Sermon for August 30, 2015: What Does It Mean To Be A Doer of the Word? James 1:17-27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
What Does It Mean to Be Doers of the Word?
One of our most important tasks as Christians is to try to figure out how to take Jesus' teachings and live them out in our everyday lives. It seems that for as long as Jesus has had followers, they have been trying to figure out how to actually apply his parables and teaching. We see examples of this in both our reading from Mark and our reading from James today. At the heart of these two scriptures is the very important task of making sure that your faith actually shapes how you live in the world. As we learned as we made our way through Ephesians, our faith is not just about how we talk, it's about what we do. Jesus calls us not to just be talkers of the word, but to be doers of the word. But, what does it mean to be a doer of the word?
This seems to be a very important question on most days, but, today, it may be even more important than usual. You see, today is the day that we set aside to bless our teachers and students. Today is the day that we make sure that these people in particular know that we love them and that God loves them, and we try to help them start their new year off well. So, we ask them to bring in their backpacks and lesson plans and tote bags and iPads... all the different things that symbolize their roles as teachers and learners. And, we're going to bless them, and their backpacks, and send them home with a symbol of that blessing, a small key chain that they can attach to their zipper. When they see it, I hope they remember that they are beloved children of God and that they remember that their actions can help change the world.
All this talk of backpacks has gotten me thinking about all the stuff that goes in them. I remember carrying my own backpacks, full of books, papers, crayons, pencils, those big pink erasers. What kind of things do you all have in your backpacks today? (Wait a minute to see what people say.) How did you decide what goes in your backpack? (Wait a minute) It sounds like you decide what to put in your backpack based on what you think you might need to do your homework or do your job. These are the tools that help you get through your day. If the authors of James and Mark were going to fill up a backpack with tools to help you be a doer of the word, what kind of things do you think they'd put in there. While I don't know for sure what they'd say, I decided that I'd try to put together a few things that I think could help someone be a doer of the word.
Now, before I begin, it's probably worth remembering that Jesus never asked his disciples to carry a lot of stuff with them when they were traveling the countryside teaching and healing people. It is totally possible to be a follower of Christ and not have these things in particular, or really even much of anything at all. Jesus' followers never even took an extra cloak with them! That being said, those of us who've done some teaching know that it is helpful to have some examples to follow when we're learning something new. So, let's open this backpack, and see what tools we can find.
A flashlight- Sometimes you need a little help seeing or finding things in dark places. A flashlight can help. Many different authors in the Bible talk about God and the light. They believed that God created the stars, the lights in our sky. These lights might shift in the sky as the earth rotates or might be covered up by clouds, but they are always there. The author of James thought that it was important to remember that God created the lights, that God is always there, just like the stars are there, and that God will help us navigate through life, just like the light and the stars help us to see. Oh, and here's a little star to help us remember.
Birthday candles- What do we do with birthday candles? That's right. We remember our birthdays, the day that we were born. One of the most important ways that the Bible talks about our lives of faith is by talking about being born again when we learn about Jesus. Jesus changes our lives so much that it can almost feel like we are starting over, like we've been born again, except for this time, we have already learned a lot of stuff that can help us along our way. The letter of James was written to some of the very first Christians. They were some of the first people born in a new way through their faith. The author wanted to make sure that they understood that they were able to start a new kind of life with God's help and to remind them that God indeed would help them
Headphones- The author of James seemed to worry a lot about how the people in the church spoke to each other. During our children's moment today, we heard how important it is to speak to each other respectfully and how doing so honors God. It's also important to take time to listen to one another. These headphones remind us that it is important to listen to other people, even when they say things that challenge us or may seem strange. We shouldn't use them to block out people, but to help us listen so much more carefully.
Salt water taffy- Sometimes, we have a hard time being patient and paying attention when people are speaking to us, especially if they are saying something we might not like or if we're distracted and paying attention to other things. Sometimes, when we have a hard time listening or when we get mad, we speak too quickly and we say things that we don't really mean or that hurt other's feelings. This author says that it's important to be slow to speak. That can help give you more time to think about what is happening, and say things more clearly and with more compassion. Here's some salt water taffy. What happens when you eat taffy? Your mouth gets stuck and it's hard to talk. Having a stuck-together mouth certainly helps slow you down and makes sure you don't speak more quickly than is helpful. When we eat the taffy, maybe we can remember that sometimes it is helpful to slow down and think a little more before we speak
A tea pot- Something that can happen when you have a hard time listening and when you say things to other people too quickly is that you can get mad. Now, the person who wrote this letter doesn't think it's wrong to be angry. This person does think that is important to not get angry too quickly. When you get angry very fast, then you can stop listening and say mean things before you realize it. Your anger can be like the steam that builds up in this teapot, making it screech really loud. If you don't want it to screech anymore, you have to flip open this little lid. It lets the steam out so it doesn't get so loud. So, if you don't want to screech like the teapot, you have to find your own way to let out steam.
A family tree- The person who wrote James thought it was very important to take care of people who really needed it. Part of the way you live out your faith is by making sure that people who really need your help have it. During the time when this was written, orphans and widows were some of the people who most needed help. When they talk about widows here, they don't just mean people whose husband's died. They mean people who didn't have any family left to take care of them. That's what they mean when they talk about orphans, too. When we see this family tree, we can remember the people who don't have many family members and we can become like family to them. We can help them and they can help us.
Hand-sanitizer- Sometimes Jesus' followers got in trouble for not following all of the religious rules of their community. In Mark, we learn about a time that Jesus' followers didn't follow all the rituals about how to clean your hands before you eat. The leaders in Jesus' community thought it was important to follow the religious traditions about how to wash your hands. Now, Jesus never said that you shouldn't wash your hands. He did say that you shouldn't let making sure you follow every rule about rituals get in the way of what the rituals are really supposed to be doing. In our churches today, we have rituals to bring us closer to God and to serve our neighbor. We have communion and baptism. If we worry about every detail of these rituals as we try to get them right, but forget what the ritual is for,, which is learning more about God and loving our neighbors, then we've really got a problem. So, I think Jesus would say make sure to wash your hands. But, make sure that you are trying to learn more about God and be kind to your neighbors, too. If you wash your hands, but still go out and cheat people, steal things, and say mean things, you aren't actually doing what God asks us to do.
Now, that's all that I've got in my backpack. I've got things that remind me to listen to people, to speak kindly to my neighbors, and to try to make sure that my anger does not get out of control. I've got things that remind me that I'm a child of God and that God will help me make a way in my life. I've also got things that remind me what is most important: loving God and loving my neighbor. I think these things will help me be a better doer of the word. I hope that they can help you, too. Now, these aren't the only things that I could carry in my backpack to help me be a better doer of the word. I could put a whole lot more things in there. But, this is a good start. I hope that these stories from James and Mark have been a good start for you, too. I hope that we all can leave this place today, backpacks full, ready to be doers of the word. Students and teachers, good luck as you begin your new year. We'll be praying for you. I hope you have all the tools you need to make it great.
Resources Pastor Chrissy consulted when writing this sermon
Karoline Lewis: https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3678
Elizabeth Webb: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2607
A.K.M. Adam: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2605
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.