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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Saturday, February 16, 2019
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Working With Tradition

Working With Tradition

 Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23


The internet and computer games can be remarkably seductive.  AOL used to have  a bunch of games to occupy time with and sometimes win prizes.  I think facebook has come out with a host of games as well.  There used to be a game called Word Whomp.  You are given six scrambled letters to make as many 3-6 letter words as you can.  The primary reward for creating as many words as possible is a free spin for extra points or the jackpot.  I don't quite remember what it was you won.  As you were playing, a chat room appeared at the side of the game and chatterers offered to play the game for you so you could rack up points and possibly win the jackpot.  They could play the game for you 24 hours a day.  If you were out to win money, that was the best way to play.  But for me the game itself was interesting and addicting.  It was fun to put letters together into words and the sounds and sights of the game were interesting.  Unfortunately if I played the game long enough, my mind would slip into word whomp mode even long after I had played the game.  At night I would go to bed making words in my head out of other words.  It replaced counting sheep on sleepless nights or might have been the cause of the sleeplessness.  Also, after a long session of playing that game, people would talk to me and i would still be trying to make words in my head out of words i heard from them, not the best way to be a good listener.  Let's try it for a few seconds if you promise you can stop making words when i start to talk again.  What 3-6 letter words can you make out of the word "Really"?.  Ok go for it!  (give a bit of time for them to write them down)  Ok time to stop.  Some of you will continue the activity while I am talking, you will know a little bit about what being in word whomp mode is like.  Add some sound and visuals and the game is even more addicting and time consuming.  Fortunately I have learned what long term playing at that kind of game does for your brain and have linited the amount of time I play any addicting game.


The problem with many things in life is finding a balance with what we spend our time and energy and resources on.  James, the writer of the piece of epistle read earlier, recognized this in the early church.  The issue was the discrepancy he saw between those who professed the faith and did not act upon it and those who believed that feeding and clothing the poor was all that was needed to be faithful.  Many were probably attracted more to the "how to" found in the then current practices of the Jews, the "what to eat and how to eat" practices prevalent in the time of Jesus and beyond.  Others chose to ingest Jesus' words, withdraw from the world, and simply wait for the second coming, perhaps praying, meditating, memorizing and "word thumping" something comparable to "Bible thumping” of today.  What James recognized was that unless the word of God was translated into action, into caring for others, it was just a word, something to make one feel good and righteous, and become deluded into thinking they were honoring God in the process.  If they played at that long enough, faith became the art of making new words to fit and fill the practices they were engaged in.  Eating ritualistically became a set of rules and regulations that had to be followed to be deemed worthy of God's love and attention. 


So Jesus is asked a question because he is not following the practices of faith, he and his disciples are eating without the ritual practice of hand washing.  In fact Jesus does a few more things that go against the ritual practice of his time, he eats with sinners, he works on the sabbath, he touches the unclean.  Perhaps he is pointing to the addiction the religious leaders had about their religious practices.  They were good about talking about what was a good way to live with faith.  But following those practices had become just that practices to be followed.  Their heart for God and God's intentions seemed to be missing at times.  Their sense of what God was really all about seemed to have a deficit, their dealings with people lacking in compassion.  Jesus was aware that people could be very religious, have all the right practices, but do not have a heart for God.


There are some who seem to have right behavior toward others, seem to believe that the things we do to reach out to others will give us the peace and sense of fulfillment we seek in God.  The problem is they don't seek to also strengthen their understanding and insight into Christ by regular study and delving into the word reflectively.  They simply believe that giving more and more of themselves is the way to go.  The trouble is, because nothing is coming in, they are draining themselves of their God resources.  Simply acting the way we think God wants us to act toward others is not enough.  We could begin to find ourselves acting out of sense of duty, without the heart for God.  It is not bad to do good things for others, but if we do not also practice the art of communicating with God, our actions themselves become addicting, then can quickly begin to drain us and leave us feeling that we are lacking something and unfullfilled.


Some people are great people of faith.  They have much knowledge about God, pray constantly, read, think and have mystical experiences of God.  These people may withdraw from others, go out into the desert to be alone with God, be constantly in a state of retreat to dwell only with God.  But I do not believe God intended that.  Because God created us to be in fellowship with Him and in fellowship with each other, we could make the mistake of eventually finding a life of constant retreat not satisfying or fulfilling either.


In order to live fully in God, in order for right things to come out of us, we must have both faith and works.  One cannot function fully without the other.  When we exclude one from the other we have an unbalanced sense of who we are in relation to God.  The strength of faith lies in offering what we know to others.  It makes a difference when we engage in mission projects, when we work for Love INC., when we do soups on, when we welcome the stranger, but it makes more of a difference if we have also prayed for others and ourselves and try to understand our efforts through God's perspective.  We can expand our perspective on what God wants by intentionally taking time to reflect on God's word and meditating through prayer.  But we cannot fully know God's word until we act out God's concern for those in need, including those who don't know what God has done in human history. It's a matter of balance.


I could have played "Word Whomp" for hours and hours, as long as my right finger was able to click the mouse, but I would miss the wonder of life around me.  I would miss the osprey's nesting at the granary back here.  I would miss the beauty of the full moon shining over the house.  I would miss the companionship of my husband.  I would miss the encounter with God in the faces of those I help.  I would miss the opportunity to study God's word and read enlightening writings of those who had discovered their piece of knowledge about God.  What did happen was that I found I had to set limits on the amount of time I spent playing that game.


Thank goodness God's abundance has no limit.  The knowledge we gain about God from our practices of faith can be stymied in our unbending adherence to traditional practices, but the knowledge about God is unlimited, boundless, constantly being added to as we explore and practice our faith.  Doing the word means growing in both doing and believing.  We cannot exclude one from the other.  Our actions must proclaim our faith and must flow from our knowledge of God.


One way to put this all into practice is this: when we engage in helping someone else, be it friend or stranger, let us take a moment to surround them in prayer first, imaginatively enter into God's love for them.  Perhaps when we examine and reflect on what we have just done and why, the answers might surprise us into deeper relationship with God.  Reflection and action are the keys to a faith filled relationship with God.

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