Sermon for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 22-23
‘God’s plan for your life . . .’
Well, in marketing spiel, that’s a sermon title to bring in the crowds 🙂 For after all, wouldn’t it be good to know God’s plan for our lives. So good indeed that one of the most oft quoted verses in the Scriptures, is Jeremiah 29:11
It is so popular that it is plastered on a thousand devotional posters – ten thousand fridge magnets, and I have no way of counting how many bumper stickers it might perhaps be found on – which is odd. It’s odd for a couple of reasons. For the prophet Jeremiah is not exactly someone associated with a message which we’d all want to buy into.
God’s plan for Jeremiah was that he go into the heart of the darkness of God’s people to announce God’s impending judgement on their wickedness – and boy did he suffer as a result – one in the long line of those God sent to his people to call them to repentance culminating in his sending his Son whom they crucified . . . so quoting Jeremiah on ‘God’s plan for your life’ . . . well we might say that it is asking for trouble!
And Jeremiah, as one faithful to God’s plan for his life does not hold back – who is this people he is called to? Well by the time of the prophecy about God’s plan they are in exile and The LORD addresses these words to them : Your hurt is incurable, your wound is grievous. There is no one to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you.
All your lovers have forgotten you; they care nothing for you; for I have dealt you the blow of an enemy, the punishment of a merciless foe, because your guilt is great, because your sins are so numerous. Jer 30:12-14
Apart from the use of oil etc. to produce such commercial tat, the real problem with fridge magnet theology is that fridge magnets aren’t large enough 🙂 ‘I have plans for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. . . . because you are incurably sin sick – all those false gods you have run after have let you down and I’ve taken you into exile because of them . . .’ These are the people that God has plans for . . .
And immediately we understand that God’s plans for us have little or nothing to do with ‘the house we’ve always dreamed of’, ‘things working out well in our careers’, or ‘finding the man or woman of my dreams and living happily ever after’. God’s Plan for his people is that he will save them from the consequences of their abandonment of Him – put another way, that he will save them from death and hell, in and through Jesus . . . and without wishing to harp on about a theme I have spoken of these past weeks, of all those ‘fridge magnet dream’ plans . . . where is Jesus in any of them???
So when Jesus comes, this is precisely to whom he comes, those who in their hearts are still in exile – those of whom the prophet Isaiah wrote “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
Jesus puts it plainly You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition. The commandment of God, his Life giving word is abandoned – we saw this played out last week in the gospel – the words that Jesus speaks are Light and Life, but his disciples abandon Jesus words, for teaching more attuned to the darkness of their wicked hearts. Like people who avoid going to the doctor for whilst in their heart of hearts they know they are ill, they do not wish to be confronted with their condition – they do not wish to be well, so when the Light shines in the darkness it is for judgement ‘that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.’
So, let us come to James the brother of Jesus and pillar of the Jerusalem church – and his meditation upon how God’s plan is worked out in us when we come into the light.
Firstly he begins with this acknowledgement – Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. When Jesus says to the wealthy man who calls him good teacher ‘Why do you call me good, only God is good.’ He is pointing to one of the most fundamental truths of existence, the Goodness of God. What else can explain God’s desire to rescue his people who have utterly abandoned him – what else can explain God’s plan for us, indeed a plan that extends to the whole created order as our abandonment of the command of God has led to a Creation which mirrors the humans who have sought to act as God within it. The Goodness of God we may well say is that which gives Hope, when humanly there is only despair – God’s Goodness is Life from Death.
James goes on ‘In fulfillment of his own purpose [putting his plan into Action] he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.’ He gave us birth by the word of truth – through His Living Word, His Word made flesh, God gives us new birth. ‘Into a living hope’ as St Peter puts it, ‘by the resurrection of the dead’ – there you are again, a people beyond hope are given Hope, a people who are dead in sin and wickedness are given new birth, by this Word – that they might become a kind of first fruits of his creatures . . . The Genesis narrative of ‘creation’ is nothing more nor less than a foreshadowing of THIS Creation. God coming to his people in Jesus is His plan, ‘since before the foundation of the world’ Jesus indeed is the lamb who was slain, from before the foundation of the world. Before ever there was sin, before ever there was a world, God’s plan has been to rescue his people and to reveal his Goodness.
Yet, this plan requires our participation You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Be quick to listen! Quick!! — the Living Word speaks – ‘This is my beloved Son – listen to Him!’ – The Words he speaks are Spirit and truth – they are Life eternal. Quick to listen. Slow to speak – as James will remind us in a couple of weeks, our words are dangerous – not least those who presume to be teachers, for too easily does the preacher end up teaching human precepts as doctrines. This is why I ask that you pray for all those who presume to teach that they may, both by their life and doctrine, set forth thy true and lively Word, and rightly and duly administer thy holy Sacraments. That my brothers and sisters is why we should pray for our clergy – not that their lives will work out well according to the standards of the world, but that they might ever hold fast to the Life giving word of truth and not descend into the evil of teaching human precepts as doctrines, which Jesus condemns.
Quick to listen – slow to speak – slow to become angry. The Church has always taught that anger is one of the wicked thoughts, the deadly sins (in Catholic tradition) – that the only valid anger was anger against our own sins. For too easily we stand in angry judgement of others and find ourselves, in the words of the crucified thief, under the same condemnation. ‘Man’s anger does not produce God’s righteousness’ – and who would dare presume to announce Their anger to be that of the Living God??
Noting all that – our slowness to listen to the Word, our alacrity to speech and anger, the apostle counsels Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. It is the language of New Creation – of gardening, tilling and keeping the soil of our hearts. In an echo of his Brother Jesus’ parable, James would have us tear out the weeds – all those things which Jesus lists which defile us – ‘For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’ All those things which strangle the Word of Life and truth. Seek to tear them out to make soil fit for ‘the implanted word that has power to save your souls’
The Word of Christ, in us, which alone has power to heal and save our souls . . . I will say little on this point, but to note that it is in this day when the language of sin and soul has all but disappeared even from the discourse of the Church, Lord have mercy on us, that the evil of euthanasia rears its head . . .
But let us be clear – this welcome for the word is not simply a meditative exercise – as we are to rid ourselves of the rank growth – active – so James says in receiving the word, Act on it!! But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. There are many many deceptions abroad in this age. As James points out, if we do not bridel our tongue, we deceive ourselves, our religion is worthless, for we are unrestrained, our energy is wasted. But one of the most clever schemes of our enemy is that of encouraging mediation on the word as healing in and of itself – this is no better to us that gazing lovingly at the medicine in the bottle – or seeking to feed ourselves by reading ‘Good Food magazine’ but never cooking. It is the religion of nice thoughts, it is a vapour and a mist, and highly seductive for that for it requires no effort on our part. cf Luke 13:24 The man Jesus heals he commands – ‘take up your mat and walk.’ God has given us birth to be a kind of first fruits of his creatures and like new born babies we move from passivity, to the strenuous work of participation in His Life . . . Yes, Meditate upon the word – accept it – and Do it. Those who love me, obey me, Jesus says – again Those who hear my words and do them are like those who build their house on the rock, that in the day of Judgement, they may stand firm. As James, Jesus’ brother and our puts it – But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
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 . Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul mind and strength – love your neighbour as yourself – do this and you will live –
As I said – the Jeremiah fridge magnet is not large enough; wanting God’s plans for us to be about Our hopes and dreams,it is cut off half way through.
God has a far better plan for our lives – Hear the Word of the LORD For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. I will bring you to myself – I will give you my life, in and through Jesus my beloved Son – the Bread of heaven, the Word of Life