Sermon - Sunday, 2 September 2018

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr on Sunday, 2 September 2018.

Scripture: Deuteronomy 4: 1-2, 6-8 / Mark 7: 1-8

Text: Jesus said, these people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain ; their teaching are but rules taught be men                                                                            (Mark 7: 6, 7)


What does the Christian life look like?

What does it look like for you as an individual?

What does it look like for us as a congregation?

In their book Resident Aliens, a book which explores something of what the Christian faith looks like in contemporary culture, the authors, Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, tell a number of stories. [1]

One of the stories concerns a southern US town in the throes of the 1960’s school de-segregation programme.

A white citizen’s group had been formed to fight the court’s order and a meeting was called to discuss tactics.

The atmosphere in the town hall was tense and frightening as speaker after speaker condemned the court’s order and urged people to resist.

After listening quietly for some time, the local Baptist minister finally rose to speak.

I am ashamed he said.

I have baptised, preached to and counselled many in this room.

I might have thought that my preaching of the gospel had done some good.

But tonight I think differently.

I cannot speak to those who are not of my congregation, but to those who are, I can only say that I am hurt and ashamed of you and might have expected more.

Leaving the podium the minister slipped quietly out of the hall and the meeting resumed awkwardly.

One by one most of the members of the Baptist church also left quietly.

The meeting stumbled to an adjournment with no action taken - and the schools integrated the following month without incident.

According to Hauerwas and Willimon, here was an ordinary pastor doing the ordinary things of church life – baptising, preaching, counselling – among the ordinary people of his congregation and town for the privilege of being a witness to the Christian life one night in August.

Ethics, they concluded, does not become much more Christian than this.

Living the Christian life, honouring God not just with our lips but with our hearts, an integrity of faith and action,  the things we believe and value evident in what we do and say and how we live – if that is important to us as individual women and men, it is also important to us as a congregation.

For some time now our Kirk Session has been planning a stewardship campaign.

Entitled Cramond Cares, one of the purposes of the stewardship campaign is to reflect upon the different opportunities and challenges facing us as a congregation, how better we might use our existing resources to meet them and what new things might be achieved.

The care and support we offer to older people in our community, our engagement with children and families, the musical tradition of our congregation, the use we make of our church buildings and the place of social media to tell our story and encourage new life:  if these are the five areas identified for the stewardship programme in the coming days, you will receive an invitation to a reception to be held in the Kirk hall at the close of a Sunday morning service to learn more.

We have a good story to tell.

Having had the opportunity to travel around Scotland and visit many other congregations, let me reassure you we do as well as many congregations and better than most.

However it would be foolish not to recognise some of the challenges facing us – the care and support given to older people being one example.

People are living longer and from the last census we know the age profile of our parish is higher than anywhere else in Edinburgh, with more elderly people living on their own than anywhere else in the city.

This is confirmed by Cramond Medical practice which has more elderly patients on their register than any other Edinburgh practice.

And it will come as no surprise to hear, although they have not all been elderly people, in the last number of years, whether with Colin Douglas or Tom Cuthell, our two associate ministers, I have conducted more funeral services than any of my colleagues in Edinburgh Presbytery.

The need is only going to become greater.

Cramond Residence, the 70+ bed care home will soon open on Cramond Road North.

Another is well under construction on Queensferry Road just opposite Lyle Court and one may also be built on a site just off Cramond Glebe Road and one on Barnton Road West.

Almond Mains, the Barnton and Cramond Community Club, the Monday Café, the church visiting team, the church transport group, an associate minister responsible for the pastoral care of older people including those living in residential care; we already offer a great deal of spiritual, social and practical support to older people but the question is how best to shape our congregational life to meet the opportunities and challenges these new care homes will bring?

Living the Christian life, honouring God not just with our lips but with our hearts, an integrity of faith and action, the things we believe and value evident in what we do and say and how we live – from the evidence of the gospels, and from the life of the early church, this has been an on-going question for people of faith.

St Mark tells of the time some Pharisees and teachers of the law came from Jerusalem in search of Jesus.

When they found him, they noticed his disciples ate without the ritual washing of their hands.

And so they questioned Jesus why he was allowing this to happen.

The Pharisees knew – and Jesus knew – before a meal, and between each course of the meal, hands had to be washed and washed in a certain way, fingers pointing up, fingers pointing down, each hand cleaned with the fist of the other.

This ceremonial hand washing had nothing to do with hygiene – people did not know about germs in those days – but it had everything to do with cleanliness, religious cleanliness.

In failing to wash their hands in the prescribed way, the Pharisees feared Jesus and his disciples were not just being disrespectful to their host, they were being disobedient to the teaching of the law.

In their eyes such disobedience was a serious matter because observing the law provided the basis of what it meant to serve and please God.

So what did Jesus do ?

Jesus did as he often did; he turned the table upon his accusers.

Citing the prophet Isaiah, These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. [2] Jesus said, observing simple ritual was meaningless unless the action came from the heart. 

Here is a gospel to keep you on the edge of your pew.

Here is a gospel whose truth hits hard and hits home because who could claim with confidence that their way of life, their actions and motivations, would stand up to such close scrutiny?

At home with your family, in the company of your neighbours or friends, at work with your colleagues, are you always as honest and reliable, as helpful, considerate, forgiving and compassionate as you should be................or better, as Christ would want you to be?

Here is a gospel to spare us any feelings of satisfaction or complacency as a congregation.

Here is a gospel inviting us to reflect on what the Christian life looks like in this place and at this time in the life and worship of Cramond Kirk.

One of the glories of the Christian faith is our trust in the one who, as the Americans might put it, not only talked the talk but walked the walk.

So who speaks for God today, modelling a way of life which honours the One who established a covenant with ancient Israel and whose Word was made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth?

In refusing to wash his hands in the prescribed way, Jesus wasn’t being awkward for the sake of being awkward.

Rather he was trying to show the Pharisees – and us – what faith looks like.

Care, hospitality, generosity, forgiveness, sacrifice, love; as is evident in his ministry as the wandering teacher, preacher and healer, these are the signs of the kingdom of God, these are the hallmarks of heaven, this is what the Christian life looks like.

Cramond cares.

Cramond cares because Christ cares.

Cramond cares – and as a congregation we care too – care enough about the older people of our community, care enough about our children and families, care enough about the musical tradition of our worship, care enough about our suite of historic buildings, care enough to use social media to tell our story, care enough to want to honour God not just with our lips but with our hearts.

Now unto him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen


[1] Resident Aliens, Stanley Hauerwas and William H Willimon, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1992, p110

[2] Isaiah 29 : 13