Proper 17 – Year B (9/2/12)

18 Aug

Scriptures for today –

Song of Solomon 2:8-13 or Track 2 Psalm 15: & Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

James 1:17-27

Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23   

Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10

Your throne, O God, endures for ever and ever,  a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom;  you love righteousness and hate iniquity.

Opening Question

We all seem to admire and respect people who are “authentic” (my definition is those who live their principles openly).  Are you an authentic person?  If not, is that something to which you should aspire?

Appointed Passages[1] (RCL)

Track 2 – Deuteronomy 4: 1-9

1 So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you. 3You have seen for yourselves what the Lord did with regard to the Baal of Peor—how the Lord your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, 4while those of you who held fast to the Lord your God are all alive today.

5 See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. 6You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’ 7For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? 8And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?

9 But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children–

  • To what extent does the phrase “watch yourselves closely” (v.9) imply you have a responsibility to help others enforce statutes for themselves?
  • How does one keep things from “slipping” from mind (v.9)?
  • Is teaching children a valid channel to self-examination?

 James 1:17-27

17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act–they will be blessed in their doing.

26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

  • What else is required, beyond reading the bible, as action sufficient to “look into the perfect law” (v.25)?
  • What degree of action is required to be classified as a “doer” of the word?

Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

1 Now when the Phar’isees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3 (For the Phar’isees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles). 5 So the Phar’isees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 He said to them, “Isai’ah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’  8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

20 And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

  • Assuming Jesus is suggesting that what is presented to us is of less significance than how we respond to it, bad ideas are of no consequence if we take no action to pursue them.  However, when should we take action to stop people from doing things that are wrong?
  • How do you identify actions that have spiritual significance and thus warrant some thought before taking them?


Sometimes we get so caught up in the daily routines of life that we don’t think.  In one sense, embracing so fully God’s love that it becomes an automatic component of our actions is a good thing.  On the other hand, most of us would admit that we can probably improve the relative state of our soul in our quest for salvation.

The phrase Jesus uses that I find most interesting is “there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile”.  The implication is that we are free to choose our responses to what happens in our world.  The consequences of our choices shape our spiritual character.  Our actions (over time) measure of the relative status of our salvation.

All of today’s readings contain hints of how we might measure our progress toward salvation (assuming, of course that is the ultimate objective).  In my geeky style of deliberative thinking, my first reaction is to produce a series of questions with answers to be scaled in order to produce a “salvation” score for our souls. 

I suspect we could get a curious collection of responses by asking a range of people what the key questions should be asked in interviews if our task was to help St. Peter assess the relative standing of a person’s soul for admission to heaven.  But then again, isn’t that sort of what we do every time we have an interaction with God – either in a church service, or perhaps personal conversation in prayer, or maybe just in a contemplative thought?

That is precisely the point – we have to think.  How we shape our responses to good and evil in the world every day by the actions we take affects something more important than life itself – salvation.

Quotes for Today: 

The remarkable thing is that we really love our neighbor as ourselves: we do unto others as we do unto ourselves. We hate others when we hate ourselves. We are tolerant toward others when we tolerate ourselves. We forgive others when we forgive ourselves. We are prone to sacrifice others when we are ready to sacrifice ourselves.

Eric Hoffer

Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.


The greatest discovery of our generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. As you think, so shall you be.

William James 

[1] All NRSV


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