We are never alone

A Sermon for Proper 21; Ester 7:1-6. 9-10, 920-22, Psalm 124, James 5:13-20, Mark 9:38-50

In our early adult years my parents always threw a New Year’s Party Actually they threw three The first was for our neighbors The second was for their many friends The third was for our friends While generous, that party was earned, we provided some of the finger foods, but we really provided all the serving staff: keeping tables furnished, drinks fresh, and dirty dishes picked up You know, all that stuff that can cause you to miss the event you host. I don’t know how many years this went on, but it was at least ten. As great as these parties were, my folks could not hold a candle to King Ahasuerus, we know as Xerxes. In the Book of Ester alone there are ten parties, and that is in a relatively short time I say relative because one party was 6 months long! Six months! I did not know you could buy that many gold plates. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves

Xerxes’ exquisite banquet for the ministers, officials and officers of all 127 provinces is about over. In the last week he calls for Queen Vashti, who is hosting a party for all the wives, to make an appearance. She refuses. He gets angry. All his advisors get concerned that she may set a precedence for all the other wives. So, he dismisses her. After a while he misses having a queen; and so begins the process of selecting another one. It is an elaborate process.

You may remember that Nebuchadnezzar has conquered Israel and taken most of the Jews into exile in Babylon (Gaventa and Petersen). Among them is Mordecai, a distant relation to Saul (Gaventa and Petersen). His cousin Ester is among the young ladies drafted into the Can You be a Queen? selection. Xerxes, smitten by her appearance, makes her queen. She immediately wins his allegiance when she reports, by way of Mordecai, a plot to assassinate him.

It is Persian policy to treat all the conquered territories with respect,        honoring the local languages, laws, customs, and religious practices and to integrate foreigners into the court (Sakenfeld). Among them is Haman, an Agagite, who Saul was supposed to destroy but chose not to (Gaventa and Petersen). Xerxes appoints him to the highest office in the royal court. It is customary for the people to bow as he comes by, and everyone does, except for Mordecai. He is so infuriated he decides to kill not only Mordecai but all the Jews in the Kingdom. He will start by hanging Mordecai from a 75-foot-tall gallows. Gruesome as it is, a 75-foot gallows are tinged with the humor of excess. He convinces the King, who is not told who the offender is, this disobedience is a danger to the laws and customs and is given permission and finances to exterminate all the Jews.

Needless to say, Mordecai is terrified. He asks Ester to intervene. She is afraid because it means death to approach the King without being summoned. He replies:

Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this (Ester 4:13-14).

After much sack cloth, ashes, and fasting Ester approaches the King. At dinner when Xerxes asks what she desires, she says only that he and Haman come to dinner the next evening. But that night the King can’t sleep, and asks that the daily journal be read to him. The story of Mordecai exposing the plot to kill the king is read. He learns nothing was done for him. Haman is ordered to dress Mordecai up in royal garb and parade him around the court on the King’s horse. Utterly humiliated Haman returns home and tells what has happened.

Their reply is:

If Mordecai, before whom your downfall has begun, is of the Jewish people, you will not prevail against him, but will surely fall before him. (Esther 6:13)

At dinner the next evening the King again asks Queen Ester what she desires, even to half the kingdom. This night she answers:

If I have won your favor, O king, … let my life and the lives of my people be given me that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, are … to be killed, … to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king (Esther 7:3-4).

Xerxes demands “Who is responsible for such a reprehensible plot?”  “Haman!” Furious, the King stalks out. While Haman is pleading for his life, leaning over Ester on her dinning couch, the King returns. “Enough is enough!” and he orders Haman to be hung on the very gallows he has built to hang Mordecai.

The King awards Haman’s estate to Ester, and appoints Mordecai to manage it. He also gives Mordecai the signet ring that Haman previously held. With royal permission, Ester and Mordecai send notices around the kingdom revealing the plot against the Jews, and providing for their defense. Ester, Mordecai, and the Jewish people are saved from annihilation.

This is as good a story as there is in scripture. As with any good fiction story, there are strong characters, Vashti and Ester, and ~ oh yea, Mordecai. There is a villain, Haman. There is intrigue galore:  plots to kill the king and genocidal revenge. There are acts of selfless courage, and, of course, a Disney ending. I wonder when Aronofsky will take it on?

However, there is more here than a good story. If you noticed, I never mentioned God, prayers, or any kind of divine appearance or guidance. There are none. Well, there is no overt presence. Mordecai’s admonition to Ester about approaching the King includes the phrase:

“Relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place.”

