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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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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 19B

Track 1: Wisdom Calls Us

Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

Today we look at the wisdom of God. One of the first things we should notice from reading in Proverbs is that God wants to impart his wisdom to us:

Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.

At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:

“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?

How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?

Give heed to my reproof;

I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you.

The wisdom of God cries out to us. Do we cry out to the wisdom of God? We do if we understand that we need his wisdom. The author of the Book of James writes:

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.   (James 1:5)

One of the ways in which God implants his wisdom in us is by our reading of the scriptures. The psalmist writes:

The law of the Lord is perfect
and revives the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.

The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.   (Psalm 19:7-8)

When I was in seminary I asked the Lord for a mentor. I felt that I needed someone to help me understand and interpret God’s word. I had a certain minister in mind, but he did not seem all that interested in helping me. I complained to the Lord about this. Several years later I realized that this esteemed pastor and preacher had turned away from the truth of God’s word.

James warned us about some teachers:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.   (James 3:1)

If we had to say who is the best teacher of the word of God, who would that be? Perhaps the wisdom of God itself is our best teacher. The Prophet Jeremiah wrote:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt — a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.   (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

If we are open to the Holy Spirit of God, he alone can lead us into all truth. Jesus said:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.   (John 16:12-14)

The wisdom of God has made provision for us. Are we ready to receive all the wonderful lessons which he wants to teach us. Wisdom is our primary source of understanding God’s word. He will give us that understanding through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Having a human mentor is not necessarily a bad idea, however. But we must choose very carefully. We must examine the fruit of their ministry. James writes:

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)

We need the pure wisdom of God. Let us always pray that we receive this wisdom. If we seek this wisdom we will find it. God has given us his promise.

 

 

Track 2: Man and Ministry

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 116:1-8
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

Today we once more examine the question for the ages. Jesus brings it up in today’s Gospel reading, From Marks Gospel:

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.   (Mark 8:27-30)

What other people say about Jesus is not as critical to us as what we say about Jesus. God is looking for a declaration from us about who Jesus is to us. Not only that, he also wants us to understand what that might mean. Jesus explained to his disciples:

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. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”   (Mark 8:31-33)

What was Peter missing? He correctly identified who Jesus was and is, but he failed to understand what that might mean. Our Christology must include both the person and purpose of Jesus. The Apostle wrote to the Church in Rome:

But what does it say?

“The word is near you,
    on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.   (Romans 10:8-10

In today’s Gospel reading Peter does declare that “Jesus is Lord.” Paul implies that, not only must we declare who Jesus is, we must understand in our hearts what his ministry is about. Peter failed to understand the part about the cross and resurrection which Jesus was attempting to explain to his disciples. Later, Peter would understand after the resurrection.

The psalmist had an understand of the underlying ministry of God, even in his day. For that reason he called upon the name of the Lord:

The cords of death entangled me;
the grip of the grave took hold of me;
I came to grief and sorrow.

Then I called upon the Name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray you, save my life.”

Gracious is the Lord and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.

The Lord watches over the innocent;
I was brought very low, and he helped me.

Turn again to your rest, O my soul,
for the Lord has treated you well.

For you have rescued my life from death,
my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.

I will walk in the presence of the Lord
in the land of the living.   (Psalm 116:2-8)

Have we called upon the Lord Jesus? Can we say, as did the psalmist?:

I will walk in the presence of the Lord
in the land of the living.   (Psalm 116:8)

Jesus’ ministry is about life and life eternal. Let us live continually in the presence of the Lord. His blood washes away all of our sins. He is the only way to God the Father. That is the confession which we must make and that is the confession in which we must live. Jesus said:

Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”   (Mark 8:38)

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Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 8B

Track 1: How the Mighty Have Fallen

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

In today’s reading from 2 Samuel, King David laments the death of King Saul and his son Jonathan:

Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!

Tell it not in Gath,
proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon;

or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice,
the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult.

