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Followers of Religion, or Followers of Jesus?

In the Gospel we’ll hear on Sunday (Luke 13:10-17), Jesus is criticized by a religious leader for healing someone with a severe physical handicap, because he healed her on a Sabbath day. Jesus responds to the criticism by calling the religious people “hypocrites.”

Religion -- religious practices -- had become more important to them than acts of mercy and compassion. That’s why Jesus called them hypocrites.

We are hypocrites when our religion -- worship, holding orthodox beliefs, saying our prayers -- becomes more important than following the founder of our religion in our day-in-and-day-out actions of setting people free from whatever ails them.

A few weeks ago, we heard a similar theme, when Isaiah (1:10-20) reminded us that God has grown weary with “solemn assemblies.” Acts of worship are “an abomination” to God unless the people doing such worship are “seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, and pleading for the widow.”

This is the reason we encourage every member of St. James’ to become involved in some form of hands-on service to those in need.

Serving the poor moves us from the vagueness and unaccountability of “worshipping God” to the specificity and transformation of life involved in being followers of Jesus.

I was recently reminded of something: in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, there is not a single word about what to believe, only words on what to do.

In the Nicene Creed, it’s just the opposite: not a word about what to do, only words about what to believe.

But which of the two, by sheer repetition each Sunday, are more Episcopalians familiar with?

That’s a problem. One I hope we’ll address, and wrestle with together, over the course of the next few months.

Because -- I’ll say it again -- we are hypocrites when our religion -- worship, holding orthodox beliefs, saying our prayers -- becomes more important than following the founder of our religion in our day-in-and-day-out actions of mercy and compassion.


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