Tag: Islam

Bickering Siblings

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16hijab
Romans 4:13-25

Let me read to you something. It may sound a little familiar. It may sound a bit strange.

(Surah 45-67): The Angels said, “O Mary, God gives you good news of a Word from Him. His name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, well-esteemed in this world and the next, and one of the nearest. He will speak to the people from the crib, and in adulthood, and will be one of the righteous.”

She said, “My Lord, how can I have a child, when no man has touched me?”

He said, “It will be so. God creates whatever He wills. To have anything done, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.”

And [God] will teach him the Scripture and wisdom, and the Torah and the Gospel.

[The] messenger [,Jesus, said] to the Children of Israel: “I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. I make for you out of clay the figure of a bird; then I breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God’s leave. And I heal the blind and the leprous, and I revive the dead, by God’s leave. And I inform you concerning what you eat, and what you store in your homes. In that is a sign for you, if you are believers. And verifying what lies before me of the Torah, and to make lawful for you some of what was forbidden to you. I have come to you with a sign from your Lord; so fear God, and obey me. God is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path.”

When Jesus sensed disbelief on their part, he asked, “Who are my allies towards God?”

The disciples said, “We are God’s allies; we have believed in God, and bear witness that we submit. Our Lord, we have believed in what You have revealed, and we have followed the Messenger, so count us among the witnesses.”

They planned, and God planned; but God is the Best of planners.

God said, “O Jesus, I am terminating your life, and raising you to Me, and clearing you of those who disbelieve. And I will make those who follow you superior to those who disbelieve, until the Day of Resurrection. Then to Me is your return; then I will judge between you regarding what you were disputing. As for those who disbelieve, I will punish them with a severe punishment, in this world and the next, and they will have no helpers. And as for those who believe and do good works, He will give them their rewards in full. God does not love the unjust.”

This is what We recite to you of the Verses and the Wise Reminder.

The likeness of Jesus in God’s sight is that of Adam: He created him from dust, then said to him, “Be,” and he was.

The truth is from your Lord, so do not be of those who doubt.

And if anyone disputes with you about him, after the knowledge that has come to you, say, “Come, let us call our children and your children, and our women and your women, and ourselves and yourselves, and let us invoke God’s curse on the liars.”

This is the narrative of truth: there is no god but God. God is the Mighty, the Wise.

But if they turn away—God knows the corrupt.

Say, “O People of the Book, come to terms common between us and you: that we worship none but God, and that we associate nothing with Him, and that none of us takes others as lords besides God.” And if they turn away, say, “Bear witness that we have submitted.”

O People of the Book! Why do you argue about Abraham, when the Torah and the Gospel were not revealed until after him? Will you not reason?

Here you are—you argue about things you know, but why do you argue about things you do not know? God knows, and you do not know.

Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was a Monotheist, a Muslim. And he was not of the Polytheists.


These are the translated words of the Quran. Like our own Gospel, the Quran says Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. Like our own Gospel, the Quran says Jesus healed the blind and the leprous, and brought the dead back to life. Like Gospels we have dropped over the centuries, the Quran says Jesus made a bird out of clay and had it fly. Like our own Gospels today, the Quran says that Jesus was taken up into heaven and is with God.

Like the Jewish Torah, and the Christian Old Testament, the Quran says we are made by God out of dust. Says there are no gods but God, alone. This is called monotheism. Mono-one. Theism. God. One God. We are monotheists. Not polytheists. Not many-gods.

When the Quran says “O People of the Book,” it is speaking to us. To all the children of Abraham. Not his physical children – but the children our own Paul writes about to Romans: Abraham’s spiritual children.

Just like Paul, the Quran points out that Abraham followed and believed God long, long before there were the faiths of Judaism or Christianity or Islam; therefore, long before there was a Quran or Bible or Torah.

But he submitted. To submit is to be muslim. Muslim means a person who has submitted to God. In English it means a particular faith. But it has two meanings in Arabic – the faith, but also what it literally means – to submit.

Much like we are all democrats because we are all part of a democracy. Democrat, however, has two meanings: one – a person is part of a democracy. The second, a person is part of a particular political party in the United States of America.

Abraham couldn’t be Muslim-the-Faith because the Quran and The Prophet Mohammad had not come to be. But he could be Muslim-the-person-who-submits-to-God. Because, as all three faiths of the Book read, Abraham did submit.

