What We Don’t Know, That We Need To Get At

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

Play Shilo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98mxTslGjbs

Thursday Night Angie and I went to see Jack Wright’s Tribute to Neil Diamond at the Ritz. It was a wonderful show. Jack was comfortable with his own voice; it was not Neil’s but it was good. My favorite bits were the stories about Neil Diamond. I did not know he was always a poet. As a kid, he would write little poems about himself, his life and his feeling. When he was a young teen, or thereabouts, his parents gave him a guitar; he learned 3 chords and kept on kept writing poems. His parents wanted him to be successful, and so he enrolled in pre-med at NYU on a fencing scholarship. He was a good student but an excellent fencer; one of his NYU teams won a NACCA Championship. And through it all, he kept writing poetry, some too simple music in 3 cords. 1 quarter shy graduation Neil was offered a 16-week contract at $50 week to write poem-songs. He spent the next 7 years on Tin Pan Alley before he wrote his first hit. There were many more stories and many great songs that like Shilo, we heard just a bit ago, stirred thoughts.

My bedtime reading, Thursday, was Agatha Christie’s ABC Murders, a Poirot mystery. Poirot receives a letter taunting him and telling when and in what city a murder will happen. I picked up the story after the third murder. Families of victims are together, trying to help the police and Poirot’s investigations, neither of which are making any headway. We pick up as one family members speaks “We know nothing about him.” [Poirot replies]

No, no, mademoiselle that is not true. Each one of us knows something about him -if we only knew what it is we know. I am convinced that knowledge is there if we could only get at it. (Christie 126)

His comment reminded me of Donald Rumsfeld’s comment

 You know what you know. You know what you don’t know. It’s what you don’t know, that you don’t know, that kills you.

Thanks to the inspiration of the divine muse I recalled a Facebook conversation about today’s Gospel wording [Jesus] took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, (Mark 9:36), objecting to referring to the child as ’it’. One person connected their pain at being referred to as ‘it’ to the child being referred to as it. Another diddled around the trouble using pronouns to refer to pronouns. Another mentioned the effort to be gender neutral. It all came together in the question What bit of knowledge do we need to get at, which reveals what we don’t know we don’t know, about Shilo, which reveals the love of God who always comes?

We might as well start with the Greek translated ‘it.’ The word is αὐτὸ (auto) is a singular, neuter, personal pronoun, the object of a verb (Olive Tree) So ‘it’ is grammatically correct. But what about the concerns of the Facebook conversation? The big question of this week’s Gospel reading is the same as last week “Who do the disciples think Jesus is?” It requires us to struggle with the same existential question the disciples face, in the context of our understanding of scripture, the world we live in and history, “Who is Jesus?” (Carroll) To do that, we need to set aside our experiences of childhood as a privileged time of innocence (Perkins). As a culture we value children. That is not true in the 1st century. Children were not welcome until they were old enough to be a working economic asset. They were essentially property until boys were old enough to own themselves, or girls were old enough to be sold into marriage. They had no rights, no privileges (Peters-Mathews). no legal protection, and no status, (Epperly). They were acted upon by the powerful, which was everyone, who wasn’t a child (Zee).

I expect you have heard before, that this story it is part of the continuing stories of Jesus welcoming the powerless and rejected:

• a Gentile woman (Mark 7:24-30),
• a bleeding woman (Mark 5:24-34),
• lepers (Mark 1:40-45),
• raging demoniacs (Mark 5:1-20),
• tax collectors and
• other notorious “sinners” (Mark 1:13-17) (Johnson)

We hear how, as Christians, we are to welcome the least of these, the marginalized, and all those we tend to put undesirable labels on. And that is true. But there is more.

In the verses just before this Jesus tells his disciples that, The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again (Mark 9:31). It mirrors exactly last week when just after Peter says Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus begins to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again (Mark 8:31). Remember that part of the definition of ‘it’ is “the object of a verb” In Jesus’ teaching he is the object of all the verbs, betrayed, suffering, rejection, and killed. In every one of these verbs, Jesus is the one who is acted upon by the powerful. Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, will be powerless as children before the combined authority of the Jewish religious leaders and the all-powerful Roman state (Zee). In short, Jesus is ‘it’ ~ in the disciples’ presence. Jesus is ‘it’ ~ in our presence.