You mountains of Gilboa,
let there be no dew or rain upon you,
nor bounteous fields!

For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more.   (2 Samuel 1:25-27)

Saul was anointed by God to be king over Israel. He was a mighty warrior who conquered many of Israel’s enemies. Yet Saul had decided to do things on his own, without regard to the will of God. Because of this, Israel was continually being attacked by its enemies. Saul was warned but kept on rebelling against God.

How could someone be so stubborn? Does that sound like someone we might know? The psalmist wrote:

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they commit abominable acts;
    there is no one who does good.

God looks down from heaven on humankind
    to see if there are any who are wise,
    who seek after God.

They have all fallen away, they are all alike perverse;
    there is no one who does good,
    no, not one.   (Psalm 53:1-3)

We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The psalmist wrote:

Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice;
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could stand?

Have we not all been guilty of rebellion against God? In a time of desperation we call out to God, hoping that he will still here us. The psalmist goes on to offer this assurance:

For there is forgiveness with you;
therefore you shall be feared.

I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him;
in his word is my hope.    (Psalm 130:1-5)

God is faithful even when we are not faithful. He is ready to forgive those who will repent of their sins and turn to him. He has been waiting patiently for us. We must learn to wait patiently on him, not losing our hope in his  word. The psalmist reminds us:

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far he removes our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion for his children,
    so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made;
    he remembers that we are dust.   (Psalm 103:8-14)

We may have fallen, but we do not have to remain fallen. Saul refused to repent. Let us not be so stubbornness of heart. Out of the depths let us cry out to God. It is not too late to call upon his name.

 

 

Track 2: Your Faith Has Made You Well

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24
Lamentations 3:21-33
or Psalm 30
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

We are blessed today with quite a story of faith from the Gospel of Mark:

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”   (Mark 5:24-34)

What is so remarkable about this true story? The woman who was healed had been suffering from her illness for twelve years, but she did not lose hope that God could heal her. She tenaciously held on to that hope. Perhaps she was familiar with this passage from Lamentations:

This I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”   (Lamentations 3:21-24)

She did not give up hope in God. She did not become discouraged to the point of unbelief. Her belief is that God could heal her and that God would heal her. She understood the character of God: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.” She could have given up hope in God’s love but did not because she knew that God is love and that his love never ceases.

In life we can have difficulties. We can have illnesses. That is  simply a part of life. God allows these things, but that does not mean that he wills that our trials continue. His perfect will is that we will be made whole. Again from Lamentations:

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for one to bear
    the yoke in youth,
to sit alone in silence
    when the Lord has imposed it,   (Lamentations 3:25-28)

The woman understood that she had to wait for God patiently. God would come through for her. We are armed with knowledge that this woman did not have: Healing is provided in the cross which Jesus bore. In Isaiah we read:

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.   (Isaiah 53:4-5)

This leads us to the next and vital point about faith in God. The woman was able to touch God. She knew that if she could just touch the clothes of Jesus she would be healed. He did not have to speak to her. He had the power of God to heal. She just had to touch him with her faith.

How do we do that? How do we touch Jesus? Satan is constantly telling us that we are unworthy of his healing because of our sin. The more we have to wait on God’s healing the more Satan will make his case against us. The key to touching God is to believe in his character more than the circumstances in which we may find ourselves. The woman who was hemorrhaging strongly believed that God would heal her. She believed that he wanted to heal her because he is a loving and healing God. The psalmist wrote:

The Lord works vindication
    and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
    his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far he removes our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion for his children,
    so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.   (Psalm 103:6-13)

One of the greatest obstacles of healing is our belief that we are not worthy of God’s healing. Our faith should not based on who we are but on who God is. God is not limited by our character. God is governed by his character. “He does not deal with us according to our sins, not repay us according to our iniquities” the psalmist tells us. Do we believe this? Then we have every right to reach out and touch him. As we touch him, he will  touch us and say to us: “Your faith has made you well.”

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