The challenge of our faith is to recognise our choices and choose wisely.
One temptation is to make faith about what goes on in our heads, making righteousness about right ideas and wickedness about wrong ideas.
Usually, this temptation leads us into legalism, finger pointing, angry debate, and exclusion.
Another temptation is to strive so strongly for inclusion and acceptance that we become naive about wickedness, and forget that there is true evil in the world.
Usually, this temptation leads us into a watered down form of faith in which we stand for nothing, accept everything, and pretend that all ways of living and believing are equal – which they clearly are not (just ask anyone who has been the victim of religious violence).
So, the challenge we face is to identify what righteousness and wickedness really are.
The Scriptures are very helpful in this quest this week. James speaks of righteousness in terms of humility, peacefulness, gentleness, mercy, fairness, and authenticity.
Jesus speaks in similar terms in the Gospel of Mark – the greatest in God’s Reign are the ones who are willing to serve and to welcome the least and most vulnerable. To live righteously, then, is to allow our lives to reflect the character, the integrity and the servanthood of Jesus. Wickedness would be to do the opposite of these things.
Once we’ve identified the choice, we must make our decision. It may seem easy – we all want to be righteous. But, when it comes to the tough challenges we face in our world – when we are attacked by others, when we are judged and misunderstood, when we are weighed down with the busyness and routines of every day – it can be hard to live with the integrity and love of Jesus.
This means that the choice to live as righteous Christ followers is not a once-for-all decision, but a daily commitment. This week will help us to practice making that commitment each day.
Mark 8:31 “Jesus began to teach his disciples: ‘The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.’” This was followed by Peter scolding him.
Transfiguration, the disciples fail trying to heal a boy.
Then, Mark 9:31 “This was because he was teaching his disciples, ‘The Human One will be delivered into human hands. They will kill him. Three days after he is killed he will rise up.” This time they “were afraid to ask him.”
Fear is a common theme in Mark.
“Who is greatest” gets two answers? “They had been debating with each other about who was greatest.”
Their arguing about greatness while Jesus talks about his own death reveals the Disciples’ lack of understanding.
Answer One: “Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and the servant of all.”
Servant leadership is pathway to ‘greatness.’
Roman patronage – constant hierarchy of clients serving patrons and being connected with a patron elevated the clients social and economic status. Clients of powerful and wealthy patrons could then become patrons of those who were lower – creating a massive, quid pro quo/transactional hierarchy.
The Kingdom of God turns this upside down. Instead of striving for the top and being in a position of service, you must seek first to serve – to be the client, not the patron.
Answer Two: “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me.”
“It is surprising and ironic that in a power struggle when the disciples are behaving like children, Jesus unmasks their aspiration to power by putting a real child in their midst and using him as an object lesson.” (Scott Hoezee, The Abingdon Preaching Annual, 2018, p. 118)
Not a romantic, idealised version of children.
The child is a representation of “The least.”
Embracing the child is a demonstration of Jesus’ love of the unlovable.
In the next chapter, 10:13 (in lectionary in two weeks) Jesus is blessing children, but the disciples scold them.
The path to God’s power is to open your arms to the powerless.
“Saying that the way to gain honour is to receive those who are without honour goes against the logic of the ancient society. The Kingdom of God assesses and assigns value differently than the human realm. God will receive those who receive the child. This will give access to true power, the power of the one who sent Jesus.” Micah Kiel in Working Preacher
How can we receive the children?
What does it mean to receive children in our churches?
Children’s moment an episode of “Kids say the darndest things”? Or a time actually for the kids.
What does it mean to receive children in our communities or schools?
What weight do Jesus’ words have as we look at the refugee crisis in Syria, the families at the border, or children hungry in the school down the block?
Disciples don’t get it
This is a common theme in Mark, repeated twice
Don’t understand prediction
Argue about who is greatest
Disciples’ failure to understand does not bring about rebuke, but deeper teaching.
Jesus does not abandon the Twelve in their ignorance.
Eventually, they are redeemed, but not until after crucifixion and Resurrection, when it all makes sense.
A chapter later, the disciples try to shoo children away.