My gleaning from the Facebook conversation is that in our rush to eliminate the offensive language of ‘it’ we miss what we don’t know, that we need to get at. I’m beginning to wonder if what we need to get at, is that we are not the disciples; we are ‘it’; we are those acted upon, we really are in the same uncomfortable situation Jesus is. We cannot separate ourselves from the other or God, even when we or the other, or God is in a position we normally deem offensive or weak (Epperly). The Gospel story is not personally singular, [point] you, [point at me] or me, but [draw a circle] but all of us, meaning every single living soul, together; and that likely include all creation also (Epperly).

Joseph Peters-Mathews wrote that in last week’s story of the first revelation of Jesus betrayal, rejection, death and resurrection, the Transfiguration in between, and their arguing about which of them is the greatest after Jesus second teaching of his death and resurrection, the disciples show a remarkable lack of imagination (Peters-Mathews). They are so locked into the centuries-old hope for a great and mighty leader who will throw the enemy out they cannot see the power of God’s love.

I wonder how limited our imaginations are? I wonder if in the depths of our loneliness, in the depths of our fear we can sense Shilo who always came? I wonder if can we ask Shilo to come today? I wonder if we can trust the love of God in Jesus and Spirit, that was, and is, and always will be, to come?


Carroll, Bill. Who do WE think Jesus is? 16 9 2018. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com&gt;.

Christie, Agatha. ABC Murders. New York: Bantam Books, 1983.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 23 9 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

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

Johnson, Elisabeth. Commentary on Mark 9:30-37. 23 9 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Olive Tree. NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Olive Tree Bible Software, 22014.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Peters-Mathews, Joseph. “Vulnerable, Pentecost 18 (B).” 23 9 2018. Sermons that Work.

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

Zee, Leonard Vander. The Lectionary Gospel Mark Mark 9:30-37. 23 9 2018.






Power to Shape, Power to Save

A sermon for Proper 19; Proverbs 1:20-33, Psalm 19, James 3:1-12, Mark 8:27-38

September 11, 2001. Do you remember where you were when you first heard about the passenger jets crashing into the World Trade Center Towers in New York, into the Pentagon, and into a field in Pennsylvania? I was in the office of Holy Cross, West Memphis. At first, I did not grasp what was going on. The more the reality came to me, the more I felt alone, which had nothing to do with the fact that it was the secretary’s day off, and I was alone. When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I went to my Sr. Warden’s Store. Together for the next couple of hours, we watch a national tragedy unfold. That night a crowd of folks from West Memphis crowded into one of the big churches, for a prayer vigil, in which I had some part.

I don’t remember when I started to think about Sunday and what in the world needs to be said to God’s people. On top of that, it was the Sunday, after Holy Cross Day, the congregation’s name day. The images of the Cross and the collapsing Twin Towers were too large a juxtaposition. I know the empty feeling of nothing to say. This was something different, it was not that I didn’t have anything to say so much as I was empty. And only then did I realize I would not preach that Sunday; the Bishop would be there for his annual visit. I have always enjoyed the Bishop’s annual visit. I have always enjoyed hearing my bishop preach. But never before, and never since, was I glad not to have to preach.

It has been 17 years. The effects of that day continue to be with us. US forces are still in Afghanistan. We all know or perhaps have family who are, or have, or will serve in Afghanistan or a related conflict. If you have flown or taken a bus trip you have stood in security lines. In the next two years, anyone who wants to travel by air or enter a Federal Building will have to have a Driver’s License, that is an approved Federal Id or a Passport. These have their roots in the travel restrictions that follow the effort to make air travel safe after 9/11. Our previously innocent relationship with Islam continues to be combative, even though President Bush made the brave effort to speak the truth. These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. … The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war. (Bush) It has been a long war, spanning more than seven years of George Bush’s, all of Barack Obama’s and the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidencies, with no real end in sight. And though the terror is mostly over there, it continues to shape our lives, in all sorts of sublet, often ~ invisible ways. And I know that some equate the 9/11 attacks and the continuing impact of terrorists’ ways to the ‘cross’ Jesus speaks of in this morning’s Gospel.

The challenge is that this understanding of Jesus’ words If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. leaves off the significant end for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel. (Mark 8:35) (Zee; Perkins) The truth is I cannot tell you an instance when I have risked my life for Jesus or the Gospel. I’m not really sure I have inconvenienced myself for Jesus or the Gospel. I do know of Christians who do. Those who live in China and do not accept the official version of Christianity, an oppression with renewed strength this past week; members of the Coptic Church in Egypt, constantly under threat, and other communities where it is illegal to be a Christian. I do think that as the culture war in the US heats up, the possibility of people persecuting others for their Christian belief is growing. Tragically, I think it may well be Christians persecuting Christians; but this would not be the first time. But, maybe ~~ we can learn from the tragedies of our past.