You’re a democrat-the-government-citizen because you’re an United States citizen. I don’t know which party line you vote with, if any, and that is none of my business.

So why do we feud so much? Why do today’s Jews and Christians and Muslims bicker although we are all faith siblings? All brothers and sisters through the faith of Abraham, and all brothers and sisters literally because we all know, and affirm, God, God alone, creates all of us?

Because most of us don’t care about nirvana.

Here me out – I challenge any of you here to get into an argument with me about how to achieve enlightenment, and how to step out of samsara and into nirvana. Whatever position you take – Mahayana, Theravada, Vajrayāna or Zen – I’ll take a different one and we can debate.

No one?

The truth is, here in Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, we don’t care much about Buddha or Bodhisattvas.

But we care an awful lot about what someone says about Jesus and God.

We’re not invested into koans and tantras and the holy books of Budhism.

But we’ve staked our whole lives and afterlives on the Bible, and our prayers, and traditions, and rites.

We argue with our siblings because they are the most like us. We argue with our siblings because we share the most interests, investments, and the most is at stake.

We argue with Jews and Muslims and especially other Christians because these groups are most like us. What they say, and how they say it differently, we greatly care about.

This is as true today as it was in the past when the words were set in the Surahs of the Quran translation I read; it is as true as when Jesus walked and said a prophet is never accepted in his home town. It is as true today as when the ancient Israelites and Samaritans – both ancient Jews to anyone else but themselves – argued. As true as when Sarah tossed out Ishmael and his mother because she didn’t want them around herself and her son… as true as when Cain slew Abel.

We fight – we hate – the people who are most like us because in those few, few ways we are different SO MUCH is invested, risked, and at stake.

Paul, writing to the Romans, was trying so hard for the Roman Christians and Roman Jews to see each other as family. You’re not enemies! You’re siblings! Of the same faith of Abraham. The mono-theists, the One God, faith. He goes over laws – laws like the law to have circumcision, or to keep Kosher, or to keep Saturday or Sunday as the Sabbath, and says – if laws are making you lose faith, give them up!

We are alive in faith, faith gives us life. Faith – submitting to God, and trusting God will do as God promises – even if it looks impossible – keeping this hope against all hope – KEEP FAITH! Laws are good. Jesus said he came to fulfill the Laws and Prophets, not abolish them… but, in today’s language, if the Kings James Version is too difficult to read, get a different version of the Scripture. If Sunday Morning is too early for you to praise God, find another service time. Another church. Maybe not a church – praise in your house or car or with your friends over coffee. KEEP THE FAITH! The how and where and rules – the traditions – are good, but FAITH is what is essential.

What about our heads? All three books – The Torah, the Bible, the Quran – mention we ought to be covering our heads. No one here is wearing a hat. Why not?

Because, somewhere, our ancestors debated this. Our ancestors changed. They decided the FAITH was more important. The FAITH, the following, the trust, of God – than whether or not they covered their heads.

But other ancestors have chosen to keep following that law out of faith, out of submission, to God. And I’m not just talking about Muslima women who wear hijab; or Jewish men who wear yamakas, there are plenty of Christian churches and denominations where scarves still cover heads.

If Paul were writing to us, I think he’d write – don’t argue over whether or not to cover your heads. Argue – are you being faithful to the one and only God? Are you loving your neighbor? Are you loving God?

When we say things like “Don’t shop there, they jew you.” Or call someone a “towel-head,” we are not loving our neighbors. We are hating them.

When we refuse to speak with our siblings, out of fear, our of ignorance, out of hate – we are not being faithful to God who calls us to be the allies, the disciples, the-ones-who-submit to God who calls us to live our faith and preach to all nations.

When we believe that God of the Old Testament, YHWH, El-Shaddai, and the Lord, the God of the New Testament and Allah, are different gods… we forget our faith. We forget Abraham. We forget mono-theism. We forget there is but one god, and that is whom all of the faith children of Abraham are following.

One God. Understood differently. My perspective on my mom and dad is different than my brother’s perspective. But they are still the same mom and dad.

One God. Related to differently. I like doing crafts with my mom. My brother likes fishing with my mom. Still the same mom.

