12th September 2021

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.
Then he began to teach them that 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. Mark 8:29-31

What would you all do if Governor Mike DeWine walked through those doors behind us right now?  Would you get up and usher him to the best seat in the house?  Would you shower him with a special welcome?  How would you react differently if a man or women in tattered clothes came limping in, with a nervous look?  Would you usher him or her to the best seat?  Would you ask her if she was lost?  One congregation asked this, and regretted it later when they heard this message that is being preached.  In last week’s reading, James told us that showing favoritism is a sin (James 2:1).  Favoritism goes against Godly living.  At this point, if we are not trying to understand how to live a Godly life, what are we doing here?  We should treat any newcomer the same way, no matter where they are on life’s journey, no matter what job they have, and no matter what they are wearing.  James calls us to show no partiality; we are all equal in God’s eyes.  Archie Smith Jr., professor of pastoral psychology at the Pacific School of Religion, reminds us that our faith is nothing if it is without action.  We can say that we believe in God all we want, but if we do not do as Christ teaches, it is meaningless.  He writes, “Faith with works can lift us beyond the confusion and conflicts of our time and help us discern the working of God’s hand, building the kingdom that is yet to be” (FoW B.4.42).

“In his first year of seminary, Jim Wallis and friends did a thorough study to find every verse in the Bible that deals with the poor and social injustice.  They came up with thousands, in the first three Gospels one out of ten verses, in Luke one out of seven!  They could not recall a single sermon on the poor in their home churches.  One of them found an old Bible and began to cut out every single biblical text about the poor.  Much of the Psalms and prophets disappeared.  That old Bible would hardly hold together.  They had created a Bible full of holes” (FoW B.4.43).  If we do not address our preconceptions of the poor, we are not following Christ.  What’s more, how can we give an extravagant welcome to anyone who comes here?

In Mark 7, which we read last week, and in Mark 8 this week, Jesus tells people not to tell anyone about him.  This comes as a surprise to many of us.  Today, we are told to spread the news about Jesus; why didn’t Jesus want the news to be spread here?  Scholars have proposed a couple of reasons.  First, once word got out about Jesus, his opposition would begin to rise quickly.  It was not yet time for the ministry of Jesus to begin on the road to the crucifixion.  Second, perhaps Jesus knew that the people would speak prematurely, either not meaning what they said or spreading empty words without actions.  Words are sometimes unnecessary because our actions speak louder than our words.  Jesus tells them to act more than speak words perhaps because he knows that we are mostly talk and not so much actions (FoW B.4.49)!  How can we show that we have seen Jesus by our actions, to a point that is greater than the weight of our words?

What do others say about you?  Perhaps their words may not mean much to you, and they do not always have to if they are not meant to be constructive.  Yet Jesus cared enough to ask his disciples these questions.  The disciples told him that some were saying that he was John the Baptist come back from the dead, or Elijah, or one of the prophets (Mark 8:28).  Then Jesus asked them who they thought he was, and they recognized that he was the Messiah.  Jesus told them that as the Messiah, he was meant to undergo great suffering (Mark 8:31).  What do you think these words meant to Jesus?  To understand this, consider how much you want to know what others are saying about you.  Have you ever known that people must be talking about you, but you cannot know for sure what they are saying?  Perhaps you have been asked to leave the room while others make a decision on whether to vote for you or against you, after some discussion.  As Jesus gained prominence, he was not sure whether people were thinking good things or bad things about him.  Interestingly, the disciples told him only good things in Mark 8.  This makes the transition to Jesus’ response even more shocking, both to the disciples and the modern-day reader.  Jesus was wise enough to know that it would not stay all good forever.  In fact, if you do anything boldly, you will form some enemies.  And we are called to be bold Christians.  We cannot ignore the call to action.  When we do, we ignore justice issues.  When we do, we ignore a large part of the Bible, and only follow a Bible with holes.  When we do not play a part in building God’s kingdom, or even put down God’s kingdom by showing favoritism or not taming our tongue, we are not using the gifts that Jesus gave us to use.  We are meant to continue studying how to be more like Jesus each and every day of our lives.  We are meant to keep seeking a stronger relationship with God, a stronger faith and trust in God, and a stronger ability to recognize God among us so that we cannot help but glorify God and inspire the faith of others.  If you do not seek to hear God’s voice and God’s call and will for your life, you may not have anyone say anything bad about you, but also you will not have Christ say much good about you.  Ask others who people say that you are.  Hear the good and the bad as Jesus did.  And know that if you are being bold, you will be hearing both.  What matters most is that you know that you are serving God.  You do not serve those in the world; you serve God.  But you want to know that people are saying things about you because that means that you are being bold to reach out.  That means that you are working hard to make a difference in whatever community you can.

