What does a wise person look like? Some of you maybe think that to be wise means you have to be really old and have a long gray beard. According to that definition, Ed is looking more and more wise each week! But being wise is more than being old, or having a beard! Many of us know old people who are simply foolish, and bearded men who are not wise either. So what does it mean to be wise?
Today’s texts all had the theme of what does it mean to live wisely? Community of the Savior on their website describing today’s readings said, “The scripture readings for this week address different facets of godly wisdom and how it is often contrary to the world's versions. Proverbs 31 is often cited as a description of a virtuous woman, but goes beyond traditional (or stereotyped) women's roles and speaks to the essence of a life of wisdom: hard work, care for others, using God-given gifts to serve, faithfulness. In Psalm 1 the faithful person is unmoved by false counsel, but develops deep, life-giving roots into God's wisdom and ways. Both James and the gospel passage show the dangers of envy and selfish ambition and contrast those with God's wisdom of living in harmony with others and with gracious hospitality for all.”
Today we are going to mostly focus on the Gospel reading from Mark, to try to figure out what Jesus has to say about wise living, and how Jesus’ description often challenges us to examine our motives and our behavior.
So as the Gospel story starts today, Jesus and his friends are walking from the Gentile territory outside of Israel back towards Jerusalem. And they come back into Galilee, Jesus doesn’t want people to know they are where they are. It is getting closer to the time of his death, and he needs to prepare his disciples to be able to take up the ministry of testifying about God’s kingdom once he goes back to heaven. And honestly, things don’t look too good for that to happen. It appears that his disciples simply do not understand just how counter-cultural kingdom of God living is. They don’t have a grasp of what it means to live wisely as kingdom of God people.
As they are walking, Jesus tells his followers, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”
Mark says, “they didn’t understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.” Maybe they were thinking of Jesus’ earlier reprimand to Peter when he said, “Get behind me, satan!”
Now if the disciples were wise, this is where they might start asking Jesus some questions. Questions like: Are you talking about your own death? If the answer is “yes,” then who is going to deliver you to those who would kill you? Is it one of us? (That just doesn’t seem possible! We know everyone in this group, and we all love you!) If the answer is “no,” then who are you talking about that’s going to die?
Instead, we get the sense that this declaration about his death is met with a stunning, awkward silence. Mark says, “they didn’t understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.” Maybe they were thinking of Jesus’ earlier reprimand to Peter when he said, “Get behind me, satan!”
So, rather than saying something wrong, they just don’t respond at all. Think of how very lonely Jesus must have felt at that moment. These were his friends, his disciples. He has spent a lot of time pouring into them, teaching them, showing them miracles… and nothing. No comment. Just silence.
We are not so different from those original followers of Jesus, and so I began thinking what it would be like to be one of those disciples in this story. That made me wonder: in my life, how do I respond when God wants to take me someplace I’d rather not go? How do I respond when he’s trying to teach me something I’d rather not know?
When one of our kids, Melanie, was in fifth grade, we went to parent teacher conferences and the math teacher told us she had spent sometime out in the hall the day before instead of in class. We were shocked. Usually Mel was super compliant, what could the problem possibly be? Well, apparently, she had been having some problems figuring out how to solve a math problem, but when the teacher came over to help, she put her fingers in her ears and hummed, so she couldn’t hear the teacher’s instructions!
Do I put my fingers in my spiritual ears and hum, do I pretend I didn’t really hear what God said in the first place? If, as Psalm 1 reminds us, wisdom delights in the law of the Lord, and meditates on it day and night… not listening to what God is teaching us is the opposite of wisdom. Think about times in your life when Jesus asks you to forgive someone, and you just don’t want to. Or he asks you to give up a relationship because it is not healthy for you. Or he calls you into the ministry or a new vocation and you simply can’t walk away from what you are currently doing. If we have been following Jesus for some time, we most likely have places in our lives where God is calling us to an obedience that just seems too hard, so we pretend we haven’t really heard him and we simply don’t respond.
The day with Jesus went from bad to worse for Jesus and his disciples. Not only did they not want to hear about his suffering and death, but they spent a good bit of the rest of the journey arguing among themselves about who would have the most power when Jesus rose to power.
Poor Jesus. Can’t you just imagine him walking forward in silence, listening to the whispered raised voices behind him arguing about who would be and do what in Jesus’ kingdom?
Poor disciples. Jesus has just painted a picture for them of what ascending to power would involve: betrayal, crucifixion, death, before the resurrection. But they have no box to put that kind of idea about exercising power in, it makes no sense. It fits none of their cultural expectations of what power looks like did it? Their argument immediately after Jesus’ statement about his death, showed how caught up they were in their cultures’ ideas of precedence and power. Of how power should be exercised. Their culture’s ideas of who has power had infected them at an almost cellular level. Culture’s wisdom said: Power means you are more important than someone else. You have box seats at all the important events. You go before others, you have more wealth than others, you get to tell others what to do. Jesus lets them have their fruitless argument.
Jesus has just painted a picture for them of what ascending to power would involve: betrayal, crucifixion, death, before the resurrection. But they have no box to put that kind of idea about exercising power in, it makes no sense.
But when they get to the house where they are staying that night, he asks them: what were you arguing about? Did you ever have the experience of driving your kids and their friends somewhere in the car, and they get to talking about their stuff, and it’s as if they forget that you are there with them, listening. So later, when you ask them about something they said in the car, they are shocked that you heard them! I imagine that’s how the disciples’ faces look now, as Jesus asks them this question: what were you arguing about? Shocked, embarrassed, guilty.
And Jesus sits down, its what all rabbis do when they are going to teach something important, they sit down. Jesus sits down and says, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
And then he enacts a parable for them. He grabs one of the kids that live in that house, and hold them, and he says, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
The Aramaic word for child is the same word for servant. So Jesus is telling his disciples that welcoming children/servants, people with no power, no status, and few rights, is the same as welcoming him, and welcoming him is the same as welcoming his Father.
What would happen if our church took these words of Jesus seriously? This week, Arbor House launched its website, (yay, Melissa!!!) and the description of Arbor House says: We are a community of disciples and believers in Jesus Christ. Arbor House was founded to be a place of safety, renewal, and refreshment for all. Each week we gather to hear the spoken Word, eat from the Lord’s table, and enjoy fellowship with all who come. If you have been hurt by a church before, we want to be the place where you can find healing and hope. All are welcome.
Chris and I had to talk about that definition of who we are. Will we really be a place of safety for everyone? Will everyone, no matter who they are, be welcomed here? We can’t just say the words. We have to be willing to walk them out. So I want to be sure that we are all on the same page: the people we hope will find their spiritual home here with us are those who others may not respect and admire, but we will treat them with love and dignity as God brings them here. We welcome people whose lives are a bit messy, or broken, or needing help. If we are honest, that description fits all of us. If you have questions about that, or want to talk more about that, come talk with Chris or me after the service. We want to be a place that welcomes Jesus, and God the Father.
Following Jesus as his disciple requires wisdom, to allow God to re-order our priorities, our sense of worth and value. Every year, the Sunday after Christmas we do part of John Wesley’s Covenant Renewal service. This is a service in which we recommit ourselves to live with God’s priorities guiding our lives. Part of that service is John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer, and I’m going to close this sermon by praying that again for all of us.
“I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you, Praised for you or criticized for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and fully surrender all things to your glory and service. And now, O wonderful and holy God,
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,
you are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth, Let it also be made in heaven.