One God. We’re not the same religion. There are profound theological insights and beliefs that differ among us. I am not my brother. He is not me.

But we have the same parents.

And Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have one God. We are all siblings. Bickering siblings, different siblings, but siblings.

Since I razzed on Buddhism a little, I want to end with a Zen Buddist passage… a nun who one day approached a great patriarch to ask if he had any insight into the Nirvana sutra she had been reading.

“I am illiterate,” the man replied, “but perhaps if you could read the words to me I could understand the truth that lies behind them.”

Incredulous, the nun responded, “If you do not know even the characters as they are written in the text, then how can you expect to know the truth to which they point?”

Patiently the patriarch offered his answer, which has become a spiritual maxim for the ages: “Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger.”

We don’t worship the Bible. Jews don’t worship the Torah. Muslims don’t worship the Quran.

We all worship the Truth, which is God. The Truth – who is larger, brighter, truer, and beyond what our words, traditions, or experiences can capture.

We all worship God.

And we are all siblings.

Amen.

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Debts…

 

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32https-blueprint-api-production.s3.amazonaws.comuploadscardimage5623943d0a6db5-d0e6-4bff-a60d-3c9aa5693517
Matthew 15:10-28

I’m not exactly sure what to stand here and say.

Hundreds of Klu Klux Klan members, Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, and others forming the catchall phrase ‘Alt-Right’ have appeared in Charlottesville. You know this. Many came armed with AK47s, hand guns, knives, shields, armor and helmets. Armed for war. Armed for killing people.

They stood outside of a Jewish temple in the city with their guns. Made the women and men and children enter in for worship under the threat of being shot to death. And the Rabbi after service had to tell people to leave the temple by the back door. The local police did not come although they were called. They police later said they feared the armed radicals would shoot if they saw police arrive.

But this threat towards Jews is not what the national news reported, for that same night, the white supremacists went with torches. Literally a torch mob and hundreds confronted about a dozen around a Confederate statue scheduled to be removed. Again, the police did not come although called. Police did not arrive until after violence had began. And as the white supremacists went, they chanted “Jews will not replace us.” and “Blood and soil.” Blood and soil is a Nazi Germany phrase. What do Jews have to do with the Confederacy?

Nothing. This is not a conflict over statues. This was never about the civil war. This is a conflict about ethnic cleansing. Genocide. Murdering people.

And the white supremacists did.

The following day, an entire crowd was hit by a car going roughly 80 miles an hour. It was driven by an Ohioan. A woman about my age died. She wasn’t a radical leftist, wasn’t a professional political activist. She was a normal woman who said she wanted to stand up against white supremacists who had flooded her town. In response to her death, Christopher Cantwell, of the group United the Right, said this death was justified to ViceNews. Said that many, many more deaths are coming and are needed to purge the country of the evils of non-white, non-straight, non-ultra conservatives.

Our president said BOTH sides are doing wrong. The side that wants America to only be white, blond haired, blue eyed, white supremacists… and the side that wants America to be a great melting pot. The side that comes armed with military weapons… and the side that comes with placards.

You may be thinking ‘why can’t they all just get along and stop being so extreme?’

It is because we are literally speaking of the life or death for every Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Sikh and Buddhist in America. We are literally speaking of a group wishing to incite violence, who preaches that the death of blacks, part-blacks, Asians, Mexicans, Africans, even CANADIANS does not matter. Only white American lives matter.

We can’t sit back and just wait for this to all blow over because ” All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” ((Edmund Burke))

How did Nazi Germany happen? There was no overnight call to exterminate the country’s Jews, Jewish-heritage, gays, political activists, college professors, liberal pastors, Romani, blacks, and ‘dissidents’ over night. It was a process of little steps. A process of making the white supremacists stance look legitimate.

Germany had studies to prove whites were smarter. How often I hear the reason fewer blacks graduate from high school than whites is because they are stupid, rather than due to impoverished school systems, and parents who have to work two or more jobs so aren’t there to help with homework.

Germany changed laws removing people who disapproved of the leadership. How many of our political leaders, environmental leaders, and media have been replaced when they speak out against the president?

Germany banned all churches that did not support the Nazis. Churches that were allowed to stay open kept Nazi flags in them, held prayers for Hitler and his party, and encouraged their children to join Nazi Youth groups. Church and state are no longer separate here. Pastors can, and do, tell their parishioners to only vote one way and only support one politician.

