A Reading from the 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.”
Psalm (45:1-2, 7-10)
1 My heart is stirring with a noble song;
let me recite what I have fashioned for the king; *
my tongue shall be the pen of a skilled writer.
2 You are the fairest of men; *
grace flows from your lips,
because God has blessed you for ever.
7 Your throne, O God, endures for ever and ever, *
a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom;
you love righteousness and hate iniquity.
8 Therefore God, your God, has anointed you *
with the oil of gladness above your fellows.
9 All your garments are fragrant with myrrh, aloes, and cassia, *
and the music of strings from ivory palaces makes you glad.
10 Kings’ daughters stand among the ladies of the court; *
on your right hand is the queen,
adorned with the gold of Ophir.
A Reading from the Letter of 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.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23)
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, 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.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
This past Wednesday evening, Judy and I attended the Parents’ Open House at Mark and Micaela’s school. Each August, there is one evening like this for the Junior High and one for the Senior High; the two of them share the same buildings. Both meetings follow the same format. Parents gather in the auditorium and are welcomed by the Principal and some of the staff. After their remarks, we follow our children’s daily schedules, moving from classroom to classroom to listen to their teachers explain briefly their plans for the year, their expectations, and the resources available.
I remember our first Parents’ Night, when our twins were entering the seventh grade. The Principal welcomed us and then began by asking, “How many of you have had children attending our Junior High School before?” Hands went up all around the room. He then added, “Some things have probably changed since your older children were here.” I glanced over to one of the side aisles where some of their young teachers had gathered; then I leaned over to Judy and whispered, “Some things have changed; like, some of your teachers were born!”
Over the years, people have asked us how different it is raising our two younger children, from what it was when our two older children, Andrea and Matt, were growing up. What were we doing differently? What had we learned in the 28 years between our older children and our younger two? I have often answered that we have found that some of things that we and other parents used to worry about really didn’t seem to have mattered at all. Our experience has helped us to focus on the things that are really important in the long run: the things that will actually make a lasting difference in our children’s lives.
Focusing on the things that are most important: that seems to be what Jesus was emphasizing to the Pharisees and scribes in today’s gospel reading. It wasn’t that practices such as their scrupulous washing of hands and food and dishes weren’t good things to do. They obviously were. The problem was that Jesus’ critics focused so much on these peripheral religious practices that they neglected what should have been the central issues and central concerns of their faith. At least as the gospels portray them, they were neglecting to care for the poor, for those who could not care for themselves, even for their own parents. These, Jesus insisted, were what living a genuine life of faith, a life responding to God’s many gifts and to God’s love, were all about.
Those who are pictured as opposing Jesus were emphasizing concerns that were secondary, at best, and were neglecting what was most important. In that sense, they are really not very different from us.
We, too, tend to latch onto peripheral issues and practices in life, while neglecting those things that are most important. Some parents, for example, give a lot of things to their children, and fill up their children’s every waking moment with one organized activity after another; but they fail to give them what they need the most: their own time and attention and love. We, as a nation and as individuals, are more than ready to pledge our support for and cheer for our veterans and for those serving in our military; but we fail to look for and try to address the practical needs of the veterans and military families who are living in our own neighborhoods; and we tolerate elected representatives who likewise are ready to cheer for them and wave the flag, but who still allow far too many of their families to struggle just to make ends meet and to have to rely on food pantries to feed themselves. And some of us who call ourselves “Christians” are content with peripheral practices of our religion and are concerned with what are really petty issues, while neglecting those central concerns expressed in our baptismal promises: concerns such as striving “for justice and peace among all people, and respect[ing] the dignity of every human being.”
Like the Pharisees and scribes as they are pictured in Mark’s gospel, we insist and try to convince ourselves that we are “religious” people, that we are doing what God wants us to do. But far too often, we are ignoring the more important issues and focusing instead on less important concerns, on things that are much easier for us to do: on things that are not nearly as demanding and difficult for us.
But, to what purpose? The 16th-century, Spanish mystic, John of the Cross, asked: “What does it profit you to give God one thing if he asks of you another? Consider what it is that God [really] wants, and then do it. You will, as a result, better satisfy your own heart than with that toward which you yourself are inclined.” Consider what it is that God really wants, and then focus on it and do it.
Like it or not, summer is quickly coming to a close. Next week is Labor Day weekend; and just two weeks from today, we will be starting a new program year with our 18th annual Praise and Picnic in the Park. As we prepare for another new beginning, we need to keep always in mind what God really wants: sharing with others in our community the love of God, caring for those who are in need, and building up the kingdom of God by transforming people’s lives and the life of our world to be what God wants them to be. It is time once again to make sure that, before all else, we are considering what God really wants, and then focus on it and do it.