In the broadest sense, Jesus is speaking about the power the Cross can have and should have in shaping our lives as the foundational value from which we form all our relationships and make all our decisions. The power of the Cross should also define how we respond to those times when life happens, especially in the extremes of personal crisis, family crisis, community crisis, or national crisis, and really, international crisis.

Janet Vincent was serving as a chaplain escorting families to a viewing area the city had built following 9/11. Here, in her words, is the rest of her story of September 24th.

At about 1:45 a firefighter came up to me and asked … Is there going to be a 2 o’clock mass today? I’m sure I looked confused, so he repeated his question: Is there going to be a 2 o’clock mass today? … [I] thought to myself: You want a mass here? I was horrified at the thought of a Great Thanksgiving celebrated in Hell and [asked]

 You want a mass here?

[He replied] Yes, … You do that don’t you?

Well … yes, I do, … but we don’t have the things we would need … bread, wine, Bible, prayer book, or even a place

There’s a mass kit in the tent, he said, motioning to a respite tent, and we can get the bread and wine.

Well, whadda ya say, Reverend?

Yes, I said. I’ll say mass with you.

I went into the tent, …[s]ure enough there was a mass kit, some sandwich bread and wine …. The altar was a makeshift table with a bunch of dead flowers on top. There was an altar frontal of sorts. It was a large piece of construction paper [on] which a little girl had written: Daddy, please come home. There was a crayon image of a fire fighter standing between two tall buildings — smoke coming out of the top of each. Her name was Kate … ~ her father never came home. …

At 2 o’clock 18 fire fighters appeared … and took off their … gear …. Their faces were dirty and drawn, their eyes heavy and sad. I introduced myself and added that I was an Episcopalian. Now that my mask and helmet were off there was no doubt that I was also a woman. I thought that might make a difference to what I assumed was a Roman Catholic group. It didn’t. I was there with them and that was more than good enough.

And so we began our Eucharist in Hell. I started with words I assumed would be familiar: Grace to you and peace from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Grace and peace? How did we ever say those words so easily? I had no Book of Common Prayer but the collect for the Great Vigil of Easter had welled up during the day. It’s the collect where night yields to daylight and death meets new life. It is the intersection of that long service and the beginning of the baptismal liturgy:

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church and especially upon this gathering and this place. Let us and the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection through Christ our Lord.

The words seemed utterly outrageous. We had no Bible, so I asked the group to share whatever scripture came to mind and heart. One man spoke of the deposition of Christ’s body from the cross. He said:

There were people who took Jesus down from the cross and buried him. We are taking our brothers out of the pile so that they can be buried. We will take the civilians out and return them to their families — as many as we can.

Another man said:

Jesus said to love our enemies, but I want them all dead. I want to pull the trigger on the gun that kills bin Laden.

 His voice cracked as he spoke, and another fire fighter put his arm around his shoulder. That man explained to me: His brother is in the pile. The bereaved man said: I guess I should leave. I replied, No, don’t leave. Please don’t leave. It’s okay. I realized later that I was speaking to myself. I also needed permission to stay because I knew that if bin Laden stood before me I could also pull the trigger. Another man had a quote to offer from the gospel according to Bruce Springsteen: Badlands,

 you’ve got to live it every day. Let the broken heart stand as the price you’ve got to pay.

Another guy followed with a piece of another verse from the same song:

I believe in the love that you gave me. I believe in the faith that can save me. I believe in the hope that one day will raise me from these Badlands …

 I talked about the great caring I had witnessed — gentleness, compassion, and selflessness. I quoted Jesus:

There is no greater love than this, than to give one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends.

Then I quoted from the Boss, same song but from the last verse. A verse I knew they would not quote:

[and] it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive (from Badlands/ Darkness on the Edge of Town).

They seemed surprised that I had recognized Springsteen and could also quote song and verse. Looking at each other we almost smiled.

We moved on to the Great Thanksgiving as we gathered around our small altar. It wasn’t difficult to begin the familiar call and response of the Sursum Corda:

            The Lord be with you.
And also with you.

But I hesitated before saying … Lift up your hearts… How could they lift their hearts in this place of death? How could I? Most of them had been on duty since midnight. They were falling asleep on their feet. Their lives had been devastated … all had lost friends and/or relatives. They [felt] guilty that they had survived and were driven to claw at the wreckage until forced to go home.

