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