The Mirror On The Wall

A sermon for Proper 23; Job 23:1-9, 16-17, Psalm 22:1-15, Hebrews 4:12-16, Mark 10:17-31

Last week I mentioned Job is my favorite Disney story in scripture. This week I was going to create some clever amalgamation of all the Disney heroes and heroines to be Job and/or ourselves. I was also going to create an equally clever amalgamation of all the Disney villains to be Job’s friends. But, our kids are 30 something, it has been a long time since we’ve really watched a Disney movie. And yes, we have grandkids, and we have watched Disney movies with them. Only they have seen them dozens of times, so they know what’s going to happen, and are so excited, they just have to share it with us, so we spend as much time listening to our grandkids (who really are grand) as we do watching the movie. I thought that would be okay, I could just google the lot. And then Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday happened, no Disney googling. So, welcome back to Job.

Between last week and chapter 23 lots has happened. As you recall, last week we ended with Job’s wife uttering her infamous line Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die. (Job 2:9). Job has an equally terse reply. Later Job has three friends show up; only they do not recognize him. That is a bit much, and Job begins to wish he had never been born. He might even welcome death, which in his day is being cut off from God, and right now all Job wants is for God to leave him alone [1] (Gaventa, and Petersen.). The next twenty chapters are 3 cycles of exchanging speeches. It is not an interactive conversation like we are used to. It is a friend’s long speech, followed by Job’s response, then another friend’s speech and so on. It’s almost like a political debate, except they stay on topic.

The first cycle of speeches begins with Eliphaz. He reminds Job of the great wisdom he has shared with others, and that he is surprised Job cannot offer the same wisdom to himself. Job’s response describes his suffering, and he maintains his righteousness, he lashes out at his friends, recounts that he is insignificant before God and that he just wants to be left alone, wondering who he is, who humanity is, that God cares much.

Bildad makes his first speech, asking if God perverts justice. Of course not; so, if Job will only plead before God, God will restore him and his riches. In his response Job agrees, God does not pervert justice, but that is of little consequence, because even a righteous person, as he is, does not have a chance against such power. He begins to ponder entering binding arbitration to settle his case.

Zophar’s makes his first speech. He criticizes Job

Should a multitude of words go unanswered, and should one full of talk be vindicated? Should your babble put others to silence, and when you mock, shall no one shame you? (Job 11:2-3)

 He continues saying it is impossible to understand God’s ways. He is convinced of Job’s sin and does not take his thoughts seriously. Like his companions the only answer Zophar offers are common convention. Job’s reply is long, angry and sarcastic. He observes that even though he is no less wise than they are, he is a laughing stock. On the other hand, anyone, even the animals, can see God is responsible for his troubles. Now Job has decided to argue his case directly before God, even though his friends will unjustly take God’s side. He pleads with God to show him what he has done to deserve his fate.

Eliphaz also begins the second cycle of speeches. He is less sympathetic and criticizes Job’s speeches as grounded in his sin, not his anguish. He doubles down on the belief that pain, despair, and destitution are characteristics of a sinner. Job responds with increasing insults towards his friends, and greater criticism towards God. Job continues with his legal argument and calls for witnesses for him, including heavenly ones. Job repeats his desire for death, cynically noting it is the only possible place of refuge.

Bildad resumes his speech, with less patience for Job than ever. He says the way of the world is the way of the world, and the created order will not make an exception for anyone, not even Job. He emphasizes how Job will be completely cut off from his family, and children and all memory of him will be lost, an exceptionally devastating thought in the ancient world. Job accuses Bildad of verbal abuse swearing that God has done him wrong. He complains that he is looking for pity from his friends and all they have given him is accusation after accusation. Now he wants to write his argument in stone so it will last forever. He is looking to the future when he will be proved right For I know that my Redeemer lives (Job 19:25). It helps to know for Job a ‘redeemer’ is a family member whose job is to protect the interest of the family when normal protections fail. He says he wants his words preserved, what he really wants is for him to be proven right, while he still lives.

Zophar speaks for the second time; he fears that Job’s view is threatening the basic principles of reward and punishment that is the ground of their way of life. He notes how the wicked may appear to be happy and wealthy, but that will all disappear quickly, and the wicked will get their just rewards. Job rejects the traditional idea that the wicked are punished and he does “overturn the foundation of the moral order of the world” Job’s vision of the moral order is based on his experience not from tradition and wisdom teachings of the ages; thus, he pronounces that “reward and punishment are random without reason.”