And yet here we were, in what seemed to be the center of hell, weighed down by unimaginable sorrow, and I was supposed to verbalize that ancient request. I struggled to lift my hands into the gesture of what I was about to ask. Belt high was all I could manage. I struggled more to raise my voice beyond a whisper:

            Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.

 They replied in sad but steady voices. I continued from memory:

… Holy and Gracious God, in your infinite love you made us for yourself and when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you in your mercy sent Jesus Christ, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us …

And so we continued. This is my Body given for you. This is my blood, poured out for you and for all. The bread was broken and shared, … all drank from the cup. We stood in silence for a few moments and I blessed them as my hand shook. They thanked me as I hugged each one and then they returned to their work.

The firefighter who had approached me at 1:45 … saw the Word made flesh, the Incarnation, God’s impossible YES permeating the rubble, ash and twisted steel. He knew that his fallen comrades had said their YES. He could see into the mystery of Incarnation: that God is with us and for us (Vincent).

The Cross should be the foundational value that shapes our lives. The Cross should also be the power that fuels our response to a crisis. In our decades together, Angie and I have come to understand that life happens. The question is

Will we let the forces of chance or evil shape us, or will we reach back and grab the power of the Cross to define how we will respond?

That September day, eighteen firefighters, and a priest found the power of the Cross by which they continued to face the results of the forces of evil. And they are not alone, for no matter how bad the land, there is nothing that can keep you from the power of the Cross; there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God, in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:31-39)




Bush, Geroge H. W. “Islam is Peace” Says President . 17 9 2001. 14 9 2018. <https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010917-11.html&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 16 9 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

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

Johnson, Elisabeth. Commentary on Mark 8:27-38. 16 9 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

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

Vincent, Janet. Lifting up our Hearts: Communion and Springsteen at Ground Zero,. 11 9 2018. <https://www.episcopalcafe.com/lifting-up-our-hearts-communion-and-springsteen-at-ground-zero-2/&gt;.

Zee, Leonard Vander. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 8:27-38. 16 9 2018.



Shaping Faith

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

Sometime in the first decade of the 21st century, three Episcopal clergy from Arkansas went to a conference in San Francisco. On their night off, they went to the Warf. Having taken in the sights, enjoyed the wonderful seafood, scrumptious desserts, and delectable coffee it was time to head back to the conference center. For the experience of it, they decided to take the BART, San Francisco’s subway system. All went well, until the next to the last stop. All the ticket booths were closed; however, the kiosks are open all the time. So, they go to the kiosks. They see how to buy a year’s pass or a month’s pass. They see how to buy a ticket to downtown San Francisco. They see how to make every transaction possible, except ~ how to buy a ticket from this stop to the next stop. It is embarrassing for three highly educated men, two with master’s degrees and one with a doctorate. Suddenly, a dirty gray-blond hair head, atop of rumpled tattered gray long coat pops up between them and the Kiosks’ key panel. She asks what they want and holds out her hand. They tell her, and each gives her a $20 bill. Swiftly and easily her hands fly over the keyboard. In no time, she hands each of them a $5 ticket, and each thankfully tell her to keep the change. This member of that triad has always been amazed at how angels are present to us. This morning, a new gleaning emerges, it is not always members of the establishment who cross social boundaries and make a difference in people lives.

Jesus is in Tyre, he is alone; and wants to be unnoticed. He is approached by a woman whose daughter is demon possessed. There is no way around it; Jesus is rude, calling her family dogs. The woman is knowledgeable and clever enough to best Jesus with her reply, “Yes, but even dogs eat the crumbs from under the table.” Jesus acknowledges her point, and pronounces that her daughter is healed, from a distance, with no prayer or reference to God. The woman accepts Jesus’ word. What draws my attention this morning, is that it is the woman who crosses social boundaries, and changes Jesus’ life.

Jesus leaves Tyre and goes to Decapolis, which is still in Gentile territory. He is still alone. We don’t know who they are, but whoever they are they bring a deaf-mute to Jesus and “begged him to lay hands on him.” Jesus takes the man aside to be in private, and through physical means, touching and spitting looks to heaven and says, “Be open.” Did you ever wonder who is Jesus speaking to? According to the flow of the story, the man is still deaf? No matter, the man can now hear and speak clearly.

