Material for Worship on 29th August 2021

Jeanette writes: Today’s readings at first glance may seem to be very different, but if we look more closely, they turn out to have very close connections.  James is telling us what needs to be in our hearts for us to be able to live our lives in tune with God, and Jesus in our gospel account today Mark 7.  1-8, 14-15, 21-23, is telling us the same thing.  The Pharisees were very good at finding fault with other people for not following the law in the very strict way they did. They were also very good at thinking that a strict code of behaviour was all that was involved in being a good Jew. Remember Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.  The Publican, who knows he doesn’t always get things right, and that he needs God’s forgiveness contrasts starkly with the Pharisee, who knows he always gets it right, and is very full of himself. Jesus commends the Publican as the one God is pleased with, the one who goes home forgiven.  The Pharisee, who doesn’t think he needs forgiveness goes home unforgiven.

Jesus is saying in this encounter with the Pharisees; look into your hearts, what is your motivation for what you do?  It’s what is in your heart that’s important, that’s where evil comes from, not from omitting to keep a food law which has been made by humans.

So too in James, James 1. 17-27, who is telling us how our lives should be if we are followers of Jesus, not like the Pharisees, who follow the rules to the exclusion of everything else. Our lives, if we are to be true followers of Jesus, should follow the law of love, because God is love, and where we find love, we find God. Jesus came to show and teach us what it is like to follow the way of love.  If we are living by the way of love, then that will lead us to action, to help those in need, to spread God’s love into the world, in whatever way we can.

There is more, these verses from James are in praise of unchangingness. For in God there is no change, ever.  It is impossible for God to act in an uncharacteristic way, nothing which comes to God from outside can affect the way God acts.  Language like this can degenerate into talk of God’s master plan which leaves no space for human freedom.  We need to read on, James is not saying that God has a huge crystal board and can see everything that is going to happen in the future. Nor that we are simply pawns on God’s chessboard, moving according to the rules.  What James is saying is that God is completely at home and at ease with being God, that God has the genuine freedom to be always God. God does not have to change to get a laugh, affection or power. God is wholly, dynamically content.  If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, just think of the or two genuinely happy people you know.  They are completely content with what they have.  Which is where our blissful looking pig comes in; he lives completely in the moment, looking for nothing more than what is before him, food, absolutely content with what he has.

It is easy to misunderstand the unchanging nature of God, to think of God as less loving, less personal, less like Jesus.  But perhaps God’s unchangingness is a sign that God does not have to waste time worrying about being God, and so can be wholly available, wholly present to us, in a way that no human can ever be, as we all have our hang-ups which get in the way of being completely and totally present to someone else.

James here is giving us an impossible task – to imitate God. Unlike God that certainly means we are going to have to change, but we cannot do that unless we know ourselves in the first place, we may not realise how we behave, or how others perceive us. As we look into the nature of God, slowly, slowly we will begin to see ourselves as God sees us and our lives will begin to align themselves with the constancy of God.  Our task is to work towards the state that we see in God, where doing and being are never separated.

So, let’s pray:

Give yourself time before going on to the next petition to ponder on what the petition means for you,

Loving God, help us to know ourselves, so that we may more closely follow you.

God our teacher, help us to see what you would have us do in the place you have given us to live.

God our healer, we pray for the people of Afghanistan and for their new leaders.

God of justice, we pray for an equal sharing of the Covid vaccines throughout our world, regardless of ability to pay.

Creator God, we pray for our world; give us the will to make the changes to our living which will restore our planet to health again.