Sermon by Fr Brian on Sunday, September 2, 2018.
James 1.19-21 – Link to all the readings for this day
For whatever reason, you woke up this morning, washed and dressed, and made your way here. Maybe it’s a habit you find hard to break. Maybe someone said something earlier this week that prompted you. Maybe something happened, and you want to be with other people today. Maybe it was a good thing. Maybe it wasn’t. I’m not worried about the people who aren’t here this morning. It’s a long weekend, and in within 10-12 weeks, we will be up to our ears in a winter wonderland. But you are here today. And something brought you here, even if it was just a routine. But I think it’s more than that. I think each and every one of you is here because there’s something in you that is growing. You are here for a reason, and when that reason sprouts and grows and bears fruit, it will be a great gift to the rest of us, a gift that only you have to give. And when we put all the fruits of our lives together, the gift that is us will make this community a better place to live.
The letter of James raises and seeks to address a question that doesn’t get asked much: “What does it mean to live as a Christian?”
We might focus the question: “What does it mean to be a Christian community in Carleton Place in 2018?”
The way you and I were raised, I suspect, make us prone to think in terms of right and wrong, good and bad, holy and secular.
I have heard it said: “I don’t need to go to church to be a good person.”
It comes up in the litany of reasons why there aren’t as many people in the pews as there used to be. You know, the litany that includes petitions like:
We don’t live in a Christian society any more. People have too many other things they can do on a Sunday. Too many people have been hurt in some way.
And if being a good person is the goal, there are plenty of examples where people who are supposedly “Christian” do not behave as “good people.” The catholic church has an image problem when priests are accused of assaulting children, and the hierarchy covers it up. And that problem doesn’t stop at the door of the Vatican. This is one of those times when “we are catholic too” doesn’t help. Every church gets tarred with the same brush, and every other historical offence from the Crusades to participation in the Residential School system is just fuel for the fire. It doesn’t help when we are ourselves judgemental, when our words are harsh, when we hold others to standards that we ourselves do not stand up to.
So, when did being a good person become the goal of a Christian life? It seems to me that lots of other people before Jesus were good people. And people who have never heard of Jesus are and can be good people. Maybe being a good person is a fine moral and ethical goal, and the path to true happiness, but that’s not actually Jesus’ teaching. That’s Plato.
So maybe it’s about something more than just being a good person. Perhaps being a good person is the fertile soil, but not the seed, or the plant, or the fruit.
The scripture invites us today to welcome “the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.” Imagine a word that’s like a seed, planted in the good soil that is a life well-lived. Imagine that as soon as that seed shows itself, someone is there to add water and protect it until it can stand up on its own. I think there’s a reason why we use water for baptism. It reminds us that spiritual growth and development is organic, like a seed that grows.
I suppose the question is, can the seed get in? Is the soil ready to receive the seeds that God wants to plant in our community? When James – or Jesus for that matter – speaks about “meekness” we’re not talking about being doormats, rolling over as soon as a bully shows up and tries to take away our toys or our lunch
money. To welcome with meekness the seed God wants to plant in us is to be soil that is moist, rich, full of nutrients and such, not rocky or hard and crusty.
So James is inviting people to live a certain way not because it will make them better people than others, somehow a higher form of human. But there are characteristics of living that open us up to God’s word. Being quick to listen, slow to speak. Anger doesn’t help, especially the self-righteous anger that tries to occupy the same space as God’s righteousness.
We live in a world where the words we are exposed to are sharpened up and fired off like missiles by those who speak them, or tweet them, or use them to get what they want. These seeds can also penetrate, even the most hard and rocky soil. They grow into short little bursts of thorny, nasty stuff that chokes out the other words like “God is love, and those who abide in God abide in love”, or “Love your neighbour as yourself.” The weeds in the garden sometimes need to be corrected by words like “why do you make such a big deal about the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye?” But the secret to good growth is to nurture the seeds and plants you want. A spiritual equivalent of Round-Up doesn’t help the word of God grow in our lives or in our community.
We head into an election in this town over the net few weeks. One that many have been waiting for. I want to be clear that I’ve spoken with all the candidates running for election in Carleton Place from this congregation, as we have agreed that everyone’s individual campaign gets left at the door when we come to worship. We will be brothers and sisters after this is said and done. Neither will I as a leader campaign for or against anyone or lead the church in such a campaign. But that doesn’t mean we stay silent, or don’t talk about what our community needs. Whoever is elected to office will have the responsibility of serving God’s people here – all God’s people. And I for one would like our voice to be heard as the voice that speaks for those who cannot speak, defending the rights of the most vulnerable among us. The goal for us as a Christian community is not what happens on October 22, but what happens on October 23rd, and the 24th, and every other day after that.
The mark of a Christian life is not how we treat our friends or how we approach those in positions of power and privilege. Rather what defines a Christian is how we treat our enemies and how we approach those who are at a disadvantage socially, economically and spiritually. The world around us is watching. Waiting. Hoping I think for something more than left or right, him or her, us or them. I think the world is waiting for us. All of us. All God’s children working together to shed off the anger and the way this world stains us, and foster growth and a good life for all. I think the world is ready for the question: can there be an us, without there having to be a them. I think that’s Gods’ dream for us. And I think the time has come for a Christian community that knows itself and what it means to be placed here in service to God’s dream.