Saturday, August 29, 2015

To Be Rather Than to Seem: Reflections on James 1 and Mark 7 (RCL Proper 22B, 30 August 2015)

To Be Rather Than to Seem
Reflections on James 1 and Mark 7

RCL Proper 22B
30 August 2015

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC
            In the autumn of 1998, our older son David began Grade 8 at Magee Secondary School.  It was an important year for both David and the School.  The old Magee High School had just been replaced with a new, state of the art building.  A brand new sign was erected that not only proclaimed the School’s name, but also provided information on up-coming events.  Prominently displayed on the sign was the School’s motto --- Esse quam videre --- ‘To be rather than to seem’.

            The first time I dropped David off at Magee, I looked at the sign.  Something was wrong.  I looked again and again before I saw the problem --- the motto.  The sign-maker had misspelt the Latin word esse ‘to be’ and had written essa which means nothing in Latin.  So I parked the car and asked to see the Principal.  When I met him, I pointed out the error.  Poor man!  No educator likes to have such an error so publicly displayed.  It was quickly corrected --- at the sign maker’s expense probably.

            It’s a good motto, don’t you think, ‘To be rather than to seem’.  In many ways it’s a summary of today’s readings from the Letter of James and the Gospel according to Mark.  At the heart of James’ letter is his plea that what we believe has to be embodied in what we do.  In theological language orthodoxy, ‘right thinking’ must be expressed in orthopraxy, ‘right acting’.  James writes that ‘. . . be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. . . . 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’ (James 1.22, 27).

            In today’s Gospel reading Mark picks up the other side of the equation.  The Pharisees express their concern that Jesus’ disciples are not practicing the rituals prescribed in the Covenant of Moses.  Jesus’ responds in so many words, ‘Look, right acting needs to spring from right thinking.  Just going through the motions without an internal conversion of the heart, mind, strength and soul is not what God expects of us.’

            What we believe must affect what we do.  What we do must spring from what we believe.  There is no conflict between the two; they are the faces of the same coin --- our faith that in Jesus of Nazareth we meet God.  There is an old-fashioned word for this concept --- integrity.

            We are in the midst of a federal electoral campaign in which competing visions of the future of our country are being articulated.  We know that there is widespread suspicion of political leaders and the promises that are made during an electoral campaign.  Many young people do not vote because they do not perceive our elected leaders as possessing integrity, that unity of right thinking and right acting.  There are increasing numbers of older voters who are equally disenchanted with the political process and have withdrawn from any involvement.  The perception that politicians lack integrity is potentially catastrophic for the common good.  Edmund Burke, the eighteenth-century English political leader, once said that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

            At the heart of the Anglican baptismal liturgy is a series of questions and promises collectively known as the Baptismal Covenant.  The first three questions ask us to affirm our faith in the Triune God.  These are questions about ‘right believing’.  But these questions are then followed by six promises, six commitments, if you will, that are intended to lead us into ‘right acting’.  ‘Right acting’ as an Anglican Christian means

  • continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers;
  • persevering in resisting evil and, whenever we fall into sin, repenting and returning to the Lord;
  • proclaiming by word and example the good news of God in Christ;
  • seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbours as ourselves;
  • striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being; and
  • striving to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respecting, sustaining and renewing the life of the Earth.

This Covenant commits us to integrity and the acceptance of the obligations that this choice requires.

            There are Christian traditions that are leery of involvement in the political process.  Anglicans are not one of them.  We know that we must walk a careful path that avoids partisanship, the advocacy of a particular party agenda, but upholds the principle that politics is about caring for the common good of all people, citizens and non-citizens, partisans and non-partisans equally and passionately.

            Just this week, our Church has published a document entitled ‘Compassion, Justice, and Reason:  An AnglicanApproach to Election 2015’.  I have prepared copies of the document that you may take home with you today.  This document does not tell anyone for whom they should vote.  It does, however, describe the positions our Church has taken on various issues that have arisen and may arise during this electoral campaign.  It is our job, as baptized members of Christ’s body, to discern which of the candidates demonstrates that unity of right thinking and acting, that integrity, which will serve the common good of all God’s people in this country of ours.

            And there is one thing I, as your Rector, would ask of each of you.  We shall all meet people, young and old, who are reluctant to vote because they no longer trust the democratic process.  Please encourage them to inform themselves about the issues and to vote.  It is no exaggeration for me to say that the future of each and every one of us depends upon the active participation of all citizens, believers and non-believers, disgruntled and hopeful, privileged and under-privileged alike.

            Esse quam videre.  To be rather than to seem.  The right words for our times, I think.

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