Haman’s family’s reply to his complaining says, in part:

If Mordecai, … is of the Jewish people, you will not prevail against him, (Esther 6:13)

Commentators hear both as a reference to God (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner; Schifferdecker; Hoezee). There are remarkable coincidences:

  • Ester just happens to become queen.
  • The king just happens to have insomnia on the night of Esther’s first banquet; and
  • The court records read to him just happen to be the ones that tell about Mordecai saving his life.
  • Haman just happens to come to the court when the king is contemplating how to reward Mordecai.
  • The King just happens to see Haman leaning over Ester.

Former Arch Bishop of Canterbury William Temple is quoted “When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.” Jon Levenson defines a coincidence “as a miracle in which God prefers to remain anonymous” (Schifferdecker; Levenson). There are multiple implications of presence of God’s hidden hand that offers hope to us when we are confronted by an overwhelming challenge and have no sense of God’s presence (Hoezee). Just because we can’t perceive it, does not mean God is not there (Sakenfeld).

Beyond the coincidence, there are the manifold actions of the stories heroines and heroes, which include many back ground characters. Ester’s story emphasizes human initiative, responsibility, and accountability (Sakenfeld). Our lives are full of ordinary and occasionally extra ordinary events, coincidences and chance encounters. In them is the hint of God’s presence. Perhaps there is a hint of God’s call. Our challenge is to find the discernment to see. Our challenge is to find to courage to act (Schifferdecker).

Our action; however, needs to be prayerfully considered. Just prior to today’s Gospel reading, actually just before last week’s argument, about who is greatest, the disciples fail to cast out a demon. Jesus tells them “this kind comes out only with prayer” (Mark9:29). Today Jesus tells them

“no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me” (Mark 9:39).

The comparison reveals the possibility that the disciples were trying to cast the demon out with power compared to the unknown exorcist who is acting in Jesus’ name. So, before we act, it’s worth testing where we are acting from, power or Jesus name.

We are all aware of the many global, national, local and personal problems that seem so dominate. We could easily be overwhelmed. Even with Francis’ gentle persuasion to perceive and act with mercy, it is a scary world. It is easy to find ourselves stripped of all our customary go to resources. It is easy to feel persecuted. It is easy to feel desert, to feel alone.

You are not alone; you never have been, you are not now, and you never will be alone.

Recently Angie and Nugget were in one of the local big box stores. She was stooping down looking at stuff on the bottom self on an endcap. An employee, who knows them, saw Nugget, but did not see Angie, hurried to end of the aisle, afraid Angie had fallen or was in trouble. The employee was relieved Angie was okay. Angie was blessed knowing that someone cared enough to act.

I believe there are more of these kinds of acts than we know. I believe there are more anonymous divinely inspired acts than we know. It’s this belief that lets me know; we are never alone.


References

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary – Esther 7:1-6, 9-20; 9:20-22. 27 9 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 27 9 2015.

Levenson, Jon. Ester. Westminster John Knox, 1997.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Schifferdecker, Kathryn M. Commentary on Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22. 27 9 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

Fear of the Lord ain’t the same as being afraid to ask

A sermon for Proper 20; Proverbs 31:10-31, Psalm 1, James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a, Mark 9:30-37

In his commentary Scott Hoezee shared the story of Eddie the Eagle.
He was Britain’s first and only Olympic ski jump competitor. In his yellow ski-jumping suit he looked more like Winnie the Pooh than the sculpted athletes we usually associate with the Olympics.

After several travel mishap’s Eddie competed. He didn’t do very well.
Outside magazine said that in the air, Eddie looked like an “errant slushball.” When it was all over, Eddie came in 56th place out of a field of 57 jumpers (but then, the 57th man had been disqualified).
Everyone loved Eddie. Johnny Carson had him on the Tonight Show. At home, he became a celebrity. Hoezee writes that

[Eddie] had hoped to compete again in a future Olympics. But it turned out that Olympic officials did not like Eddie and felt he reflected badly on the Games. So they instituted what some call the “Eddie Rule” which requires all athletes to have finished in the top half of an international sports event as a prerequisite for getting into the Olympics.
The Olympic officials say their actions were to protect the games featuring amateurs. I believe they were afraid of an amateur such as Eddie (Hoezee, Proverbs). Fear can cause us to do things we’d never think we could do (Lose). If you’ve ever acted in an unlikely way out of fear, you might have something in common with the disciples.