Germany closed its borders and made passports harder to get. We are closing our boarders and taking away passports.

Germany blamed its economic woes on non-Whites rather than government policy. How often I hear The Mexican and The Jew have taken all the jobs and all the wealth. 4% of the US is millionaires, and they have more than 51% of the wealth of the nation…. 50% of US senators are millions. Who do you think is responsible for jobs and wealth? Half — half — of the USA is living in poverty. It isn’t because of Jews and Mexicans.

But, you say, these people are just practicing free speech! Let’s chat about what that actually means…. ((parapharase of Brandon Webb))

There seems to be some confusion on the subject of free speech. So I’ll break things down some using figurative Muppets.

Muppet: “I don’t like pie.” <- this is free speech, you stating your opinion.

Muppet: “I don’t like the Muppet President.” <- Still free speech, more likely to start an argument.

Muppet: “I don’t like Green Muppets.” <- While marking this Muppet out as prejudiced, this Muppet still is practicing free speech territory here.

Muppet: “I hate Green Muppets!” <- As above, still protected by the 1st Amendment. However, this Muppet is now entering the danger territory of discrimination and could get into other legal issues… but not 1st Amendment issues. Muppets can hate other Muppets for their color of their skin under the 1st Amendment.

Muppet: “We should do something about Green Muppets!” <- Now the Muppet has reached the end of the 1st Amendment limit without crossing out of it. The Department of Justice says that this is still protected, as it calls for eventual action, but did not promise immediate harm. Muppets using this speech can be considered hate groups, and can fall into all kinds of other legal issues… but not regarding the 1st Amendment.

Muppet: “Kill green Muppets!” <- This and speech like it is called incitement, it is not protected under the first amendment. In fact responses to Incitement can be classed as self defense by the Department of Justice. If a group of Muppets is calling for the death of green Muppets, they are likely to be classed with hate groups and terrorists. Anyone who responds and defends themselves against someone calling for death is considered legitimate protection of health and home.

This is because “in criminal law, incitement is the encouragement of another person to commit a crime. Depending on the jurisdiction, some or all types of incitement may be illegal. Where illegal, it is known as an inchoate offense, where harm is intended but may or may not have actually occurred.” ((Wikipedia))

In other words – encouraging others to kill is not protected by the 1st Amendment. This isn’t free speech. This is incitement and is illegal.

This is why hate groups always try to claim someone else did something to them and they are just responding. Blacks risked their families, so they’re just responding by killing all blacks. Someone make the car driver in Charlottesville feel threatened, so he was justified in killing.

Now, when you and I tolerate of this level of speech, calling others to violence, you and I become supporters of this violence. We become complicate in murders because we become a shield hate groups will willingly sacrifice to achieve their goals.

Will you stand by allowing incitement to be classified as free speech? Will you stand by letting yourself be used as political shield defending supremacists? What level are you going to tolerate? What level of discrimination? What level of speech? What level of calls for violence?

In Nazi Germany, far too many tolerated greater and greater discrimination because it wasn’t against their own class of people.

But think of Pastor Martin Neimoller’s Poem, written under Nazi Germany…

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

Right now they come for the blacks. The gays. The lesbians. The liberals. Will next it be the democrats, the Asians, the moderates? How long until you are classified as an enemy of the white nationalist supremacists?

If you’re not going to let them come for you, your friends and family, your neighbors, your country… you have to get off the fence and fight against white supremacy. Silence, or calling for a middle ground between accepting diversity and murder, both assist in ripping our country’s fabric which has always been built out of immigrants, different faiths, different backgrounds, and free speech… which means freedom to disagree and not all think, look, or act the same.

So! Four things! Four things you can do right now.

1. Listen more; speak less. If your circle of friends and news networks aren’t commenting on the bombing of mosques, intimidation of temples, police brutality against minorities, and hate crimes happening daily… you need to diversify who you’re listening to. These horrors are happening every day in our USA.

2. Get smart. Hear a term you don’t know? Look it up. Ask someone. What was Kristalnacht? Look it up. What hate groups are active here in Licking and Fairfield Counties? Look it up. We have several white supremacist groups. Get the lingo and the words and see what a dangerous world most of your fellows live in.

