16 Sep 2012
“So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17) (+)
Last Sunday our Gospel story had us on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. This Sunday Jesus and His disciples are traveling from Bethsaida to Caesarea Philippi. Last Sunday’s story taught us how we as followers of Jesus are to worship God by caring for our neighbour. This Sunday we learn about the Saviour who taught us this lesson. “‘Who do you say that I am?’” asks Jesus. To which we hear Peter’s often quoted reply: “‘You are the Messiah.’” But what happened to that equally oft-quoted statement of Jesus: “‘Upon this rock I will build my church’”? That’s the primary biblical text for the office of the Pope. We didn’t just conveniently leave it out this morning because we’re not a papal church. It’s simply not a part of Mark’s Gospel. As a matter of fact, when Luke retells this account some 10 years later, he likewise does not include those words about Peter. “‘Upon this rock I will build my church’” is found in only one of the four Gospels, the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew adds those words to the received text of Mark, and he does so because Peter is of particular importance to Matthew’s Jewish-Christian church.
And that’s an important message for us today. John’s, Mark’s, Luke’s, and Paul’s community, they were all followers of Christ. They were all part of the earliest church, but they were not all followers of Peter. Matthew’s church was probably different. There the memory of Peter held a special place. Matthew’s, however, was not the church of the city of Rome. It was the church of Roman Palestine. But all of these communities were church. They all saw Christ in each other. They were different, but they were whole. Bp. Gnat used to like to say the church needs unity, not uniformity. The Peter model is accepted and works powerfully for our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic Church, but the message of the earliest church is that it doesn’t have to work in every church. “‘Upon this rock I will build my church’” is a minority report, but it is still a Gospel report. It is one model of church, but it is not the only model of church, and it is definitely not our model of church, even though we are a Catholic church.
How much more productive it would be if the church worried less about uniformity so that we could concentrate on our true unity of bringing God’s presence into our world, into our society, into our local communities? It’s a shame that churches argue and separate over an issue that even the Bible presents differently. It takes away energy and attention that could be better used elsewhere. And that “elsewhere” is the more crucial topic that I would like to talk about now.
Last Sunday we talked about the Hebrew commandment of “Love your neighbour” and Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan that emphasized that any person in need is our neighbour. Today we hear from the Epistle of James, “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James was the leader of the Jerusalem church. His was an impoverished community, especially after the Roman destruction of his city in the year 70 AD. If a neighbour has no food, says James, and you as a follower of Jesus say, “Go in peace,” but do not help feed him, then says this earliest church leader, “‘What good is it?’” Faith without works, says James, is dead. Isn’t this message the better place for us to focus our religious attention? Shouldn’t what we do as believers be more important than how we run our churches? Does last Sunday’s parable of the Good Samaritan read any different if we are this church or that? Do the words of James sound any different depending on from which pulpit they are proclaimed? Churches are different, but our work should be the same. Jesus’ life was not about establishing a church bureaucracy, but about living those Two Commandments of Love that we spoke about last Sunday.
For the third, and I think last week in a row, I will mention The Year of Living Biblically. The author volunteered at a New York City soup kitchen. He noticed all kinds of churches, synagogues and youth groups coming through as volunteers. He never saw a shift full of atheists, he said. It was religious people who were making a difference because religion made a difference. So let me use that to segway into a discussion about the CROP Walk. I want to put it in the context of the last Sunday’s Parable of the Good Samaritan and this Sunday’s “faith without works is dead” statement from James.
The CROP Walk was started 44 years ago, and Franklin County has been a part of it for 26 years. Close to $700,000 has been raised in our county and out of that 25% stays right here, some $172,000, which benefits programs like the Western Mass Food Bank and the Survival Center. Every year there are about 16 hundred CROP Walks nationally. This translates into sustainability. Food and water projects that are started with these funds can be maintained. Long-term improvements are being made, but poverty and hunger involve huge numbers of people, families and children. No matter what is done, there is more that should be done. Here in America alone 46 million people lie below the poverty line, and in the world the number is 1 billion people. The problem is real and out in the open.
In last Sunday’s parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite walked by on the other side; they ignored the problem of the person in need. Today James ridicules the idea that if we say only words to a person who is hungry and do nothing, then our faith is dead. We know that there is a need and we know what our faith says we should do, now the question is will we. Would you be willing to walk on October 21st? Would you be willing to make a donation? You can do so through any of our walkers or even by going on-line by following the links in the bulletin or the newsletter. This would be a perfect activity for the School of Christian Living. This would be a great closing event for our October Confirmation class who are preparing to be made adults in the eyes of the church. Many of us are not rich, but after seeing the pictures of those who are helped by these CROP Walks, we are all blessed in amazing ways. Let us share those gifts. Let us be Good Samaritans by doing what the Society of Brotherly Love should be doing. Let us bring faith and works together. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo