After reading the texts this week, my first thought was can we please have more bread? The return to Mark is rather jarring. Many U.S. pastors are on vacation this weekend, some are concluding summer sermon series, and the rest might be right with me in wishing for more bread. Then, without further delay, let’s take a deep breath and dive right in.
If you are brave and up for navigating some challenging waters you can preach from Song of Solomon. I can’t. I can’t because I know this is a love song and I don’t really think it describes God. If it does, that’s a greater leap than my faith can make. It’s beautiful, though, so you could start there. And, yes, I believe that we are God’s beloved and that thinking of God as our Beloved, isn’t wrong. It’s just the sexual overtones (or undertones) that prevent me from using this text in a sermon. It is lovely poetry, though, so enjoy.
Psalm 45 falls into the same category for me. The psalmist tells us very clearly that their verses are addressed to the king. As there are no earthly rulers to whom these loving verses apply right now, I’m going to give this psalm a pass, too.
Getting through the awkward passages, we arrive at Deuteronomy. These verses contain some helpful advice. It’s best to follow God’s ordinances, to become “a wise and discerning people.” Moreover, we must make sure that each generation knows what God has done. While I’m not sure we’ve done a great job with either following God’s commandments or telling the stories of our faith to each generation, this is the desire of every faith community. For those of us planning Recovenanting, Rally, Homecoming, etc. for next week, this text is a great lead in.
Continuing with these theme, Psalm 15 becomes even more specific with the question of who shall live in God’s house. There is some very good advice for us in this Psalm. It is a healthy reminder of what faithful lives look like. I wonder how seriously we take these words today. Do we remember that speaking truth, caring for our neighbors’ well-being, keeping our word, and lending money without interest honors God more than just saying we do these things?
James reinforces the idea of actions meaning more than lip service. Our actions need to be consistent with our words of faith or we deceive ourselves. There’s good advice here, too. Listen before speaking or letting anger rise too quickly and pay attention to what we do. The beauty and power of these verses comes at the end, though. The very definition of “religion that is pure and undefiled before God” is one that could help guide the church of today. Imagine a church that truly committed to caring for orphans and widows (the vulnerable among us) while also making a concerted effort to remain “unstained by the world.” Imagine the kind of strength and compassion such a church could embody…
Lest we travel off into unrealistic imaginings, Mark brings us down to the real and practical. If you wash your hands just because it is part of tradition, then your hands might be dirtier than those who come to the table unwashed. Jesus has no patience for those who follow the traditions without only their lips (or hands) but not their hearts. Jesus clearly states that no food or dirt (or germs) can defile a person. It’s what comes out of us, usually our mouths, that’s a problem. We can uphold tradition all we want, but if our words and actions are not loving of God, ourselves, our neighbors, or Creation there’s a problem. Is there a discrepancy between what we say we believe and what we do in our churches? What can we do to bring more Love into the world?
These are intense passages that make all the bread of the last few weeks look much more desirable. Where are you at this week? Whether you are craving those carbs or rolling up your sleeves to get to work, please join in the conversation so we can share the journey to the pulpit.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.
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