Risking the judgment of others?

Even if it means making decisions

That some would regard as not serving yourself,

But doing and saying those things

Simply because they’re in the best interest of others?

Come into the water with Jesus.

The waves are high, the path can be hard to see,

But he is the right leader,

His way of love leads to life. Amen

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob goes by Father so that he remembers his duty to the people of God whom he serves. He’s been ordained since 2006, serving in Florida and Tennessee and before that served as a youth minister in Long Island, NY. More details