These are notes from my welcome and sermon of Sept. 5, 2021, at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in DC. I’ve included the Gospel reading for the day and the James text from the lessons. The service can be found on Facebook.
Good morning, family, it is good to be together, even digitally! David in Psalm 133 sings about “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.” What does that oil on the head and beard stuff mean for us? I believe it reminds us that is a deep blessing for us when we gather and choose to love one another and be one family… it’s like feeling good, and looking good, it’s refreshing like a new day with dew on the ground… it’s where we find God’s blessings waiting for us, where we find life! So as we gather to worship and look into the scriptures and to love one another, may the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen. Let us worship our God!
Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
I am humbled and thrilled to be with you on this our first Sunday together and the end of this time of transition for me and for St. Timothy’s! The transition is done, but we most certainly are not! The transition is done, the search is done, and we have found each other, and we are far from done. I am thrilled and humbled to be joining you on the mission to follow Jesus by living in love, walking by faith and serving our community… these things are completely relevant and needed today: love, faith and service… living life, walking and moving forward, and seeking, making and expressing community.
I’m going to say it again, our transition is done, but we are not. And I hope you just scared your pets at home shouting amen! I capture such a spark of hope and promise in the Psalmist’s words which we used in opening our time together this morning, that by coming together, loving one another, unifying in our mission, in being kindred, we find God’s richest blessings, we find life. I feel that hope and that promise even when things can also feel a bit overwhelming, confusing, or just not quite like we expected. There’s so much to do, so much to learn of one another and so much to discover of our shared ministry together… it’s ok when things still feel a little wobbly and uncertain, because what we can count on is Jesus moving through it all, meeting us here and healing and us making whole.
The Gospel reading today is an interesting couple of short vignettes, a couple of short stories which vividly illustrate that times don’t always go as planned and can feel a bit uncertain and even derailed. Did you notice how the first story began? Jesus was trying to hide! He needed some time to recharge and just wanted to escape the people for a little while. We can relate to that can’t we? We can also probably relate to it not working at all. He’s found anyway, and then the story doesn’t really flow like we have come to expect these stories with Jesus to flow. We don’t expect Jesus to react as he does in this story, do we? I mean this is the Jesus who sat with the Samaritan woman at the well, who healed ten lepers and praised the one, a foreigner to Israel, who returned to give him thanks. This is the Jesus who opens the Good News to the Gentile non-Jewish world! But in this story he challenges the outsider’s right to his attention. What?
And it goes on… in the second story, after healing a man’s deafness and speech impediment saying “be opened”, Jesus turns and orders them all to keep it quiet. But what happens? That’s right, the scriptures say that, “the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” The best laid plans can get a bit wobbly, even for Jesus.
If anything, these two stories show us how the best laid plans can go in ways least expected, but always there is Jesus making things whole. When the path is long, when the path is hard, and when the path may not yet be known, always there is Jesus making things whole, healing the woman’s child, curing the man’s ailments, and I believe moving forward with us as we live in love, walk in faith and serve our community. I can’t tell you that I know exactly why Jesus chose to challenge this woman’s faith, why he challenged her right to make a request, but we can’t miss the fact that Jesus is there healing and making the child whole. This story also appears in Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus really highlights her not being Jewish, but also openly praises her faith. And in the second story we have Jesus healing and hushing, which he does a lot in the Gospels. We may assume that he does it to be able to move about more freely, and that makes sense. But the thing we know for sure is that he is in the middle of the action, as usual, making someone whole. We have much ahead of us, a lot to do, and building on the faithful legacy of this parish family, we will see Jesus moving, mending the broken and making us whole, moving alongside us as we love one another do our ministry.
Who better for the Lectionary to use to remind us of what following the Way of Jesus looks like day to day than James? I have to admit, I do love me some James. James is the no-nonsense, get busy and get real kind of voice of faith that I often need in my life. Who has been a voice like that in your life for you? Someone who says, “Good idea… are you going to do it? Good idea, do you really mean it? Good idea, let’s go, let’s get started!” For me, it was my grandfather, my mother’s father, who we called Pa. Pa had this habit of putting me on the spot when I was teenager… when I’d see him he would stop me and ask, “Where are you at the Word right now?” He wanted to know where I was digging into scripture to grow and learn and get strong. I was so grateful when I finally entered seminary studies and could say, “Well Pa, we’re studying this and that and I’m in Greek class and…” naw, Pa didn’t stand for that, not for a minute. He would still drill down on me, where am I digging into the Word? Today, James often does it for me…
James reminds us that showing partiality and favoritism is not living in love. In truth, we all have our various richness, our riches of money or education or privilege or experience, which can blind us to the value and dignity of those in whom we don’t see those same riches. James says it is not to be so among us.
James reminds us that legalism and rule keeping is not walking by faith, it is not our path. He makes the point that no matter how good we think we might be at keeping all the rules, we’re going to miss one, and all end up in the same basket of rule-breakers. So he says to live by the law of liberty, a life of freedom to love, freedom to embrace one another and to love our neighbors, not to judge them. Our path, our walking by faith, is guided by what James calls the royal law, the freedom and mercy to love our neighbor.
And James reminds us that serving, our community and one another, is done not just spoken. Faith has to be put into action, made real and present, and so does our love and our commitment to one another and our neighbors. James contrasts for us a faith that is only spoken and a faith that is put into action, and he shows us the value of acting on what we have chosen to believe and follow.
If I didn’t know better I would think that James had read our baptismal promises, in an advance copy of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer made available a couple thousand years ago: in which we promise that in study, fellowship and prayer, in resisting evil and embracing repentance, we will proclaim the Good News of Jesus in word and action, seeking and serving Jesus in all people, loving them as ourselves, and striving for justice, peace and dignity for every human being. Joking aside, it’s not James who is reflecting our baptismal promises, but I’m so glad that our baptismal promises reflect the kind of active and serving faith to which James calls us! I invite you to spend some time with the reading from James this week and let that Law of Liberty wash over you. Let his call to an active faith inspire you. Revel in the beautiful worth of the people around you like never before.
Family… again, I am so glad to be with you. I’m so grateful for the history of service and ministry here at St. Timothy’s, so grateful for the chances that I’ve begun to have to meet you and share some time together, sometimes digitally in Zoom, in phone calls, and sometimes face-to-face. I covet your prayers and I will be working to get to know you and I want to hear your stories and your hearts. Know that I am praying for you, every day. Watch for emails to come in the next few days and weeks about the opportunities which we’ll create for praying, studying, fellowshipping and serving together.
Believing that Jesus will be in the middle of us, healing and making whole, we look forward to the ways that God will grow us together and use us to serve our city and our neighbors! Amen.
James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.[ For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.]
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.