Year B — Proper 19 (The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for September 16, 2012
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings

Proverbs 1:20-33
So, just how long are you willing to stay the way you are?

When we are hurting, we often must choose to move toward healing; when we are angry, we must choose to move toward peace. Here, Wisdom asks, “How long will the simple love being simple?” There’s knowledge for those who would rather be well-informed.

In John’s gospel, Jesus once asked a man, “Do you want to be made whole?” (John 5:5-7) The man was initially too busy complaining and citing his list of infirmities to receive the healing offered by the Christ. 

Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of being willing to receive what God freely offers.

Psalm 19
My friend and colleague, Dr. Bubba #1, prays the concluding verse of this psalm each week after finishing the reading of the gospel and before commencing on to the sermon. I like it; it’s a good prayer.

I wish sometime that I could employ the “speech” of the heavens as they tell the glory of God. No words, no voice — just mute-yet-powerful testimony. 

“Let the words of my mouth be shut up long enough to allow your glory to shine forth, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

Wisdom of Solomon 7:26 – 8:1
A great piece of bumper sticker theology: “God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom.” 

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Filling the pulpit week after week is both immensely satisfying and incredibly burdensome. None of us “preachers” is really up to the task without the word that God places on our tongues.

I am convinced that it is often we who are “weary” as we come each week; and it is God who sustains us with merely a word.

Psalm 116:1-9
“If loving the Lord is wrong, I don’t wanna’ be right!” 

So says the good Reverend Brown — played by Arsenio Hall — in Coming to America. (13 second clip here)

Cheesy as the good reverend’s character may be, that’s pretty good advice. The psalmist urges us to remember why we love the Lord. Not the least of the reasons: God bends down and listens; the ear of God is close when we need to pray.

James 3:1-12
“Nobody’s perfect.”

Well, duh. Like many modern admonitions, this one actually has a long history and a strong biblical basis. James was keen to remind us that “all of us make many mistakes.” 

We live and die, bless and curse, by the words we use. They should be administered very carefully!

Mark 8:27-38
I don’t think Jesus was being paranoid here, nor was he looking for an ego boost. Getting the disciples out and away from their normal stomping grounds around Capernaum gave all of them — Jesus included — a chance for a fresh perspective on just exactly what was going on. 

It is, after all, an important question for each of us to answer. Not so much, “what does everybody else think about Jesus?”, but rather, “what do you think about Jesus?”

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Texts: Isaiah 50:4-9a, James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

Cary Grant was walking down the street in New York one afternoon.  He was spotted by someone who excitedly did the whole stop, stare, double-take, stare, stammer thing.

“You’re, you’re, you’re . . . Rock Hudson.  No, that’s not right.  You’re, you’re, you’re uh, uh, Gary Cooper.  No, that’s not it, you’re, you’re Burt Lancaster, no, uh . . . ‘

Seeking to help, Grant helpfully suggested, “Cary Grant?”

Man shook his head and muttered, “No, that’s not it.”

Today’s Gospel lesson turns on a question of identity – exactly who is Jesus?  Well, it’s pretty clear that the author of Mark wants us to know that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed on of God, the Savior, the Christ.

And he wants us to know that Jesus’ identity as the Christ, the Messiah, has implications for Jesus that the disciples did not want to hear.  “Suffer?!  Die?! No! That can’t be right.” Peter took Jesus aside to tell him, “Now, listen here Jesus, that’s not who you are.

It’s like the movie fan and Cary Grant.  Peter presumes to know better than Jesus who Jesus is.
And Jesus’ response to Peter carries us deeper into the mysteries of identity, of suffering and death, denial and the cross.  This question of identity isn’t just about Jesus; it’s also about us.

If Jesus is the Christ, what does that mean for us?  What does it mean for us to say week after week in the creed that Jesus is the Christ?

Well, for some this text is an invitation to believe the right things about Jesus. “Who do you say that I am?” is seen by many as the essential question of the faith, as if our eternal salvation will be determined by what we “thought” about Jesus, that our relationship with God depends upon our thinking and believing the right things.

And the next part of the text, the part about Jesus predicting his own suffering and Peter’s unwillingness to accept it, and Jesus crying out, “Get behind me Satan,” are reminders of Jesus’ own suffering for us on the cross.

In the midst of all this, many still see this text as being about what Jesus did for us and almost never about what we are called to do with Jesus for the world.

Often times “deny self” is interpreted as something like: “Quit your meanness and get back to church.”

“To take up one’s cross,” is “Put up with whatever less than ideal conditions you find yourself in, it may be bad but it’s not as bad as what Jesus went through to save your sorry self from Hell, so quit complaining.”

And “following Jesus” apparently consists of being in church a lot and giving enough so that the church can meet its bills.

When I was in college I went to a weeklong missionary conference of evangelical college students.  (I went with the purest of motives, there was this girl . . .)

There was this big rally and the Rev. Dr. Somebody Famous preached on this text and said that the focus of this story needed to be moved from salvation to service. This text was a challenge to us to consider what God was calling us to do with our lives.

And, apparently, the answer to “deny self, take up a cross and follow Jesus” was to give ourselves to something called “full time Christian service,” and, while I pondered as to how there could be anything else but “full-time” Christian service, (I mean being a part-time Christian just doesn’t seem to make much logical sense; either you are or you aren’t) it was further explained that the preferred full-time Christian service was outside the United States among people who would never hear the Gospel if we assembled here in this hall don’t carry it to them.

And again, is that really what “deny self, take up a cross, follow Jesus” means?

I recently read something by Fred Craddock that makes the most sense to me.  (Craddock taught preaching at Vanderbilt and Emory Universities.)

Craddock said that most of us think that this call to denial will come in a startling moment of moral and existential clarity, that we will have a Damascus Road experience that causes us to shed our old life in order to totally and completely embrace another life for the sake of the Gospel.

And the truth is, for most of us, most of the time, it doesn’t happen that way.  Craddock’s analogy is that we think we have a million dollars and we have to spend it all at once on something big.

The reality is that we give away the million dollars a quarter at a time, all day long, every day of our lives.  We give it away in little acts of sacrifice and kindness to others and devotion to God.

We listen to the neighbor kid’s problems, we go to a boring but necessary committee meeting, we spend a night at the homeless shelter, we provide a meal at the battered women’s shelter, we give a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home, we call the pastor and tell her that her sermon helped us this week, we; treat the teen-ager at the drive through with respect whether they deserve it or not, the list goes on.

Usually, giving our lives to Christ is neither glorious nor spectacular.  It’s done in little acts of love, twenty-five cents at a time; living the Christian life little by little, day after day, over the long haul. (Fred Craddock – Cherry Log Sermons)

I think of it this way, we go through life shedding little pieces of our old self, tiny bits at a time.  And we pick up little splinters and pieces of our cross along the way as we attempt to follow a Christ who is just out of sight over the horizon, until, near the end of our journey, we look back and realize we are no longer who we once were and the change in us is all because we followed him.

Amen and amen.

One thought on “Year B — Proper 19 (The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

  1. Thanks for pointing to the Craddock illustration of discipleship. We too often pass by a coin lying on the sidewalk because we think it isn't worth much. Likewise, I wonder how often we pass up a small opportunity to love one another because it seems like too small a thing.

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