Visit us in Second Life, (http://www.secondlife.com) and search for Sunshine Cathedral.
Call to Worship based on Song of Solomon 2.10-13
“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
ALL: The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.
ALL: Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”
Eternal Source of our Being we feel your love in the compassion that wells up within us when we see suffering and pain. We know your love is passionate and unconditional. Make us ever mindful of those who need to feel your presence in our smile, a word of encouragement, a pat on the shoulder. Give us the courage to show forth your love in the world so that we do not become stained with the cynicism of the world. Amen
The Wisdom of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
“Humanity is a reminder of God. As God is compassionate, let humanity be compassionate.”
The Wisdom of the Apostle James (1.27)
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
The Gospel According to Mark (7.1-2, 5-8)
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of Jesus’ disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6Jesus said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 7in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ 8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
Click on the audio bar below to hear the audio.
"The Diversity of God"
Our first reading today is from one of my most beloved sources of wisdom, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Rabbi Heschel is, even today, one of the most visible examples we have of interfaith solidarity working for equal rights for blacks in the United States. He walked arm in arm with Dr. King and others many times demonstrating publicly, putting actions to his words. He was vehemently in favor of all people being treated equally. And he was adamantly opposed to the war in Vietnam.
I’ll post a link to some video clips of Rabbi Heschel speaking on the Sunshine Cathedral of Second Life Facebook page. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to see him and hear him. The first clip Rabbi Heschel saying, “God is either the father of all men or of no man, and the idea of judging a person in terms of black or brown or white is an eye disease.” In inclusive language - “God is either the [parent] of all [people] or of no [one], and the idea of judging a person in terms of black or brown or white is an eye disease.”
This idea of an eye disease got me thinking that bigotry is about the way we see the world. And the way we see the world is a product of how we view ourselves in relation to that world. Better than, less than…. That there is not enough and we need to grab and hold on to “our” part of it. So maybe the way we see the world is not a result of our physical organ the eye, but rather and “I” disease that causes us to be self centered and self-seeking obsessed our own self interest.
The real irony is that self-interest is what should motivate all of us. Our quote from Rabbi Heschel reminds us today that we are all part of the One God. The very reality of human diversity is not only our greatest strength but it is proof positive that God loves all of creation. It never ceases to amaze me that the fundamentalist “creationists” who claim that God created everything want to set aside that incredible diversity in creation, diversity in plants, fish, birds, and human beings.
Rabbi Heschel says, “Humanity is a reminder of God.” A reminder of God’s diversity, of the wideness of God’s mercy. He settles on one central aspect of God, an aspect of God that is expressed in every religion on earth…. The compassion of God. We are reminded that if we are to reflect God’s goodness and love in the world it begins with compassion.
Our reading from the book of James is the usual no nonsense, daily applicable wisdom that I find in the entire book. Today I want to concentrate on that last little part…”to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Many of our fundamentalist and right wing brothers and sisters use phrases like this to justify why they believe they are “better than” others of us who are struggling everyday to be faithful to the gospel message.
I want to tell you a story about my friend Mary… We were seminary students together. She is one of those people who, no matter what the prevailing discussion, she was a woman of few words. But you could bet that her few words would make us think in all kinds of different ways. Mary is like the spice in a dish that we’re cooking. Someone else is the meat, maybe I’m the potatoes or the broth, but Mary is the spice that makes it all work together to be the savory stew of God’s love.
She preached a sermon in our texts of terror class about the Genesis story of Caine and Able. But Mary preached the sermon as if she were Eve. She spoke as Eve might have spoken to God demanding to know why with one son dead she was forced to lose her other son to being “marked” by God. Her rage and anguish at the pain of her children was palpable. In that sermon she gave us a glimpse of the unconditional love of a parent for a child. She reminded us that God loves us desperately. I get cold chills just thinking about it.
Mary’s ministry is at Church of the Common Ground in Atlanta Georgia. It is a ministry not in a church, not on just a Sunday morning, it’s on the ground, outside, in the parks and on the streets with the beloved of God who live there…. The homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill, those who have been in prison and whose life is stained with the label “ex-con.
Mary is not jaded by the world’s mistrust of these least in our society. She does not fall victim to the prevailing prejudices that our culture has toward them. She makes no judgments. She just loves and serves all of God’s children. Mary cares for those who need help and remains unstained by the world’s cynicism.
Our gospel lesson today is a familiar one. The Pharisees, a group of devout lay people, were steeped in a tradition of keeping the biblical “laws” of purity and piety. They believed that if they adhered to the 613 laws or commandments that scholars had identified in the Torah that they were following the will of God. This is the kind of black and white theology that is so attractive to some in our culture. Do this and you’re holy, don’t do that. If you do this you’re damned and outside the family of God. Easier than dealing with the messy day to day gray of living life in the company of other human beings.
Jesus and the disciples are now very well known. They are celebrities. Everywhere they go, even when they try to get away for some down time, people follow them. Everyone watches every move they make and listens to every word they say. In our reading today the Pharisees clearly are making judgments about what they consider grievous deficiencies in the piety practices of the disciples. Now we all know that we should wash our hands before we eat and that we should keep our dishes clean. This is not what is being discussed here. The allegation is that these guys who are in the limelight are not reflecting well on what the Pharisees see as important. And they are not following the rules, laws that the Pharisees follow as their own spiritual practice.
Judging is a tricky business. As my 12-step sponsor taught me… if you can spot it, you’ve got it. In other words, if something you are doing or not doing is bothering me what’s really going on is that I’m getting plugged into something in myself that I find unacceptable. Have you noticed that the very people who accuse others of gossiping or lying or whatever… seem to be doing the same? That’s no coincidence. It’s part of human nature. So when we can learn to ease up on ourselves, we ease up on others. That’s just how it works I think.
As our scripture says today when we abandon the commandment of God and hold on to human tradition we are missing the mark. Nothing we do to attain a pious status makes any difference if we do not work for justice-love on behalf of everyone. As progressive Christians its time we come out of the shadows and start speaking out boldly spreading the good news of the gospel that Jesus preached in his time on earth. And that means letting go of judgment and tradition so that we can truly love each other as God loves us and love our neighbor as ourselves. Amen.