3. Open your eyes and don’t say (x) can’t happen in this day and age. It is happening. Privilege lets you not see it.

4. Don’t sit in the middle, say you are colorblind, and pretend things are fine.

This is because “[Colorblindness is] not a thing. Colorblindness is totally impossible in a nation whose land was taken from the indigenous inhabitants through an attempt at genocide and horrific colonization. The same nation that enslaved humans and exploited them in every way imaginable built a nation on their backs, hung them, hunted them, and for centuries kept them from their basic inalienable rights and still does. The same nation that exploits and deports immigrants who were promised refuge within the American Constitution. The same nation that incarcerated Japanese Americans during World War II and continues to promote bigotry, exclusion, and violence against LGBTQ/gender non-identifying folks. This nation that allows swastika-wearing, Confederate-flag-toting, anti-Semitic racists to have a platform for their hate. The same nation that promised religious freedom, yet targets those who do not believe in a white, capitalist Jesus.

I love Jesus. And promise, Jesus was not white (literally brown, and wonderfully Jewish) and would have never been a capitalist.

It will never be possible for us to be colorblind, and we shouldn’t ever want to be.

I heard a saying once at an Al-Anon meeting that offered me liberation: “We are only as sick as our secrets (and our shame).” Shame can only live in the darkness; it can live within the systems of denial and defensiveness that we use to cover it up. We have to name these things, acknowledge them, and begin to do the deep work of transformation, restoration — and reparation.

Yup, now I’m talking about reparations.

Privilege means that you” you and I! We “owe a debt. [We] were born with it. [We] didn’t ask for it. And [we] didn’t pay for it either. No one is blaming [us] for having it. You are lovely, human, and amazing. Being a citizen of a society requires work from everyone within that society. It is up to you whether you choose to acknowledge the work that is yours to do. It is up to you whether you choose to pay this debt and how you choose to do so.” ((Courtney Ariel on Sojo.net))

What comes out of your mouth defiles. Don’t defile the world.

Be like Jesus. When the Samaritan woman called him out on his racism, he praised her – and helped her.

Be like Jesus. Know we are all imprisoned in disobedience. We all have inherited the debts of those before us. Everyone needs mercy.

Be like Jesus. Maintain justice and do what is right.

Be like Jesus. Be love.

Be like Jesus.

Amen.

 

Is There Worthless Religion?

James 1:17-27

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Do you dare to turn on the news lately? Do you dare to listen or read the stories coming out of Southern Europe, the Balkans, and North Africa?

There is a migrant crisis, so it is being called. These common words obscure the horror of what is actually going on. The civil war in Syria, now four years strong, has displaced millions and millions of people. Ten million, as an estimate in March, are fleeing ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State is associated with the horrors of Boko Haram, and chemical warfare, suicide bombers in the middle of mosques, churches, and temples, and public beheadings.

These ‘migrants’ are refugees. Every day people, Jews and Christians, Muslims and athiests, who are fleeing the take-over of the Islamic State. For those pushing the Islamic State are not normal Muslims – but a group teaching that the end of the world is nigh, and they must found a state under ancient Muslim laws since God is watching and soon to send the final prophets. Since the end is near, and this is God we are dealing with, life is valueless. Compromise is not wanted or needed. All must obey the super conservative particular form of Isalm they teach, or one must die.

This is a modern day crusade. Just like when Christians went out and did the same, in both cases anyone who speaks of tolerance, of caring for the weak, of making peace are branded as heretics and murdered. Just like when we had crusades, religious wording, religious after-death promises, and talk of the end of the world and return of God’s full reign on Earth fuel people into a frenzy where new levels of violence seem okay now.

It is so easy to conflate one militant religious group with a whole religion. But just as most Christians back in the dark ages didn’t go on Crusades, and most Christians today say the Crusaders killed a lot of innocent people… so too, most Muslims do not support the Islamic State. Most of our refugees are Muslims themselves, seeking freedom from war, from fanatical military extremists, seeking freedom from the Islamic State.

… More people are displaced and seeking safe harbor from this conflict than were displaced and fleeing Nazi Germany in WWII.

… let that sink in.

There are more people who need safety now than in WWII.

