The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 17—Year B: The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17; Mark 7:24-37
Tis the season for VISION! We have just come through two weeks of political conventions. The Republicans put forth their vision and explained why the Democrats’ vision is a failed one. The Democrats put forth their vision and explained why the Republicans’ vision is a failed one. Different visions about the role of government and the role of the private sector. Different visions of the economy and what will make it grow. Different visions on all manner of things. Are you seeing double vision yet? Is your vision getting blurred? It’s a lot to make sense of.
Well, today, we hear from a third party, The People of the Way, as those early Jesus followers were called; today, they put forth their vision in the Letter of James. The belief part of the platform has not been finely wordsmithed; in fact, it’s a little suspect, but the action pieces, wow, they’re the foundational planks in this platform.
Acts of favoritism—did not make the platform—they are mutually exclusive with belief in our glorious Lord Jesus. If we are paying more attention to the person who comes into the assembly with gold rings and fine clothes, if we are pulling out a chair for them, while we are telling the poor person who’s wearing dirty clothes to stand over there or sit at our feet, then we are guilty of making distinctions among ourselves—we have become judges with evil thoughts.
God has chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith, to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him.
We have dishonored the poor; this platform is calling forth our better angels. There is no place for oppression by the rich—such oppression is blasphemy against Christ’s name. The People of the Way are circling back to that prophetic tradition of their forebears, as parties often do. Their recent ad proclaims, “The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all. Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the LORD pleads their cause…” The Book of Proverbs approves this message.
But we, The People of the Way, are to fulfill the royal law, the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Not as much as yourself, but as yourself. Your neighbor is not the object of your good will, but your neighbor is an extension of your very being. Your neighbor is you, which makes your neighbor not an object outside of you, but the subject reflecting you. You are inextricably bound together. If you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors…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.
This is the platform of The People of the Way. No favoritism, no partiality, equality, mutuality, loving your neighbor as your very own self, walking the walk much more than talking the talk, faith must be worked, not just spoken. And this platform is addressed not just to individuals, but The People of the Way also, always, address communities.
Jesus adds a couple more planks to the platform of The People who follow his Way. Boy, in the backroom, that Syrophoenician woman really gave it to him. Jesus was headed a whole other direction—this Way was only going to be for the children of Israel, but she stood up to him and debated him, and won. No, the grace and healing and kingdom that Jesus came to inaugurate, it had to be for everybody, even for a Gentile, even for a woman. That debate changed Jesus, transformed him.
When he came back into the Jewish territory, he headed straight to the Decapolis, a gentile region. He met a man with stopped up ears whose words made no sense—he commanded, “Be opened…I had to be opened, now you be opened.” And immediately the man’s ears were opened, and he could speak plainly.
Sometimes, our ears get stopped up and we can’t hear Jesus’ call.
Sometimes, our hearts get stopped, and we can’t feel compassion.
Sometimes, we are talking our heads off, but it’s not good news that’s coming out of our mouths, but gobbledygook from some other vision. Jesus adds this plank to the platform of The People of the Way, “Be opened,” so you can hear and love and show mercy and proclaim the good news that God longs to be proclaimed.
The people who saw Jesus heal that man couldn’t stop talking about it, even though Jesus told them not to. Jesus doesn’t want us to talk about it; like Nike, Jesus wants us to “just do it.”
The People of the Way have put forth quite a platform. If we will allow our ears to be opened, it will challenge every vision that is put forth around us, every vision. The only thing that remains to be seen, is if we, the local affiliate of The People of the Way, will adopt this platform as the central, defining VISION for our lives.
As with all party platforms, the devil is in the details. When I looked up that idiom, “The devil is in the details,” I found out that that phrase derives from an earlier phrase, “God is in the details,” and so it is. God is in the details, and it will be up to us to incarnate, to put flesh and blood on this vision.
As we move forward, let us embrace this platform in every aspect of our lives, in every relationship, in every decision, in every circle in which we move, in every encounter, in every minute of every day.
May this vision open us and shape us, and then propel us forward to fulfill our call—may we show no partiality, no favoritism.
May we be people of radical equality, radical mutuality, radical inclusion, radical commitment to the poor, radical engagement with our neighbor.
May we, The People of the Way, show mercy, extend compassion, and live the royal law of love. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
September 9, 2012