Sermons That Work

There Seem to Be Some People…, Proper 18 (B) – 2003

September 07, 2003

There seem to be some people who just can’t stop talking. Others hardly say a word. Perhaps the experts can dig into the psyches of such people and clue us in as to why Bert blithers on, interrupts, and rarely listens, and Sheila occasionally grunts but that is all!

Then there are those who pride themselves on being blunt, and offend everyone in sight daily. Have you noticed that emails seem to make people we think to be meek and mild, positive ogres when they are on-line?

In the Epistle lesson appointed for today, St. James gets very in-your-face about people who enjoy being in-your-face.

He begins the passage by reminds us that we have been given abundant gifts by God, a God who loves to give. It was God’s word of love that created us, each one of us. We are to be “first-fruits” — or perhaps we would say “prototypes” or “models” — of what human being were created to be.

Before you get too uneasy, consider another example. When we go to the movies, we are forced to watch previews or trailers. They are designed to get us to come and see yet another movie. They indicate something about the movie they preview, but they are not the whole picture by any means. We can’t be a perfect image of God’s new creation, but we can at least be an adequate preview.

St. James goes on to say that when God created us, God called us to be “doers” not just “hearers” or receivers. To be good doers, we are to resist anger.

We are often told that anger is a good thing and that we should let our rage out. There’s something to be said for that advice as long as what we let out isn’t aimed straight at a victim, and as long as it doesn’t go out and come straight back again. St. James tells us that angry people are useless “doers.” They are probably also useless listeners!

“Self-image,” and having a good one, is a popular passion among us all today. Yet to St. James, getting a good self-image involves looking at ourselves in God’s mirror and seeing ourselves as we are, “warts and all.” Once we look in God’s mirror, we must not immediately go away and forget what we have seen.

It is interesting that James lists “caring for orphans and widows in their distress” as a sign that we are truly doers and not angry, self-righteous, proud people. Perhaps it is true that those who “know it all,” who never listen, who are, as today’s collect puts it, “the proud who confide in their own strength” tend to be too high and mighty to have compassion for those around them who suffer loss. “Serves them right,” they say. “If they had made the right choices, been responsible for their own actions, they wouldn’t get into such messes.”

Being a good Christian, even a good Episcopalian, means much more that coming to the church building to “hear” or “get fed,” or “enjoy.” We hear God’s word, are fed in the sacraments, receive joy as an occasional bonus or gift, in order that we may change and become suitable people, collectively and individually, to preview the sort of world God will eventually re-create.

The measure of that change may be seen in our own church community, nationally and locally. How do we show a right image to the outside world, particularly to those in need? If we are a contentious lot, always wanting our own way and damning those who get in the way — however righteous the cause — all the outside world will see is a “church” that acts like a political club, and is thoroughly “stained” by the world.

Perhaps as we confess our corporate sins on behalf of our parish or mission this morning, we might ask God to make us grateful for mercy, grace, and love, and to cleanse us from bitterness, anger, and resentment.

Dear God, make us “doers” and not “hearers,” lovers and not angry folk, compassionate and not self-righteous, so that we may be adequate previews of your eternal purposes. Amen

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Christopher Sikkema


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