That Old Time Religion (8/30/15)


“Old Time Religion” is a phrase we like to use from time to time, but what does it really mean? Our passage from the Letter of James offers some thoughts on what true old time religion really is. (James 1:17-27)

Audio

Scripture

17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.[a] 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

19 You must understand this, my beloved:[b] let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves[c] in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

 

Transcript

Gimme that old time religion
Gimme that old time religion
Gimme that old time religion
It’s good enough for me.

Sing those words with me!

Gimme that old time religion
Gimme that old time religion
Gimme that old time religion
It’s good enough for me.


It was good for the Hebrew children
It was good for the Hebrew children
It was good for the Hebrew children
It’s good enough for me.

It was good for dad and mother
It was good for dad and mother
It was good for dad and mother
And it’s good enough for me.

It will do when I am dyin’
It will do when I am dyin’
It will do when I am dyin’
It’s good enough for me.

Gimme that old time religion
Gimme that old time religion
Gimme that old time religion
It’s good enough for me…

One more time!

Gimme that old time religion
Gimme that old time religion
Gimme that old time religion
It’s good enough for me…

Wow, you sounded great! It sounds like you want some of that old time religion.    That’s some good stuff!

Have you ever wondered what we mean when we sing that song? What really is “that old time religion?”

I looked up this old song and found that it goes back to the 1800’s. They were singing this song just after the Civil War.  Well, so much for the 1950’s being the church’s glory years of that old time religion. I guess it was more like the 1850’s!

As I thought about the origins of this song, it reminded me of how relative the phrase, “old time” really is. It seems like every generation redefines what is meant by “old times.” “Old times” is often another way of saying, “when I was growing up.” We often think of “old times” as our childhood years.

Several years ago, I was in a grocery store and a church member came up to me. And this person said, “Why don’t we sing some of the good old hymns anymore?”

I asked, “What good old hymns do you mean?” She said, “You know, the good old hymns.” I said, “Can you be a little more specific?” And she repeated herself,“The good old ones. Let’s sing more of the good old hymns.”

     I think what she wanted me to know was that we need some of that old time religion, but she wasn’t able to express what she exactly meant by that phrase. What do we really mean by that phrase, “old time religion?”

This is why our scripture reading from the Letter of James is so important. James is helping us to understand what true religion really is. James refers to a“religion that is pure and undefiled before God.”

In this part of his letter, James provides two important ways to help us have this old time religion.

The first way is through good old fashioned listening. He writes that we are to be quick to listen and slow to speak. The way to have that old time religion is to first, be a good listener.

I admit, I have a problem of talking too much when I really should be listening. But can you really blame me? After all, the title of my occupation is “preacher.” I have a former parishioner who still calls me, “Preacher Man.”

We preachers love to talk. When we preach, we often share more illustrations than we really need to include, we sometimes go off topic, and we don’t always end the sermon when we should.

Sometimes I wonder if instead of being called, “Preachers,” we should be called, “Listeners.” Try saying that to your friends. “Hey, did you hear that we have a new Listener at our church?”

“Is that right? Is he a good listener?”

      “He is. You should come to church with me and watch him listen!”

Several years ago, I attended a two-day clergy retreat at a Roman Catholic retreat center in northwest Ohio. I was with a group of United Methodist pastors and we shared the retreat center with a couple of Catholic groups who were having their own retreats during the same time we were there.

When we first arrived at the Catholic retreat center, the director welcomed us and explained where our rooms were and what time the meals would be served. She then told us, “Please remember that there are other groups using the retreat center while you’re here.”

     And with a smile on her face, she jokingly told us, “Now, I know that you are all Methodists, so please don’t talk loudly while the other groups are praying.”

     She said this with a smile, but you could tell that she had learned this from experience. And she was right. During those two days there, we really found it difficult to keep our voices down. We Methodists really do like to talk.

The next morning, our group went to the dining area for breakfast. We were talking about anything and everything and that’s when we noticed that one of the other groups was in a corner of that same dining room quietly reading scripture and praying.

The lady the night before was right. We really do have a problem with listening and being quiet. That’s not one of our strengths! We’re great at making casseroles. Listening? Not so much!

Having that old time religion means that we spend time listening and being in prayer. It means that before we speak, we first do our best to listen to what God is saying to us.

James doesn’t beat around the bush about the importance of listening. He says that if we don’t bridle our tongues, our religion is worthless.

So, tell us how you really feel, James!

Listening, praying; these are closely related spiritual disciplines. Psychiatrist and author, Scott Peck says that he spends two hours everyday listening.

