Lectionary Reflection for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 5, 2021*
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? James 2:1
Have you heard about the one percent or their financial opposites the ninety-nine percent? Chances are unless you’ve been living beneath a rock, you have been exposed to both sides hurling accusations at each other. Ever since a group of ordinary citizens occupied Wall Street, mathematical percentages have taken on new meaning in the United States. Reading about this “new reality” can be both discouraging and controversial. Yet income, social, ethnic, gender, and other polarizing disparities are nothing new. This week’s lectionary readings remind us of that uncomfortable fact.
The lesson from James is strong in its admonishment to avoid showing partiality to the wealthy and powerful while trampling or even ignoring the poor and marginalized. The author exhorts readers to put some rhythm behind the rhetoric, saying
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead (James 2:14-17)
Yes, I realize this is a tricky passage, especially for those Christians who understand their salvation to be Sola Fide, pure gift by God’s action and grace alone and not through any act or merit of the individual. Yet even Martin Luther, for whom Sola Fide was key, understood that works are a part of the Christian’s total life package. In his Introduction to Romans, Luther says “Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing.” The life of the disciple is an intricate pattern of worship and work. We cannot love God without loving what God has created, and while Jesus showed clear partiality for the poor and marginalized, his grace-full love and salvation was offered for all.
This week’s gospel lesson (Mark 7:24-37) is comprised of two healing stories, the first being the healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and the second the healing of the deaf man with a speech impediment. Jesus heals insiders and outsiders– the one hundred percent. When Jesus is around lines blur and grace flows exponentially. This lesson offers wonderful possibilities to speak to inclusion and the possibility of a different way of living in this world as disciples of Christ.
Finally, look to the readings from Isaiah and Psalm 146 for a clear reminder that it is God in whom we should place our trust, render our allegiance, and offer our worship. It is God who “…gives justice to those who are oppressed, and food to those who hunger. The Lord sets the captive free” (Psalm 146:7). It is God who saves us, not our own bootstraps, cleverness, or ingenuity, not any government plan or policy or political party, and certainly not any ad campaign or consumer purchase.
As long as broken and beautiful humankind struggles through and dances with earthly time, there will be the divide between the haves and the have-nots, between the lucky and the down-trodden. The only hope we have is to align our saint/sinner selves with the way of Christ, choosing to see and live the wholeness of the beloved one hundred percent. By loving our neighbor as ourselves, by seeing and doing,we move one step closer to breaching the divide and ushering in the reign of God.
In your preaching and teaching this week, consider lifting up Jesus’ alternative path where the ninety-nine and the one percent become the one hundred percent, held together in love and grace and walking toward a better way. What might it look like to walk that path deliberately in your context? How can your community of faith transcend the political, economic, and social chasms to build a better tomorrow for all God’s good creation? What small steps are within your reach? What prophetic words is the Spirit placing on your lips?
With Adults and Older Youth
Consider watching the documentary film Waste Land. This inspiring Academy Award-nominated film details a creative collaboration between renowned artist Vik Muniz and a group of workers/trash pickers in the world’s largest land fill outside of Rio de Janeiro. What happens when art and the human spirit coalesce is life changing and mind-blowing. You’ll never look at trash or the marginalized in the same way.
Consider reading A Castle on Viola Street by Dyanne DiSalvo and talk a little bit about Habitat for Humanity as a way many people choose to put their faith into action. Our local Habitat chapter even has a program called Living Quarters that enables children to put change in small house-shaped banks to help build fund building projects.
If your time is too short to read a book, consider a display of ways your congregation helps children to be involved in helping others. Ask for teen and adult volunteers to share briefly the ways they have found to put their faith into action. You might even challenge children with a “micro-seed loan” of five or more dollars to see how they can grow the money to help a ministry of their choosing.
The point is to help them see that they are part of God’s 100% beloved community and that even they have gifts to share with others. We are never too young (or too old!) to put our faith into action.
*This column first appeared on the same Lectionary week in 2012.