Sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost

COULD YOU BUY A TICKET? (Deuteronomy 4:1-2 & 6-9, Psalm 15, James 1:17-27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23)

A few Sundays ago Father Steve looked at me and smiled. He said, “I’m going to scare you.” I thought to myself, “Uh-oh”. He then said, “Would you be willing to be one of the lay preachers after I’m gone. We need one more person for the Sunday before Labor Day.” Well, I thought I could give it a try and then I looked up the readings for this Sunday.  I read the words of James who said, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” Oh Boy! Sometimes God whispers to us and sometimes he shouts. Reading James’ words to “be a doer of the word” struck me as God’s way of saying to me – David it’s time to step up to the plate. Now I’m not a Priest or Deacon. I have no special training. And yet it felt as if God was telling me, “not your message, tell them my message.” We are all fortunate to have a Bible which helps relay God’s message to us.  So today, I’m merely a messenger.

In today’s lesson, James tells us to be doers of the word or we are deceiving ourselves. At the end of our service we are told to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” We are being instructed to be active participants as Christians. It reminds me of a joke I once heard. There was a pious man who went to the top of a quiet hill and looking up to the heavens, he prayed to God saying “God I pray every day to you, I go to Church every Sunday and I’m  a good man. I only ask one thing from you. Why, why, why can’t you just let me win the lottery? From the heavens a light shined down and a voice said, “Could you buy a ticket?”

Could you buy a ticket? It’s a joke but there is some truth in there. We sometimes need to take some little action to open the door to allow God in. The fallow time here is done and now is the time for work.  Church can be a place to rest and refill but that presupposes that there was work done before hand. We don’t have a Rector at this time but now is the time for us all to be the Rector. Today, just by being here you have done some of the heavy lifting.  We may not have a Rector here today, but you have brought the greatest Shepherd of all with you. “Where two or more are gathered in my name, there will I be amongst you”.

Your presence here today brings Jesus with you as we gather in his name. Today is not a time to worry but to give all to God. We are St. John’s. I once told someone that I believed that if this building fell down, St. John’s would still exist because it is the community we have built together and it resides in our hearts not the building. So church is where we come to practice what we preach. To learn from older Christians and to learn from doing what we are taught. A “police academy or school” for Saints if you will.  It here that we learn to be doers of the word. It here where we learn to spread the knowledge of God by love and not just by recruitment. We are told to love our neighbor. But what does it mean to love our neighbor?

We are to Love our neighbor with more than words. We are told to Love and serve the Lord.  To love someone requires us to act upon that Love. What we do and say speaks volumes. If I say that I love you, but I kick you in the shins or just ignore you, my actions are defining how I really feel about you. God provides for us, but God tells us to be doers of the word. Many will say, I’m tired; I don’t have the time to volunteer at church or elsewhere. But every good act from us spreads the love of God. It doesn’t take grand and glorious actions to spread God’s love. Sometimes the littlest gesture or word can have the most powerful impacts. They open the door for God’s grace to work miracles.

I was a young Police Officer in the Bronx. We received a report of a Robbery having occurred in the nearby vicinity. An elderly woman had had her purse stolen at knifepoint and the Robber had fled on foot. A description of the Robbery suspect was broadcast from the first responding unit. As my partner and I drove into the area, we observed a young man who fit the description exactly. We stopped the young man and gave him a quick pat down. The suspect was supposed to be armed with a switchblade knife and for our safety that was a necessary precaution. We radioed the other Sector car and waited for them to drive by with the victim to determine if we had the right suspect. I explained to the young man why we stopped him and why we patted him down. The other Sector car drove by with the victim and she told them this was not the right perpetrator. We told the young man he was free to go. He looked at us in disgust and said, “You only stopped me because I’m black!”

Now, we had followed the law and correct procedure. We had explained why we stopped him but the young man didn’t believe us. Now, we could have left there and then, but I didn’t want him to leave angry and upset. I wanted to love my neighbor as I love myself. So I asked the young man to listen to my radio. I called the dispatcher; we call them Central in the NYPD, and asked Central to repeat the description of the Robbery suspect. As Central repeated the description – Male Black, 18-20 years old, 5’8”to 5’10” tall, about 145-150 lbs. wearing baggy blue jeans, black sneakers, a red t-shirt and a red do-rag, I observed the young man looking at himself as he matched the description exactly. Same exact clothing and the same physical description. The anger left the young man’s eyes. He realized I had told him the truth.  I joked with him and said “See I didn’t stop you because you’re Black, You got stopped because you have no sense of individual style. You’re dressed like everyone else out here.”  He smiled sheepishly at me and said, “You’re all right Officer”. He put out his hand and I shook it.

I didn’t have to have central repeat the description to him. But if I truly need to love my neighbor as myself I needed to do this to be as James said, “a doer of the word”. All we need to do is find those places where we can do this in our everyday lives. There are many ways we as Christians can be  “doers of the word”. Not everyone can travel to foreign missions but perhaps you can contribute supplies. Not everyone can volunteer at a soup kitchen but maybe you could donate to the food pantry. Maybe it’s a simple as greeting someone new who walks into St. John’s or calling someone you haven’t seen in church for awhile and inviting them to come back. Perhaps it’s as simple as a kind word to a stranger.  We don’t have a Rector right now, but that shouldn’t be a worry. We aren’t a corporation waiting for our Executive to run things. We are a church spreading the knowledge of God’s Love simply by loving each other. Through our words and actions we share Christ’s message with each other and the community. We are one beggar showing another beggar where to find a crust of bread. This is what it means to be a church. We can’t outsource the responsibilities. Our Rector will come to us in time. While we wait, it is up to us to do the little things that open the door to God’s grace. Could you buy a ticket?