They are walking down the road toward Capernaum. For a second time, Jesus tries to explain to his disciples about his future, his betrayal, death, and resurrection. They don’t get it but are afraid to tell him they don’t get it. All Jesus sees in blank stares as the disciples walk on ahead (Hoezee, Mark) .

After a bit they begin to share stories about their accomplishments. Who had cast out the most demons, who had healed what, tallying their spiritual notches (Hoezee). I don’t know, maybe they had spirit sticks. It might have been a little raucous; when Jesus quietly asks “What’s all the commotion about?” Once again he is met with blank stares. (Hoezee, Mark). Who knows, maybe they were embarrassed to tell him (Jolly).

Jesus tries to tell them how this discipleship thing works; first is last and last is first. Then he changes tactics. He takes a child, holds it in his arms saying:  “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…” We don’t get it because we cherish children. But in Jesus’ day, gathering an expendable, powerless child, in a welcoming gesture, is about as opposite an action you could take, in comparison to the disciples discussion that followed the custom of the day, where the rich and famous coddle to the rich and famous (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner) (Hoezee, Mark) (Kiel). Jesus’ complete reversal of social norms is perhaps why the disciples were afraid to tell Jesus about their discussion, they knew what was coming. It is the same fear they experienced when Jesus calms the storm (Mark 4:40). It’s the same fear Jesus cautions Jarius about “Do not be afraid, only believe.” as they head to his house having been told Jarius’ daughter had died (Mark 5:36) (Kiel) (Lose). And they are afraid of Jesus’ counter-cultural behavior, they are afraid this kind of talk really will get Jesus killed.

It strikes me as a bit odd that the disciples’ fear is so disruptive. We just finished the end of Proverbs which begins … fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge… (Prov. 1:7). It ends … a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (Prov. 31:30) Both are indicating constructive piety (Harrelson).

It turns out there is fear, and there is fear. However, we can tell the difference by their fruits. Fear, as the disciples experience it, and Jarius is warned about, leads to silly decisions; like not telling Jesus what they were tussling about. Such decisions lead to a separation between the fearful person and Jesus/God.
Fear, which probably ought to be ‘awe’ as Feminine Wisdom experiences, draws the person into a deeper trusting relationship with God. And that is what Jesus is inviting the disciples into.

Yes, Jesus’ predictions are not what the disciples expect. And yes, his teachings are so radically counter-cultural, threatening the dominant beliefs about status and security, that they put him and his disciples at risk. Nonetheless, Jesus is inviting them to imagine the abundant life that comes from vulnerability. Jesus is inviting them to act in faith. And that really isn’t all that hard.
Faith is any step, no matter how small, made in hope and trusting in the divine (Lose).

Perhaps what we are experiencing this morning is not this fear or that fear, but rather fear or faith. Fear leads to self-centered actions that cut other people and God off. Faith leads to God-centered actions, no matter how small or mundane, that raise the other, and depend on God’s presence.

Feminine Wisdom is portrayed with an impress set of skills.
She is a merchant, trades real estate and fine clothes. She takes care of mundane daily tasks: working with wool and flax, sees to food for the household, and keeps the lamps oiled and lit.
She shows mercy helping the poor and needy. Feminine Wisdom’s activity in large and mundane affairs reveals that what is done in fear, in awe of the Lord is honorable.

Proverbs’ intended audience is young men and its final model is Valorous Woman. The combination reveals that wisdom is for everyone, male and female, grand or mundane, because everyone can decide to take action trusting in God (Hoezee, Proverbs).

I do not know if ski jumping is a better sport because the Olympic officials instituted the “Eddie Rule.” But I believe we’d all would be better off if the world experienced his zeal for life and his love of the sport. I hope that as my life goes forward I’ll act less out of fear, and more out of zeal for life and trust in God.
I hope you’ll come along. Who knows what storms may be stilled or what harms may be healed. Who knows what neighbor may come to know and trust in our risen Lord?

—————————————————

References
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. “Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Proverbs 31:10-31.” 20 9 2015. Center for Excellence in Preaching.
—. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 9:30-37. 20 9 2015.
Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 20 9 2015.
Jolly, Marshall. “The Path of Discipleship, Proper 20(B).” 20 9 2015. Sermons that Work.
Kiel, Micah. Commentary on Mark 9:30-37. 20 9 2015. .
Lose, David. Pentecost 17 B: Faith & Fear. 20 9 2015. .