Eliphaz Speaks for the third time. He begins by saying that human piety can neither hurt or benefit God, therefore, God is the perfect objective judge of humanity. He contends that Job’s sin is seen in moral, social, and economic persecution of the underprivileged, echoing a theme so prevalent in the prophetic writings. He goes on to contend that Job’s view puts God so high in the heavens that what is happening on earth is invisible. He gives a final warning to Job not to side with the wicked but learn from their punishments.

This morning we heard most of Job’s reply. He will seek God. He will argue his case before God. Only he cannot find God. It’s the opposite of my favorite Trinity Hymn, St. Patrick’s Beast Plate (The Episcopal Church, 371) with its musically different 6th verse:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

For Job, God is not with, or within, or behind, or before, or beside, or beneath, or above. God does not comfort or restore or win. There is no divine presence that quiets, or in danger, or in loving hearts, nor words of friends or strangers. But even in divine absence Job knows that God knows he righteous; even so, God does as God does, and that terrifies Job.

People who come to seek pastoral advice and counsel for many reasons. Frequently there is a sense of insecurity born of a loss of belonging. Whatever made their world make sense is gone and they are at a loss. They may feel like Job, they cannot find their previously trustworthy presence of God, but they know God still is active in the world and the knowledge that God works independently of their worldview is terrifying. I have encouraged some of them to talk to God, with the full range of their emotions, as Job has and will do. I also tell them to beware, God will reply, as we will hear.

But this morning I want us to take a look at ourselves, not as Job, but as Job’s friends, who are unable to let go of their view of how the world works, how God works, because to do so terrifies them. We know Job is righteous, and that the disasters that have come upon him are the results of a heavenly bet between God and the heavenly attorney general ha-satan. We know what has happened to Job is not fair. His friends do not, which means they are unable to hear Job. Even though they hold to God’s presence in the world and that the righteous – wellbeing scheme is true, they sense that God acts as God will act and that terrifies them. So, I wonder why we are unable to hear a friend, or an acquaintance, or a work colleague, or a stranger? There are times when our need to hold on to our vision of society, the world writ large, the cosmos, or God bumps into God acting as God will act is so terrifying that it gets in the way our being the image of God we are. It is that terror keeps us from hearing a friend, acquaintance, or a work colleague, or a stranger in need.

We all know God is all powerful. However, we typically understand that power as the ability to move mountains or manipulate molecules that could either prevent or cause, think Job, tragedy. And scripture gives us plenty of examples of mysterious super-natural power at work in the world. But more and more I don’t think that is God’s omnipotent power. God’s omnipotent power is love; love that forgives all, love that is freely given to all. The divine love given to all, the love that we are to reflect to all, terrifies us, just like God acting as God will act terrifies Job and his friends. Job’s friends are afraid to give up their vision of how God works because if they did it would mean they would have to love someone they’d rather not love. Divine love given freely to all is so powerful that it scares us into acting just like Job’s friends because we can’t conceive of how we could love someone we believe is unworthy, by our standards.

I mentioned I’m not sure which class of Disney characters Job’s friends are. I’m not sure which class of Disney characters we are. I’m not even sure where we are in a typical storyline, except that we are at the point just before something unexpected happens. Between now and when the unexpected comes I sense we are called to go carefully and courageously look in the mirror on the wall, not to see whose fairest, but to see whose image we are. Is the image a reflection of God? Is the image a reflection of a world of our own imagination? It may well be a disturbing experience. But, when we see the truth, we will also see the step to freedom.


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 14 10 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.

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

Kesselus, Ken. Possessions, Pentecost 21 (B). 14 10 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Mast, Stan. Job 23:1-9; 16-17. 14 10 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

McCann Jr., J. Clinton. The New Interpreter Bible Commentary The Book of Psalms (NIBC) Job 42:10. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. XII vols. Olivetree App.

Tucker, Jr., W. Dennis. “Commentary on Job 23:1-9, 16-17.” 29 7 2018. workingpreacher.org. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3020&gt;.

 

 

 

[1] All reference are from New interpreters 1 Volume Commentary

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Job’s Loves Labors Lost

A Sermon for Proper 22: Job 1:1; 2:1-10, Psalm 26, Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12, Mark 10:2-16

 Beginning today and through October we will be exploring Job. Job is my favorite Disney story in the bible. Disney? In the Bible? Think for a minute about the structure of Disney movies. When the movie opens everything is great, nearly perfect, expressed in a musical theme. Then something tragic happens and perfection is broken. In most, if not all the stories, a character dies. Eventually, the hero or heroine prevails, perfection is reestablished, and frequently the musical theme from the opening reappears in grand style.

Also, in Disney stories, when you are 3, you hear one story, when you are 30, you hear another story.

