Scripture for this Sunday:
Song of Solomon 2.8–13; Psalm 45.1–2, 6–9 ; James 1.17–27; Mark 7.1–8, 14, 15, 21–23
It was (and still is) fairly common for people from churches in the USA and Canada to make “missionary” trips to Mexico or other parts of Latin America. Many of the people whom I have known to make such trips have found themselves surprised to be on the receiving end of the gift of grace from the people whom they have visited, expecting the shoe to be on the other foot.
Quite often, such expeditions become reminders of the reason why Jesus immersed himself in the lives of the poor and disadvantaged: he saw in their hearts a true longing to love God and obey God’s commandments. Jesus reserved his most biting remarks for those who were respectable, who performed the religious rituals, but who had no compassion left in their hearts for everyone who was different from themselves. He said to them, in pain, “You abandoned the commandments of God to hold on to human traditions.” May we be spared the same indictment of lip service.
When our actions are not consistent with our expressed beliefs we damage ourselves through undue stress and we damage those around us. When we revert to lip service with regard to our relationship with creation, that damage extends not only to the world around us, but to generations that follow us.
God has invested heavily in humanity as an instrument of pursuing God’s will in the world, particularly in terms of our stewardship of creation. We are blessed to be recipients of God’s love, and to be offered a variety of ways to reflect it back into the world.
The Song of Solomon is Jewish love poetry, but it was included in Hebrew Scripture because it was felt to contain a spiritual element – and this is meant to be true of the many facets of human love – emotional, intellectual, spiritual and physical.
As we enter this time of celebrating God’s presence in creation, we ought to be mindful that creation is a physical and material thing, that God pronounced to be not just good, but very good. The incarnation of Jesus adds an extra dimension to our physical life in this material world, raising the expectations of humanity in following his life’s example and teaching.
This means using our intelligence to discern how to follow Christ’s guidance, not blindly following rules or traditions. We are invited, encouraged and empowered to do the work of God as Jesus laid the trail, living within the spirit of the law, not the blindly-followed letter of it, and doing so in ways that make our beliefs, our words and our actions consistent with one another.
Of course, we do not need to abandon our traditions to do the work of God. We just need to remember that we can’t abandon the work of God to pursue our traditions. The writer, Mary Jean Irion, in Yes, World, nearly 50 years ago wrote: “Faith is not making religious-sounding noises in the daytime. It is asking your inmost self questions at night – and then getting up and going to work.” Teresa of Avila captured a similar sentiment in her words: “Christ has no body on earth but ours.”