Religious Observance & Justice

Did you notice the harsh words in our readings today?

It is hard for us to read/hear these scriptures and not feel scolded like a young child, but these texts echo a theme throughout the whole of scripture. It is a theme that is especially an ever-present foundation for our Old Testament prophets.

Our Old Testament prophets were critical of the society, especially the religious and those with religious power and authority, including prophets and priests.

Their criticism echoes in Jesus’ public ministry against the Pharisees and Scribes.

Their criticism continues to echo throughout the ages into our time and place,
it is that we do not always practice what we preach. 

Did you hear it?
Jesus criticizing the Pharisees and the Scribes for their emphasis and focus on the law and traditions of the elders who came before them instead of the divine law from God.

How many have heard this criticism about Christians in our time and place?
How many have heard that Christians are hypocrites?

I hate to tell ya’ll, but the truth is that we, Christians, do tend to live as hypocrites.

Our scriptures (and traditions) inform who we are and who we are called to be,
but too often we fall short.

The act of worship is good.
The studying of our scripture is good.
The act of fellowship with those who encourage and strengthen us in faith is good.

Worship, Study, and fellowship form and shape our faith, from birth to death,
BUT the criticism is not how we worship, study, fellowship, and grow.

The criticism is that ALL worship, study, and fellowship is pointless and useless if it does not translate to action.

According to James, what we do here is useless if we are merely those who hear the Word but do not act upon it (as a doer). Did you notice his closing words?

If any think that 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.
(James 1: 26-27)

Perhaps, we are more familiar with the words from Micah (6:8):
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? 

It sounds pretty easy right?! That is only 3 things, only 3 little things.

And yet, we continually get in our own way.

We get in our own way by listening to human traditions from the past.
We get in our own way by thinking we do not have the skills or the gifts for the task.
We get in our own way because it would require us to get out of our comfort zones.

We get in our own way.

It is not easy hearing Jesus call the religious people of his time hypocrites.

It is not easy hearing James say your religion is worthless if you are not moved into action.

It is not easy hearing Old Testament prophets say that rites, rituals, and worship are meaningless if we ignore justice, loving-kindness, and walking humbly with God.

The Holy Spirit, hopefully, stirs us into action towards the aspirations of our calling as a people of God.

Therefore, as we go forth today into our communities and daily lives, I want these harsh words to echo in our minds, hearts, and souls in order that we confront the more challenging question: “How am I getting in my own way?”

How am I stopping myself from the true work of faith, those efforts committed to in our baptismal waters:

  • to seek justice,
  • to act with compassion and mercy, and
  • to love and serve ALL people?

Once we have pondered and discerned this question, let us go forth to do just that!

Scriptures were Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-9; James 1:17-27; and Mark 7:1-8,14-15, 21-23.
Originally preached on 2 Sept. 2018 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

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