To help us glean the most we can let’s establish some background, beginning with the characters. We are first introduced to Job who is described as blameless and upright, one who feared God and turns away from evil (Job 1:1). The description of his life shows perfection, everything totals to ten, ten children, 10 thousand sheep and camels, ten thousand donkeys and oxen. In the ancient world, ten is the number of perfection. He is from Uz, and its location is vague, at best. His name is not typically Hebrew. Whoever he is, where ever he is from, Job is not Jewish, (Tucker, Jr.).

The next character is the ha-satan, with a little ‘s’. In the Old Testament, the word is used to describe both heavenly beings and humans (Tucker, Jr.). In your insert you read “Satan,” capital ‘S,’ in the Hebrew there is the article ‘ha’ in front of the noun ‘satan’ indicating it is a tile or an office, perhaps a sort of divine spy or attorney general seeking out those who are not loyal to God (Tucker, Jr.; Epperly). The next character is God, who is really the central character in the book.

We also meet Job’s wife. She has one line in 42 chapters,

 Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God and die. (Job 2:9).

It is an infamously biting line. However, Elizabeth Achtemeier suggests it reveals a tragic character who is desperately trying to care for her husband while dealing with the same horrific losses he suffers. (McCann Jr.). I think I get Achtemeier is saying. Yes, Ms. Job is mad at Job; maybe mad at God. She also knows how much he hurts. She knows his pain is just as deep as her pain. She doesn’t shriek at her husband from anger. She shrieks out of her pain, the loss of prestige, the loss of status, the loss of wealth and ~~ the loss of ten children. And yes, I know I have said how little young children were valued in ancient days. These are not young children. Their children are adults.

Now that we have been properly introduced, it is helpful to put today’s reading in context. So here is a summary of what has just happened.

God’s court of heavenly beings gather and God brags about Job to ha-satan, who replies

Have you ever thought Job is so righteous because he is so blessed?

They make a bet, ha-satan will take away from Job everything he has, only ha-satan cannot touch Job, and they will see if Job remains righteous. In a series of disasters, all his flocks and herds and fields are destroyed, all the attending servants are killed, except the one who brings the news. A great wind storm collapsed the house his adult children were in, and they were all killed. All the attending servants were also killed, except the one who brings the news. Job responds by tearing his robe and shaving his head, traditional acts of grief (Harrelson; Keener and Walton). He then says

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21)

Today’s reading opens with the same heavenly council. God again mentions Job to ha-satan saying

 He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him (Job 2:3).

Ha-satan ups the ante by noting that nothing has happened to Job’s person. They agree to a second bet ha-satan can touch Job’s person, to see if Job remains righteous, but ha-satan cannot kill him. As we heard Job is afflicted with sores and boils from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. Job, sitting in ashes, a sign of morning, where he may have been grieving for his children (McCann Jr.), picks up bits of broken pots and begins scraping his skin.

A note about skin disease in the ancient world. If you have ever had a bad rash or other skin diseases, you may have tried to hide it. There is just something a bit embarrassing a big ole red, scaly, blob on your skin. One commentator notes this is so because our skin is involved in the public presentation of our self. When our skin is all blotchy, scaly and ugly, it is often a source of social disgust. In the ancient east skin diseases were believed to be a sign of divine displeasure, the worse the disease, the greater the divine displeasure. There have been multiple efforts to diagnose Job’s body wide extreme acne, but that effort simply misses the point (McCann Jr.). Job is facing another tragedy, another social disgrace presumably caused by divine displeasure.

So, what is the point? Two came to the surface; one is the question “Why bad things happen to good people?” and its associate the prosperity gospel. We will get to those in the weeks to come. Today I want to explore love and labors lost.

Love is risky business (McCann Jr.). It is not 50-50 deal, it requires you to give all you have. And while love is a source of great joy, it is also a well of agony because love cannot guarantee the wellbeing of ones we love. All the prayers, all the advice, all the rituals (good and bad) cannot diminish the vulnerability of being finite, mortal beings (McCann Jr.). The concern and commitment we put into ensuring the health, financial stability, and security of those we love is a sign of our love for them. These concerns and commitments and our loved ones are so important Job’s story forces us to face the possibility of losing them. The loss of our loved ones, or those things that provide for their wellbeing, and our well being is tremendously disruptive. We lose our moorings, we get disoriented and angry, and find ourselves in a shadowed valley of hopelessness. Job’s story forces us to face our roles in their loss. Job’s story forces us to face the apparent randomness of such losses.

Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost is a comedy about four companions who swear off the company of women for three years to be spent in study and fasting. Of course, they fall hopelessly in love with the princess and her courtiers. Shakespeare does not resolve the tension, between their commitment and falling in love. The play simply ends with the death of the princesses’ father which results in all weddings being delayed for a year (Wikipedia).

Like Shakespeare, I find myself in the unusual place of not resolving life’s challenges introduced this morning. The story began describing a righteous man and his perfect family life. With God’s consent, something tragic has happened and perfection is broken. The hero/heroine has not yet prevailed. My prayer is that as we continue our walk-through Job we will learn something about ourselves, and more importantly something about God. Between now and then let’s continue to take the risk and keep on loving, our families, our selves, and our God, who knows perhaps not all loves labour’s are lost.

Amen


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 7 10 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.

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

McCann Jr., J. Clinton. The New Interpreter Bible Commentary The Book of Psalms (NIBC) Job 42:10. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. XII vols. Olivetree App.

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

Tucker, Jr., Dennis W. Commentary on Job 1:1; 2:1-10. 7 10 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Wikipedia. Love’s Labour’s Lost. n.d. 7 10 2018. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love%27s_Labour%27s_Lost&gt;.

Be Salty

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

You would think that reading the bible would be a relatively easy thing. But maybe not. The bible was written in 3 different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek The Hebrew (and Aramaic) were translated into Greek, and then into Latin, and finally into the language of the people. Tyndale started the 1st English Translation. When he asked his bishop for permission he was told he could not produce such a “heretical” text. He decided to begin the work anyway and was only partially finished in 1535, before his execution. The King James Bible, completed in 1611, is the 3rd English translation. Today the complete Bible has been translated into 636 languages, the New Testament into 1,442 languages and parts of the Bible into 3,223 languages. Chapters were added in the 13th century, and verses were added in the 16th century; I’m not sure when the titles were added. All this help us by giving us standardized references. Or, do they?

As you know last week’s Gospel reading ended with Jesus holding a little child in his arms saying, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:37) Period, next verse, and the heading “Another Exorcist” begins another story, or does it?

In my text, there is a period; a new line, a title, and the next line looks like a new paragraph. It looks like a new story that begins “John said to him …” Philip Ruge-Jones suggests that John actually interrupts Jesus, bragging about stopping an exorcist, “because he is not following us.” “Not following us.” Us! What happened to following Jesus?

It sounds as if John and the rest of the disciples are pleased with themselves for preserving the purity and orthodoxy of the Jesus’ movement (Epperly, Perkins). All of which is a bit strange because the disciples don’t yet know what Jesus all is about, and all the way back at verse 28, the disciples could not cast a demon out (Zee). Could they be afraid? Do they fear of someone, beyond their circle, who can cast out demons?

Jesus tells them “Do not stop him” and list three connected reasons (Epperly)

  • if someone uses my name to do a deed of power, they will not be able to speak against me
  • whoever is not against us is for us, and
  • whoever gives you a cup of water, because you bear the name of Christ, will not lose the reward.

Note that in two of Jesus’ reasons Jesus is central, and in the third Jesus is included in the “for us” making Jesus the center of it all, and he includes everyone, who makes Jesus central in their life, a partner in his’ work. In doing this Jesus rebukes the disciples exclusive thinking. He is not nurturing a clique. He stops or at least tries to stop, the disciples from falling into the trap of “us” vs “them” thinking. (Kesselus).

Jesus continues with a series of proverb style warnings about what happens to those who are a stumbling block to one of these little ones who believe in me (Mark 9:42). After saying it would better to drown that to be a stumbling block he gives three gruesome examples, in which Jesus says it is better to be without a hand, a foot or an eye than find yourself in hell, whether hell is a fiery pit or complete isolation from any being including God.

Part of hearing Jesus clearly is understanding who the “Little Ones” are. Possibilities include: the child who is still in his arms, (Mark 9:36-37) after John’s interruption, all children, those new in faith, those weak in faith, the helpless, the poor, Christians in general, and those otherwise marginalized, hurt or injured by another or by an institution (Zee. Ruge-Jones, Perkins). In some ways Jesus presents the little ones as a sacrament, they are an outward and visible image of an inward (invisible) presence of God’s grace.

No matter our thoughts on what it is worth to avoid hell, and whoever little one maybe, they are intended to be connected to Jesus and this connection rebukes the notion that the disciples are some sort of exclusive, orthodox, righteous group, with special privileges. John’s use of “not following us” is a sign of this kind of dangerous thinking. The sad truth is that in the centuries since, a similar frenzy that Christianity is a preserve of a privileged few has been all too common. It is also true that such thinking has been and still is pervasive today.

