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>.
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>.
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/>.
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.