Readings – Song of Solomon, 2: 8-13; Psalm 45: 1-2, 7-10; James 1: 17-27; Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Our proper collect for today includes – “increase in us true religion”. How would you describe “true religion”? In the seventeenth century, in England, the Anglican bishops decreed that on the East wall of every Anglican Church should be displayed three elements of faith – the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed. Remember that classic architecture had the congregation facing the East wall because it is was in the East that the sun and the son rose. Many colonial churches of America followed the English model. On the East wall with the congregation facing the rising of the sun, there were large granite tablets with the three texts in bold, gold lettering. These texts were generally a part of the principle Sunday liturgy.
In today’s church I think I would place on the East wall in bold, gold lettering – “Love God; Love Neighbor; Love Self” to guide us to “true religion”. We all begin life with the love of self, it is built-in with the desire to survive. When survival continues to be in jeopardy, I am not sure that some people ever develop much beyond loving self. To love neighbor and to love God are learned, are taught, primarily through experience and example. As we are loved by parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, teachers, coaches, and neighbors the love within us grows, and the capacity to love others as we love ourselves grows. Then we learn that beneath all love is God’s love for us and for all of creation. However, we must realize that if others do not experience love it is almost impossible for them to share the love with others. Another challenge is when others see those who profess to love God and love neighbor not engaging in loving behavior. “True religion” is Loving God, is Loving Neighbor, and is Loving Self.
As we live into these three loves, we are able to nourish others with “all goodness” as the collect reminds us. Our reading from the Letter of James is clear that we are to be “doers” of the Word, doers of love, not “merely hearers who deceive themselves”. The Letter of James is very direct – “Religion that is pure and undefiled” is loving thy neighbor, it is “caring for the orphans and widows in distress”.
The actions of loving thy neighbor are well described in the Prayer of St. Francis. As we are people of active goodness, as we are instruments of peace, we stretch to love, we stretch to pardon, we stretch to unify, we stretch to trust, we stretch to hope, we stretch to illumine, we are joyous, we are consoling, we are understanding, and we are generous. To be people of active goodness is not so easy today, nor was it easy in days past.
That is why we are here, gathered together with others who are reaching, who are stretching, to love, to pardon, to unify, to trust, to hope, to illumine, to console, to understand, and to be generous. Like those in England and in Colonial America we are facing East, we are looking to the rising sun. Here we are proclaiming our faith through the Nicene Creed. Here we are listening to Holy Scriptures. Here we are greeting each other with the Peace of God. Here we are receiving nourishment, the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven, for our re-entry into our communities, into our circle of friends, into our families as renewed, as restored, as reconnected with the One who perfected Loving God, Loving Neighbor and Loving Self. It is here that Jesus touches us with his living presence and encourages us to live alongside him a blessed life, a life full of goodness.
Frank Sinatra and Kermit the Frog each sang the song, “It isn’t easy being green…”
Well, it isn’t always easy in this world; It isn’t always easy being instruments of peace; it isn’t always easy being people of goodness. !Yet we are not alone! Look around you. Look to the right. Look to the left. Look behind you. See God’s grace.
And especially, look to the East to see the Rising Son, to see God’s Grace. Amen.