Many commentators think these are unrelated stories. I’m not so sure. I see a change in Jesus’ behavior. In Decapolis, still gentile territory, he is asked to heal, and this time Jesus simply heals the deaf-mute. There is no objection, no qualification. I see Jesus applying what he learned in Tyre, to his work in Decapolis. I now see how the Syrophoenician Woman changes how Jesus sees the world and understands, at a minimum, the timing of his ministry. Before Tyre, Jesus was making judgments based on a person’s social status, a Gentile or a Jew. In Decapolis Jesus is no longer making that judgment.

Proverbs is a book of ethical lessons, a how to behave primer. The reading for this morning is all cut up. However, this time, the cutting up helps to clarify its meaning. The verses teach us not to makes judgments between people based on wealth, or make judgments between people for any reason. I see how this lesson reinforces the learning from Mark’s Gospel. God is the maker of all people, Jew and Gentile, poor or wealthy. Treating people differently because of this or that trait is an injustice, and doing an injustice brings divine consequences.

The Letter from James, thanks to Luther’s recapturing the notion of salvation by grace, is a controversial book. You know our salvation is grace, a gift from God, which we accept and is a foundation of our faith, no works are required. James says faith by itself if it has no works is dead. I agree with the scholars who say that James is not teaching a works righteousness, that Luther objects to. James qualifies faith by that stating if our faith does not affect our actions it is no faith. Jesus learns a faith in action lesson in Tyre. He does not heal the woman’s daughter because he is bested in a philosophical debate, which he is. He heals the daughter because he learns something about faith. Jesus healing the deaf-mute in Decapolis, without hesitation, is an example of how faith affects behavior that James is teaching.

Together, today’s readings teach us first to know the basics of our faith. For me, that begins in Genesis 1, where we learn that we are all made in the image of God, and in Genesis 2, where we learn that we are made to be in relationship with each other. These basic truths have everyday life implications. The author of Proverbs collected many of them for our use as one resource for guiding us through everyday life. Today’s lesson is: don’t make judgments between people on human values like wealth.

Finally, we heard in Mark, people will know your faith by your actions. People will know when you learn the lessons of those who unexpectedly cross social boundaries and challenge your previously proper social judgments. People will know when you learn the lessons that shape your faith. It is Jesus’ faith that brings him to heal the daughter and the blind mute. It is the results of that work which astounds people beyond measure. People will know you by your faith, not by what you say, not by how often or where you got to church, but how by your faith you treat others equally as the image of God, we all are. And it doesn’t matter if your faith is shaped from on high, by a foreigner, a woman, or by a dirty gray-blond hair head, atop of rumpled tattered gray long coat.



Aymer, Margaret. Commentary on James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17. 9 9 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 18 B James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17. 9 9 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 9 9 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

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

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 18 C Philemon 1:1-1:21. 30 8 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

Johnson, Elisabeth. Commentary on Mark 7:24-37. 9 9 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. New interpreters Bible The Letter of James. Vol. X. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Galatians 6:18. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015.

Leeuwen, Raymond C. Van. New Interpreters Bible The Book of Proverbs. Vol. III. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) 2 Chronicles 36:22. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015.

Limburg, James. Commentary on Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23. 9 9 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Mast, Stan. Old Testament Lectionary —Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23. 9 9 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

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

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

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

The Living Church. “He Makes the Wounded Whole.” 9 9 2018. livingchurch.org. <livingchurch.org/2018/08/22/freedom-and-popular-culture>.

Zee, Leonard Vander. Proper 18 B Mark 7:24-37. 9 9 2018.




I Want to Sing You A Love Song

A Sermon for Proper 17; Song of Solomon 2:8-13, Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10, James 1:17-27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

I wanted to sing you a love song. Well, I wanted Ann Murry or ‎Kenny Loggins‎ and ‎Jim Messina to sing you a love song; they sing so much better than I do. So, I went listening. And I found multiple versions of each artist. But I could not find the one I hear in my head. So, I’m not to sing you a love song. Instead, I’ll share love poem with you. You know it.

The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.”

These are the only verses from Song of Songs in our lectionary. Song of Songs, (the Book’s proper title,) really is a book of poetry. It is a book of love poems. As we heard they are romantic and unashamedly sensual. Some think these love poems are just this, love poems, and are included in scripture, because love is a divine gift to humankind, and we need to know that. Some think these love poems are an analogy of the love God/Jesus/Spirit has for us, for all humankind, for all creation, and we need to know that too (Mast).