Really, who is God? – what are divine expectations?

A sermon for  Proper 19

Proverbs 1:20-33, Psalm 19, James 3:1-12, Mark 8:27-38

David Brooks’ column Friday is titled The Russia I Miss. He notes how debates that raged in the public square in the west, raged within individuals in Russia. That internal debate produced great intellectual and artistic expression. Brooks writes that as America brought a vision of happiness into the world, Russia brought a vision of spiritual commitment. Building on Isaiah Berlin’s thought  “That man is one and cannot be divided.” He wrote:

You can’t divide your life into compartments, hedge your bets and live with prudent half-measures. If you are a musician, writer, soldier or priest, integrity means throwing your whole personality into your calling in its purest form. The Russian ethos … saw problems as primarily spiritual rather  than practical, and put matters of the soul at center stage.
Brooks laments that it is now all gone. (Brooks) And while he does not say so, I believe he longs for such a depth of spiritual commitment to return.

Such lament and such longing is a way of understanding scripture. When God learns that Adam and Eve have fallen to the temptation to be like God the initial response is: What have you done! (Gen 3:13) It sounds of surprise and dismay. From this moment through the end of Revelation there is a sense of longing for the relationship that has been lost, and a longing, a hope, an active effort to restore it.

This morning’s reading from Proverbs presents wisdom as a woman. The are numerous explanations. One tradition understands feminine wisdom to be one expression of the reality of God. (Sakenfeld) The feminine wisdom reveals God who always seeks relationship, and is always multi gender. Proverbs presents a God self revealing in vastly counter cultural ways. (Jacobson) On the surface this reading come across as a bit of a rant. However, when we realize city squares and city gates are locations for courts and the market place we begin to understand the underlying concern is for social and economic justice (Jacobson).  Here Woman Wisdom express lament for Israel’s behavior to God and toward each other, especially the least of these. Here Woman Wisdom longs for a return to relationships between all people as all humanity was created.

In the last few weeks Jesus has traveled from Tyre, through Sidon to Decapolis, through the wilderness, and Bethsaida to Caesarea Philippi. Here Peter gets it right, recognizing that Jesus is God’s Messiah. Then he gets all wrong when Jesus starts talking about betrayal, death and so on. Beyond the fact that none of the disciples ever get it right when Jesus starts telling the truth about what it means to be his disciples, the location makes a difference (Lewis). They are in Caesarea Philippi, which is at the furthest edges of ancient Israel. More significantly, it is the home of multiple temples to multiple gods. One temple was built by Herod in honor of Caesar; which was later enlarged by Philip. Who then renames the town after Caesar and himself – Caesarea Philippi (Easton). In short, they are in the heart of Roman territory. Think ISIS, only with no possibility of drone attacks, or friendly forces rescue. And here ~ is where Jesus chooses to begin revealing who he is, and what following him will mean. Of course Peter tells him to hush. Jesus is challenging Rome in a center of Roman power. In much the same way as the wilderness experience reveals who Jesus is, we are sharing, with the disciples, a further unveiling of Jesus’ identity, which evokes the question: “Who is God?” (Jacobson) Beneath the details, one more time, we see a God who is not expected. Jesus’ rebuke of Peter is a lament of the lack of understanding and the lack of trust. His continued explanation of discipleship, is a longing for what was created.

How often  have you heard “If you don’t want everyone to see it, watch it, hear it, or read it, do not post it on the internet!” In midst of an ugly seminary kerfuffle one of our professors said: “Unlike other injuries, what has been said can never be unsaid.” James is battling similar troubles. It is likely he is expressing concern about false or misleading teachings when he writes about the tongue. James writes that we can not curse those made in the image of God with the same tongue that blesses God (Jacobson). James laments this egresses behavior. Yet the fact that he wrote the letter is an expression of a longing for right teaching, but more importantly for right relationships, between each other and between our selves and God, to be restored.

Scripture reveals God laments the loss of the created relationship between the divine self and humanity and longs for, hopes for, continually works for the created order to be restored. Those whose faith life comes from the Judeo – Christian traditions lament what was lost in the garden and we also long for, hope for the created order to be restored. Those who follow Jesus believe Jesus has started that process. In the millennia that have followed, the revelation of God’s self has been difficult to perceive. We have trouble agreeing on who God is. We have trouble agreeing on what God would have us do. So, do we really know God? Do we really know what the divine expectations are? The answer is sort of, but not completely. I have and I expect you have, seen God in unexpected places. I have and I expect you have, unexpectedly been a blessing in the life of another. We know and cherish those moments.

