Be Doers of the Word

2 September 2018 – Lectionary 22, Proper 17


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

When Jesus calls the people together again, he calls them to a concern about their responsibilities for what comes forth from inside them— thought, word, deed. For these things, that originate within the person, or a community, and the deeds that come forth can defile and condemn them. Again, failing to shift the focus to our own deeds and discipline and repentance can lead to the loss of our souls, both individually and our corporate soul. Without hearing and receiving the presence of the Christ, and all that God offers, all the hand washing in the world. . . or wringing for that matter, amounts to nothing.

The notion that we might be the Pharisees and scribes, or that in our churches we ever “sweat the small stuff” in order to do an end run on the relationship of disciples following Christ, readily provides the preacher much fodder and opportunity. –– John E. Smith

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

. . . Israel is exhorted to heed the statutes and ordinances that God teaches, by doing them, in order to possess this land. This brings us to our chapter 4, which is a transition from the introductory rehearsal of God’s actions and travels with Israel to the core of the deuteronomic material, beginning with the Decalogue.

The only way in which [the] people can be faithful to God in the face of surrounding idolatry on the land, which they occupy, is by heeding the covenant statutes and ordinances. This is also the way in which they must inhabit and maintain the land. The significance of the land and its holi- ness or defilement is key here. Because the land is God’s, provided by him to his people, the land itself is set aside as holy. . .

Their life on the land is a living sign of their relationship with God, and it cannot be understood nor successful apart from the living covenant with God and the commandments tied to the land . . . Their righteousness can only be seen in how Israel fares living with God, keeping the covenant. The purpose for Israel and their land is for all the world to know God’s holiness and righteousness. –– John E. Smith

James 1:17-27

To receive the word actually means being moved by it to faithful action and living. The faithful, inspired life is then a disciplined life. A community cannot claim to have received the ‘‘implanting’’ of the word in any real sense if it lets its tongues run unbridled, fails to harness its predilections, inclinations, and bad habits to the service of God and God’s purpose. . . .

This is a clear exhortation to confidence and faithful living in the face of temptations provided by the world around. . . The word here has power (“has the power to save your souls”), brings out the faithful first fruits, and resides in the congregation as an ongoing, dynamic, other presence.

Bridle and harness, particularly regarding the tongue, are directly related to suppressing other tongues and allowing this implanted word to work. –– John E. Smith


John E. Smith has served as a Methodist pastor for many years.

Homily Service 42, no. 3 (2009): 146-156.

David Turnbloom