Monthly Archives: September 2015

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff?

Don't sweat the small stuff?

Don’t sweat the small stuff?

Readings: James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord: Father, Son and Holy Spirit

There’s an American idiom that you may have heard of, ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’. It’s basically something that might be said to someone in order to tell them not to worry about things that are not important. It’s actually not a bad thing to suggest, because sometimes we worry about getting the small things sorted out and forget to look at the bigger picture. So are the small things unimportant?

The bigger picture as far as Jesus was concerned was teaching people what their attitude needed to be in relation to God, not whether they had dotted the ‘I’s and crossed the ‘T’s on their membership application to the Christian faith.

In this section of Mark’s gospel people are flooding to him – he has just fed the five thousand, had a brief respite in prayer; and then walked out to his disciples in their boat, when they were fighting against an adverse wind, to calm the weather and their fears. On landing he has been immediately recognised and word has spread and people are rushing about the region, bringing to him their sick, begging for and being granted healing.

Now in this passage, the Pharisees and scribes, who had no doubt been sent out from Jerusalem to gather evidence against him are interrupting a well-deserved meal break to tell him that he’s breaking Jewish law by eating with unwashed hands. No wonder he decides to tell them as it really is! ‘Stop sweating the small stuff!’

To the Jews, and in particular the Pharisees, however, the small stuff was important. They believed that, alongside the written Torah, there existed another body of oral laws, interpretations and traditions transmitted by God to Moses orally and then memorised. In fact there are 613 statutes stated in the Halakhah, or Jewish Law, most of which are derived from the Torah’s books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy … never easy reads!… but some are laws that have been enacted by the rabbis, who have interpreted the Torah over time.

A few of them are related to particular groups of people such as the Nazarites, whilst a large proportion of the others relate to sacrifices and offerings which can only be made in the Temple, which no longer exists. There are some that sound rather quaint to our ears, such as ‘not to make a bald spot in mourning’ or ‘not to eat worms found in fruit once they have left the fruit’… presumably it’s okay to eat them whilst they are still in the fruit then! But there are some that are abhorrent… that a rapist must marry his victim if she is unwed and is never allowed to divorce her. Certainly tells us a lot about the status of women if nothing else.

The laws to which Mark was referring to, and which he explained in some detail to his mainly Gentile audience, are part of the Kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws concerning kosher foods and its preparation and handling, and were part of a highly complex and developed system of purity regulations. For orthodox Jews even today they throw up problems, such as how you are going to use a dishwasher for both meat and dairy utensils in a kosher home. Still sweating the small stuff!

Kashrut symbols blog

For many modern non-orthodox Jews, however, they believe that the laws of kashrut are simply primitive health regulations that have become obsolete and that the legalistic aspect of traditional Judaism reduces religion to a set of rituals devoid of spirituality, which was not the intention of Halakhah, which can be translated better as ‘the path that one walks’. So they no longer see the need to sweat the small stuff, perhaps having been persuaded by changes in society that these laws are no longer important or relevant to their faith.

However, back in first century Palestine, Jesus points out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, in that by interpreting and applying scripture in this way they are only honouring God with what they say rather than what they do. His kingdom message has nothing to do with how and what you eat, that is not what will stop you becoming pure. Rather the challenge of the gospel is much more a challenge of the heart. He is insisting that good and bad external and physical actions come from internal and spiritual sources, and that it is human motivation that is the real problem.

His list of evil intentions seem full on, and perhaps it is easy for us to glance at the list and feel comfortable with the fact that on the whole we’re fairly sure we haven’t indulged in many of them, especially the biggies like fornication, murder or adultery. Yet can we be quite sure that in some small way we haven’t practiced theft… the pen ‘borrowed’ from work and never taken back; or licentiousness… the extra packets of cakes or food bought which never got eaten and which had to be thrown away; or slander… the sarcastic insult offered veiled with a smile? What about envy, pride or avarice?