Are we going to be like our grandparents, our grandparents, or ourselves in WWII and ignore those who plea for help? America ignored the plight of those Nazi Germany was destroying and taking over until Pearl Harbor. We even turned away ships of fleeing Jews. And where was there help at all for the gypsy, the homosexual, or any other category sudden chosen to eradicate? Today there are people begging for help, any help, to get themselves, their children, away from another militaristic, fanatical group.

James, the little brother of Jesus, writes to other Christians about pure religion and worthless religion. He isn’t talking about comparing Muslims and Christians, Christians and Jews, Jews and Muslims… James is talking about comparing each person with themselves. In our hearts, in our minds, in our souls, in our actions… are we followers of a pure religion or a religion that is impure?

How to we measure if we are on the right path?

James says we must be quick to listen. Quick to hear the stories of other people. Ready with open ears to hear their perspective. So often when someone begins to say something we don’t like, we formulate, we think of, how to argue against them while they are still talking. This clogs up our ears so we can’t hear what they actually are saying. Instead, says James, just listen. Don’t think of a counter argument. Just listen deeply. For instance, today, when I mentioned refugees and migrants, and ISIS, you may have begun to close your ears. You already have thoughts and opinions on these issues. No need to hear more. James says listen anyways, for you may hear something new.

Then, after listening, think. It’s okay to take time to think, or formulate what you want to say. We don’t have to fill every silence with noise. Sometimes, in the pauses, in the silence, there is a moment for God’s soft voice to speak. In the pause, we can think about what we know of the topic at hand — what we already know about ISIS from the news — and compare it with what the person we’re listening to has just said. Do they match? Is there new information? In the pause, we can consider what we feel. What emotions does this topic bring up in me? What emotions does it bring up in the speaker? Are these emotions because of the topic, the speaker, or something else?

Today, talking about ISIS likely made some angry. Some uncomfortable. Others bored. Others scared. Others felt helpless, or overwhelmed, or confused. I think we each felt many different emotions. James advises we let anger be our slowest emotion. The one we hold back so we can consider all the others first.

“Your anger does not make God right.” James writes. In other words, you are not the one to judge. God knows right from wrong, God does as God will, without you putting your two cents into it. God doesn’t depend on us getting our noses out of joint for God to know about a situation.

So we can take a moment to think. To ponder. To try to understand. And we can take a risk in trying to understand someone who we think is not ‘right’ with God… because we don’t get to judge that. God does. We can set our fear and anger, judgments, aside, and be present now to the person before us.

… We don’t have to decide how God feels about Muslims.

No… says James… don’t worry about the judgment of others. Instead, focus on judging yourself. Go to a mirror and look at yourself. Study who you are.

How do I feel about Muslims?

How do I feel about people fleeing war?

Why do I feel angry?

Why do I feel scared?

Humbly look at yourself, says James. Humbly accept the Word of God and how it points out both how deeply we are loved, and how much sin we still carry. Look in the mirror. Look and don’t flinch. Look and don’t admire. Look and honestly see.

Each of us have good points and bad points.

It is not weakness to admit our bad parts.

It is not vanity to admit our good parts.

It is honesty.

When we know ourselves, it is much easier to know others. Especially those who are from different cultures, different countries, and/or different religions. When we know ourselves, we feel secure to interact with those who’s very existence, who’s very viewpoints and world-views, challenge our’s. When we feel secure in who we are — secure in the good things and bad things about ourselves — we are not threatened by those who are different.

So the sight of a woman wearing a head cloth, a hijab, chador, or other head covering doesn’t make us uneasy. Instead, we can respect for her having enough faith to keep to her religion even when it makes her stand out. We ought to respect that! We, too, teach that a faithful person is heavily pressured to blend with culture which often is at odds with being faithful to God. We are secure in who we are, and so not threatened by someone who is different than who we are.

Indeed, we may have more in common with that faithful woman than someone who isn’t wearing a sign of their faith. We both likely read holy scripture, attend worship services, and are concerned about being a good person. I can’t say that about most of the other people I see during the day.

So James, says, keep open ears. Be ready to listen.

Take reflective time. Thinking time.

Be slow to judge. Slow to respond in anger.

So that you are secure in who you are. We know who we are.

And with these, we are ready to take God’s word and get into action. If we did all this work and didn’t do anything, our faith would be worthless says James.

Worthless!

