Doers Of The Word

Rev. Marilyn Washburn

[]The Gospel lesson for this morning jumped out at me in some interesting ways. First, there is that business about the washing of hands. Now, I know there are some who would say, "What in the world is Jesus talking about?" Well, he's not so much talking about the actual act of washing hands. And before we go any further, let's get something straight. In our own day and time, obviously washing our hands is very important because we know how many illnesses and diseases are carried from the germs on our hands. So let's not forget that, and let us continue the 'ritual' of washing our hands often.

But what Jesus is getting at is the way in which rituals get in the way of the acting out of our faith. He was very concerned about the way in which the Pharisees and some of the other Jewish leaders were putting rituals like washing their hands before anything else. In many instances, they would not even think about the needs of others if they had forgotten to do something in the ritual. Now, there are many churches that get hung up on rituals, that you've got to do it this way or that way, and if you don't then something is wrong. I know of churches that have gotten concerned if the flowers peek up above the top of the cross on the altar. I know of people who have gotten upset if somebody sits in their pew. We all know about that. I know of people who get concerned about the ways in which children participate in worship. I know of all kinds of things that people allow themselves to get hung up on: exactly how you take up the offering, exactly how you do this, and if you don't do it that way then you're wrong in the eyes of God. Well, Jesus says, "Forget all that. That is not important. What's important is the way in which your faith is evolving in good and healthy ways," that our living in good ways is more important than the rituals of life.

Now, this is not to say that a certain amount of ritual is not healthy in our journey of faith. To have an order for worship, for instance, that has some continuity to it, some movement that we can flow with is a good thing. As I was watching the ceremony yesterday for Ted Kennedy, I was very much aware of the importance of rituals for the celebration of the end of a life, for the people to mourn, for the people to be able to gather together. And I was also fascinated by the way in which there were similarities as well as differences between the service held in the Catholic church in Boston and the services that we hold in our churches. A lot of things were very much the same, the same kinds of words in many cases. Some things were very different. But there is ritual that is healthy and wholesome.

But I also was thinking, as I was watching that, that while as a person Ted Kennedy was truly a man if faith, he went out and he lived his faith. He didn't leave it behind in the church. He didn't just go and pray and say, "That's it, I've done my duty." We may not agree with him politically, and that's okay. We may not agree with all of the things that he stood for, and that's okay. But I was reminded of the way in which what I was experiencing matched some of what Jesus is talking about, allowing our faith to flow out, and it will push aside the imperfections. And we all have them; there is nobody I have ever met who is absolutely perfect. Even people that we hold up as perfect see themselves as less than perfect. I remember hearing about Mother Teresa who everybody thought was just absolutely magnificent, but who said about herself, "No, I have my moments when I have bad feelings and I turn to God for strength." All of us are in need of that. All of us are in need of building a relationship through our worship, a relationship with God, with Christ, and with each other. And so the rituals of worship lead us into that kind of a life, a life that calls us to experience our faith in our daily lives, to hear the words and go out and do them, to hear the words and go out and live it by helping others, by making this a better world in which to live.

I have no doubt that there are many opportunities before each and every one of us to do something, big or small, that says, "I live my faith." There are so many times when lonely people have said to me, "I got a phone call from a friend today and it just made me feel so good." Or somebody who has lost a loved one who receives a card in the mail, a telephone call, a visit sometime after the death, and felt as if somebody really cared. I have known so many times when I have walked into a room in a nursing home and seen the smile on the person's face just because I was there. I have known so many instances when children were able to light up the world of people who were lonely or lost. I remember one time taking children along to a soup kitchen. They were triplets, wonderful children who had been born into our church. We took these four-year-olds along to help because their father and mother believed that teaching them early to help others was important. They were so cheerful and the people coming in to eat at the soup kitchen really responded to them. They loved having the children there. And the children did their part by carrying dishes out to the kitchen to be washed and carrying the clean ones back and helping the people to be fed. A wonderful gift and a wonderful way for them to give and share early on in their lives.

I could go on and on with stories. I was blessed to be raised by a family that believed that no matter how little we had, we always had something to give away. And that was part of the way in which my faith developed. I always had something that I could share with somebody, no matter what. And sometimes it was just a word, taking time to listen, taking time to smile, laugh, make them laugh. It's wonderful to have that opportunity to see the joy in our children, to see the joy that we can give to others. God has given us a great many things. And if we get stuck in the rituals of our lives and our church and forget to take that out into the world, then we are not doing what Jesus wants us to do, for Jesus calls us to help the ordinary people out there who need help, to help in creating a world of justice in spite of the evils that are out there. We are called to work to build a better education program for everyone, to provide housing for all, healthcare for all. And we can go on and on. We are called to help those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, those who have mental illnesses, those who are sick, those who are struggling with major illness or disabilities. We can go on, and on about the ways in which we, as the church, can live out our faith.

I feel blessed to be a part of the United Church of Christ because we have done that for so many years. We've been on the cutting edge so many times. We call attention to injustice in the world. We have a history of speaking out and acting in ways that create a better world. And so all of us are called to that. The things that are listed by Jesus that come out of us that are bad will stop coming out of us if we start letting the good things come instead. We will put aside more freely the things that are evil if we allow the good things to overcome them and be the prominent piece of our lives.

And so my friends, I invite you to listen to the words of God and not just to hear them, but to go out and do them. That is the call for us today, to do what God wants us to do, to live lives that are full and happy, and to make this a better world for others, to work for justice, for peace, to build hope, and offer comfort when it is needed. My friends, God has blessed us with many things, and we are called to share that with those around us. No matter who they are or where they are on life's journey, they are welcome in God's house, as we all are. We are all called to be God's children here and in the world around us. Thanks be to God! Amen.

August 30, 2009

Read other Sermons by Pastor Steve