Proverbs 1 scoffs at those who do not choose the path of wisdom.  At first glance, the thought of anyone crying out in the street makes us uncomfortable.  These are the type of people we like to avoid.  It is the type of people who we are taught to avoid.  If we met wisdom in the street, selling whatever propaganda she is trying to sell, we likely will just stroll on by without half a glance.  The whole city does this.  The whole world does this.  Wisdom is not really selling anything, though.  Instead, us walking by is us not really wanting to dig deeper, to move closer in our relationship to God.  We are comfortable with where we are at.  Well, wisdom says, we are not forced to take her hand, but when we need her later, she will be nowhere to be found.  That is, when we are in distress, looking for Wisdom, we will not find her because we were not smart enough to take her while we were not in trouble.  Wise is the one who knows one never stops learning.  Wise is also the one who continues to seek to improve one’s relationship with God, even in the good times when we feel that we are doing just fine on our own.  Matthew 5:48 tells us to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.  We will never reach perfection, or even near it, if we grow too comfortable where we are at.  Others are watching us.  Do you want to set the example that you are fine where you are, or do you want to show others that even long time Christians need to continue to grow deeper faith?  If you do nothing to enrich your faith from where it is right now, you are setting the impression that you have reached as far as you can go.  Your faith is perfect.  But is it?  It may be hard to move past what we have been taught and talk to Wisdom out in the street.  Yet our relationship with God depends on it.  If we do not, the world has a very good chance at temporarily defeating us when we are in distress.  If we do, we will have the faith and the knowledge that God walks with us even through our biggest trials.  Never stop learning.  Never stop growing.  Never stop enriching your relationship with God.

Jesus knew that he was about to embark on a journey of suffering, yet he modeled the faith that we should all strive to have in a time of great trial for him.  He continued to trust God.  He continued to pray.  He continued to teach others about God, never bowing to the opposition of the world, never bowing to fear, or doubt, or even to self-preservation.  Everything remained for God’s glory, in times of joy and in times of sadness.  When we keep striving to attain this level of faith, we will keep getting closer to what Jesus has modeled for us.  What’s more is that Wisdom gives us a promise:  In addition to giving us a warning of the destruction that we will face alone if we do not take her help now, she calls out, “but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster” (Proverbs 1:33).  What is it like to live at ease?  Have you ever felt it?  H. James Hopkins, pastor of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, California, understands this ease: “When people take the time to listen to those they disagree with, they often find ways to move beyond tension-laden conflict, conflict that consumes and destroys.  When people find ways to honor God – simple, time-tested ways like saying a prayer or going to church – they find that life can have a rhythm and cadence that feels right.  When people recognize their need to forgive and be forgiven, they find a peace that is good for body, mind, and spirit” (FW B.4.55).  Listen to one another.  Find ways to honor God.  Forgive and be forgiven.  If this is our lifestyle at this time in the church, we will truly live without fear of disaster, for we know that God is with us.  We know that we have found favor with God.  God blesses us so that we might bless the growth of God’s kingdom, so long as we are active participants in God’s story.  Never stop trying because you believe you are as far as you are going to get.  Keep striving.  Keep striving.  Keep growing.  God is blessing you right now.  There are always ways to listen better, honor God more often, and forgive and seek forgiveness.  This is the people of God living for God’s glory.  See God around you today!  God enfolds you in God’s everlasting arms.  This is how Jesus learns your name.  This is how you establish a good name for yourself, and have people start noticing what you do.

Perhaps we can’t all solve world hunger or the crisis of the poor.  But we can create a healthy community of God.  One healthy community will stem into another.  James reminds us that a healthy forest is set ablaze by a small fire (3:5).  The fire of the Spirit spreads in the same way.  The tongue can be a curse, where gossip and poor words damage the body of Christ, but it can also be a blessing to the kingdom of God.  You can stay where you are right now, comfortable, and satisfied.  But Wisdom warns that you need to take her hand.  You need more Wisdom, and for that you must continue going to Scripture, learning in prayer, and nurturing your faith.  Who do people say that you are?  Let it be shown not in your words only, when you tell them that you are Christian, but in your actions too.  Let your family see the commitment that you give to devotions, to reading Scripture, and to following the ways of the Lord.  Let your friends see it too.  They will take notice, for better or for worse.  But God will take notice for eternity.  God shall tell you that you have nothing to fear, because your words are acceptable to God when they clearly are more than words.  Yes, you are graded for effort.  Give it everything you have, and fear nothing.  Master, let us walk with thee.  Teach us the wayward feet to stay.  Guide them in the homeward way through a peace that only you can give.  Your majesty is great!  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Proverbs 1:20-33
1:20 Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.
1:21 At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
1:22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
1:23 Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you.
1:24 Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
1:25 and because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof,
1:26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you,
1:27 when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.
1:28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
1:29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
1:30 would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof,
1:31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices.
1:32 For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them;
1:33 but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”

James 3:1-12
3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
3:2 For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.
3:3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies.
3:4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.
3:5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!
3:6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.
3:7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species,
3:8 but no one can tame the tongue–a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
3:9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.
3:10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.
3:11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water?
3:12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

Mark 8:27-38
8:27 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?”
8:28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
8:29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”
8:30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
8:31 Then he began to teach them that 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.
8:32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
8:33 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.”
8:34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
8:35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
8:36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
8:37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
8:38 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.”

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