Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 20B

Track 1: Greatness

Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1
or Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

The readings appointed for today brought back memories of my parents. The reading from Proverb honors a certain type of woman:

Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her happy;
    her husband too, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
    but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the city gates.   (Proverbs 31:25-31)

This was my Mother. She was very beautiful indeed, but her beauty had as much to do with her character as it did her physical beauty. She could called a housewife, which might also be a fitting description for the woman in Proverbs. Do we still honor women who are simply housewives? We should.

Mother was also good at providing moral support to my Father when he came under verbal attack. Although my Father had done no wrong, he might have given up the good thing he was doing because of political pressure. Mother said: “Stay on course, regardless.” Her advice proved correct.

When I read James I could not help but think of my Father. One of his sayings was this: “Show me a successful man and I will tell you about the people upon whom stepped on his way up.” As a child, I though this statement might be a little too extreme, but the reading from James seems to imply that there might be some truth to it:

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.   (James 4:1-2)

Dad was a man of character and integrity. He was right out of the reading from James{

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.   (James 3:13-18)

Dad was a successful man but he was concerned about the wellbeing of others. He particularly looked out for his friends. I remember when one of his friends lost his position and came under condemnation, Dad was quick to help by finding him work and offering him consolation. Dad was also good at galvanizing others to do community projects free of charge.

Were my parents supper successful? They were to me, but not necessarily by the world’s standards. They were like many parents of their generations who have set a very high standard for generations to come.

Jesus spoke about such people. From today’s Gospel reading:

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”   (Mark 9:33-37)

Do we want to be great? Then we must be servants to all. Do we want to be the greatest? That title is reserved for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

 

Track 2: Deception

Jeremiah 11:18-20
Psalm 54
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

We live in an age of deception. People say one thing and do another. Deceitful acts are plotted but also carefully concealed. Disinformation and distractions are the weapons of the day. It is difficult for us to defend ourselves when .We are often blindsided at a time that has been calculated in advance to cause us maximum harm.

Has this type of attack ever happened to us? If not, we must ask: Why not? This is how Satan attacks those who stand in his way. Jeremiah was under such an attack, but did not realize it. Jeremiah writes:

It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew;
then you showed me their evil deeds.

But I was like a gentle lamb
led to the slaughter.

And I did not know it was against me
that they devised schemes, saying,

“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will no longer be remembered!”

But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously,
who try the heart and the mind,

let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.   (Proverbs 31:10-31)

In situations like this, God is our only defense. He is our protection, provided that we are living for him. Evil cannot be fought by our strategy and strength. God has a better plan. God has a wisdom and power far exceeds that of the workers of darkness.

People plot evil. They may also plot what they conceive as good. This was true of some of the disciples of Jesus. From today’s Gospel reading:

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.   (Mark 9:33-34)

Why did the disciples keep this hidden from Jesus? They were afraid to talk about their plans. Could it be that in their hearts they knew what they were talking about was wrong? From the Book of James we read:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.   (James 3:13-18)

Selfish ambition does not lead to peace and harmony. Righteousness is the worthy goal for Christians. Any thing that is done in secret in order to conceal ones motives and desires is clearly wrong. It is more than wrong. It is evil. That is how Satan works.

We are living in the last days of the Church age. Things that have been hidden are now being exposed. People are plotting and scheming more than ever. But they will be found out. Jesus said:

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.   (Matthew 10:26-27)

God warned Jeremiah that he was under attack. He is now warning us. God is revealing the truth to all those who are willing to see it. If we are unwilling to see then we are in grave peril. The Apostle Paul writes:

 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus[d] will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.   (2 Thessalonians 2:7-10)

Wicked deception is at play. Only God’s truth will save us:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.   (John 3:16-18)

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Filed under homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year B

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