Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
James 1: 17-27 September 2, 2018
“But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”
Prayer: Holy God, you gift us with tender mercy and saving grace, holy presence and spiritual empowerment. May we let such gifts inspire us to live our lives, right by you. Amen.
There are two upcoming weddings in our family next year. Our son Mark and his fiancée Megan are getting married at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in the Reading area in June. And, my brother’s son Michael and his fiancée Jenna are getting married in May in what’s called a “destination wedding” in Branson, Missouri, over Memorial Day weekend. They are getting married at a place called Stonegate Glass Chapel.
It’s interesting to me that one wedding is in a church with a practicing congregation, and the other is in a chapel without a congregation that is designed primarily for weddings.
I’ve done weddings, in all kinds of places. I’ve done them in barns, outside backyards, in tents, on the mountain top, at beaches, wineries, resorts, hotels, and parks; I did one in Canada and one in Aruba. Talk about a “destination wedding!”
Weddings in actual churches are rare these days. I’ve been among you for almost four years now and only officiated at, I believe, three weddings here - all church members.
Much effort goes into the planning of the wedding, as it should. But, in the premarital sessions I have with couples, we don’t talk about “the wedding” until the very end. We first talk about life. We talk about relationship… about communication… about marriage and what it means to them. We talk about God’s involvement in life, and relationship in communication, and in marriage. I often say that the wedding is for a day; marriage is for a lifetime.
But, what we talk about in those premarital sessions is much better done than heard. It’s much better practiced than simply talked about. In the actual wedding ceremony itself, if the couple wants me to search a message, again, what I offer is usually better done in marriage than heard on th4e wedding day. Wedding vows…? Always better done than heard. And at wedding receptions? The Chicken Dance, always better heard than done… possibly best not heard at all! I’m just sayin’!
There’s a lot in the Christian faith that is better done than heard. We can come to church and hear messages about God’s love and saving grace for everyone and all creation. We can sit here and listen to God’s word about the power of God’s mercy and forgiveness that frees us and supports us. We can absorb the significance of God living in others as well as in me.
We can even, to use a well-worn phrase, “talk the talk…” but, can we “Walk the walk?” Jesus quotes Isaiah when he was frustrated with the religious leaders. “These people honor me with their lips…” They talk the talk. “But, their hearts are far from me…” They don’t “walk the walk.”
James’ message is similar. “Be doers of the word, not just hearers only.” In other words, walking the walk shows you’re a person of God, touched by God, changed into a new creation by the Holy Spirit. Only hearing the word just isn’t going to cut it. Just as sitting in a garage doesn’t make you a car, or sitting in the chicken house doesn’t make you a chicken, so sitting in church doesn’t make you a Christian! Likewise, making tradition, or the laws found in the Bible the “end all” doesn’t make you faithful to God either.
Part of what makes us Christians is that we can hear messages of faith in our worship, or can we listen to them.
Have you ever wondered if there’s a difference between listening and hearing? I think there is. Hearing a message is when words enter in. We hear it. The sounds waves turn into electrical impulses and enter our brains.
Listening is when we hear and absorb. We are moved internally by what we hear. That movement could be acceptance or disagreement of the message. It could be critical questioning. It could be inspiration to do something based on what we’ve just heard. Listeningto God’s messages of faith, I think opens the way for the Holy Spirit to move us spiritually, and encourages us to live out that message. Or even more profoundly, to BE that message.
And, then we realize that lots of messages of faith are better done than heard. The ‘listened to’ message about God’s love for every person means that we can BE God’s love for all. The message that God actually lives in other people means that we can be God’s acceptance of others. We cannot choose who else is our spiritual brother or sister, which helps us honor the sanctity of each person. Messages of faith are best when they are lived out as examples of faithfulness in our everyday lives.
A woman named Martha Heft is 99 years old living in Clearwater, Florida. Martha started sewing when she was five years old. After Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, Martha decided to make dresses of all sizes for people who lost everything. The colorful dresses, made out of donated patterned pillowcases, made their way to Regraso de Paz, an orphanage in Aguadilla, which houses children who are up to 10 years old. Each dress has sewn in it a unique note—one of which read, “Smile because we love you.” Martha’s crafts, including quilts and blankets, have not only been donated on Puerto Rico, but have been disbursed in Haiti as well (https://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article212920329.html#storylink=cpy, retrieved, August 31, 2018).
I’ll give you three guesses as to where Martha does her sewing, and the first two don’t count! Yep! She does it at church! She and a bunch of ladies get together and sew these dresses, quilts, and blankets at First United Methodist Church of Clearwater. Something tells me that she and her friends do this generous act of giving as an emulation of God’s love. Something tells me those ladies are doers of the word, not just hearers only. Some things are better done than heard. She made the comment, “As long as God grants me life and health, I’m happy to do this. I just wish I had a little bit more speed.” God love her!
Now, as CollectiveSpirit comes back and gets ready to lead us in the conclusion of our worship today, let me say one more thing… when we listen and are changed by God to practice our faith, God’s power sustains us. We are people, doing the word of God, not just hearing it. We are sustained by the Holy Spirit that lives in and among us and goes out from us. It is the very life Spirit of Christ that lives in us and sustains us.
Doing the word and not just hearing it, I think nourishes the life Spirit of Christ within us. We, as people of faith, can trust in the promise that Christ is alive in us, and Christ sustains us. We are meant not just to survive, but to thrive in this world with his life Spirit in us. Be a doer of God’s word! Let us stand and sing! Amen!