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St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes, Vicar
Year B/Proper 17: Mark 7:14-15, 21-23; James 1:17-27/Ps 45:1-2, 7-10
August 29, 2021
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
The prayer you heard, for the second time, is today’s collect. The Collect is a prayer that collects the central themes of the scriptures for a particular worship service. Today’s collect provides the entry into making sense of our gospel lesson in the seventh chapter of Mark and our epistle in James. In particular, the phrase, “Graft in our hearts,” offers a clue to unlocking the scriptures today for understanding.
Many may be familiar with the skin grafts associated with burn patients. But technique of tissue grafting can be applied to a variety of human body parts, including bone, tendons, blood vessels and corneas, just to name a few. Assumed in tissue grafting is that there is a wounding of some kind, requiring healing intervention; and that there is the possibility that the tissue graft will be rejected. All of the aforementioned sources of grafting tissue relate to healing the body; not the spirit. The invisible spiritual wounds are myriad, and are challenging to detect, even by the one who is walking around with them. They are a result of the evil intentions of the human heart.
How might this surgical technique for bodily healing inform our understanding for God’s spiritual intervention for the soul’s healing? Jesus said, “…There is nothing outside a person that going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile,” as he dealt with the Pharisees and scribes who questioned his authority. They wondered, how can Jesus be a teacher of the law and his own disciples do not follow the tradition of the elders? Why isn’t he teaching them to follow the purification rituals to guard against impurity?
Jesus’ retort was that their outward piety was nothing more than lip service to God with hearts far from God and centered on self. As we have read many times in scripture, Jesus sets before his opponents the opportunity to be quick to listen, and slow to speak so that their minds may be refocused from the earthly things of the rituals checklist, human commands and teaching—toward God and the heavenly things. The religious leaders, according to Jesus, had abandoned God’s commandment to love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might, in the form of empty worship. Coming before God with empty worship is offering an oblation of sacrifice and praise, tainted with the evil intentions of the heart. The internal evils listed in the gospel lesson (murder, theft, adultery, deceit, envy, pride, etc.), can cause spiritual wounding that is self-imposed and/or imposed upon others.
Late Episcopal priest, John Claypool’s book, “Mending the Heart,” focuses on the three spiritual wounds that no human being can escape—grievance (someone did something to me and I am holding on to unforgiveness and rage); guilt (I did something to someone else, or myself, and I can’t forgive myself; and grief (something or someone no longer exists in my life and I am suffering the loss). Left unchecked, and unattended to, these spiritual wounds will come forth from one’s soul, out into the world to wound others. A sin-sick soul is oblivious to the goodness of the wellspring from which living water quenches spiritual dryness.
James’ language, in our epistle, goes deeper with the healing intervention implying, not the act of grafting, but implantation. James said, “…Rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome…the implanted word that has the power to save your souls,” said James (James 1:21). This image of implanting God’s word into the human soul is impossible from the secular world’s perspective. Afterall, that would be the joining of the human species and the divine nature of God.
But the way that the faithful come to understand this joining is through scripture where God’s Word was made flesh in the human person of Jesus Christ—Jesus who was fully human and fully God (John 1:14). God became incarnate because, as we talked about last week, the necessary sacrifice of Jesus’ human body served God’s purpose for the salvation of humankind. The faithful make sense, also, of this joining through the sacramental lens of Baptism. Baptism is God’s healing intervention wherein those who are baptized in water and the Spirit, are not only grafted into the body of Christ, but are implanted with God’s divine nature—through Jesus.
Unlike transplants of the mortal body, where there is a fear of rejection of the healing intervention, the soul, enjoined with Christ, is immune to the human tendency to reject God. For in baptism the soul becomes a new creation, implanted with the Word of God—and God cannot reject his own nature. This new creation—this human expression of the living word—is no longer ruled by internal evil intentions that pour forth from inside the human heart into the outside world with the power to harm others. So that what comes out of our mouths is washed with God’s word; and that whatever comes from our being, in word and deed, is expressed with the intention to do no harm. Where there is the intention to do no harm, there exists, also, the intention to enrich and purify, not to devalue and defile.
Birthed by the word of truth, this new creation, is nourished with the goodness of scripture and the intentional nurturing of a personal relationship with Christ through prayer practices and corporate worship in the Church. And brought forth from that nourishment is the fruit of good works that then cares for the least of these in a society where the poor, the oppressed, the sick—the widows and the orphans—are invisible. It is through caring for the distressed undefiled religions is distinguished from the stains of this world. That is why baptism happens only once—that which has been implanted by God is indissoluble and nothing can separate us from the love of God. That’s the good news for us, that through Christ, our sinful human nature, once enslaved to sin and death, has been liberated into the freedom of God’s eternal outpouring of God’s self. God’s eternal outpouring of love itself.
In a recent sermon, our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry said that pre-pandemic, he would have said that the opposite of love is hate or apathy. After more than a year navigating the unprecedented pandemic times, Curry is convinced that the opposite of love is not hate or apathy, but selfishness.
Selfishness constantly takes for oneself; whereas love constantly gives of itself.
What we are seeing in our society is the selfishness of the walking wounded. These human vessels, purposed to glorify God, take, for self-gratification, those earthly things that can never fill the wounds of their souls—only Jesus can heal the wounds of the heart. And it is only through Jesus’ healing, that humankind can be nourished with God’s goodness; and fulfill our purpose to bring forth the fruit of good works to a hurting world. As Bishop Curry says, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” Let us be about love so that we can be out the work of the Church. Let us be about love so that can be about God.