Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Give an eagle a fish – and he’ll be back tomorrow. To teach an eagle to fish – you need a flock of eagles.
Junior – or Buddy – already was an eagle, just a young one. He was immature, and he’d gotten out of the nest too early. So he didn’t know all the things an eagle needs to know before becoming a full-fledged adult bird. He needed help.
At first he was getting it from people – the simple, beginning things. He needed to eat. Throw him a fish – and he’d be back the next day.
But he needed to learn more, beyond that simple receipt of sustenance. He needed to get out there and do the things that eagles do. So how does he learn that?
They’ll let him know how this works. Later they’ll head south, down the river – and he’ll follow. They’ll gather below dams where the fishing is good – and again he’ll want a share. They’ll let him share – or let him know to catch his own. He’ll catch on… but it will take a flock of eagles – an aerie, a convocation – to teach him, to raise him up to maturity, to the fullness of life of a mature bird. And he’ll soar with them.
In the reading today from the letter of James, we begin a series on the Christian life – how to live after you believe. What Christian behavior is – among this flock!
James tells us the source of all we are – and all we have – in Christ Jesus. And that is why – not owing to ourselves – we are able to respond to the message of the kingdom, the gospel. It is in us – as Christ’s messengers – to share that love and joy we know as God’s gift. So we speak slowly of anger, quickly of love. We cast off, with God’s help, the ghosts of past wrongs. And we become active agents of the word, not passive receivers only.
What we believe, what we trust, what we know, we act upon: knowledge of Christ is actionable knowledge.
“The road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.”—Daj Hammarskjold
What we have is given us by God – our identity, our nature, eagle or human, comes from that source. What we do with it, how we grow into the full stature of our nature as God created us to be, that is what we have to learn, from each other, in the community and fellowship gathered in the spirit of Christ Jesus.
We learn how to act in accordance with our nature as redeemed people, people called to follow Jesus. As eagles learn from each other so we grow in knowledge, actionable knowledge, learning how to live the life of joy – together.
And the letter of James, and the Psalm for today, lay out some steps.
(You see the Law is not there to get you into heaven – or into trouble; it is there to guide your way into the holiness. So the Law becomes a mirror, a mirror of perfection, showing us what it looks like to become perfect – that is, made whole, complete – in Christ. It shows us how we are “in aspiration” – as God made us to be, as Christ is shaping us to become, in the fullness of created and redeemed nature.)
Indeed, Psalm 15 gives us ten steps, ten examples, ten precepts, on how to live – the goal: being able to present our selves as an offering of praise before God (as the Eucharistic prayer says for us). So how do we clean up our act so we can stand upright as God’s own people?
1 Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle?*
who may abide upon your holy hill?
2 [I] Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right,*
[II] who speaks the truth from his heart.
3 [III] There is no guile upon his tongue;
[IV] he does no evil to his friend;*
[V] he does not heap contempt upon his neighbour.
4 [VI] In his sight the wicked is rejected,*
[VII] but he honours those who fear the Lord.
5 [VIII] He has sworn to do no wrong*
and does not take back his word.
6 [IX] He does not give his money in hope of gain,*
[X] nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
7 Whoever does these things*
shall never be overthrown.
This is in a sense, then, a call to conversion – to continuing conversion, a transformation of manner of life, the turning, turning, of our souls ever more God-ward, showing forth in our lives – making it real in the world – what is in our hearts.
Blessed one, bless us, as you call us forth, out of our own preoccupations, into your service, out of our shadows, into your light; help us leave behind the wrong-doing, the slander, the deceit, the gossip, – all that makes mockery of our souls – the impediments to our freedom in Christ. May the gospel show forth in our lives as we embrace it with our minds and hearts and hands and voices. Amen.