September 8, 2006
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Reading and Sermon:

From James 1:17-27

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Be doers of the word, writes James, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James makes his point in blunt, plain-spoken language. James is writing after the time of the apostle Paul to established congregations where church members want to praise the preaching of Christ but avoid the challenges of living as disciples – they want to compartmentalize their life so they have a religious life, a family life, a social life, an economic life, and so on – each separate and complete in itself. Religion is for Sunday, but the rest of the week runs on its own rules.

James preaches the integrity of discipleship – Jesus as the leaven that must get kneaded into the whole loaf of life and permeate every corner, every compartment, every word spoken, every decision made, every action taken or avoided every day.

James preaches a unity of words and works – a unity he sees in the life of Christ, a unity we celebrate when we gather around the Lord’s table to break the bread and share the cup. Jesus lived out the lessons he taught, and no where more clearly than on the cross. He urged others to resist evil and he resisted himself, even to his last breath.

Jesus was many things – a healer, a teacher, a prophet. As a prophet he spoke the word of truth that people needed to get on the right path – the path that would be best for them, that path that would bring them to the fullness of life.

The prophet is always the voice of one crying in the wilderness -rarely understood in his or her own time, but with words that prove true as the years pass.

Today we drown in a sea of words, but they are not words of prophecy – they are words of marketing – not words we need to hear, but cleverly crafted messages that play on what we want to hear. Marketing manipulates us into connecting the fullness of life with some product, some personality, some political point of view. Marketing is not designed to put us on the right path for our own good, but to enrich or empower the person behind the message.

Jesus did not enrich himself, but lost everything. Jesus did not empower himself, he died defenseless on a cross.

James warns us against allowing a gap to grown between our rhetoric and our reality – but we live in a world where that gap is painful and wide.

Any number of people lately have made the statement that terrorism is the targeting of civilians – that any ideology that supports the targeting of civilians is a terrorist ideology. This overlooks the fact that World War II made the targeting of civilian populations a common-place occurrence in modern war and that the nuclear strategy of both sides during the half-century of the cold war was to assure the total destruction of civilian centers as well as military installations. Reality and rhetoric are out of synch.

Another gap that I see – almost daily – is between the rhetoric and reality on the respect and care due our oldest, frailest, and most vulnerable citizens. James wrote, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress;” yet on this Labor Day weekend some of the lowest paid workers among us are those who provide care for our babies in day care and our elders in nursing homes.

Jesus washed the disciples feet as an act of humility, but the aides in our nursing homes are daily taking on tasks far more humbling than that.

Have any of you been following the story about Brooke Astor in the papers? A fabulously wealthy woman who is 104 years old, her family is now fighting in court supposedly about her care. This week the news was that her favorite painting was sold for $20 million and that her son took a $2 million commission on the deal. It just goes to show that money is no insulation from the infirmities of age.

As I read the stories I wondered if they were asserting that her basic human rights were being neglected or if she simply was not getting the special treatment she deserved as a wealthy person. Part of what was alleged in court was that she was sleeping on a couch with a bad smell. Well, if bad smells were a criminal offense, the CEOs of every nursing home chain in the United States would be doing time in the big house.

We can hear tremendous political speeches about honoring our elderly, but each time the Medicare reimbursement rate to nursing homes is taken down another notch, the widows in their distress and all those who feed them, bathe them, turn them, and comfort them bear the burden.

Oh, but why are we talking about Medicare reimbursement rates in church – isn’t that an economic issue? Isn’t that a political issue? Aren’t those separate compartments?

Last week the Jehovah Witness’s came to my door. You know they look at all these difficult things that are going on in the world and take them as signs that the end is near. If I thought that way I would be very depressed, because we’d be running out of time with so much yet to be done.

I told them I felt just the opposite – we were not near the end but only at the beginning. The words of Christ, the consciousness of Christ, the example of Christ has just barely arrived – it wasn’t time to give up on the world, it was time to begin to work together.
As Dorothy Day once wrote:
We have to begin to see what Christianity really is… We have to think in terms of the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount… We have not yet loved our neighbor with the kind of love that Christ teaches… We haven’t shown ourselves ready to lay down our life. This is a new teaching, a new way; it is the new person we are supposed to become. I always comfort myself by saying that Christianity is only two days old, for a thousand years are as one day in the sight of God; and so it is only a couple of days that are past and now it is about time we begin to take these things seriously, to begin tomorrow and say, “Now, I have begun.”

We gather around the table of our Lord to remember his example and consecrate ourselves as disciples, bringing Christ into every compartment of our lives, connecting words and deeds in the spirit of love.

We celebrate an open communion. This sacrament is for all who wish to know the presence of Christ and to share in the community of God's people. Christ welcomes you. Christ recognizes you. Christ invites you into the circle of fellowship in his name.

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