Now I am going to ask you to stay with me because my thoughts are not partisan, but they do apply to the current debate and vote in the US Senate to confirm a nominee for a Supreme Court Associate Justice. I invite us to take a step back from the deeply emotional trauma of the accusations of sexual assault and look only at the response of the institution of the US Senate. Not Republicans. Not Democrats. But the US Senate as an institution. What I see is an institutional emotional response to a threat. It is the same reaction of the disciples who witnessed someone “not following us” casting out a demon, they couldn’t cast out. The disciples got distracted defending their own status. So, do we. So, do institutions. So, has the US Senate.

Take another step back and look at the treatment of victims of sexual harassment and assault and notice how they are routinely denied their rights to due process by involved institutions redefining them as somehow in error or unworthy. I fear there is evidence of similar behavior within the #metoo movement where those accused are denied due process, because of the institutions involved are acting to defend themselves. The danger is that denial of due process for the accused legitimizes the denial of due process for victims of sexual assault and harassment.

One of the basic tenants of Jesus’ teaching and biblical thought is justice. A challenge to justice has always been and is the power of institutions, like religious authority, the very wealthy businesses and individuals, and governments. A way to help ensure justice, and ensure due process, is to promote social norms so that no institution oversees due process when it is involved in the dispute. So, no university, no college, no academy or school should investigate a charge of sexual assault or harassment made against a student, faculty, administration or staff member of that institution. All such investigations should be done by the appropriate law enforcement agency. No corporation should investigate a charge of sexual assault or harassment against an employee, a contractor or an affiliate. All such investigations should be done by the appropriate law enforcement agency. This goes for governments also, counties investigate cities, states investigate counties, the feds investigate state, and the FBI or appropriate the state law legal agency investigates the feds. The Senate should not have attempted to investigate the charges brought by Dr. Blasey Ford against Judge Kavanaugh. This investigation should be done by the appropriate law enforcement agency, which would be the FBI, or the Washington, or a Maryland police department.

Of course, as soon as I wrote this, literally, as soon as I wrote this, I learned of the agreement for an FBI investigation and a delay in the Senate confirmation vote. This is a good step, but it still falls short because the Senate is still adjudicating the evidence, the FBI will provide a report but as is the process it will not include interpretative statements.

The same investigative rule should be true for the Catholic church, The Episcopal Church, and all churches. All charges of sexual assault and harassment should be investigated by the appropriate law enforcement agency.

We have made some progress. As do most, if not all states, Arkansas has mandatory reporting laws for child and elder abuse. By the way, you call the child or elder abuse hotline. Were that we were all children and elders.

Since all of us are one of God’s little ones, I would support similar mandatory reporting laws for sexual abuse and/or harassment; with particular attention paid to the rights and responsibility of the victim, which can be complex. In our pursuit of Justice, we do not want to victimize a victim. I would also support every citizen being a mandatory reporter for child, elder, and sexual abuse/harassment, or any other kind of abuse.

One lesson from this gospel reading is the consequences of sin. This raises the question of how pervasive sin is? My experience is that sin is both less and more pervasive; i.e. the sin that gets our attention, mass shootings etc. are far less pervasive than presented by news sources. Institutional sin like deflecting sex abuse and harassment is far more common than reported; as we are learning. Our challenge as Christians is to hear this morning’s proverbial teaching of Jesus, which is not so much about consequences as it is awareness and prevention. Jesus closing words are: Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another. (Mark 9:50) We understand be at peace with one another, but how in the world can we have salt in ourselves? in the Old Testament description of the Jewish sacrificial system salt in part of the process. Jesus’ admonition to have salt in your selves, suggests that we be worthy sacrifices and undergirds Paul’s calling for us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship (Romans 12:1) (Zee). Jesus wants his disciples, us and all God’s people to be salty, to be at peace with each other. He knows the true mark of an ethical society is not how it adjudicates problems but how it teaches its citizens, young and old the self-discipline not to be a cause of a problem. And that begins by knowing all of us are the child, the little one in God’s ever-loving arms.


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 30 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.

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

Kesselus, Ken. “Look for the Commonality, Pentecost 19 (B).” 30 9 2018. 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.

Ruge-Jones, Philip. Commentary on Mark 9:38-50. 30 9 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

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

Zee, Leonard Vander. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 9:38-50. 30 9 2018.

 

 

 

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?


References

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)

 

 


References

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.

 


References

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).


References

Butler, Trent C., ed. Holman Bible Dictionary. Database © 2008 WORDsearch Corp. Holman Bible Publishers, 1991.

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.