Steadfast in faith and active in service

Homily St Mary’s Marlborough, 9th September 2018
Trinity 15: James 2.1-10,14-17 & Mark 7.24-37

steadfastEvery month, the Marlborough Churches Together ministers meet, both to support one another, as well as to discuss what we may do together. One of the things we have been doing together for a long time is the walk of witness on Good Friday. And ever since I have been here, every time we meet, this is a point of discussion. Some of us feel that Good Friday is a solemn day, so the procession through the High Street should reflect this. Others feel that a solemn procession is a terribly poor witness to the Christian faith, and we should be more upbeat and joyful to show the good news of the Easter message.

I leave to you to think in which group I may fall, but I do think that too often Christianity is seen as something ‘heavy’, something that weighs you down or restricts you. Every time a rich person is mentioned, it seems, it is in a negative way, as here again in James’ letter. And do we really need to see ourselves as beggars, saying that we are not even worthy to eat the crumbs from under a table, to be sincere and true Christians?

Of course, there is also the other extreme, the prosperity interpretation of the Gospel, that leads us to believe that everyone who is happy and leading a prosperous life must be doing something right, and everyone who isn’t, must be doing something wrong. I don’t think either of these two ways of approaching our faith and religion are particularly helpful. So, looking for an alternative way, we can find a couple of helpful comments in James’ letter. The first one is that we should not show partiality, because God shows no partiality.

If we see a person in need, we must help them. No matter whether they are rich or poor, and whether we like them or not. Jesus himself did not make a distinction between the people who he healed: whether it was the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman, or the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue.

That is a big ask, and at times we may not succeed because of our own limitations, but we have an obligation to try. And that brings us to the second point, that we need to look out for others: faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. It does not mean we will always succeed, but we must always try.

I will most certainly have said this before, but for me the only way I can keep trying: trying to show no partiality, trying to love, is because God has loved us first. We do not do these things so that we may deserve God’s love, but we do them in reply to God’s generosity to us and his love for us.

Sometimes people ask why they would believe in a God who requires things and so seems to restrict us? I think this is the wrong question though, because it is precisely because I believe that I feel able to look out for others, and indeed to try again when I know that I have gone wrong. The assurance of forgiveness and the promise of healing are essential in this process as well.

And, if we’re honest, if we would all truly look out for each other, if all of us were continually steadfast in faith and active in service, the world would look very differently. So, as we come to worship, to ask for forgiveness, to pray and to share once more bread and wine, and to remember what God has done for us, let us also commit ourselves once more to giving ourselves in loving service to God and to one another.

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