Yes, we might say, but that’s only the small stuff… even so, Jesus doesn’t seem to rank them in order of importance; they are all equally said to be possible evil intentions that are present in and come from the human heart.

He also at this stage doesn’t seem to offer a solution as to what we can to do to either avoid or resolve this problem, we are simply left to infer it… of course later on and with our gift of hindsight we do know what the solution will be, through Christ’s ultimate revelation of the kingdom. However, our reading from the letter of James, does give us something concrete to act upon. It tells us that rather than drawing from our hearts those things that make us sordid that we should listen to that part of us that God has already placed within us.

We are to be quick to listen so that we can exercise self-control and know what the right thing to do is; take time to consider what the effect of our words might be on others so that we act with kindness; to be patient so that our actions are those of love rather than hate.

Christians are called to be above reproach and yet we are only too well aware that we so often fall short. But despite this we can’t casually set aside bits of scripture that we don’t like or understand. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to justify our actions because society around us doesn’t seem to worry about the small stuff; that’s how we become tainted by the world.

Yes, we make mistakes and get it wrong… yes we can seek forgiveness… and yes we will be forgiven; but we need to take an honest look at how we behave and change the things that make us follow human traditions rather than being doers of the word.

‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets;
I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them’. Matthew 5:17

The important thing is that Jesus came not to set aside the law but to fulfil it. The scriptures were not necessarily irrelevant then or now. They act as signposts to the reality that was Jesus. Everything that they were getting at reached a climax in Jesus Christ, and from then on everything was different. He became the perfect law, the law of liberty. So by keeping his law we can constantly remind ourselves of our relationship with the divine so that it becomes an integral part of our existence.

The Pharisees were more concerned that the rules were followed and that keeping the laws was more important than how people were treated. Jesus was more concerned with how we treat others; that we were love God and our neighbours as ourselves, because on those two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Should we sweat the small stuff?… I’ll let you decide.


Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil' Matthew 5:17

‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them’ Matthew 5:17


Salt and Light

You are the salt of the earth... the light of the world

You are the salt of the earth… the light of the world

A fifth Sunday at St James, West End provided the opportunity to come together for evening worship in the style of Taizé. Prayer and silence are at the heart of Taizé worship along with the singing of repeated prayer chants, often highlighting simple phrases from the Psalms or other pieces of scripture, which are designed to help meditation and prayer.

A  candlelit San Damiano Cross, a large Romanesque rood cross, is usually the central focal point and is the cross that St. Francis of Assisi was praying before when he is said to have received the a divine commission to rebuild the Church. St James is lucky enough to have its own copy and was placed in the centre of the chancel steps for our service

Focusing on the San Damiano Cross

Focusing on the San Damiano Cross

What follows is excerpts from the evening service, including a meditation on Salt and Light.

Opening prayer (said together):

God our Father, be with us in our time of worship. When we pray, help us to concentrate our thoughts on you; when we listen to the reading of the Bible, help us to understand it; when we sing your praise help us to sing because we really love you: help us to worship you in spirit and in truth, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  

Opening Chant:
Confitemini Domino quoniam bonus.
Confitemini Domino. Alleluia!
(Give thanks to the Lord for he is good).

Psalm 27:1-6, 13-14 was read, with a special emphasis on verse 14

Wait for the Lordbe strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

Before the next chant:

Wait for the Lord, his day is near. Wait for the Lord: be strong, take heart!

Our reading Matthew 4:23 – 5:16 then led us into our meditation, that was in two parts. Firstly concerning salt

13 ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.

 ‘You are the salt of the earth!’

Salt, that precious commodity that purifies, preserves and penetrates;
and we are called to be as salt into the world of human society
to purify, preserve, and penetrate that society for the kingdom of God

Who hasn’t felt the tiny flecks of salt on their skin when next to the ocean?
Or maybe you remember the jars packed with salt and green beans at harvest time
to provide a delicious treat in the depths of winter;
or licked your lips and tasted the saltiness after physical exertion?


