Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 29 August 2021.
• First Reading: Deuteronomy 4: 1-2, 6-9 (Hear the decrees and laws, follow them)
• Psalm 15
• Epistle: James 1: 17-27 (Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word that is planted in you)
• Gospel: Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23 (Defilement is from within – immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, folly)
There is nothing our society likes so much as a hypocrite: the person who proclaims one set of values but whose life does not measure up to them.
The more highly promoted and well thought of the person is, then the better we like it. Of course we pretend to have a great rage of indignation about it, but so long as it deflects attention away from us then this is fine.
This coming November, people will be jetting into Glasgow from all around the world in order to confer on the evils of global warming, and some have already wondered whether this could not all have been done on Zoom, with all its inconveniences and awkwardness, but saved on the aviation spirit. And of course, lived up to the rhetoric.
And yes, there are plenty of other examples, many of which we will find when we look into the mirror.
But to be able to project our own shortcomings onto those of great name or position or wealth is far more satisfying than amending our own lives.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses was exhorting the children of Israel not to forget the Lord who had brought them out of slavery and across the wilderness, who had fed and watered them and enabled a rabble of escaped slaves to become a mighty army.
They had personally experienced the goodness and the provision of the Lord and now they much construct lives that glorify what God has done for them.
The moral laws were very simple and are set out in the 10 commandments, which start with a clear emphasis on God and which provide the spiritual foundation for the social commandments that follow.
Yes, the regulations on the conduct of worship are detailed but they are not impossibly complex and with care the people would be able to abide by them.
By doing this, they would preserve their safety and meet their social and personal needs.
By the time we get to the gospel there had been some 2000 years of legal development, some of it the result of the trauma of exile in Babylon.
Here the laws of Israel had been encrusted with the traditions of the leaders, whose interpretations and guidelines had become so rigid that they also had to be defined and limited and so more rounds of legal encrustation had followed.
And what may have started off with the best of intentions, like living the laws in a way that they could not possibly be broken, became a system of control, oppression and self-righteousness. What had been founded in love was being topped out with rigid controls and sanctimoniousness.
And so Jesus brought it back to the central point. The laws were there to enable people to live godly and wholesome lives. They were there to protect relationships and to honour God. And Jesus was never going to undermine them.
But He would cheerfully question the self-importance of those who wanted to use the laws to imprison people, to load them up with guilt and render them helpless. And so the additions, the refinements to and clarifications of the law were not the law itself and did not carry its authority.
More than that, godly living was to be found in personal holiness: a simplicity of life and outlook that honours all and despises none. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.
The detailed regulations on washing were less critical than purity of heart and intention. In this He ranked immorality with theft and murder, adultery with greed and malice. And folly would summarize it in one word.
Looking at the epistle of James, we again find a pool of simple and practical instruction. He does not spend time on fine turns of phrase but says it as it is.
Be readier to listen than to speak, and slower still to anger especially when the issue is personal.
In a society where every kind of perversion and distortion is rank, then avoid them all, especially the ones that are so acceptable as to be fashionable.
Do not allow the comfort of church-going and worship to dull your own sense of the truth of God and what He is saying about your own life and lifestyle.
And yes there will be shortcomings and areas of life where that we are does not stand with what we proclaim.
That is why we need that daily and weekly time of self-examination and where we will cry out in our own situations, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.’
Are there areas where our lives need amendment? Definitely. But if we are aware of this, then are there any areas of life where God cannot meet us in our needs? Definitely not.
In coming among us, Jesus came to seek and save those who were lost and their lives were corrupted and compromised. But He did so for those whose lives need amendment in the sight of God – and not of the more popular and lurid of the media.