Inside and outside

30 August 2009
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 17B (RCL)

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

On Sunday past, I asked folks to write on a 3×5 card whatever ministry they had done in the last week, and place it in the offering basket. They could put their names on the card, or not, as they desired. After service, several people told me they didn’t put anything in the basket, because it felt like “blowing their own horn.” Christians aren’t supposed to do that, I guess. I’m going to push back this week. I intend to ask if putting money in the basket is “blowing our own horn” (the more I put in the more I make, right?). Since the cards can be anonymous, this is about offering: what do we offer? I want to learn how folks understand their Christian faith.

James tells us to be doers of the word and not hearers only, and that faith without works is dead. Martin Luther famously did not like the Epistle of James, because it seemed to favor a “works righteousness” rather than pure grace. The Song of Solomon is a love poem, and can be read that way pretty simply. It has often been read as an allegory of the love of God for the community or for the soul. Anyone knows that a marriage or partnership can’t be based on pure grace. Yes, it is pure grace that my spouse or partner loves me, even given all the things I’ve done, but if I don’t respond in kind, and show it, what good is that? The reading from Mark’s gospel also seems to imply that outward deeds reflect inward realities, and inward realitites can be shaped by outward deeds. The trick is getting the inside to match the outside, or one might say, the inside and outside are going to match, no matter what. Change one, change the other.

This Sunday, we have three baptisms. It is easy to talk about the love of God when we are baptizing infants and young children, but they do have a way of growing up. The love between God and the Christian must mature as the Christian matures, just like we can assume the love between the two lovers in the Song of Solomon must mature.

So, what is our resistance to writing down on a card the ministries we have engaged in? We want to keep the inside inside. Certainly, we don’t want to brag, and that is good, but if I kept my love of my spouse to myself, what good would that do? The exercise make us think about what we are offering, how our vocation as Christians encompasses our whole lives, and that it continues week by week.

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