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. .

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