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Simple Instructions for Ordinary Saints

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

James 1:17-27

©2021 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

Intro to Scripture

Sometimes a biblical text lands on the right soil.
That was the case for one of our community of investigators/
interpreters who meet with me each week
to turn these preaching texts.
She said that it “so sounds like her life right now”
as the parent of a
child graduating from elementary school.
It reads like a list of all those things you, and teachers
and everybody wants to say to these not-so-tiny anymore
‘tween children as they grow and venture
further into the world by themselves.
Throw in the growing pile of lists from summer camp,
science camp, about what to bring, CoVid restrictions….
Throw in the words you call out as they hide
their childhood stuffy at the bottom of their backpack,
“Don’t forget to pack two masks.
Do you have a full hand-sanitizer?
Remember to thank your car-pool driver…
And, remember O best beloved…
Remember who you are,
and I know you’ll do the right thing”…

.. and your voice trails, hoping that every day
under your roof so far has made that last point
the one they’ll remember,
even more than the sanitizer:
“Remember who you are, and you’ll do the right thing.”

Yep. James is like that.
Way too much in 10 verses
for us to have one-take away,
what with the “be eager to listen, slow to speak and slower to anger”
-that’s a good one-
but then, without missing a breath,
he throws in the confusing bit about the mirror.
As if he can feel us losing interest,
James calls to our summer bound backs…
“Be Doers of the Word, not merely Hearers.”

Now if ever there was a moment in time,
in history, in Canadian history,
for us to take James to heart, it’s now.
A lot of us are wondering what on earth we can do
now that these hidden bones of stolen children
are crying out to us from their forgotten graves.
We heard it, didn’t we: what to do first?
Listen for that still small voice of God,
speaking to us from those graves.
If we listen, we will hear truths
that will break our hearts in pieces.
We are descendants, inheritors
of those who built a systematic unholy alliance
between colonial power
and distorted, deaf/blind over-certain religion
so caught up in abstractions
that our forbears, and we, seem to have forgotten entirely
that one last thing
that James calls out for us to NOT forget:
True faith, the sort that God delights in, is this:
to care for widows and orphans
– the homeless, the loveless,
the lost, the last, the least,
in their distress,
and to live a life that is free from the stain of corruption.

This wasn’t new to James, nor even to Jesus;
it’s a cry as old as God!
At the heart of God’s Dream for the abundant, good, flourishing of all,
is God’s incessant, unrelenting, eternal concern
for the ones that human self-aggrandizing power and
hyper-convinced religiosity continually manages to exclude.

Exodus 22:22
You shall not wrong a stranger, a refugee, for you were once refugees in Egypt.
You shall not mistreat any widow or orphan. If you do they will cry out to me, I will hear their cry and my heart will burn.

Isaiah 1:17 Learn to do good things; seek justice; correct oppression; bring justice to the orphan and plead the widow’s cause. (James says exactly the same thing!)

It goes on, over 100 times in the Bible, from beginning to end,
you will find this phrase, this couplet,
care for widows and orphans, repeated.

So much so, it is the definition of the Dream of God.
It carries with it the assumption that the blessed life,
the intentional life, the meaningful life,
is not about going to church on Sunday,
it’s about what we do between Sundays
to care for the ones left out, behind, vulnerable.

And if you’re not sure how, here’s the litmus test:
Does what you do with your day, your life, your money,
your talent, your thinking, your hobbies,
your speech, your listening, your feeling,
make life better
for the “widow and the orphan in distress”?

We have a chance,
we inheritors of this systemic othering of
Canada’s orphans and widows:
Indigenous people, LGBTQ people,
refugeed people, lower than liveable wage-earning people,
to put ourselves in the way of perpetuating the system.
Now we know that no government of whatever political persuasion
is going to dismantle a system from which it benefits,
until, or unless it becomes obvious that the voters themselves
no longer condone the two-tiering of Canada’s peoples.

It sounds daunting, but what I love about the Gospel Way of Jesus
is that it’s done by all of us daily doing mustard seed sized things,
even in response to such daunting challenges.
It’s ordinary saints doing ordinary things that make life more blessed for someone else.
(I’m going to start the list, and hope that those of you in FB land can add to it, real time…)

It’s car comfort kit making. ,*
It’s making sandwiches for downtown spaces.
It’s knitting scarves for unhoused in winter.

It’s being public about your solidarity with those othered and left behind by privilege.
It’s using your social media, and your social interactions to spread wisdom and hope
and to call for justice for God’s widows and orphans and strangers.
It’s letters to the editor, MPs and MNAs, repeatedly, cumulatively.

It’s the way we spend our money – supporting local and indigenous businesses.
It’s the stories we read to our children.
It’s the demand for better history teaching in our schools,
and not waiting til they get it right to teach
our kids to be critical, yet compassionate thinkers and doers.
It’s volunteer hours teaching or tutoring.

It’s donations to support organizations: the Healing Fund, LGBTQ rights, Mental health.
It’s acts of creation care at Fairview forest, or Angell Woods, or in your back yard.
It’s advocating for clean water for every Canadian,
or the end to prison like detention for asylum seekers.
It’s calling for ‘compassionate first responder’ teams, not tazers.
It’s persistently calling out (and self-monitoring for) racist, misogynist, ageist, ableist comments and actions.
It’s being a Raging Granny.
It’s using your skill as a musician to sing justice and freedom.

It’s a revolution made up of millions of
tiny, daily, acts of goodness,
of faithful action
to live God’s Dream of care for the lost, the last, the least,
to care for “widows and orphans”
that will overturn the systems of oppression.
Never doubt that,
that this will change the world.


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