Saturday, September 26, 2009

Inside Out - A Sermon

First of all, it’s good to be home. Three weeks is a long time. But while we were away, we had virtually no internet access and watched almost no TV. Okay, we watched George Lopez and iCarly at the hotel, but that’s it. And the Weather Channel, but that’s it, really.

The point is, speaking for myself, I felt separated from all the cares and concerns that I normally get caught up in on a day to day basis. It felt good. Of course, then we got back and checked in with the newspapers and -- voila -- the Health Care debate. Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about that.

If you listen to people in this debate, it’s clear that it’s a big deal. I do not want to minimize its importance because health care certainly is a vital issue. But thinking about our physical health brought me to another reflection. Despite the quality of health care we eventually end up with, we’re all still going to die.

It’s just like that food the Pharisees were all upset about (and my grandma might have been a Pharisee because she was constantly yelling at us to wash our hands before we ate). They talked about cleanliness and ritual purity. Today we talk about health. But just as surely as you can be clean on the outside yet dirty on the inside, so you can be physically healthy while still being spiritually dying.

That may have been Jesus’ point. We can follow all those traditions, but in the end, it’s not about which rules we followed to the letter. All of the religious rituals upheld by the Pharisees and scribes may have a place or a purpose, but they are not what matters in the end. All the medicine that keeps us going longer has its place, but it too only affects our outsides, our physical self. Rather, it’s about what comes out of us that matters.

Notice what Jesus lists as those things coming out of us. Theft, murder, adultery, avarice, envy, slander, pride, and deceit to name a few. In short, they are all issues of how we treat each other. THAT is what matters -- to the Law, to Jesus, to God. It’s when we treat others as less than ourselves that we become dirty, that we start to die inside.

And the way to healing is to treat others near and far with love. As James says, we are “to care for orphans and widows in their distress,” for starters. That’s nothing new for us, is it?

But it’s important to remind ourselves from time to time that there are more important things for us Episcopalians than getting the liturgy right. More important things than whether we’re using Rite I or Rite II, whether the music is upbeat or modern enough (or “traditional” enough -- and don’t get Jesus started on that word “tradition).

What’s important is what’s coming from our hearts.

I would venture to say that sometimes, when we just do good deeds out of a sense of duty or “tradition,” they might be empty gestures as well. Jesus really indicates here that our actions need to come from within - they reflect our spiritual health as it were. And while it’s not always easy to feel great even when you’re serving others, we can always ask ourselves why we’re doing it.

By this I’m thinking of those who do good deeds so they can look good. I suspect this might fall in the category of self-serving. It’s not enough merely to be a philanthropist but to do so from a position of love for others. On the other hand, St. James believed that by doing good -- not merely giving money but actually engaging with those in need -- our hearts could be transformed.

So, in a sense, while what comes out of us can defile, it can also nurture love and joy in others and consequently in ourselves. In other words, what comes out of us can heal us and purify us.

Which, I have to believe, is what would please God most. After all, look at that passage from the Song of Solomon. It’s about unbridled love, passion, joy. That, I believe, is how God wants us to approach him, and the best way to get there is to approach each other that way, too.