Sept. 5, 2021

Prayer of the Day:

Gracious God, throughout the ages you transform sickness into health and death into life. Open us to the power of your presence, and make us a people ready to proclaim your promises to the whole world, through Jesus Christ, our healer and Lord.Amen.

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

1A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
  and favor is better than silver or gold.
2The rich and the poor have this in common:
  the Lord is the maker of them all.
8Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
  and the rod of anger will fail.
9Those who are generous are blessed,
  for they share their bread with the poor.

22Do not rob the poor because they are poor,
  or crush the afflicted at the gate;
23for the Lord pleads their cause
  and despoils of life those who despoil them.

Charity Bazaar for Widows and Orphans (Library of Congress, D.C.)

Psalm 125

1Those who trust in the Lord are | like Mount Zion,
  which cannot be moved, but stands | fast forever.
2The mountains sur- | round Jerusalem;
  so you surround your people, O Lord, from this time forth for- | evermore. R
3The scepter of the wicked shall not hold sway over the land allotted | to the just,
  so that the just shall not put their | hands to evil.
4Show your goodness, O Lord, to those | who are good
  and to those who are | true of heart.
5As for those who turn aside to crooked ways, the Lord will lead them away with the |evildoers;
  but peace be | upon Israel.

James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17

1My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
  8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. [11For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.] 
  14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Mark 7:24-37

24[Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice,25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
  31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Sermon Pastor Meggan Manlove

Whenever a person is walking through a train station in the United Kingdom, there is one phrase which they are sure to hear over the intercom or read in multiple places, “Please mind the gap.” It is a warning issued to passengers to take caution while crossing the horizontal, and occasionally vertical, spatial gap between the train door and the station platform. “Mind the gap.”

Both our reading from Proverbs and our reading from James provide reminders to mind the gap in faith, the gap between knowing something to be true and acting, between the head and heart, between knowledge and wisdom. 

Proverbs itself is a collection of essays, poems, and sayings expressing the wisdom of ancient Israel. It acknowledges that interesting as big questions are, such as the problem of evil or the meaning of life, they do not really address day to day living. Day to day living includes all sorts of smaller questions related to financial affairs, relating to friends, healthy marriage, and helping the poor.

Our passage today is addressed to those who are not poor, but rich. They have been robbing the poor or crushing the afflicted. “The gate” is the place in ancient Israel where court was held. When they have been robbed, the LORD will take up their cause.

But if cheating goes on in the court — if the widow, the orphan, and poor are not treated fairly, there is Someone watching over them. This is the LORD, who will take up their cause, like an advocate in a courtroom.

This same language appears in the book of Isaiah, Chapter 3:

13 The LORD rises to argue his case; he stands to judge the peoples.

14 The LORD enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people:

“It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses

15 What do you mean by crushing my people by grinding the face of the poor?” says the LORD God of hosts.

Here we see the Lord in action, taking up the cause of the people, acting as their Advocate. The theme of caring for the powerless, the widow, the orphan, the poor, the stranger, the aged runs through the Bible. All of these people have something in common: they have no power in society. The widow has no husband, the orphan no parent, the poor no money, the aged has no strength. God is their advocate. We, as God’s people, are called to be their advocates as well.

Our passage from James includes the story of a well-dressed rich man who is given a best seat in the synagogue and a poor man who is not given a place at all. Here in the book of James we find the familiar triad of the powerless again: the widow and orphan and also the poor.

The theme of the essay we hear from today is that faith and partiality do not mix. That’s especially true when partiality is a reflection of the world’s way of playing favorites. James sets up a dualism that may be a lot of things, but no one can critique it for being unclear. You are a friend of the world or a friend of God. Friends of the world show a preference for the powerful and wealthy, neglecting those struggling to make a living. Friends of God suffer with those who suffer and seek an end to the causes of their suffering.

The rich are a consistent source of critique in James since the quest for wealth often results in the fraying of social bonds. One grows richer by taking advantage of someone else. And as one grows wealthier, greed and self-centeredness take hold making an individual more and more friendly with the world and less and less able to be a friend of God. 

I do not think we have anyone in the uber wealthy category at Trinity, nor is our congregation populated with national, state, or even local law makers, people who create laws and policies which make it easier or harder for wealth to accumulate among a smaller population. 

