A Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

By: Amelia McDaniel, Director of Children’s Ministries


I speak to you this morning in love.  May God take my words and make them a reflection of His love amongst us.

The name Amelia means “zealous or industrious worker”.  Not fair flower, or pretty maiden, or light on the meadow.  Nope.  Hard worker.  It’s a Germanic name that derives from the root amal meaning work. The story goes that it was given to my great grandmother a full year after her birth.  The family had been content calling her Sis until someone had to fill out a birth certificate.  Now the name is mine.

I learned the meaning of my name when my parents were naming my brother and there were baby name books in the house.  It was a huge disappointment.  Not the kind of name an awkward 11 year old girl wanted. Zealous Worker?   But over the years I grew to love my name anyway.

And it fits.  I am a worker.  I love a project, a task, a chore.  Doing is just how I am most comfortable.  I was in college when I visited St. James’s and saw the words from today’s Epistle boldly written in gold letters – Be ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only.  Seemed exactly right to me. Right there in big letters all of the checks on my check list and the gold stars of my childhood charts were given validation.  GOD WANTS US TO BE DOERS.

But in in today’s Gospel Jesus takes aim at some people who thought they were being Doers of the Word.  Seems that the Pharisees took issue with the disciples eating with dirty hands.  Now as a momma, I too take a bit of issue with not washing your hands before you eat.  But in today’s Gospel the Pharisees, who were clearly not mommas, got crossways because somehow not washing your hands before you eat was a slap in the face of the elders. Jesus and the Disciples were breaking holy laws by not washing their hands.  They were not DOING things the way they SHOULD be done.  My guess is that if you asked those Pharisees they would tell you that they felt they were both being Hearers of God’s word and DOERS by holding to traditions and honoring the way of life handed to them through generations.

But Jesus sees it differently and tells them so.  He throws a bit of Isaiah at them… This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.  You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”  Ouch.  They are in TROUBLE with him.  But he goes on.  Jesus tells them that it’s not the eating with dirty hands that defiles them, it’s the ugly in their hearts coming out that is the real problem.  …it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come… and then Jesus lists some sins, some biggies, words that I had to go look up when I was a kid and then slammed the dictionary shut when I learned what they meant.   Jesus also mentions some of our everyday ugly – pride, folly and envy.  We humans, dirty hands or not, can keep some awful stuff stored up these hearts of ours.

This is not the first time Jesus has had it out with the Pharisees over laws and traditions.  It’s an ongoing battle.  And Jesus also has to address it with the people who love him and are trying to follow him.  Remember the story of Mary and Martha?  When Jesus arrives unexpectedly at their house, Mary stops everything and attends to washing Jesus’ feet and anointing them with oil.  Not what you are supposed to DO as a woman in a house where a guest arrives.  While she does this Martha goes to work.   There is WORK TO BE DONE.  But Jesus reminds Martha, and us too, that this busy doing and following of customs is not always what really needs to happen.  Stopping to HEAR what Jesus was saying was what was needed. Not more DOING.

When Russell Wyatt, our Junior Warden, was saying goodbye to Andrew a few weeks ago he mentioned that he likens many things to sports analogies.   Well maybe surprisingly I do too.  Sometimes I imagine God a little bit like a college football coach watching me make the plays of my life.  He’s there with his headphones and clip board.  He’s calling the plays and sometimes I listen.  And sometimes I do not. Sometimes I am not listening at all.  But  I’m a zealous worker and I am busy DOING something on the field that I have deemed very important.  And the less I listen the more important the DOING becomes rather than the reason I am choosing to do something.

I can just see God throwing down his clipboard and pulling his earphones off…”Why is she running that Martha play?  Why?”  And he turns to his Special Teams coach, Jesus, “Why is she running that play?  Haven’t we talked to her about that?”  And Jesus nods and chews his gum…”UmmHmm.  More than a couple of times.”  God calls me over to the sidelines after the play and I’m pleased as punch with myself because I have been out there busy DOING.  I’m waiting for my gold star when God looks at me and says, “STOP IT.  Stop running that dag gone Martha play.  I’ve told you a love you.  And there is no amount of DOING on your part that is going to make me love you more or less.  I need you to LISTEN to me.  HEAR me.”

