Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pentecost 14 B

Thinking it Through


In the earliest church life was difficult – but faith was easy.

I’ve often wondered about that, if there is a correlation – When the Romans were occupying your country it was a simple list that made up your bed time prayers: Keep my family safe, help me feed them, send the Romans away.

Back when Moses came and said, God will free you from slavery – it was pretty easy to see the benefits of choosing God.

If life is easy – faith is difficult.

Think about it. If I have all the food I could ever eat and more am I really as grateful as I could be? If my life is filled up with fun and activities, why make time for church? At night, if I am happy and healthy and fulfilled, what more is there to say to God than thanks?

We might not need it now – but there is a reason that most of the Bible was written during times of trial; and it is ultimately that wisdom which we need.

So today, as we start back into the fall, back to school, back to work, back to the times of our lives when we knuckle down and get things done; we are going to spend a little time thinking about the wisdom that our tradition has given us, looking to it for help.

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me: "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.

The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

Time with the Children – The Kissing Hand


All You Need is Love

Both our Psalm and our opening reading are reminders of just how wonderful the world is when everything is going right…. They speak of seeing things for the first time, of falling in love, of waking up to the beauty all around you.

Did you ever think that perhaps the issue is attitude?

Newspaper columnist and minister George Crane tells of a wife who came into his office full of hatred toward her husband. "I do not only want to get rid of him, I want to get even. Before I divorce him, I want to hurt him as much as he has me."

Dr. Crane suggested an ingenious plan "Go home and act as if you really love your husband. Tell him how much he means to you. Praise him for every decent trait. Go out of your way to be as kind, considerate, and generous as possible. Spare no efforts to please him, to enjoy him. Make him believe you love him. After you've convinced him of your undying love and that you cannot live without him, then drop the bomb. Tell him that your're getting a divorce. That will really hurt him." With revenge in her eyes, she smiled and exclaimed, "Beautiful, beautiful. Will he ever be surprised!" And she did it with enthusiasm; acting "as if." For two months she showed love, kindness, listening, giving, reinforcing, and sharing. When she didn't return, Crane called. "Are you ready now to go through with the divorce?"

"Divorce?" she exclaimed. "Never! I discovered I really do love him." Her actions had changed her feelings. Motion resulted in emotion. The ability to love is established not so much by fervent promise as often repeated deeds.

James 1:17-27

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures. You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness.

Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.

But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act--they will be blessed in their doing. 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.

Healing from Within

In Medicine there is such a thing as a placebo effect. What that means is that most of the time, if you are given a placebo, a sugar pill, and yet, believe it is a real pill; it will cure you.

Science and faith, hand in hand, tell us that a positive attitude makes a lot of difference – that how you see the world makes a lot of difference. For James, a letter from one of the earliest of all Christian churches, this boiled down to some very simple wisdom – be the best you can be… in specifics, the means slow to anger, and forgiving, and that you should listen and work for good in the world.

Once more, simple wisdom – but for them it was enough. For us it is enough if we care to take it.

In The Anatomy of an Illness: As Perceived by the Patient, Norman Cousins tells of being hospitalized with a rare, crippling disease. When he was diagnosed as incurable, Cousins checked out of the hospital. Aware of the harmful effects that negative emotions can have on the body, Cousins reasoned the reverse was true. So he borrowed a movie projector and prescribed his own treatment, consisting of Marx Brothers films and old "Candid Camera" reruns. It didn't take long for him to discover that 10 minutes of laughter provided two hours of pain free sleep. Amazingly, his debilitating disease was eventually reversed. After the account of his victory appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, Cousins received more than 3000 letters from appreciative physicians throughout the world.

So what does this mean in your life right now? If you were to write a simple message like that contained in James about “how you should live life” what would it say?

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.)  So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?"

He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.' You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition." Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile." For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."


Just because sometimes we need the stick instead of the carrot, Jesus comes with a reminder that the reverse is true… that true evil, true problems, they come from within as well – they are a matter of attitude.

When John the Baptist first appeared on the shores of the Jordan River, his rallying cry was “Repent”

Which actually means, turn around…

I’ve always thought of it as him calling us, like a wind turbine, or a solar panel, to turn towards the source of what is good, rather than focusing on what is bad.

Take away the whole ongoing argument with the Pharisees… which is really just about them trying to prove Jesus wrong, and look at the meat of what Jesus is saying – he is saying that our attitudes… that our own feelings, are what really cause the problems.

All of those attitudes and problems, like the feelings that would allow us to lie and cheat and steal, come because somehow we cut ourselves off from God, from looking at things the right way, from being content and happy with life.

I have to admit it is easy to let the bad thoughts and negative feelings creep in. It is hard not to let the little things get under your skin; but it is necessary.

Be on Guard – countless heroes of the faith have said to us over the years, be on guard lest your heart turn
to stone and your actions to wickedness…

Soren Kierkegaard a famous philosopher once wrote a prayer that I think we could all take to heart, he

Lord! Give us weak eyes
for things that do not matter
and eyes full of clarity
in all your truth.


I think good or bad, whatever is happening in our lives, what we need to do is keep a positive attitude. Just like our momma and baby raccoon – the thing that matters most is knowing we are loved and will be ok.

That has always been God’s promise to us.

And as for us, well, it is as simple as trying always to see the glass half full.

I like to live my life looking on the bright side as much as possible.  I think of myself as being like the kid who got his report card from school and had to bring it home to his dad – despite the fact it was full of bad grades.

"What have you to say about this?" asked his father.

"One thing for sure," the boy replied, "Dad, you can be proud. You know I haven't been cheating!"

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