One of the gleanings from all today’s readings is that God and Jesus never conform to cultural expectations. One of the continual threads in the bible is God is always showing up in the midst of adversity. Insomuch as we look for God in the glitz and glamour, and so rarely encounter the divine there perhaps lets us know we’ve got it wrong. What would we find if we look for, listen for, ask for God in the wilderness and the broken places and people. We expect God and Jesus in particular places, at particular times, in particular ways. Curious how it so rarely works out that way (Epperly). We harbor secrete doubts about the Jesus story, about the cross; may be because we fear or dislike the self denial implicit in the cross (Ashley, Lose). What we misconstrue is that the self denial of the cross is not about less happiness, it is about discovering real and abundant life, an abiding spiritual commitment. In giving up the traditional and the expected  particulars we probably won’t find the life or God we want, we will find the God we need (Lose).

——————-
Brooks David, New York Times, The Russia I Miss 9/11/15
Sakenfeld,  Katharine  Doob.  New Interpreter’s Dictionary  of the  Bible.  Nashville: Abingdon,  2009.
Jacobson,  Rolf,  Karoline  Lewis  and  Matt Skinner.  Sermon  Brain  Wave.  9 13  2015.  
Lewis Karoline. Location Matters. 9 13 2015
Easton, Matthew George, Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary
Epperly,  Bruce.  The  Adventurous  Lectionary.  9 13 2015. .
Ashley, Danae, God’s Story, Our Story  –  Proper  18(B).”  9 13  2015.  Sermons  that Work;
Lose, David, Intriguing, Elusive, Captivating, and Crucial, 9 13 2015 In The Mean Time

Proverbial wisdom – Choosing God’s unexpected disruptive path.

A sermon for Proper 18; Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 Psalm 125 James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17 Mark 7:24-37

Do you have a favorite pithy saying from your childhood? I don’t know ~ something like The early bird catches the worm? Please share it with us. A stitch in time saves nine. Early to bed early to rise makes one healthy wealthy and wise.

All of these are something like modern proverbs; they are sayings that teach something about life. As a rule they are descriptive they describe what works and what doesn’t; they tend not to give advice.

The Book of Proverbs is attributed to Solomon. It’s not likely he wrote all of them. Perhaps he collected the wisdom of the ages. It’s thought King Hezekiah collected some and attributed them to Solomon. Scholars know they date from the 10th century to the 6th to the 4th-century BCE. Some are borrowed from the surrounding cultures. The section today’s couplets come from a section that is similar to Egyptian teachings rewritten in Hebrew setting. As a rule Proverbs present wisdom: as from God, mediated by people or institutions, that we have the capacity for justice and wisdom, that respect for God is the beginning of wisdom, that we have the freedom and responsibility to choose the path of righteousness or the path of the wicked, and no the devil did not make you do it (Sakenfeld).

Today’s teachings focus on justice and status. In short everyone is created by God, and our wealth and status are a blessing, like Abraham’s blessing, they are given to us, to be blessing to the world (Bouzard). A classmate of mine wrote that today’s verses should make us think about: how we live in the world and relate to each other, how we understand justice and poverty, how we explore if we trust God to love all of us, good bad or indifferent, and that God’s love is enough (Metz).

Perhaps an example of choosing the path of justice and righteous will help us understand how Proverbs might guide us.

We heard two stories from Mark this morning. Let’s look at the second one first. It takes place in Decapolis, a gentile area. Some friends of a deaf mute bring him to Jesus and implore him to lay hands on their friend. In private Jesus sticks his finger in his ears and after spitting, touching his tongue, and saying “Be opened.” the man is healed. Jesus goes back into public with him and tells them to be quiet. They aren’t. Have you ever noticed how every time Jesus tells people not to talk about his works, all they can talk about ~ is his works. With the story of Jesus restoring a Gentile’s hearing and speaking as a background let’s take a look at Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman.

Jesus is in Tyre, another Gentile region, to get away. It is not going to happen. A woman hears about him. She speaks to him about healing her daughter.

A couple of things about Jesus’ reply. ‘Children’ is a reference to Israel. Some commentators expound on how Jesus could have understood his ministry to be to Israel first. Nonetheless, his reply to the woman is bluntly demeaning; no way around it, he was rude. The woman speaks to him again, noting how even dogs get the crumbs from the children’s table. Jesus heals her daughter, right then, right there.

