Backpacks of Faith

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 22
Focus Text: Deuteronomy 4:1-2. 6-9; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
I like to think I am a good multi-tasker. Mult-tasking is the name of the game these days. If you want to get ahead, you need to be able to answer an email while in a meeting giving your full attention while, in the back of your mind, you are figuring out the car pool for your kids’ soccer team. And, if you are like one particular friend of mine, you will also be knitting.
It’s this kind of attitude about multi-tasking that makes us all think we can drive and text at the same time. Especially when there is “no one on the road” or we are stuck in traffic.
The truth is, just because I multi-task, that doesn’t make me a good multi-tasker, and practice does not make perfect. We think of multi-tasking as doing more than one task at the same time. But our brains don’t actually work that way. Multi-tasking is really our brains giving little bits of attention to one thing at a time. So, while I am texting, despite what your teenagers tell you, I am not giving you full attention. I may hear that you are talking, I may even catch what you are saying, but I am not completely absorbing or reflecting on what you are saying.
Now, that being said, this phone is my left brain. A friend of mine, another pastor, wrote a blogpost this week about what coffee hour is like for her, not only as a pastor, but for one who lives with Attention Deficit and Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). My favourite line was, “The napkin you gave me with an address to mail youth group news to a family friend? I probably wiped chocolate icing off my son’s face with it.” That’s why my phone is never far away. So when I pull it out during a meeting or on a Sunday morning, I am not playing games, I am probably taking note of your name, or what I promised to do for the Sunday School meeting…that is, if I even get a chance to pull it out. So, if you can give me a second to finish what I am writing, I will give you as full attention as I can, as long we aren’t interrupted. But still, a good rule of thumb–and I think Jason would agree–follow up with us on Monday morning.
This morning, James tells us, “You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves.Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror.They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like” (James 1:23-25 CEB). Sometimes, we are at risk of multi-tasking our faith.
Last week Jason touched on the controversy that surrounds this little epistle. It is usually characterized by faith versus works or faith versus action, and has its roots in pre-Reformation Europe. There was a time when the Church promised the faithful that if did certain things, the Church would guarantee their salvation, for example, fighting in the crusades or making financial contributions. One could see how quickly this kind of system could be wrought with corruption. Martin Luther fought against this system, called indulgences, and his fight became the pin on which we hang the Reformation. His position was that faith alone is sufficient for salvation. The Anglican Church teaches that as well. There is no way Jason or I or a bishop or anyone else can take away your salvation.
James teaches us, if there is no action, if your faith does not result in good works, then there is no sign of faith. And so James preaches a vigorous faith, one that is so strong that those who encounter you can not mistake you for anything else but a follower of Christ. If your faith does not manifest itself in kind words, being slow to anger and quick to listen, then what kind of faith is it? A faith born out of a true relationship with God will bear fruit of righteousness. We are not called to try to do a bunch of actions all at the same time to prove how faithful we are. We are called to be faithful, and our actions as individuals and as a community will bear their own fruit.
All wisdom and faithfulness comes from a relationship with a faithful God. In our first reading we hear the conclusion of the LORD giving the law to the Israelites in the dessert. The law concludes with these words, “But be on guard and watch yourselves closely so that you don’t forget the things your eyes saw and so they never leave your mind as long as you live. Teach them to your children and your grandchildren.” The LORD says the most important thing, more important than all the laws, is to remember what they have seen the LORD do. Faithfulness, a faith that is known and felt in our hearts as well as seen by the world, is rooted in relationship with a faithful God. The LORD says, remember my faithfulness.
This relationship, not actions or works, is at the core of James. It starts with our first verses today, “Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all. He chose to give us birth by his true word, and here is the result: we are like the first crop from the harvest of everything he created.” (James 1:17-18) We begin with our belief in a God who calls us the very best of all He created. We believe in a God who delights in us! God squeals with delight at us. Isn’t that a wonderful image? We seek righteousness and to please God because we are in a loving relationship with Him and we want to share that love with the world.
Earlier we talked about the difference between being hearers and doers of the Word. The Pharisees in today’s gospel were doing all kinds of doing, it seems, but not a whole lot of hearing. It probably started with a desire to follow the law, to keep the relationship with God alive. But over time, they became like those who look in a mirror, walk away, and forget what they saw. Or they forgot what their ancestors had seen in the desert. They went to the other extreme from James, getting so caught up in the tasks of following the Law, and the power they had in maintaining the law, that they forgot whose law they were upholding. They forgot what the law was for.
Last month I attended a great conference about Sabbath. Our speaker, MaryAnn McKibben Dana, and her family endeavoured to set aside a 24 hour period each week to unplug, not work, practice sabbath. One afternoon, MaryAnn was watching a family movie with her daughter, and realized she hadn’t seen her husband, Todd, for quite a while. A couple of hours later, he came into the living room to announce, “I’ve just built a wooden frame for our woodpile!”
Later that day, MaryAnn said to Todd, “You built a frame? That’s a lot of work. Not really a Sabbath thing.” And Todd replied, “Maybe not for you, but every day, I sit in front of a computer with a headset in my ear. I talk, and I sit. For me, building a woodframe let me turn off my brain and use a part of me I never get to use; my hands. I was able to be still, in my mind, and simply create.” So, how should Todd have practiced sabbath?
The Pharisees in the crowd got so caught up in the tasks to follow the law, doing all they could to be faithful on the outside, they were completely lost on the inside. Jesus warns us to be more concerned with our hearts than with what we do on the outside. Any action that comes from our own ambition or plans is corrupted in some way. It is only through faith, our relationship with God, that our actions can be made righteous and good.
This week, we expressed our faith in an extraordinary way. Two weeks ago, Anne Simons, chair of our Local Outreach Committee asked us to pack backpacks for children connected with York Children’s Aid. We had one week. Well, we were blown away by the response. On Tuesday, we delivered 28 backpacks full of school supplies to York Children’s Aid, to be shared with children who are attending these schools all around us. Now, we didn’t do it as a marketing scheme, put little Christ Church badges on each bag or anything like that. We did it out of our faith, out of generosity, and out of caring. That’s faith with action.
We were birthed out of His very words. Start there, so that with every washing of our hands, every backpack we pack, every kindness we offer, every caring word we say and every quiet moment we spend listening is not from our own efforts, but an expression of God’s love for all creation.

What think ye?

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