This is the message that I gave on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, 10 September 2000, at Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY. The Scriptures for that Sunday were Proverbs 22: 1 – 2, 8 – 9, 22 – 23; James 2: 1 – 10, 14 – 17; and Mark 7: 24 – 37.
I am not sure if it was in one of my Tom Clancy novels or some other technology oriented book but I learned that the motto of the Central Intelligence Agency was taken from John 8: 32 –”And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” When you stop to think that the primary mission of the CIA is to collect information about other countries and people, it makes sense that they would choose a saying that deals with truth and knowledge.
Now, the idea of what truth is or should be is the matter of another time and place. Jesus spoke of freedom in terms of being from free from the bondage of sin. But when are talking about teaching and learning and wisdom, truth is another matter. The central point of the Old Testament and Epistle readings for today is how the poor and the less fortunate should treated; they are, it is said to say, appropriate readings for today’s society.
I grew up in the south during the 60′s and I saw first hand what segregation was all about. It may seem to others that only blacks were effected by segregation but the laws that were designed to limit what blacks could and would be able to do affected whites as well. If schools were to provide equal amounts of support to all schools in the district, then make sure that the amount given to the school was limited. As a junior and senior in a Memphis high school, I chafed at the notion that $50.00 was sufficient funding for the band and the chorus programs each year. But all the schools in Shelby County, be they black or white, got the same amount of money and in the eyes of the law, were treated equally.
It should be noted that the uniforms that Germantown and Collierville high school bands wore were a lot newer that the ones we wore at Bartlett. But that was because the parent’s associations at those schools had the resources and were able to have better fund raisers than the Bartlett Band Boosters could ever conceive. The loophole was that parent’s organizations could raise as much money as they wanted for the bands. And when you have a large area from which you can draw your funds and the people in that area have a little bit more money, then it stands to reason that you will have more funds to work with. Of course, I really shouldn’t complain because our uniforms were a lot better than the ones that Bolton had but that was because our white parents had better paying jobs than the black parents of the students at Bolton. And I know that there were some of the rural, mostly black schools in Shelby County, who had no uniforms at all and whose instruments were second or third level hand-me-downs. But that was the law and they were laws that many churches and many pastors supported whole-heartedly.
In his letter, James warns about saying one thing and doing another. If you profess your faith in Christ, then your actions must show that faith. As I mentioned last week Martin Luther had a problem with the Epistle of James because it seems to say that you can have salvation through your work.
But, it seems to me that it says that your faith is meaningless if you do not do something with it. I think that the problem with many churches today is that many people are willing to call them hypocrites, just as Jesus called the Pharisees, because their actions do not illustrate their faith.
It is your faith that will make you strong and it is your faith that will save you. It was the faith of the Greek woman that saved her daughter. Jesus is not degrading her or insulting her when he used the metaphor of taking the children’s food and feeding it to the dogs. Rather, it was a test of her faith, to see if her faith was strong enough.
But Mark’s reference to her being Greek was significant because it reflected the political situation of the time. Because she was not an Israelite, she would have been treated as an outcast in the society of the time. Yet, Jesus gave her the same opportunities as He would give others, only if her faith was strong enough.
Jesus was constantly teaching his disciples. In Matthew 4: 23 we read, “And he went everywhere teaching, healing, and preaching.” Since teaching is educating the mind and preaching is educating the heart, two-thirds of Jesus’ work was devoted to education. And each time that Jesus healed someone, he always spoke to them about a new way of living or a change in their attitude, “Go and sin no more” is how is put in John 8: 11.
The challenge for each of us is that each of us represents Christ on earth today. We each have been given the task of taking Christ’s word into the world. How we do that is left to each of us, to do, as we feel possible. Some things we can do as a church body; others we will do individually, sometimes with reward and honor, other times quietly and anonymously.
But others will see in us what a difference Christ has made for us. Jesus taught us early on and he taught us well. He knew that his mission was to deliver our crown and he knew we needed a new mind and heart in order for us to receive it. Now we must ask if we have taught our children well.