In the second story, Jesus restores a man’s ability to hear and speak. In the first story, a woman hears about Jesus and speaks. In both stories, God’s breaking into the world cannot be suppressed. Jesus does not want to heal the girl, yet he is compelled to, God breaks in. Jesus wants the deaf mutes healing to stay private, it spread like wildfire, God breaks in (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). God has always and continues to break into the world. What gets to us is that God does so in ways that conflict with our values and desires be they economic, political, social or religious (Kiel).

The woman is passionate about her daughter. But what disrupts Jesus’ understanding of his ministry is that she tells an uncomfortable truth: the presence of God is available to the least of God’s people. It took courage even to approach Jesus. It took courage to speak the truth. And in speaking the truth the woman changes the direction of Jesus’ ministry; his next stop is way out of the way Gentile territory (Lewis).

The encounter with the Syrophoenician woman shows Jesus walking wisdom’s path as he chooses the way of righteousness, which is always to be open and responsive to the disruptive presence of God. In this encounter, Jesus extends the good news of God’s presence, to those Jewish teaching would exclude, through healing (Hoezee, Mark). So yes, these are healing stories; they are also stories of making the choice to follow wisdom’s way in choosing righteousness. And by the way, righteousness is not making a moral decision, it is making the decision to follow God. The difference is morality is defined by human institutions, remember last week’s traditions and rules; choosing to follow God often means going against traditions and rules (Hoezee).

There are some recent news items where Jesus’ choosing to follow Proverbs’ teaching illuminate the events. Kim Davis is choosing to follow her religious tradition and not issue marriage licenses that offend her religious rules. Her oath of office states:

I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth …. (The Associated Press)

While I think her religious stance is biblically incorrect, I admire her taking that stance in her tradition and rules. She clearly has a conflict between her Oath of Office, which end “so help me God.” and her religious tradition and rules. Proverbs’ path of wisdom calls us to be open to God’s disruptive breaking in. I see this as Mrs. Davis’ more difficult struggle.

The news and social media has been full of the photograph of the 3 year old drowned on the beach after the boat he was in capsized. It has captured our hearts. It is generating pressure on governments to do something to care for the influx of refugees. The traditional response is to decide who will take how many refugees and how to pay for their transition into society. Proverbs’ path of wisdom would lead us to take the very risky action necessary to stop the wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Libya, etc. God’s breaking into these disasters is not necessarily upping the military commitment though I fear that may be a necessity. However, the righteous decision does call on all parties involved to stop following the decades-long tradition that has created the current conundrum.

Closer to home. Mississippi County and Blytheville are enmeshed in vast disruptions to local tradition and rules, especially the soft ones, those categorized as “the way we’ve always done it” and those known, but never spoken. There are emerging opportunities to respond righteously to these challenges. All of them mean changing the ways we go about our communal business and the way we relate to each other. To be successful, we need to be attentive to God’s breaking in as Jesus is, and he is already breaking traditions and rules.

Even closer. We need to make some decisions about St. Stephen’s future. I’ve asked before: “How are we going to proclaim the presence of God right here, right now?” What I know is the current tradition and rules, the soft ones, are not getting the job done. I have not encountered a Syrophoenician challenging our fundamental ways; nonetheless, I know God is whispering in our ears. God is breaking in. Our challenge is to be like Jesus: to be open to the Spirit, to be willing to change everything, to trust in God with all our hearts, because we trust that God’s alone is enough  (Hoezee, Mark; Metz).


References

Adam, A. K. M. Commentary on James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17. 6 9 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

Bouzard, Walter. Commentary on Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23. 6 9 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 6 9 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. “Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23.” 6 9 2015. Working Preacher.

—. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 7:24-37. 6 9 2015.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 6 9 2015.

Kiel, Micah. Commentary on Mark 7:24-37. 6 9 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. God Said Yes to Me. 6 9 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

Mast, Stan. Lectionary Epistle. 6 9 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Metz, Susanna. “Learning from Proverbs – Proper 18(B).” 6 9 2015. Sermons that Work.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Associated Press. “Here is the oath of office taken by county clerks in Kentucky.” 3 9 2015. abc news.go.com. web. 6 9 2015. <http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/oath-court-clerk-now-jailed-gay-marriage-33516278&gt;.