Elaine James writes the poem includes a love of creation, noting all the reference to nature: plentiful vineyards, gardens, the many varieties of plants, She hears an invitation to look at the land around us, to see the larger world in springtime, and to understand (James). She also hears an ethical dimension. Many people are losing the connection to the land, from which we are made (Genesis 2:7). The risk of losing our connection to “the dust of the ground” is not only that we lose our connection to creation, we also lose our connection to ourselves, to each other, and our connection to God. I rather suspect the poem is all this and each of us hears the meaning each of us needs to hear, especially when we read them out loud.

It occurs to me, that Song of Songs was as little read in Jesus’ day as it is in ours. When we lose our connection to the land, to each other and to God, we begin to create rules of life in our own image, and then we begin to judge others by those rules. This is what is going on in Mark’s Gospel story.

When we hear the word ‘hypocrite’ we think of someone who is intentionally claiming a belief while behaving another way. They are faking it. The word has its origins in Greek that comes from theater. There is not a similar word in Hebrew, or Aramaic, which Jesus spoke, so, we have some digging to do to hear what Jesus is talking about.

The concern of the Pharisees and scribes is not hygiene, it is about spiritual ritual purity. The idea of Ritual Purity comes from the Law Moses gives to Israel. However, over time, some Jews, like the Pharisees and scribes, believe more is necessary and they created an elaborate system of Law. Some of these laws help people understand the Purity code. Others help them exempt themselves from other parts of the Purity code (Zee).

The Pharisees’ and scribes’ criticism of Jesus not teaching his disciples to follow the purity code implies that Jesus cannot be a true religious teacher. They intend to embarrass Jesus, and thereby undermine his authority (Perkins).

Jesus replies by quoting Isaiah;

The Lord said… these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote; (Isaiah 29:13) (Olive Tree).

We did not read the verses in which Jesus gives a specific example; the Pharisees have a rule that allows them not to keep the commandment to honor their fathers and mothers, which includes taking care of them, by declaring those resources to be a future gift to God. This is an example of claiming to follow the Law while creating a human law that allows you to not follow the Law (Perkins).

Jesus follows that quote by teaching that defilement is not the results of eating unclean food or eating with unclean hands. Defilement comes from the thoughts and action of our hearts, which is not only the center of our physical life but also the center of our spiritual life (Butler). He then lists several examples of actions that can defile a person. However, we should be cautious to not hold on to the list to tightly, because in Jesus’ behavior we see another list that comes from his heart. Throughout the Gospel story, we see Jesus respond personally, and intimately to every life-situation (Epperly). He dares to touch those considered unclean, dares to love social outcasts, dares to love and serve, and gives his life for all people: tax collectors and sinners, lepers and demon-possessed, scribes and Pharisees, you and me (Johnson).

To be clear, the Law, as given by God through Moses, is a good guide to life. It helps us remember that we are called to live differently than the world around us, in faith to God the creator, ruler, and judge of all creation. To be honest, all religious groups tend to turn divine faith into human tradition, that supports the desires of our own hearts. And we do that because, as you know,

it is much easier to follow any number of ritual practices than to transform our hearts. (Perkins).

The good news is that although God/Jesus/Spirit who knows all our desires, and all our secrets, did not, has not and will not abandon us. God seeks to nurture in us all goodness.

God longs to
hear our voice,
to see us leaping upon the mountains,
standing behind the wall,
gazing through the windows,
looking through the lattice,
God longs to
to see our face
to hear our voice (Song of Songs 2:14)
God longs to speak to us
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
God longs to
to sing you a love song
to rock you in divine arms
to show you, the peaceful feelin’ of home (Loggins and George).


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Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 12 2 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 2 9 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

James, Elaine. Commentary on Song of Solomon 2:8-13. 2 9 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Johnson, Elisabeth. Commentary on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23. 2 9 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Liggett, James. “Hypocrites, Pentecost 15 (B).” 2 9 2018. Sermons that Work.

Loggins, Kenny, and Dona Lyn George. A Love Song. 1973. Wikipedia. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Love_Song_(Loggins_and_Messina_song)&gt;.

Mast, Stan. Old Testament Lectionary Song of Solomon 2:8-13. 2 9 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Olive Tree. Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set. Harper Collins Christian Publishing, 2015.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

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

The Living Church. “Inner Quiet, Abounding Joy.” 2 9 2018. livingchurch.org. <livingchurch.org/2018/08/22/freedom-and-popular-culture>.

Weems, Renita J. Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections Song of Songs. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Zee, Leonard Vander. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23. 2 9 2018.