Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Is Religion Worthless?

Luke 7:36-8:3 Is religion without works worthless?

Is it no use to venerate the temple of the Lord?
Is it no use to know the law?
Is it no use to seek righteousness and to eschew the company of sinners?
Nope. Not on its own. OT and NT agree.
Jeremiah 7:6 links ethical behaviour to true religion. “do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm.”  So does Jesus in Matthew 25 – to serve the poor, the homeless, the destitute, the imprisonment – is to serve God. To refuse is to refuse God.

In Luke 7 Jesus stresses that this is not a matter of theory or ethical debate. He says quite plainly that our faith is shown by our actions. As James puts it: 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.
So the Pharisee Simon who is hosting this new Rabbi, Jesus, has been well taught. He knows the requirements of the law to maintain righteousness and ritual purity. He sets himself in judgement over Jesus. He wants to weigh up what Jesus does and so decide if he is a prophet or not.

But Jesus is not primarily interested in what Simon thinks of Him.
He is not primarily interested in what human beings think of Him. 
He is more interested in saving them – making them whole. So he demonstrates to Simon how to judge.

You judge a person by their actions. Actions speak louder than words. We need to take notice of what we are saying.

Is Jesus Welcome – where is the water for washing? - kiss? - oil? - love? The woman's response shows that she has been forgiven. That's the defining difference – love for Jesus. It's not that you earn forgiveness, of course, but that when you have been forgiven, forgiveness and gratitude flow out from you.

We rightly pour scorn on the tabloid newspaper presentation of those who think they can sin freely because they can go to confession afterwards. (Have you ever really met someone who lives like that?) But we are not so far from the faith called “Churchianity” as seen in Jer 7:4. The priority of buildings over ministry costs. The desperate need to cling onto our traditions – ancient or modern - even though they are not working. Schisms between people because of language, music, tradition or practice all simply demonstrate that these are people who do not have the love of Christ in them. They have not been forgiven. Therefore they cannot forgive others. Their “faith” is demonstrated by their actions. “Me, Us, Ours”.

How is “ethical behaviour” shown by Jesus? In welcoming sinners, touching  lepers, healing infirm women, rescuing the demon possessed. All those who are beyond the pale. It is relatively easy to learn to approve the latest trend, sing the latest songs, appreciate the latest choral piece, iron the surplice etc. but real love is too demanding. The cracks show.

What can we do? First remember the love of Jesus for you -just as you are – warts and all. Then let your gratitude to him flow out to those whom He loves. Sometimes, when people practice doing these things- especially when they are against their natural inclination, they find that something miraculous happens. They start to become the person that they are imitating. To be like Jesus.

Simon found no forgiveness, no healing, in Jesus but the woman did.

What failing, what illness, what need compels you to come to Jesus? What is on your heart? What is your passionate desire? Come and bring your concerns, your tears, your thanksgiving. And as you welcome Him in your daily life, He will assure you of His welcome.

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