I am pretty sure that the Pharisees weren’t trying to disobey God.  But they had gotten so busy doing that they weren’t listening, really listening to God.  We are called to be both Hearers AND Doers.  But I think our human nature, or at least my version of human nature, makes it awfully easy to get caught up in the doing. Hearing what God calls us to do is not a one stop deal.  It’s an ongoing dialogue, he’s always calling new plays for us to run.  But, unless we are listening we will miss those calls.

Jesus repeatedly shows us that life with God is not an “or” life, but an “and” life.  We are not sinners or redeemed. We are sinners and redeemed.  We are not broken or whole. We are broken and whole.  We are not guilty or forgiven.  We are guilty and forgiven.  We are not loved or unloved.  We are loved and loved even in our ugliest places, even when we do the things that 11-year olds have to look up in the dictionary.

Hearers And Doers.  We are called to hear AND do.  Not just hear.  Not just do.  But for those of us that are innately born Doers, zealous workers…this is hard.  It is a lot more comfortable for some of us to keep on doing than to stop and evaluate if what we are doing is right.  It could be that our ways, even when they are well intentioned and seemingly full of meaning, are leading us in the wrong direction.  Martha’s good intentions led her to clean the kitchen rather than to fall at the feet of Jesus. The Pharisees good intentions led them to get into a tussle with Jesus about the washing of hands!

Fred Rogers once said, “I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.”

Deep and simple.  This could be the very definition of the Gospel call – Love.    However, Shallow and complex.  Sadly this might be the very definition of what we as humans can do with that call when we busy ourselves with lots of doing and fall short on the hearing.

James, in his Epistle, gives us some advice on how live a Deep and Simple life…  be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.  He says to work on getting as much ugly out of our hearts as possible and to welcome in the way of love.  Far easier said (or heard) than done!   But doesn’t a life that is Deep and Simple sound wonderful?

The trouble may come because being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger does not look a whole lot like doing something.  Listening and being slow and careful with our words and deeds does not meet the pace of life we have today.

We live in a time where there are lots of people loudly proclaiming their place as Doers.  The Word they are proclaiming may be about religion or it may be about our nation and its policies.  You see them on the nightly news shouting over one another.  Sneers and insults seem to pass for conversation.  You see it in our constant social media feeds where people who do not even know one another snipe and feud, with the ugly in their hearts on full display.  And honestly a lot of it sounds as ridiculous to me as the Pharisees getting in a fight with Jesus about clean hands.  Talk about a shallow and complex way of living.

But a life that is deep and simple leads us into the way of love.  Sometimes this is something others see, like the nuns David spoke of last week who marched into a war zone to care for hospitalized children.  Like the woman who kept her seat on the bus to claim her God given dignity.  Like the captured navy pilot who refused to leave his prison cell before his brothers were allowed to go.  And there are times when each of us may be called to such bold and visible acts of service and I pray we can meet that call.

But often this deep and simple life is lived quietly where there are no gold stars awarded, no proclamations of our service or good deeds.   There are so many acts of love, acts in direct response to hearing God’s call that happen arounds us everyday.  The parents who kneel in prayer and meet with the specialists and move heaven and earth for a child who is struggling.  The daughter who sits vigil by her mother’s bed and handles the diagnosis and doctors.  The teacher who carefully prepares each desk for each new student.  The note of thanks dropped in the mail and the meal delivered to the door.   The fellow traveler in the church basement offering a cup of coffee and the promise of new beginnings.  The extra goodnight kiss.

All these acts of quiet doing keep us in the way of love.  They fill our hearts so that there is less room for the ugly to take up residence.  But it still can creep in.  A shallow and complex life of busy doing is easy to slip into.  It happens to me, the zealous worker often.

Thankfully life with God is an And life.   So I can be shallow and complex AND deep and simple.   It’s all a matter of practice.  I’ll keep showing up to run the plays and hopefully I’ll slowly get better at listening to the play being called.  And maybe God won’t have to throw his clipboard quite as often.

We have been given so much to help us live into a deep and simple life – our shared story in God, this table that is always set for us, this community of believers learning alongside us.   And even though we can be hard of hearing.  Even though our hands get dirty, and we forget to listen to the play being called and our hearts can leave too much room for ugly.  Life with God is an AND life.  And I am convinced that a deep and simple life with Him will lead us home.