“The real problem with the disciples is that they all too easily become mirrors in which readers see themselves. Their failures and lack of understanding typify the patterns of successive generations, who are slow to get the point and who persist in setting their minds on human things instead of diving things.” (Charles Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year B, p. 519)
Because it was and continues to be so countercultural – Jesus’ ministry is hard to understand.
The Disciples’ continually fear what is going to happen. They are unsure, and do not understand. In the midst of their fear, they are arguing about who would be greatest. Perhaps they believed that if they achieved “greatness,” then they would also have security.
Jesus points to another way of finding security. Their understanding of greatness is the old way. He presents a different way toward greatness, which they just never get. Until after the Resurrection (which in Mark, they still don’t really get).
JAMES 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8A
Continues from last week
3:13 – “who is wise” connects to 3:1 warning about the wise teachers
Connection between the two sources of water and their fruits in 3:11-12 and the 2 sources of wisdom and their fruits 3:13-18
3:13-18 – Two Kinds of wisdom
Godly wisdom: gentleness in word and action, peaceable, willing to yield, merciful, bears good fruit, impartial, sincere.
Earthly wisdom: envious, self-serving ambition, disorder, wickedness, bad fruits
3:18 – Good wisdom leads to peace and reconciliation (see Proverbs 3:17; 11:30)
For the good wisdom James speaks of see Matthew 5:3-11
4:1-6 – Bad wisdom leads to conflict and division
Conflict and division come from self-serving ambition and envy
Kill to get what you want
Argue to get what you want
You do not ask (recognition that everything is God’s)
When you do ask you ask wrongly – self-serving motives (instead of the Glory of God- love of God and neighbour)
Adulterers! – Unfaithful people.
Submit, draw near, cleanse and purify – focus on God
Double-minded – the ultimate crime is being fractured, distracted, un-whole, not perfect
Perfect – teleios, appears 5 times in the book of James (1:4, 1:4, 1:17, 1:25, 3:2) and means whole or intact – not fractured
James’ whole focus is to be whole in one’s faith and devotion to God. That your words, actions and faith are all focused on Love of God and neighbour.
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you – this is NOT a conditional (if, then) clause (which is very popular in Greek), but rather urges one to draw near to God who is already drawing near to you (R. Myallis)
James is calling us to faithful mindfulness. To be focused on the task of loving God, other and self.
Call to humility
Humility is so difficult for many Western Christians to grasp
Beware false humility that claims suffering that has not truly been experienced
Beware preaching humility to those who are suffering – for whom “God’s word …is not humility but exaltation. God has not written them off because of their socioeconomic position. God does not take pleasure in their suffering.” Pheme Perkins, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching – First and Second Peter, James, and Jude.
“Humility is not a false rejection of God’s gifts. To exaggerate the gifts we have by denying them may be as close to narcissism as we can get in this life. No, humility is the admission of God’s gifts to me and the acknowledgment that I have been given them for others. Humility is the total continuing surrender to God’s power in my life and in the lives of those around me.” Joan Chittister, O.S.B., Wisdom Distilled from the Daily)
Celebrating Women of Valour!
“Three things you might not know about Proverbs 31” by Rachel Held Evans
find some great examples of women of valour at rachelheldevans.com
Acrostic poem – each line begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet
denotes a divine woman – like Wisdom
alludes to completeness – A to Z
Wisdom is portrayed as a woman
The community of faith is called to be the bride of God or the bride of Christ
see Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, Revelation, 2 Corinthians, Song of Songs
Instruction for all people to follow to be in faithful relationship with God
Not simply a list for women to follow
Jewish men would memorise this passage
All people of faith are called to follow this example
What matters? Not beauty or charm, not the size of your budget, endowment or membership- but your faithfulness to God.
What is faithfulness to God?
- attentive to the needs of the people
- takes calculated risks
- good steward of resources
- cares for the poor
- prepared for the bad times
- Makes God known
- is strong in faith and dignity- “laughing at the time to come”
- thinks before she talks and speaks kindness
- is always working intentionally for the goodness of God and community (i.e. does not rest on her laurels)
- is in awe of God
“To “fear the Lord” does not mean to live in abject worry but in awe, wonder, gratitude, and reverent humility before the Creator. It is to follow every good feature of true faith. The poem concludes with a summary line that takes praise of her and her works on behalf of her household into the public arena, revealed to all at the city gates.” – Kathleen O’Connor (Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ))