Socks and Sandals Are An Abomination, But You're Not. (James 1.17-27, Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23)

I feel I need to nail my colours to the mast about a very important subject, a subject that has been on my mind all summer.
Socks and sandals. I hate socks and sandals. Socks and sandals to me are a massive no, no. Even more than camping. Let’s do a straw poll, who thinks that socks and sandals are a good thing, hands up, be honest. Who thinks that socks and sandals are an abomination.

Well, now we know who’s getting into the kingdom of heaven don’t we?

No I’m joking of course, but hear me out. What if I started to separate out the people who wear socks and sandals? What if I started saying that the people who didn’t wear the correct footwear in or outside of church weren’t proper Christians?
What if I said that I had trawled through the Bible and found biblical justifications for ostracizing people who wear socks and sandals, and that as a leader of this community, it is my job to safeguard all Christians against those who do this, because it’s not of God.

Who thinks this would be a good idea? This sounds profoundly un Christian doesn’t it?
The example I’m using is a bit of a daft one, granted, people who wear socks and sandals are just as likely to get into the kingdom of heaven as anyone else, that’s a disclaimer, I point that out now. But people, thousands of them, are told all over the world that if they don’t obey the rules, then they’re out of the church.

Let that sink in. People are ostracized because of who they love, because of the way they’ve acted, because of who they are. People are told that they are not loved by God if they don’t conform to a particular behaviour. Conforming to human made rules. Does this sound like liberation? Does it sound of God? People are not expendable to God.

I’m not saying that anything goes, far from it, I’m not saying that there aren’t, and shouldn’t be rules that we abide by to be Christian, but my question is do those rules come from God, or are they a way for humanity deciding who is in and who’s out? 

Who’s pure and who’s not? How can we discern whether a rule is of God?

Well, my usual practice is to think about whether a rule violates the fruits of the spirit for the person it’s against. When rules veil hate, they’re not of God. When they seek to demonise, or be cruel, they’re not of God. When they require us to act in an unloving way, not seeking the benefit of that person, but our own personal needs, they’re not of God.

The Gospel is about salvation and being loved, not our own codes of righteousness.
Can a person be good without God? A Curate, after an afternoon of too much communion wine falls down an escalator on the tube. A priest, noticing the curate passes by, thinking I’ve got to get to maahs, I’m sure someone else will help. Then a churchwarden sees the curate on the floor, but is too busy and thinks typical curate always drunk, and doesn’t stop to help. An atheist, sees the curate on the floor and calls the ambulance, stays with him until it arrives.

Which of these people is good? Jesus shows in the parable of the good Samaritan that it’s not always the people you expect to help that do, that the people we as religious people might judge, actually have the capacity to be good. It’s not our religious beliefs that make us good.

I have met extremely moral atheists, and very immoral Christians. Being religious doesn’t make us automatically good people.

I went to see the film Black Klansmen this week at the cinema, It’s a film all about intolerance and racism in America. A black detective manages to join the Ku Kux Klan and with the aid of his white Jewish partner manages to foil a plot. I won’t ruin it for you It’s a great film, if you have the chance go and see it.
The KKK describe themselves as Christians, they use the cross as a means of intimidation and fear, and frequently call upon God to aid them in their racist battle against those who are different.

Being Christian, or affirming your belief in Christ doesn’t automatically make us good.
Turning up to church doesn’t make us good, obeying rules doesn’t make us good.
There are those who believe that if you abide by the right rules that makes you good, a  good Christian, that that makes them better than other people.

Time and time again I have seen and met with so many people, who have been told by Christians that they are an abomination, that have been judged by them, and because of the way they’ve been judged have turned away from God altogether.
Their perception of God is the nasty intolerant people they’ve met. That’s what they see the fruits of faith to be. There is one principle that I try to live Christian Ministry by which is ‘they won’t remember what you say, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.’

It’s from within that this nastiness comes, not from God. It’s from within that people feel the need to judge others, to denigrate or be racist or homophobic, not from God. It’s from within that that nasty little voice of pride or envy makes us angry and try to crush others, and these brothers and sisters are the things that defile.
‘By their fruits you shall know them’ Jesus says in Mark 7. The fruits of these theologies are suicide, depression, anxiety and sadness.

So many people don’t know God loves them, and I hope that all of you know that God loves you, if not, well I’m going to keep standing up here farting on and on about it. It’s my job. God loves you, and accepting that love for myself was something that took quite a long time for me.

Jesus shows in our reading today from Mark that you can be as ‘religious’ as you like, you can abide by all the rules you want, but if you haven’t got the law of love written on your heart, you are dead inside.

The gospel is about salvation, not our own codes of righteousness. As James says ‘Anger does not produce righteousness.’

Right then Graham! You’re probably thinking, ‘what’s the point of me being here then. If it doesn’t necessarily make me a good person what’s the point in coming to church?’
Aha! I say. Urm let me think about that one.

We’re here because we’re saved, and we want other people to know they’re saved and loved too.

We’re here because love is what binds the universe together, not hate.

We’re here because we have been liberated from the wrong that we do, and that it’s not what we do that saves us, but God’s love and grace for us that does that. We believe in grace.

We’re here because we want to live in community with each other, and to at least try to live better and fuller lives.

We’re here because we recognise that we’re not perfect, well apart from me of course.
The gospel isn’t about sin and rules, but a glorious liberation from those things, they don’t save us, we can’t save ourselves. Jesus has done that for us. 

When I look into your faces when I preside, I like to smile at you. I see a wonderful community, a community filled with good people, a community with a heart for the people around us.

That’s the point, not how awful we are, or how terrible the world is, we can rant and bang on and on about it, but what does that achieve? We have faith in something other than ourselves, and we strive to reach out with that faith, reach away from death and sadness, to life. 

Reaching out beyond those glass doors, even beyond the people we scare each week when we turn to face the back.

By God we should have hope, that’s what true religion is. As James says we try to be ‘doers of the word’. Keeping ourselves unstained by the world doesn’t mean that we’re separate, but that we refuse to conform to the patterns of our society.
Patterns of helplessness, of greed, of anger and self righteous judgementalism.

We refuse to judge others, we refuse to defile ourselves with anger and shame. We refuse to not try harder at being good. We will give generously, sharing with each other as a community.

We are the liberated people of God. That should mean something.

We go forward into a new era now, we’re not alone we’re doing it together. We’ve got God. We’ve done the building, now we need to concentrate on people, making Mancroft the beating spiritual heart of this wonderful city.
Let’s work together to be that space for Norwich, where people can see and know, and taste how good God is through welcome, music and fellowship. Let us be a place where EVEN those who wear socks and sandals are welcome.
This is our challenge, and our joy, because we know that the Gospel is about salvation and being loved, not our own codes of righteousness.

So let’s do it.

Our time is now, our God is love, our mission is grace.

Preached at St Peter Mancroft


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