A Reading from the Book of Proverbs (1-2, 8-9, 22-23)
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all. Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.
1 Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, *
which cannot be moved, but stands fast for ever.
2 The hills stand about Jerusalem; *
so does the Lord stand round about his people,
from this time forth for evermore.
3 The scepter of the wicked shall not hold sway over the land allotted to the just, *
so that the just shall not put their hands to evil.
4 Show your goodness, O Lord, to those who are good *
and to those who are true of heart.
5 As for those who turn aside to crooked ways,
the Lord will lead them away with the evildoers; *
but peace be upon Israel.
A Reading from the Letter of James (2:1-10, 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. 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.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (7:24-37)
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.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
For 74 years this month, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church has been caring for God’s people: not for souls but for people. Obviously we do come together with a spiritual focus: we gather each Sunday to celebrate the church’s liturgy, incorporating prayer and reflection on the Word of God and the sharing in the sacraments. But, throughout our history, we have also been at work feeding the hungry, helping to clothe the needy, working to provide housing for the homeless, teaching the children, providing space in our Community Building for the healing of those addicted to alcohol or other drugs, and caring for the various needs of the men, women and children in our community. Those things, too, have always been part of our mission; and there are two main reasons why they have been and why they continue to be.
The first reason is a very practical one. Many years ago, even before I was a student (so you know it was a long time ago!), psychologist Abraham Maslow made famous his list of the hierarchy of needs that people have. Basically, he explained that people do not move on to focus on the higher things in life, among which we would include a deeper life of faith, if their most basic needs have not been met.
Those of us who tutor in our local schools, for example, sometimes see this hierarchy in action. A child who does not know if he and his family will have anything to eat that day, or whether she and her mother will have an indoor place to sleep that night, or whether the people who broke into their house and shot and wounded their parents will return tonight to finish the job, is not going to care about whether he is using correct grammar in a writing assignment or whether she is learning to do long division. Their needs for food, shelter and safety will inevitably dominate their lives until those needs are met. (Some of our political leaders ignore that reality when they insist that our schools raise students’ performance in academic areas even while they themselves are cutting the support that helps provide for those most basic needs.)
As a church, we know that we cannot effectively proclaim the gospel and lead people to God in Christ unless we also address their fundamental needs as human beings. That is a necessary part of our mission.
But there is also a second reason why St. Mark’s has been engaged in these services to the community for so many years: it is an integral and absolutely essential part of living our faith. At the end of today’s second reading, St. James asks: “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?” And then he adds bluntly: “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
For faith to be genuine, it must be lived. It must be put into practice. We see Jesus putting his faith into practice in the stories told of him in the gospels.
During the last part of the summer, we heard how Jesus fed those who were hungry, making use of what seemed to have been very limited resources: five loaves of bread and two fish. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus heals the sick. That is certainly an action that everyone would consider to be a good thing, a positive thing. But there is something more going on here than just a nice deed done for someone who is ill. And that “something more” highlights for us an important dimension of our own outreach ministries, of our own service to our community.
Up to this point in Jesus’ ministry, he seems to have limited his works of feeding and healing to his fellow Jews. In the world in which he lived, that was completely understandable. As happens so often in people’s lives, he and his contemporaries tended to take care of “their own” or at least of those whom they considered to be “their own.” But in this story, we hear that Jesus’ sense of who those people were who were “his own” changes and expands, and it seems to come as a bit of a shock to him.
He has traveled, for whatever reason, into pagan territory: into the region around the city of Tyre in Lebanon. And there he encounters a pagan woman, a Syrophoenician, who begs him to heal her daughter. Jesus’ first response is to keep his distance from her, resorting even to what, in any age, is a clear insult. But she won’t back down. She stands her ground and challenges his rebuff. And in that encounter, Jesus is changed. He comes to see that God’s concern extends to all people. And he comes to see that all people are, in fact, “his own.”
Jesus then moves on to another pagan area, the territory known as the Decapolis. And this time, when people bring to him a man who is deaf and cannot speak clearly, Jesus does not stop to consider whether that man is a fellow Jew or not. Immediately, he heals him. Through his encounter with the woman of Tyre, Jesus had been changed, and his work of building God’s kingdom had been extended to include all people.
Jesus reaches out to this man in need and touches him. And, in doing so, he opens his ears so that they might hear and loosens his tongue so that it might speak.
Will we allow ourselves to be healed by Jesus? Will we allow him to open our ears so that we might hear: so that we might hear the cries of all those who are in need and recognize that they are in fact “our own.”? Will we allow him to loosen our tongues, both literally and figuratively: to loosen our tongues so that, in our actions as well as in our words, we might proclaim the good news of the coming of God’s reign, serving all people and bringing them together in God’s love?
Like Jesus, we need to remember that those who are “our own” include far more than just the members of our family and far more than just the members of St. Mark’s Church. Like Jesus, we need to remember that those who are “our own” include all God’s people who are in need in our community and in our world. And in serving them, we, like Jesus will be changed: our lives will be transformed as well as theirs. By the grace of God, we will, in our service to others, come to know the “breadth and length and height and depth” (Ephesians 3:18) of God’s love for all the world. That is a heritage worth celebrating. That is a heritage worth living during this, our 75th year, and in all the years to come.