A reflection for the 29th August 2021
Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity 2021
from the Revd. Stephen French
Offered for Sunday 29th August 2021
'Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity 2021'
Compiled 28th August 2021
A few years ago, in an official capacity, I found myself
in the midst of a large gathering in a pub talking with various people
about this that and the other. Suddenly, one of those I was talking
with sat bolt upright in their chair, waving their half empty glass
of beer in a small circular motion, stated emphatically, they were
not religious, then with bold conviction pronounced, they kept the
'Ten Commandments' which was good enough!
Immediately the other members of the group turned and looked at me
in eager anticipation of my response. Taking a small sip of my drink;
to give me thinking space, I simply asked
'What are the first three commandments'?
Talk about lighting the proverbial blue touch paper.
There ensued a heated discussion; of which I was simply an observer!
Eventually, it was agreed, one of the commandments was about not
coveting your neighbours ass, with another one not committing murder
but the jury was out on the third let alone the remaining seven!
The answer the group was looking for is found in Exodus Chapter 20;
and if I'd had my wits about me I should have asked what the
first four were which are as follows :-
1. Worship no other gods but me.
2. You shall not make any graven image of God.
3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain;
4. Remember that you keep holy the Sabbath day.
The remaining six commandments only make sense if the first four are
observed. In fact, the remaining six cease to be commandments and become
promises if the first four are honoured.
If you, as Jesus said 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength',
you shall want to honour your Mother and Father,
you will not want to commit murder, commit adultery, steal,
bare false witness or covert that which belongs to your neighbour.
Without the first four, the remaining six only really become possible
by laws, legislation, restrictions and fear.
Let us Pray
Our Lord God,
we want to serve you,
to walk in your ways,
to love you with all our heart
and all our soul,
and to obey your commandments:
you are God of all and Lord of lords,
you are great, and mighty and awesome;
you are our God,
and we will praise you for ever.
Imagine the scene at the very traditional parish church of
'St Ivel in the Fridge'.
It was standing room only for the new vicar's first service since the
licensing a few days earlier. Wearing a brightly coloured clerical shirt,
not the traditional black, The new vicar greeted everyone happily
as they arrived.
Regular members of the congregation noticed there were quite a few
different faces in the congregation, presumably checking out the
newcomer, who was so different from the previous vicar.
The churchwarden glanced anxiously at the clock hanging at the back
of church, muttering, "Isn't it time the vicar got ready?"
But instead of disappearing into the vestry to robe up, the new vicar
walked to the front of the church and began the service.
There was a collective intake of breath from some members of the
congregation; 'What no robes!'
In today's bible reading from Mark 7 the Pharisees and scribes are
as shocked as some of the regular worshippers at 'St Ivel in the Fridge'
by a break with tradition.
Jesus has apparently allowed his disciples to eat without ritually
washing their hands.
As Mark helpfully explains, the "tradition of the elders" dictated
Jesus, however, retaliates with one of his favourite words: "hypocrites".
He often chided the religious establishment for their focus on
keeping up appearances.
Instead, he reminds them, they should examine the reasons for their
actions and attitudes.
He quotes Isaiah: "This people honours me with their lips, but their
hearts are far from me."
Symbolically, our hearts matter because they are the source of love,
both for God and for our fellow human beings. But they're also the
source of evil when we forget to love.?
In referring to "The Commandment of God" Jesus reminds these religious
scholars of the very basis of their Law;
The Ten Commandments were given to Moses, along with instructions
not to add or take away anything from them, and to pass them down the
Elsewhere, Jesus sums up the Ten Commandments in the two
"great commandments"; to love God and our neighbour, which is precisely
what those original ten were about.
Laws about putting God first; not worshipping human-made idols,
not killing, stealing, lying or being greedy; were all designed to
help us to love God and our neighbour, by showing us what that
No wonder Jesus lists those "evil things" that come from within
as those same things that the commandments tell us to avoid.
By the time Jesus is speaking, the original commandments have been
embellished and expanded into detailed instructions for religious
and everyday practice.
The primary purpose of "The Commandment of God" had been overshadowed
by rules for the sake of rules. Handed down from previous generations,
they have become the "tradition of the elders" in much the way that
some of our own church traditions have.
Due to the vagrancies of the lectionary reading from Mark a number of
verses are skipped so it isn't immediately clear that Jesus was
speaking to three different audiences: first the religious establishment,
then the crowd and later his closest disciples.
But Jesus reminds them all, and us, that outward show should never
be for its own sake.
"Outward show" includes saying the "right" thing or wearing the
Rather than being concerned with this, our words and deeds reflecting
our beliefs and ultimately 'The Commandment of God'.
Where would we be if Jesus had said all the right things and dressed
as a Jewish priest, but turned his back on the cross?
The new vicar of 'St Ivel in the Fridge' reassured the concerns of the
traditionalists, by conducting the following week B.C.P. Evensong,
fully robed. Meanwhile, the churchwarden reported an increase in
attendance with some new people even volunteering for the coffee rota
with many expressing surprise at how friendly and unintimidating
the Morning Service had become.
Some traditions are important.
The Eucharist is a tradition handed down to us, and there's nothing
wrong with a vicar wearing robes. But when Jesus looks at us today,
would we want him to call us "hypocrites"?
In some situations, if we're to pass on the good news of God's love
to our children's children, are there perhaps traditions that we
could and should live without?
The new vicar shocked the regular members of the
congregation by choosing not to wear the traditional robes
for the Morning Service.
Jesus cautioned against following human traditions for their own sake,
while neglecting God's primary commandment of love.
We are asked to pass on God's commandment of love to future generations;
sometimes clinging to tradition can obstruct us in this task.
May our minds be open and
willing to honour the Father.
May our hearts be open and willing to proclaim
May our lives be open and willing to receive the Spirit.
And the blessing ......