First Thoughts From The Rev. Canon David Smith: 

Most weeks Fr. David sends out an e-mail with his first thoughts on the upcoming Sunday readings. These reflections are designed to encourage people to consider the readings before they come to worship which we hope will enrich Sunday worship. People are invited to respond to David with their own thoughts and sometimes interesting ideas and conversations occur that end up in the sermon. If you would like to receive these weekly e-mails e-mail David at  . 

First Thoughts for Sunday, September 6

Posted by Emily Sanderson on Saturday, September 5, 2015
Hi Everyone,

Back again with some preliminary first thoughts on Sunday’s Scriptures

Here are the readings for Sunday: Proverbs 22: 1-2, 8-9, 22-23, Psalm 125, James 2:1-17, Mark 7: 24 -37

There are definitely some common themes running throughout the readings for this Sunday. Perhaps the primary message is that we are not to show favouritism because God is the maker of everyone. For example our reading
from Proverbs states it this way, ”The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.”  Although there are many ways in which we can divide and distinguish ourselves from others and show favouritism the driving illustration of favouritism in our readings is the divide between rich and poor. James paints a vivid and straightforward picture (James could never be accused of being subtle or vague)  of a rich person receiving a warm friendly welcome at “church” and a poor person receiving a very cold and humiliating welcome.  Then he goes  on to say that if this  kind  of favouritism is actually happening  in your gatherings then there is no way you can call yourselves believers in our glorious Jesus Christ.

Our Gospel reading does not explicitly say that the two people healed by Jesus were poor but they most likely were disadvantaged and disrespected. The  deaf man was probably poor and isolated because of his physical challenges and the woman who begged Jesus to heal her daughter if not poor was certainly not part of Jesus’ group.

Our Psalm does not address poverty and wealth directly but it does admonish us to make a choice for righteousness over wickedness and so in our context on Sunday I think it would be fair to hear this as a reminder to have a godly perspective on wealth and power and to care deeply for those who are suffering from poverty. , “ For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous so that the righteous might not stretch out their hands to do wrong”

Our reading from Proverbs invites us to consider wisely the value we put on wealth. There are definitely more important things in life than wealth, such as a good name.  We are also invited to consider the wisdom of generosity and compassion for those who have less than we do and we are definitely told to never take advantage of the poor. Proverbs has much more to say about poverty and wealth including some words of advice to the poor which broadens its perspective on wealth but for worship on Sunday I think its council is always timely. How many books and movies have as their theme the lust for wealth and the crimes committed and the good names lost in its pursuit only to have ruin fall upon those who thought wealth was all there was in life. And of course there are also many stories of generosity and justice.

Our psalm is a psalm of assent prayed by Israelites on their way to Jerusalem to worship. Scholars think this Psalm was written in the tough times of domination by surrounding nations during the post exilic period. The travelers would have seen the mountains around them and would have thought of how God is their rock. This is where they are to put their trust.  The Psalm recognizes the reality of wickedness but puts it’s trust in God because God will prevail. The Psalm ends with a confident declarative prayer for peace which of course is what will prevail when God’s sovereign rule is
obeyed. (thanks to Clinton McCann, JR. The Book of Psalms Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections The New Interpreters Bible Vol. 4 , Pgs1191-1194)

James addresses the issue of partiality but he also tackles injustice towards the poor and alludes to a theme in the scriptures (not a theme of Proverbs) of God’s preferential status for the poor. He also makes the point that showing favouritism causes you to break the whole law or at least to be accountable to the whole law. He urges us to keep the royal law of loving our neighbours as ourselves. Most importantly in this reading James will not let us off the hook. We cannot just pray for people or wish them well if they are naked or hungry. We must actually help them out. James concludes that faith without works is dead. How we live into this in a world with mass and instant communications when we know not just the brother or sister down the street in need but around the world, is a challenge. I do not think the
point is to make us feel guilty or like failures for not being up to the task but it is without a doubt a call to make our faith have a compassionate practical component. One of several  ways in which  we as a parish do care in a practical way is through our donations to the Primates Fund. That money is used to do  just what James calls us to do.

Our Gospel reading consists of two healing miracles by Jesus. In both we see the power of Jesus to heal which is  a sign of the breaking in of the Kingdom. We also see in both, people bringing their loved ones to Jesus, it is the faith of others that is in play not of the ones needing to be healed.  A good sermon might consider how we can intercede for others.

When the deaf man could hear again he opened his mouth and proclaimed to others the good news of Jesus. As Dawn Wilhem notes this healing speaks to us of hope,” we hear a gospel word of hope for all of us who have blocked
our ears or have refused to share the good news of Jesus with others. (Feasting on the Word year B Vol. 44-49)

In the second miracle  we see our Lord’s compassion in dealing  with the deaf man in private and with physical touch.

It is the first healing that is troubling because Jesus at first refuses to engage with and heal the daughter of the woman because she is not a Jew. She is a foreigner. This story is always troubling for this reason but especially so when the other Scriptures say that we should not show favouritism. Some commentaries see in this story a transformation in Jesus and that he actually had his horizons expanded and comes to see through his conversation with the woman that yes indeed his compassion and kingdom is for everyone.  I do see value in this perspective as a preacher because it
is good for us all to be stretched to care for everyone and in this sense the story is to be emulated . But I personally  struggle with this interpretation of the story. Jesus especially in Luke and John but in all of the Gospels has made it clear that his ministry is for everyone and my bias is that Jesus lived and ministered always in God’s will so if it seems he
did not then the issue is with our interpretation not with what Jesus said or did. I am sure if I consulted N.T. Wright on this story he would elaborate on how Jesus was the messiah for the Jews, so in very real way he did come first for the Jews but in order to fulfill perfectly the ministry of the Jewish nation to be a light to all the nations and that this would help explain the troubling story. Timothy Kellor in his excellent book on Mark gave a wonderful explanation which I used in a sermon a year or two ago in which he argues that the woman and Jesus right from the start were on the same level engaging each other in parable. I cannot remember the conclusion of his argument but I found it convincing at the time. He reminded the reader of the prayer of humble access in the BCP whose inspiration is this story. We are all like the woman, not worthy on our own merits but on the mercy of God . “we are not worthy so much as to gather The
crumbs under thy table, but thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy”

This leads us to a great statement in our reading from James. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

During M.P. this morning our prayers focused on the refugee crisis in the world and afterwards people spoke passionately about how this was so alarming and dreadful. It was not a pleasant but it was a good conversation. It is not too difficult to see that our readings for this Sunday speak to what is going on and probably I will try to bring them together somehow on
Sunday. I know I long to help out those who are homeless, hungry and fearful for their lives. I realize these issues are always complicated and on my own I can’t solve this horrible situation none of us can but I hope I can put my
faith into actions so it will  be alive and not dead and some relief and hope can be practically offered. One way I do this is by serving on the diocesan refugee committee and we are hoping to invite every parish to make a contribution towards sponsoring a Syrian family.

Any thoughts on our readings for Sunday. If it stays hot I will try to keep my thoughts short. How could I connect the readings to Labour Day?