Here is our worship service for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, August 29, 2021! We’re glad you could worship here today!
Our worship bulletin can be found here. The bulletin of course will have the order of worship, the words and responses to the liturgy, the hymn numbers corresponding with ELW hymnal, and the sermon in full. The sermon can also be found below the video on this page, and most of the responses to the liturgy will be on your screen. You may use whatever tool you wish to follow along with the service.
To help enhance your at-home worship experience, we suggest you have some elements in your space. A bowl of water to interact with for the Thanksgiving for Baptism, something small to eat and drink for communion, and a lit candle for the whole service that can be extinguished near the end of the sending hymn. These are optional and only intended to be used if deemed helpful for you.
May God’s gracious blessing be upon you this day and always!
God by the power of your Spirit, open our hearts and minds to receive your Word, that we not forget the wonders that you have done nor neglect to make them known to all the world, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Yes, this is a big issue. Very big issue. TREMENDOUS issue!”
This is what I overheard a protestor say in the shop that I was working at on South Granville some like 20 years ago. He was taking a break from their small protest of about 15 people and some customer asked him what he was protesting about. I have a feeling that she regret asking the moment she did, because he went on this long rant of how what they were fighting for was the backbone of their neighbourhood and how the government only cares about money and not the people and everything now will be basically awful if it weren’t for his small band of courageous protestors.
This stood out to me as I listened to their conversation while I was stocking the shelves, and I remember thinking, “really, dude? Is it really that big a deal to even describe it as tremendous?” You might be wondering what the issue was. From what I remember, I think it was in preparation of the 2010 Olympics that the city of Vancouver wanted to designate Granville St to be an extension of Highway 99.
That was it.
Not all that tremendous in my eyes. Sure, I didn’t live in the area, I couldn’t afford it then just as I can’t afford it now, but I did work in the area on and off for over 10 years, driving in and out, and even taking public transit for a couple months in there, and honestly, it wasn’t a big deal. So forgive me if I sound crass and unsympathetic to his situation, but I just didn’t see the severity of it all. But he did, obviously and tremendously. And he was willing to march up and down that street to fight for what he believed in, which to me, didn’t seem at all worth it.
Now, I could have completely misunderstood the issue at hand, and perhaps I didn’t and continue to not see what was happening under the covers so to speak, but I think overall, this need to believe in something, this insatiable desire to hold onto one’s own ideals of what is right or wrong not just for themselves, but for everyone around them, this natural aversion to any kind of change in general is apparent in a lot of us in many different issues. It’s apparent in how we talk to others who have different opinions than us, how we treat those who are not like us in a number of ways, and how strongly we hold onto the “good ol’ days” because that is when things didn’t change and we did things how we just always did things. We see it in the reaction to the changes brought about in society because of this pandemic, we see it in the increasing divide of the political spectrum, and we even see it in today’s gospel lesson.
Today we’re back in Mark after a short bout in John, and without an ounce of surprise, the Pharisees are causing Jesus and his disciples a bit of grief. They caught Jesus’ disciples not washing their hands before eating. In this day and age of pandemic-y germs floating everywhere, that sounds pretty gross. But in those days, it was even more gross because they didn’t have things like hand sanitizer, soap dispensers, or even tissues… like of any kind. So all the things you use tissue for now, well they had to make do with their hands (if you know what I mean). Oh, and also, there was a religious component to it. The washing itself became sort of a cleansing ritual that evolved to more than just washing off dirt. I mean, yeah the point was to wash off dirt of course, but for them it was like a ceremony symbolizing the cleansing of your soul, your spirit, your very self as you enter into this time of eating.
So you can see why the Pharisees were so annoyed with the disciples. Here was Jesus, trying to be all super religious man and all, and his followers don’t even have the decency, the class, the faith to wash off the defilement of their hands. And at first, we think Jesus’ reaction is similar to my internal reaction to that protestor, “really dude(s of undetermined number)? Is it really a big deal to not wash your hands?” And from there we’d “stick it to the man” and stop washing our hands.
Except… it is important to wash your hands, especially these days as we just established. And notice that Jesus actually doesn’t say that it’s ok not to wash your hands or that it’s wrong TO wash your hands. Rather, he speaks against this attitude of the Pharisees toward the disciples.
This attitude of religious superiority, of condescending piety, of the typical “holier-than-thou”, is what riles Jesus up, not the practice of hand washing itself. The Pharisees were comparing themselves with others based only on how devout they are in outward practices. They felt justified in their actions because in their eyes they were the best of the best, the smartest of the smart, the most right of the righteous. In their eyes, they were the deserved heirs of God’s kingdom, and it would be in everyone’s interest to be more like them.
And I can’t stand it.
I guess I get a little triggered when I hear these kinds of stories because it reminds me of much of my own religious life. Growing up in a conservative Chinese church, the way I dressed, having my ears pierced, and the fact that I couldn’t even pray in Chinese made them think that I wasn’t much of a Christian at all, or at least Chinese Christian. And when I used to roll with more Evangelical circles I was looked down on for not raising my hands enough in worship and they questioned my heart and motives. And even later in Lutheran circles I was looked down on for not crossing myself after prayers or blessings because I didn’t understand really what Martin Luther himself said in this volume of this book during whatever time in his life. And even now as a Lutheran pastor, as I’ve shared before it’s like I’m looked down upon because I’m not of German descent, because I can’t quote all these old theologians that I didn’t read growing up, and because I’m offering communion online. So it’s stories like these that remind me of how I so often and still get treated as a lesser pastor, a lesser Christian, a lesser child of God, if that is even possible.
But I get it, people need to believe in what they believe, and I’m ok with that. The Pharisees need to believe that their rituals and customs are the most important thing in the world. That protestor guy thought his issue with a highway designation was the most tremendous thing to fight for. And so many people today continue to draw lines between them and others because of their own interpretations of scripture, their views on what worship should or shouldn’t look like, and of course their political beliefs and how church and state should be mixed or not.
What a messy world we live in.
And we might never get out of it, not if we keep thinking that the only way to do so is if we could convince the other side to be more like us. It’s like we think if only the world were run how we think it should be run, then there would be a lot less problems. It’s like we’ll never be happy until those with opposing opinions from ours are either completely changed… or dare I say eradicated.
But that isn’t the answer. If we look at today’s second reading out of James, we receive instruction on how to navigate this messy world. We see how we are to be quick to listen, slow to speak and to anger, and welcome God’s Word into our lives. God’s word of liberty, that is, grace, mercy, and peace.
So you see, in order for there to be any kind of reconciliation, it isn’t that we need to give up our beliefs, but we do need to be humbled enough to see that our beliefs aren’t necessarily the absolute truth. For us to learn to live in peace, we don’t spend our time trying to convince the other side how they’re wrong and we’re right, but it is to listen to each other and try to understand how they came to their viewpoint, and see if there is any common ground on which we can be united. If we want the world to be better, we don’t need to be angry at it all the time, but rather we can learn how to reach out to the world in love, just as God has reached out to us in love. And in that love, we can see how we are all more alike than we ever could have thought, in that we are all sinners who have been saved by a God so near to us that we would be cared for and forgiven.
And that, my friends, is truly tremendous.
In this season after Pentecost, may we put down our weapons and tear down our walls, and reach out to our neighbours with open arms of love, that as we continue to face the uncertainties of the future, we might face them together and with love. Thanks be to God. Amen.