Reflection: September 2

Published on Sep 2nd, 2018 by Rev. Carol Prochaska (Ret) | 0

Sermon Title: From Inside Out  
Scriptures: Song of Songs 2:8-13; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Some of you heard me say last Sunday: “the Bible is happening now.” Here in Nelson, we are coming to the end of Pride Week. The lectionary readings for today include a poem from the Song of Solomon celebrating love. The gospel reading includes Jesus’ summons to revisit handed down, long-held traditions.  Jesus is challenging the religious establishment. It seems to me we are invited to see the difference between ritual and spirituality, between sitting in a pew and following Jesus.

In our gospel reading, religious leaders challenge Jesus and his disciples for failing to adhere to handed-down rules regarding cleanliness. In my head, I can hear my grandmother saying, “Cleanliness is next to godliness” (that is, don’t scuff your shoes before we get to church).

It’s not that all traditions are bad. We all have family traditions that carry with them sweet memories and how those traditions are still enjoyed by children and grandchildren. My mother and grandmother always made dark fruitcakes for Christmas. We couldn’t have Christmas without fruitcake!  And yet – wouldn’t the Christ still be born again within us without fruitcake!  

However, when traditions block out new understandings we need to question long-held cherished traditions. When familiar rules allow us to dismiss human diversity, we need to question long-held cherished rules. Not always easy! Sometimes traditions seem to be mixed-in with being faithful. Traditions also can give us comfort, offer a sense of security and help us to feel like an insider.

When the scriptures were canonized about 450 years before Jesus was born, the inclusion of the Song of Solomon in the Hebrew Bible, was controversial. There were those who felt the poetry in it was too secular, too sexually suggestive to be included in the sacred text.  Yet, with careful discernment, the Rabbis determined that there was a sacredness to the ancient love poems. These poems can point us to a divine connection and to the joy of human living. The human love between family members, friends, sisters and brothers in Christ is a holy God-given gift.  We can say that to love is to live within the creative power of God. The inclusion of the Song of Solomon can remind us of the many forms of love we experience.

In celebrating Pride Week we have an opportunity to remember those who have been both excluded and wounded by scripture—by the very words meant to give life. For instance, there are those in the Christian tradition who use the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as a reason to persecute gay men. It is essential for us to remember that the men of Sodom and Gomorrah were not condemned for their sexuality, but for violence towards the vulnerable.

There are those who will quote Ezekiel 16:49 – which doesn’t even mention their sexual conduct but does say: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”  Another Bible passage used to justify persecution is the famous Leviticus 18:22 “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”  But if we read the 21 verses immediately before this one, we will find a long list of prohibited adulterous relations. It doesn’t matter how the persons are living love, cheating is still cheating. Also included as prohibited activities in the book of Leviticus is sowing your field with two kinds of seed, wearing a garment made of two different materials,  and giving yourself intentional scars or tattoos, to name a few.

In Exodus and Leviticus, there are rules and rules regarding washing hands and clothes. Often these rules had to with survival and as a way to remain apart from other religions.  Many (all?) of these rules, we in the 21st C. do NOT live by.  

Did you notice that Jesus quotes Isaiah, a prophet who lived in a time much later than Exodus and Leviticus?  Jesus, using Isaiah words, says:  “These people honour me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.”When our hearts are close to God, we are open to enjoy love in all its forms.

A grandfather tells this story: When my grandson asked me how old I was, I teasingly replied, “I’m not sure.” With a tender look of love on his face, he said, “Grandpa, if you want to know how old you are, look in your underwear, mine says I’m 4-6.”

 Moments of human love. Moments of God-like love!

Jesus calls our attention to the word “hypocrite” which literally means “under judging” – that is we don’t judge ourselves enough while we feel free to judge others.  Is this not a warning – if not for all of us- some of us?

In this morning’s gospel, Jesus gives us a list of things that define us, come from the inside. These are things that make us unholy. Jesus says: “It is what comes out of us that makes us unclean. For it is from within – from our hearts –that evil intentions emerge—promiscuity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, obscenity, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” It’s quite a list to consider. At some time or other probably most of us have been guilty of one or two or more! And so it is we are (all of us) less than perfect.  Jesus reminds us that what really matters is not our institutions, not our rules, our traditions but what truly matters is the depth and width of our love for God and then for others.   

Today folks from this congregation will march in this afternoon’s Pride parade behind the Nelson United Church banner. As Robin says:

“I want the world to know that human sexual expression, like everything else God created, can be beautiful when it comes from a place of love on the inside. And I want everyone who has ever been made to feel ashamed or unlovable because of their sexual orientation to know that God loves them exactly the way they are.”

In the news this past week there have been two celebrations of life: Senator John McCain and Aretha Franklin. And celebrations they were because these two, in their own ways, lived and loved as best they could. Yes, they were flawed.  But they never gave up the potential we human beings have to transcend our lesser selves. Let us honour our greater selves as we honour God with both our lips and our hearts.  

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