He says that listening helps his mind to think through the complex events and situations from the previous day so that he will be able to respond to those situations in appropriate ways.

Scott Peck says that most of us don’t listen or think nearly enough in our day to day living. Instead, he says that we tend to react impulsively, often in very unhelpful ways.

I think this is what James has in mind here. He wants us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. This all begins with being good listeners.

A couple of years ago while I was working out at the gym, one of my older church members came up to me with a spiritual problem he was facing. He said that he felt that God was calling him to join one of our church’s small groups but was feeling a little uneasy about it. He said that he had never been part of a small group in all his years of attending the church and he was nervous about joining one.

I was about ready to share some words of encouragement, but he didn’t give me the chance. And so I just listened. He continued to talk about how he didn’t know much about the bible, and that he might not fit in with the others who would probably be a lot more knowledgeable.

I was about ready to tell him that he didn’t need to have a lot of bible knowledge to be part of a small group, but he didn’t give me the chance. He just kept on talking and the Lord reminded me in that moment to just keep my mouth shut.

He went on to say how he had always wanted to be part of a group that would help him to be a better Christian but he always felt that he was too busy. I was about to offer another brilliant thought that would motivate him to try out a small group, but God silenced me again.

As it turned out, it didn’t matter because this man just kept right on talking. He then said to me, “You know what? Time really isn’t an issue for me anymore. And who knows, maybe I’ll get something out of it. When I leave from the gym this morning, I’m going to head over to the church and sign up to be in a small group.

     This elderly gentleman then patted me on the shoulder and said, “Thanks for answering my questions. You were a big help!”

     I didn’t know how to respond so I just said, “Oh sure, glad I could be of help.”

He thought that I had offered words of wisdom, but it was God helping him to answer his own questions. I didn’t say a single word that whole conversation. He literally talked himself into signing up to be in a small group.

I’m reminded of a quote that has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.“Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” Sometimes, the best sermons aren’t even spoken. Did I really just say that?

And this leads us to the other important way for us to have that old time religion.

Listening and praying is what leads us to becoming doers.  James tells us that“religion that is pure is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress.” It’s when we listen to what God is saying to us, that we are then prompted to make a difference in our community and world.

Praying and serving. This was the basic formula of the early church. It’s the foundation of having that old time religion.

I’ve noticed in my first few months here the many ways that our church serves the needs of others. We serve through a variety of ways from our Monday lunch ministry, to our hosting of the Good Works Walk, to sending a mission team to Nicaragua. We’re not a church that sits on our hands. We are a doing church. We are a Letter of James type of church.

Last year, I received a call from a member of the community where I lived and this person wanted to know if my church had taken an official stance on a particular political issue that our community was facing at the time.

This person was upset when I said that we didn’t have an official position, especially the stance that this person wanted us to take. Well, this led this person to say that churches need to take a stand on these kinds of issues facing our community.

And then this person criticized my church for our weekly lunch ministry to help the poor because it wasn’t really helping people to get jobs. “Why don’t you have some of your church people actually teach them how to get out of poverty? That would be better than just giving them food. Why don’t you do that instead?”

I think I really startled this person when I said that we do offer something like she was suggesting. My church at that time, along with another church in the community were offering a program called, “Sharing Hope.”OTR badge

The program invited people who were living in poverty to be matched up with financially stable people so that together, they would be able to set financial and job related goals to help improve their living situations.

They were meeting twice a month at my church. They always began with a meal and then they met in a large group for a teaching time, and from there they broke into small groups where they able to share on a more personal level. Thanks to that program, people have been able to set career goals, go to school for training, and find employment.

After I said shared this, all I heard on the other end of the phone was, “Well, I never heard of that program.” And then this person had something else that was negative to share with me before we finally ended the conversation.

After I hung up the phone, I remember being thankful that this very negative and critical person had called me. I know. That might sound strange to say that but this negative person reminded me of just how much our church does to help others.

We weren’t just a church that was all talk. We were a church getting our hands dirty and making a difference in our community.

When we listen and pray and serve, that’s when we are being an old time religion church. It’s that simple.

As we prepare to bless backpacks, briefcases, and diaper bags in the beginning of this new school year, let’s remember what Old Time Religion really is according to James. It’s all about listening and serving. Listening and serving.

Just think of the initials, O-T-R to remind us that God is calling us to have an “Old Time Religion” kind of faith, a religion that draw us closer to God, and a religion that leads us to serve others in humility.

How does that song go again?

Gimme that old time religion
Gimme that old time religion
Gimme that old time religion
It’s good enough for me.