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Faith & Action… Practice What You Preach…

August 29, 2015


This past week has been a whirlwind of activity. This past Sunday, I conducted my last service as the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of DeFuniak Springs. Tomorrow I will conduct my first service as the pastor of Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies. These two events bookend an incredible week filled with good-byes, hellos, lots of driving, and lots of boxes! The above picture is my view out the window at Coffee on the Rocks, a delightful place on the Big Thompson River just down the road from our new home. Besides a wonderful and friendly staff and this incredible view, they have free wifi which we do not have set up yet in our new home. As I reflect upon the many miles traveled, the hospitality expressed and shared by friends in DeFuniak Springs and in Estes Park, I can’t help but think of the two passages that I will be preaching from tomorrow. One thing I did as the miles stretched out before us was to contemplate the Mark and James readings. Normally I write separate blogs on the passages, but with all the craziness of this past week, I am combining them into one blog.

As i reflected upon the reading from Mark it struck me how relevant this situation has been over the past week. While Jesus and his disciples were busy eating, the Pharisees noticed that some of the disciples were eating with defiled hands. The first thing that flashed through my mind was my first grade teacher and her daily fingernail and hand inspections. If your hands were dirty… if your fingernails were dirty… if your fingernails looked like they had been chewed… you were quickly put on Mrs. Sondegaard’s list! Now I am not comparing my teacher to the Pharisees but my classmates and I did grumble over how frustrating this inspection was and how unfair at times it could be. At times it felt as though she was more concerned about our fingernails and hands than she was about what was going on in our lives.

This past week, as we drove through Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado, we had the opportunity to make “pit stops” along the way. Some places were nice and clean… others were downright disgusting. At several stops I wondered if my hands were cleaner before washing my hands than after I had washed them! At least when we got to the hotel at night we could be guaranteed clean hands and a nice shower. And when we finally arrived at our house and the packers began to unload our Household Goods, one of the first things we were looking for was soap and something to dry our hands on. I can guess that the Pharisees may have pitched a hissy-fit over the conditions we had to endure during our travels. And I can imagine they would have had a cow if they had been in some of the places I had been during my deployments and temporary duty assignments with the Air Force!

Well, back to the disciples and the Pharisees…  It was clear in the minds of the Pharisees that the disciples were NOT paying attention to all of the rules and regulations that the Pharisees kept fastidiously. These “traditions of the elders” were very important to the Pharisees and to observant Jews at that time. So, in good pharisaic fashion, they approached Jesus as the leader or Rabbi of this group and complained! Why don’t your disciples keep the traditions of the elders like all good Jewish boys and girls do? Why can’t your disciples be more like us, the wonderfully observant Pharisees?

Jesus, of course, responded with Scripture and chastised the Pharisees. You are more concerned with the so-called human traditions of the elders than you are with keeping the Commandment of God. Of course, that commandment is to love God and love neighbor. While the Pharisees focused on what went into the body, Jesus challenged them to consider what came out of the body instead. What comes from within the human heart… fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly… aren’t these things more dangerous than whether or not a person washes their hands or their pots and pans in the tradition of the elders? After all, it’s not what goes into the body that defiles, it is what comes out of the body that defiles. Later on, Peter would receive the vision of the divine picnic when God revealed to him that the rules of the ancestors no longer applied and all food was clean.

While the Pharisees were busy being the hand-washing police (yes, it is important to wash your hands… it prevents the spread of disease and keeps you healthy) they were neglecting a far greater issue. This reminds me of the so-called sin of Sodom. So many focus on the verses in Genesis 18 and state that the sin of Sodom was homosexual activity. By doing this, I believe they miss the point completely. Ezekiel in chapter 16 pointed out the sin of Sodom. Instead of focusing on the “action” which you could compare to the Pharisees and hand washing, Ezekiel focused on what came out of the people. “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49) It was what came out of them that defiled them. It was lack of care for the widows and orphans, the poor and the needy, the least of these, that condemned them. The activities in Genesis 18 with cries for rape and pillage were symptomatic of a deeper problem. If you truly care for the widows and orphans, if you truly want to be hospitable and welcome the stranger, you don’t seek to rape them! That was not loving God or loving neighbor at all.

Jesus challenged the Pharisees to be doers of the Word and not simply regurgitators of the word! Instead of spouting out their traditions and their favorite clobber verses, how about showing the love of God for a change? They were so busy worrying about hand washing rules they missed the point completely. What good does it do you if you wash your hands religiously and yet treat your neighbor like dirt?

That is where the James passage comes in and further elaborates on the lesson Jesus was teaching the Pharisees in Mark 7. “In fulfillment of his own purpose he (God) gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” (James 1:18) God gave us birth by the word of truth… or as the Gospel of John puts it… “In the beginning was the Word,,, All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” (John 1:1a, 3-4) It is through the power of God that we are born. It is not by our action that we are somehow saved. It is by God’s grace alone that we are created and redeemed.

James encouraged the twelve tribes in the Dispersion to look deep within. Don’t simply blindly follow the rules of the ancestors. “…let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” (James 1:19-20) Isn’t this the sort of advice we should be heeding as Christians today? I know I am just as guilty of speaking too quickly… speaking in anger… not listening… Perhaps if we spent less time condemning and criticizing, and more time listening and loving, people might want to know more about this Jesus we profess to follow.

In the words I first heard long ago as a young adult, “practice what you preach”. And what are we called to preach? We are called to preach with our lives and not just with our words. The one we profess to follow shows us how to do that. Jesus lived out the words of the prophet Micah “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.” How do we do that? Love God and Love Neighbor! As James warns, “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 1:26-27)

“But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” (James 1:22) The following quote is attributed to St Francis of Assisi and it fits in well with what I have been thinking about: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” I believe Francis is challenging us to be doers of the word and not merely hearers. He is asking us to practice what we preach. Mahatma Gandhi also challenges us to be doers and not merely hearers. He once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

How do we put our faith into action, dear reader? It is challenging indeed to be like Christ and less like the Pharisees. We are called to look beyond ourselves and seek to live the Gospel in such a way that people will be drawn to Christ. When they see that our words and actions are congruent, then we will be doers of the word. God help us to live in such a way that people will want to know who this Christ is that we serve.

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  1. I hope the people of the Rockies know what a great pastor they are getting

    • They have been wonderful and are thrilled to have us here… They also know we left some very dear friends back in Florida & Alabama… Will be strange not to see you and Garry in the pew tomorrow…

  2. The “hand-washing police.” I love that! Worse yet, it was ritualistic hand-washing. It had nothing to do with physical cleanliness.

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