Now, I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to find something that is worthless. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Everything can be re-purposed. I have a friend who’s mother is the queen of re-purposing. For example, she took outdated refrigerator magnets, cut them into squares, put them into old square makeup cases, and now has a purse-sized sewing kit. The magnets hold the needles in place. Each one has a different color of thread for emergency clothes repairs. She’s incredibly good at re-purposing.

Yet James goes as far as to say that our religion is WORTHLESS if we work and work at it, do all these steps of self-reflection, of listening to others, of knowing the word of God… and do nothing.

Worthless… because although we know much, we have lied to our hearts. Worthless because although we looked at ourselves, we forgot who we are the moment we stopped looking. Worthless because all that work led to no action.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God,” writes James, “is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Religion that is worth something is religion that cares for people in need. Orphans and widows had no political power, no way to make a honest living, and were outcasts. Refugees have no political power, no way to make a honest living, and are outcasts. People who are weak, who are desperate, who are suffering are people who we, as Christians, as the followers of Christ, are supposed to care for. Supposed to look out for. Supposed to say, “We may be really different, but that’s okay. You need help. Let me help you.”

James ends this passage by saying we are to help without being stained by the world.

You don’t need to become Muslim to help Muslims.

You don’t need to think Islam is great to help Muslims.

You don’t even need to Islam is ‘okay’ to be neighborly, to be Christian, to be friendly and compassionate and loving.

A religion has worth when its message and its deeds match up. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” What we do tells people what our faith says. Our faith says what we do. When all of this matches up, aligns, we are testifying to the great goodness of God. We aren’t sending mixed signals. Aren’t preaching peace and then shooting death glares at strangers. Aren’t preaching welcoming in the outcast and then telling the outcast to go home and leave us be.

Jesus’ words in Mark are on the very same topic.

In this scene, some of those who follow Jesus are eating without washing their hands. Now, all conservative Jews to this day wash their hands before they eat. So the highly educated and the conservatives went to Jesus and said, ‘Hey, you, Mr. I’m So Holy- if you’re so holy, how come your followers aren’t washing their hands, like the faith elders told us to do in the past?’

Jesus answered, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” You teach human rules as if they were rules from God.

The commandment of God, as we know later, is to love God. The second is like it – to love one’s neighbor.

Neither of these is about washing hands. Washing hands, a very good thing to do, is still a human teaching. Sometimes, out of love, one can’t wash their hands.

Sometimes, out of love, we have to ignore the good teachings around us to do the best teaching – the commandment of God – to love. So… sometimes this means associating, being around, being nice to people different than us. It means being loving to refugees and immigrants, whether they are here legally or not. It means being loving to Muslims and Christians, whether they think like us or not. It means being loving, being neighborly, being kind to all.

Jesus tells the crowd about him — what you touch and are around outside of yourself does not contaminate, does not defile, your inside. Your core, your soul, your heart — that can defile its outside.

To tie this with James, then, Jesus is saying that if your soul is healthy and happy, other people can sense it. They see it in your deeds. You bless people just by being present. But if your inner core is unhealthy, unhappy, evil… then you defile people just by being present. You spread the deeds of theft, murder, breaking trust, being greedy, lying, being sleazy, speaking badly about others, acting stupidly, acting too prideful, and using your sexuality in a way that hurts yourself or others.

So one who has paused to know themselves, to be at peace with themselves, does not have to fear or be angry with those who are different. In their hearts in the commandment of God — to love. Their religion is pure because they know love, and act loving.

But those who don’t pause to know themselves, or don’t learn from that self-reflection, have a lot to fear from and be angry about with people who have different faiths and ways of doing things. They say their religion is love, but they don’t know love, and so they don’t act loving.

I ask today – does your religion have worth? Does it make you stop, think, ponder, reflect, and then take action? Does your religion challenge you to be better?

If Christianity has become easy, then we are deceiving ourselves. Acting loving is hard. Being Christian is hard. Every person has to work at following the examples of Jesus. Our reassurance is that we do not do this work alone. We’re all in it together. The Spirit is there, guiding us. Jesus is here, leading us. God is here, beckoning us.

“Every generous act of giving is from above,” to paraphrase James, Every generous act we receive is a gift from God. Every time we are generous and kind to others, people receive glimpses of God.

May we, in the words commonly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” Amen.

Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ in Baltimore, Ohio, 8-30-2015