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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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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 18B

Track 1: Favoritism vs. the Favor of God

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
Psalm 125
James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

How easy it is for us to judge the poor. The Book of James tells us that how we treat the poor says more about our character than that of the poor. James writes:

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Jesus was once invited to the home of a leader of the Pharisees for a meal on the sabbath. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”   (Luke 14:8-11)

Why would we give preferential treatment to the rich over the poor? Is it because we believe that they may be more able to do something for us in return than would the poor? Jesus said this to his host:

“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”   (Luke 14:12-14)

James was a very practical man with some of that Old Testament wisdom. He reminds us that the rich do not always reciprocate our favors to them. James writes:

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?   (James 2:1-7)

The prosperous person does not always show generosity. Too often their focus is entirely on themselves. If there is a scripture that flies in the face of the prosperity gospel it is this one:

Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?   (James 2:5)

How could a person be rich in faith and still be poor? Might it not be that his or her treasure is a more lasting one than any of the riches of this world. Earthly riches do not necessarily demonstrate that we have the favor of God as opposed to someone else. From Luke’s Gospel we read:

Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.   (Luke 6:20)

What defines our worth before God? Is it not the cross of Jesus Christ. We inherit the kingdom by what Jesus has done for us and not by what we could ever do for him.

This understanding frees us from any favoritism because we have the favor of God already. The Syrophoenician woman in today’s Gospel must have understood this intuitively. She would not believe that the mercy of God did not cover her daughter.

In Proverbs we read:

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favour is better than silver or gold.

The rich and the poor have this in common:
the Lord is the maker of them all.

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
and the rod of anger will fail.

Those who are generous are blessed,
for they share their bread with the poor.

Do not rob the poor because they are poor,
or crush the afflicted at the gate;

for the Lord pleads their cause
and despoils of life those who despoil them.   (Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23)

We remember the parable that Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus was a poor man, covered with sores. The rich man paid him little attention. Both of them went on to their final reward, Lazarus in heaven and the rich man in hell. Perhaps if the rich man had understood that his favor with God was more important than his favor with men, he would have been a little more generous to Lazarus. God has shown us his riches and generosity by this mercy. How do we demonstrate our riches?

 

 

maxresdefaultTrack 2: The Syrophoenician Woman

Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 146
James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

How do we hold on to our faith under difficult circumstances? Today we have an example of how this is done by the famous Syrophoenician woman. From today’s Gospel we read:

Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.   (Mark 7:24-30)

Did this woman outsmart Jesus? No, she just spoke from a sincere heart. And what did her heart reveal? First of all, she did not claim to be anyone special. She was willing to be classified as a dog. She was not holding on to her self-esteem. She was embracing a hope in the mercy and loving kindness of God. It was not about her character. It was about the character of the Almighty.

God spoke to the Prophet Isaiah:

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!

Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,

with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;   (Isaiah 35:4-7a)

We are all fearful of heart about something. But fear is not from God. Fear is one of the weapons used by Satan. The Apostle Paul wrote:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.   (2 Timothy 1:7)

In life our faith is tested. Jesus did test the woman’s faith. No doubt, this was not the first time her faith was tested. She was able to persevere in her faith. And although she was a Gentile, she was able to recognize who Jesus was. Do we know who Jesus is? Do we know that God loves us? Or are we still ruled by fear that he does not? In his First Epistle, John wrote:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.   (1 John 4:18)

Today, let us settle in our hearts that God loves us. We remember what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross. He has taken away all of our sins. Even without the knowledge of the cross, the Syrophoenician woman still knew that God loved her. She realized that the deliverance of her daughter did not depend so much on who she was, but on who God is. God is love. She would not give up on his love.

The Apostle Paul wrote this to the church in Rome:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.   (Romans 15:13)

How can we abound in hope as did the Syrophoenician woman? By abounding in God’s love. Paul wrote:

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.   (1 Corinthians 13:7-8)

 

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Saint Mary the Virgin

Il_Sassoferrato_-_Madonna_with_the_Christ_Child_-_WGA20874Faith in God’s Promises

The prophets of old foretold the Messiah and His ministry, but who could grasp all that they were saying?

Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  (Isaiah 53:1-3)

Mary understood that God had made promises to Abraham and she believed that He would keep them. She lived through terrible circumstances but never gave up her hope and trust in the Lord. Her God was full of love and mercy. Her reverence and humility before God are without question.

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”   (Luke 1:46-55)

Mary did not always fully grasp the ministry of her son, however. We cannot fault her for that. There was no one ever like Jesus, either before or since. As the prophet Simeon foretold, her heart would be pierced and she would gain a greater understanding.

“Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed— and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”  (Luke 2:34-35)

Our hearts must be pierced also if we are to understand the ministry and message of Jesus. How closely we follow Jesus in our lives will telegraph what we truly believe. Will we go the distance with Him as did His mother Mary? Mary was at the cross when most of Jesus’ disciples fled. She could not turn away. Her love for God was so great. She walked in the steps of Abraham who was willing to sacrifice his own son if that were required by God.

What is our witness today? Are we highly favored of God? We may not understand all that is going on. We may not fully grasp the miracle that God is working out. Nonetheless, we can still believe and trust in the promises of God as did Mary. Let us pray for grace to endure the pain while eagerly anticipating our Lord’s victory with patience and endurance? Mary did this and so much more. Her enduring faith and courage has inspired the Church down to this day.

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