Sermon for Sunday, August 29, 2021 || Proper 17B || Mark 7:1-23

Every morning when I wake up, I meditate silently for a time, and then I pray a three-part intention for the day. I pray, “Dear God, I set my intention this day: to be at peace with all creatures, including myself; to have compassion for myself and others; and to set my heart on Christ.”

I pray this intention every single morning to ask God to help me address the day from a posture of peace and compassion as I follow the way of Jesus. My day begins like this to give me a better chance of putting peaceful and compassionate energy out into the world. No matter how important or unimportant we think we are, no matter how big or small our platform, no matter if we interact with many or few, every single day we change the world by our presence in it. The question is, how are we changing the world? Are we making it a better place to live or a worse one? Are we moving the world towards loving connections that promote peace, justice, and equity? Or are we pulling the world towards petty tribalism, mistrust, and competition? Each day, we have a choice, and I pray my intention to help me choose to add to the energy of life giving relationships, following the footsteps of Jesus.

I’m talking about the energy we put out into the world because of what Jesus tells his disciples in this morning’s Gospel reading. If you were listening carefully, you might be confused here because what I read says Jesus is talking to the crowd, but he’s not in the last few verses. For some reason, the folks who put together our readings sliced and diced Mark Chapter 7, cutting out verses 9-13 and 17-20, where Jesus moves into a house to speak privately with his disciples. To them, Jesus explains what he has been talking about. He’s upset because some in the religious establishment have criticized his disciples for not observing some of the cleanliness rituals. (And they have a point because, as we all know, washing your hands is a good idea.) But Jesus takes them to task for holding fast to certain traditions while abandoning other, arguably more important, ones. They observe ritual washing, Jesus says, but they also come up with tricky ways not to have to take care of their elderly parents, which certainly breaks the commandment about honoring father and mother. 

Jesus continues his critique, saying that his opponents in the religious establishment care about what goes into the body without caring much about what comes out. Jesus is more interested in what his followers put out into the world, their actions and motivations. If the ritual observance is not supporting a positive, life-giving posture in daily life, such observance deserves to be critiqued. Nothing going into the body defiles it, Jesus concludes. But the human heart holds all sorts of ugliness that we can unleash on the world, breaking the world more than it is already broken. By listing off a selection of such ugliness, Jesus urges his disciples and us to forsake such evil intentions and choose another path.

The other path is the one that follows Jesus’ own footsteps. It begins in the heart, where both good and evil intentions reside. We set our hearts on Christ so that our belief in Jesus’ way of love will help us trend towards the good intentions. Following his example, we address the world from a place of unfiltered welcome, uncommon curiosity, and unconditional love. We see the world not as an arena of violent competition for scarce resources but as a web or interconnected relationships that depend on and mutually support one another. We walk humbly with God, in the words of the Prophet Micah, doing justice and loving kindness.

When we trend away from the evil intentions in Jesus’ list and towards the ones Jesus modeled in his life, we infuse the world with the energy of healing and reconciliation. We join God in making real the reign of God here on earth, as we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” 

Remember, no matter who we are, we change the world every single day simply by our presence in it. Our actions ripple out in large and small ways. Speaking a kind word to the harried cashier at the grocery store allows them to take a deep breath and models for the other customers a generosity of spirit. Donating money to an organization promoting racial justice funds it to fight against discrimination in housing, education, healthcare, and the criminal justice system, leading to a more just and equitable society. Embracing a loved one whose sexuality or gender identity does not fit your expectations tells them they belong to your family no matter who God made them to be.

We may never know how our actions and inactions, our moods and motivations, ripple to other people and to the world at large. But we know they do. And so we walk the way of Jesus. We tread lightly. We are curious and compassionate. We seek solutions that allow everyone to thrive. We love, both in the sense of feeling affection for ourselves and others, and in the sense of commitment. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says, “Love is a commitment to seek the good and to work for the good and welfare of others” (Love is the Way, p. 23). That is our posture, the one we take up as we follow the footsteps of Jesus.

I practice this posture when, with God’s help, I live out my daily intention: “To be at peace with all creatures, including myself; to have compassion for myself and others; and to set my heart on Christ.” This week, I invite you to develop your own intention that will help you spread life-giving energy to this world. Choose an element or two of Jesus’ path to focus on like I chose peace and compassion for mine. Refine your intention each day until it sings with the truth of who God created you to be. Pray your intention every morning when you wake up. Pray it throughout the day. Live the intention with God’s help and heal this broken world day by day.

I’d like to close with a poem by Mary Oliver, in which the trees teach the poet her intention. This is “When I am among the trees” (Devotions, 2017).

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Photo by Cerys Lowe on Unsplash.

Season 4, Episode 1
“The Last Jedi and the End of Christendom”

The Podcast for Nerdy Christians returns for our fourth season, and we’re back with a new tagline: “Where faith meets fandom.” This episode, we’re talking Star Wars: The Last Jedi, focusing on Luke Skywalker’s critique of the Jedi order. We’ll also tackle the first five chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Join hosts and Episcopal priests Carrie Combs and Adam Thomas for this podcast for progressive Christians who love Hogwarts, Hobbits, Jedi, and Jesus.

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