And yet, we are all part of a society and culture that seems to make an idol of money, or things money can buy. How then are we to talk about money in this space? How do we talk about it within our families? What power do we have and how can wield it for those with less power?

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber names how our morality is at stake in the economic conditions of the West. He calls the church to speak and act in ways that James would recognize as right and faithful for friends of God. Barber is a leader in the Poor People’s Campaign, which is calling out the complicated web of oppression that makes all of us sick, but most notably the poor. Barber’s is just one movement, but it is crucial one for us to learn from because it is based in the ethics of Christianity. Like James, he wants to change the status quo. He is reminding us to mind the gap between words and actions.

The moral imperatives James lines out promote equality and the beloved community. Any action that securers individual comfort and pleasure at the expense of another is wrong. The poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the sick are precisely whom the gathering must support as they struggle to flourish. Their welfare leads to the welfare of everyone, so there are no more gaps.

This can all feel like a lot, maybe especially right now. There is hope and perhaps some relief in talking about tackling poverty in the midst of community. After all, we each bring different gifts and passions to the world. If we all take on a few particular causes, that does indeed bring relief. Community also gives us some accountability. We can check in on one another–how is our prayer life, how are we doing with our relationship with God, how are we doing loving our neighbor?

Right now, the opportunities for working towards equality, for helping the poor, for closing the economic gap seem endless. You can help feed people locally or support global organizations like Bread for the World. You can call the Agency for New Americans and ask about helping Afghan families coming to the Treasure Valley or support Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services’ global efforts. You can write a letter to city council members asking to loosen up zoning rules to make affordable housing easier to build or you can support Trinity New Hope, September’s recipient of our noisy offering. You can be a court advocate for victims of domestic abuse or donate monthly to Nampa’s Family Justice Center. Each one of us does not have to do everything. But James and the writer of Proverbs are pretty clear that minding the gap means actions must follow hearing the Word. 

Scholar Elsa Tamez writes that “Word,” for James, means the perfect law of freedom. Those who only hear the Word, without practicing it, demonstrate a lack of integrity. They deceive themselves. If it is only heard, the Word loses its power. It is only in fulfilling the Word that it takes on life and is verified as true. Yet, if those who hear it practice it steadfastly, the practice itself will be a cause for joy. It is a sign of consistency, integrity. 

He also speaks against the lack of respect for the poor and admiration of the rich. The law of freedom is a unity. You cannot fulfill one part of it and not another. In other words, if you do not commit adultery but you do show favoritism against the poor, you have transgressed the law that “you must love your neighbor as yourself.” 

James challenges us to love with consistency and integrity in our words and deeds. Throughout his letter, James refers to the good works continually spoken of in the Gospels as the liberating deeds of Jesus. They are deeds that effect justice. 

For James, faith cooperates with works. James wanted to emphasize the unity between faith and works as part of the necessary consistency in trusting, hearing, saying, and doing. We see him do this in our passage today: 14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

We read a concern for integrity, consistency between words and actions. This is how he reminds his first readers and those of us listening today to mind the gap. We trust today that the Holy Spirit is moving among us still as we try together to align our words and actions each day.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

Made children and heirs of God’s promise, we pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.Holy One, you bring your people together in worship. Enliven your church. Guide all evangelists, preachers, prophets, and missionaries who seek to share your love through word and deed. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

You provide water for thirsty ground and sunshine to feed hungry plants. Bless all who advocate for healthy forests, unpolluted air, and clean waterways. Inspire all people to show care for the world you have made. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

You show no partiality. Increase justice in all nations. Encourage leaders and governments to work with one another for the good of our common world. (Especially as we celebrate Labor/Labour Day,) unite us in seeking the health, safety, and dignity of all. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

You accompany those who are most in need. Shelter all fleeing violence or persecution, protect any who are in danger, and sustain them through uncertain and unstable times. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

You support the work of your disciples. Continue to nurture the leadership and ministries of this congregation (especially). Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.You embrace all who have died in the faith and brought them into your glorious presence. We thank you for their example and rejoice in their lives. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Receive these prayers, O God, and those in our hearts known only to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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