Sunday 9th September 2018
16th Sunday after Pentecost

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17; Mark 7:24-37

(Alternatives: Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146)

The worlds of work, industry and commerce can often be excluded from our narratives of worship and discipleship because we rightly recognise much within them that appears wrong. However, we might more constructively note that it is not work ‘per se’ that is at fault, but the fact it has become perceived in many quarters solely as a means of economic gain and development. When this happens, other ethical concerns can become pushed aside in pursuit of profit. The resulting scandals and crises are all too familiar.

Today’s readings take us to the very root of this reality, pointing us to that human tendency to measure human worth in terms of personal wealth and possessions. The Old Testament readings reach back thousands of years, reminding us that there is nothing new in this mindset. The verses from Proverbs offer a challenging reminder that rich and poor are not only equal in Gods sight, but there are things of greater worth than material wealth in our world. Similar themes and thoughts can be gleaned from the Psalms which call upon the hearer to trust God above earthly values and express God’s concern for the poor, marginalised and dispossessed. Similar expectations are contained within the reading from Isaiah.

A congregation might usefully consider how to apply these values and ideals in their engagement with the world of work. There is opportunity to speak prophetically against business practices that place financial gain above human wellbeing, but also to speak creatively about the value of work when properly experienced as collective human endeavour. Many people have achieved a “good name” through participation in the world of work. However, there is also a challenge to God’s people within today’s readings, the writer of James has in mind situations where Christian communities have also become unduly concerned with material wealth, discriminating against those who are poorer and in need.

Taking the call from Proverbs to value “a good name” there is opportunity to think about “brands” and why it is that some companies or logos have particular values and reputation attached to them. This could be developed into a talk to younger people, and where the alternative OT readings are used, applied by considering how we place “trust” in certain brands or products – considering this against the call of Psalm 146 to “put not your trust in rulers . . . hope in the Lord”.

There are echoes throughout today’s reading of God’s concern for the marginalised and disadvantaged, and this finds particular focus in the Gospel reading. This could be used as an opportunity to pray for those whose daily work is to support people in similar circumstances today, along with those who campaign and work against injustice.