Salt – as precious as gold
It paid the Roman soldier his salarium
and indicated your standing in society
as to whether you sat above or below the salt.

Salt – to purify and to heal
A gargle for sore throat, a soother of stings and burns,
a pain reliever for toothache and sore gums
a natural ‘miracle’ medicine

Salt – to preserve and penetrate
Adding flavour and preventing food from spoiling
and saving people from starvation
A symbol of fellowship and the common meal

Yet salt can become contaminated,
often burnt in ovens to increase the heat,
then no longer useful it is thrown out onto the ground
and mixes with the dirt and gets trampled underfoot


Therefore, God calls us, his precious creation,
to be like salt, to penetrate society
and show in our lives and our dealings with others
how in living differently and seeking purity
that we can bring healing and hope,
both now and for the future through Christ;
and to avoid those things that would contaminate us,
and seek ways of making life liveable, healthy and good


Taste and see...

Taste and see…

We are also blessed with special receptors on our tongues that can detect saltiness and know when things are good;
so take your pinch of salt, and if you want dip your finger in and taste and see that the Lord is good [small glasses with a pinch of salt had been given out to everyone at the beginning]

Our service continued by singing, as a chant, the chorus from the beautiful anthem ‘Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord’ by James Moore Jr. I am sure we didn’t do it as much justice as the soloist at the Washington National Cathedral*, but it provided a special moment in the midst of our worship.

Taste and see, taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
O taste and see, taste and see the goodness of the Lord, of the Lord.

Then concerning light:

14‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

‘You are the light of the world’

Light is vital to enable us to see in the darkness
and to help us to avoid stumbling.
Light is also an expression of inner beauty,
truth and the goodness of God.

Who hasn’t stood under the night sky and gazed up at the infinity of space
and seen the pin pricks of light of a million stars?
Or been awakened by the sunlight creeping in through their curtains;
or come home on a winter’s evening to a darkened house and been grateful to flick on the light?

The psalmists tell us that ‘In [God’s] light we see light’ (Psalm 36:9) and that
‘[His] word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Psalm 119:105)
Through God’s grace our darkness is illumined and banished
and we are filled with spiritual light, joy and peace.


Light dispels the darkness and nothing can be hidden;
From others, from ourselves, from God
Everything is known to God, who sees all.
Yet there is great freedom and joy for those
who live in God’s light and who seek his truth.

As believers that light shines in our hearts
and we are called to act as light-bearers of Christ
so that others may see the truth of the gospel
and be set free from those things that blind them


We should seek to show light and healing in every part of our lives
to every relationship, every activity, every word;
to bring Christ’s light and hope, joy and peace
to those who need it the most;
as well as discovering God’s light shining in unexpected places
revealing his glory.


glory of god blogSo let us light our candles and place them at the foot of the cross
to better illuminate that glory.

During the following chant, we were invited light a candle and place it in the bowl of sand at the foot of the Taizé cross.

The Lord is my light, my light and salvation: in God I trust, in God I trust

There followed five minutes of silence, introduced by saying together:
Lord, you are living water, You are light and fire, You are love.
Come, O Holy Spirit! Come, O Holy Spirit

Our service concluded with intercessions and a final chant:

Within our darkest night, you kindle the fire that never dies away, that never dies away. (repeat)

 and a final prayer:

Be with us Lord as we go out into the world. May our lips that have sung your praises always speak the truth; may our ears which have heard your word listen only to what is good, and may our lives as well as our worship be always pleasing in your sight, for the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  

Before we departed, having said the Grace.

There are not many fifth Sundays during the year, so it was nice to be able to be part of something special , something that was beautiful as well as uplifting, exactly what worship should be like.

Salt and light reveal the glory of the Lord

Salt and light revealing the glory of the Lord

*YouTube link to a soloist singing Taste and See The Goodness of the Lord at the Washington National Cathedral © James Moore Jr.  

The Service was put together by David Forster and Linda Galvin using both resources from the Taizé community and original material.