Religion: Doers or Deception?
August 29, 2021*
By Pastor John Partridge
Song of Solomon 2:8-13 Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 James 1:17-27
Have you ever been called a fake?
One of the worst accusations that our friends and acquaintances can level at us, is the accusation of being fake. We don’t like fakes. We don’t like fake friends, we don’t want to buy a fake Rolex watch, or a television that’s supposed to be a good name brand that turns out to be a fake. The government has teams of people that regulate commerce by at least attempting to prevent the sale of fake products and it’s important. Fake purses or fake watches fraudulently cost consumers money, but fake computer chips, or fake bolts, or fake gas valves, in critical applications can be deadly. The government even has an entire department, the department of the Treasury, and the Secret Service, whose job it is to prevent people from printing fake money because enough fake currency could potentially destabilize our entire economy.
The bottom line is that we don’t like fakes.
Fake money can hurt the economy. Fake products can hurt people. And fake friends can do serious damage to our psychological and emotional well-being.
But there’s at least one more fake that we need to be concerned about, and that’s fake religion.
But before we get too far in that direction, let’s begin, not by looking at what is fake, but at what is real. Let’s look at what real religion, real faith, looks like. And to do that, let’s begin by reading from God’s love story contained in the Song of Solomon 2:8-13.
8 The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
9 My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.
10 My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
11 for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.
The story contained in the Song of Solomon isn’t just about the love that King Solomon had for his bride (or at least one of them) and she for him, but its inclusion in scripture at least hints that this love story might also be an allegory for God’s love for his people and, by extension, the church. It describes a love that is tender, passionate, and filled with longing. And, if we understand it this way, at the end of this passage we hear God calling his people to “come away” with him. But even if, as some interpreters assert, that this is only about love, and not about our relationship with God, it still describes a loving relationship that is passionate, tender, and real. There is no fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship. And although he never references the Song of Songs, that kind of pure relationship seems to be exactly what Jesus is getting at in his conversation with the Pharisees in Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.
7:1 Now when the Pharisees 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 Pharisees, 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 Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not liveaccording to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 He said to them, “Isaiah 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.”
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.”
The Pharisees and the scribes rigorously and religiously adhered to traditions that were not required by scripture, and they criticized Jesus’ disciples for not following them as well. Their implication was that the disciples, and Jesus, were not sufficiently faithful to God because they failed to adhere to these man-made traditions. And Jesus’ response was to criticize them for treating the traditions of human beings as if they were the doctrines and teachings of God, and at the same time, ignoring and disobeying the real commandments of God. Jesus says that the intentions of our hearts matter, what we think about matters, that sex, theft, murder, greed, wickedness, loose living, envy, slander, pride, deception, and sometimes even just foolishness are evil things that come from the inside, and it is those things, the things that that come out of us, that defile us.
Jesus says that it is the faith of the Pharisees that is lacking and not the faith of his disciples. Because, while his disciples may have eaten lunch without washing their hands and dishes in exactly the right way, it is the Pharisees who are harboring these sorts of evil desires inside themselves. For Jesus, real faith is all about what’s inside of us and how that faith is lived out. Real faith isn’t just an act so that we look good to the people around us. Real faith isn’t just for show. Real faith is not about fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship with God.
Jesus’ brother James echoes this same language, and this same understanding, as he describes what real faith looks like in the lives of the followers of Jesus Christ in James 1:17-27 when he says…
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 themselvesin 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.
In this passage, and in a whole lot of other ones, James makes the argument that faith is not an abstract concept, thought experiment, or something that is only internal and private. Faith is not something that we do for show, it is not an act, but instead is life changing and transformative. Faith isn’t something that we can practice in the privacy of our own homes without anyone noticing, but changes who we are, how we think, how we care for ourselves and one another, and is reflected outward in everything that we do. Faith, James says, is revealed not when we become believers, but when we become doers of God’s word.
The Song of Solomon describes a loving relationship that is passionate, tender, and real. There is no fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship.
And since we know that faith is an expression of the loving relationship that we have with God, we understand when Jesus says that real faith is all about what’s inside of us and how that faith is lived out. Real faith isn’t just an act so that we look good to the people around us. Real faith isn’t just for show. Real faith is not about fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship with God.
And just like a real, tender, and passionate loving relationship, real faith changes us. We’ve seen it all in the movies as well as in real life. When two people are really in love with one another, it’s almost impossible to hide it. Real love isn’t fake or deceptive. Real love, and real faith, aren’t just words, but are pure, life changing, and transformative. They change the way that we think, the way that we live, and the way that we act, and they are lived out in everything that we do.
The bottom line is that we don’t like fakes.
We don’t like fake purses, fake watches, fake televisions, fake money, fake friends, or fake relationships.
And the same is true about faith.
Real faith isn’t just and act.
Real faith isn’t evil.
Real faith can’t have anything to do with fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply grows out of a pure and loving relationship with God and with Jesus Christ.
Real faith produces generosity, truth, patience, righteousness, purity, openness, humility, mercy, compassion, and love that is unstained by the world.
If it’s real, faith isn’t something that we only have in our heads, or even in our hearts. When its real, faith is transformative and is revealed, and demonstrated to the world in everything that we do.
Let us not only be hearers of God’s word.
Let us instead commit ourselves to being doers of the word so that the world can know that what we have…
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.