Archive | September, 2012

Proper 23 (Yr B) 10/14/12

29 Sep

Job 23:1-9,16-17 or Track 2 Amos 5:6-7,10-15 Psalm 90:12-17

Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 10:17-31

Psalm 22:1-15

Do not be far from me,

for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

 

Opening Questions

  • How are you defined by where you live and what you own?
  • How can wealth inhibit moral growth?

Appointed Passages

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 (Track 2)

6 Seek the LORD and live, or
he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Beth’el, with no one to quench it.

7 Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood,
and bring righteousness to the ground!

10 They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.

11 Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.

12 For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins– you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.

13 Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time.

14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said.

15 Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

  • Who would you classify as “the poor” (as used in this passage) in today’s world?
  • Versus 14 and 15 could be read in almost a mocking tone – “just as you have said”  and “it may be”.   The implication is mouthing the right answers but without the right motivations – nor “living” the reality of the concepts.  Is it possible to be in moral jeopardy for doing the right things for the wrong reasons?
  • Who are “the prudent” as described in verse 13 – and in a world that demands action, why should they remain silent?

Hebrews 4: 12-16 (verses 1-11optional)

1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,

“As in my anger I swore, they shall not enter my rest”, though his works were finished at the foundation of the world. 4 For in one place it speaks about the seventh day as follows, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this place it says, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6 Since therefore it remains open for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he sets a certain day-“today”-saying through David much later, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God {Gk [he] } would not speak later about another day. 9 So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; 10 for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

  • The phrase “all are naked” (v. 13) suggests motivations contribute to our moral standing.  How can we evaluate and upgrade them?
  • How does the thought that Jesus was tested (v. 15) in experiencing human sinfulness affect your perspective of who he was?
  • How can we engage the process of confessing sins and seeking forgiveness to change our motivations? 

Mark 10:17-31

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age–houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

  • What “one thing” (v. 21) did the man lack?
  • Why might it be harder for people of wealth to enter the kingdom of God?
  • How might someone of wealth give up their wealth figuratively versus literally?
  • How would one go about helping  people of wealth be free of the spiritual burden of having it? 

Comment

By any measure, the people of the United States are rich – relative to most of our neighbors in the world.  Our  ordinary lives experience advantages that others can only dream about.  The difficulty that this wealth creates is that it can – and typically does – become a cushion that shields us from the hardships of life that are normally required to shape our moral framework.  We have the luxury of deferring hard decisions or digesting painful deprivations that are more prevalent in the lives of our global neighbors.

In fact, wealth should probably be defined more carefully to include finding meaning in life versus the typical interpretation of dollars.  Who are the wealthy?  Those who have found meaning in their lives – regardless of how much money they have.

So how do you get to the mental place where you are truly not impacted by money such that your definition of self is not affected by it one way or the other?  A few things come to mind.

First, think about your faith.  At the end of the day, our relationship with God is really all that we have.  Our bodies and all earthly possessions are only temporary – we rent, but don’t own.  If you truly believe this, then ask yourself the following question.  Have (and are) you investing enough time in building a strong relationship with God?

Second, faith becomes reality by living it in a community.  We are shaped and tempered by our relationships with other people.  The degree of substance in a relationship does not depend on money – and perhaps money and relationships are negatively correlated.  (That is to say that when money is part of the relationship, chances are the relationship is more shallow).  If questioned about who you are, would those around you support the perception that you are committed to them with genuine concern and integrity?  Do you really listen to hear the words of people’s hearts when they talk to you?  Or is your mind so preoccupied that you find yourself not really listening?

Third, do you make contributions of money, time, or talent to help others?  A gift of yourself to someone who needs help is faith in action.  Doing so can teach you something about yourself. 

Fourth, establish a routine for self examination.  Either a regular attendance of church services, or reading of scriptures, or at least taking time each week for contemplation on what is important.  Asking yourself challenging questions has personally been helpful to me.

Fifth, recognize and learn to value the strength of humility.  The etymology of the word comes from Latin “humus”, the word for earth (“dust to dust” comes to mind).  While some see humility as a sign of weakness, I believe it to be the trait of those who realize the potential of power and wealth to corrupt.  People of strength and humility have learned to view themselves (i.e., personal values  and moral framework) without the potential corruption from power and wealth.

May God help us live the truth of who we are and continue to seek peace and comfort in His presence.

Quotes for Today:

Never work just for money or for power. They won’t save your soul or help you sleep at night.

Marian Wright Edelman

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. 

Winston Churchill 

With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate, and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity.

Keshavan Nair

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Proper 22 (Yr B) 10/7/12

20 Sep

Job 1:1, 2:1-10

or Track 2 Genesis 2:18-24 & Psalm 8

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

Mark 10:2-16

Psalm 26

Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and mind.

For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.

Opening Question

  • Who are you today?
  • Who do you want to be tomorrow?
  • What do you need to do to get there?

Appointed Passages

Job 1:2, 2: 1-10

1:1 There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

2:1 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. 2 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 3 The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” 4 Then Satan answered the LORD, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. 5 But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” 6 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”

7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8 Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.

9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

  • How does Job’s integrity show his relationship with God?
  • Is integrity more precious than life itself?

Hebrews 1: 1-4, 2: 5-12

1:1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

2:5 Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. 6 But someone has testified somewhere,

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them?

7 You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor,

8 subjecting all things under their feet.”

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, 9 but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying,

“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

  • What level of suffering is healthy and how does it enhance our potential salvation?
  • Is salvation a state you achieve, a condition you must maintain, or perhaps both?

Mark 10:2-16

2 Some Phar’isees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6 But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.’ 7 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

{Montreal Commentary: Children are receptive; a child has no status and makes no claim to power. Whoever is not receptive to God’s gifts will not enter the kingdom. There is no place there for human status and power.}

  • If divorce and remarriage is by definition adultery, can it be forgiven?
  • Can adults experience the naïve receptivity of a child?  If so, when is it appropriate and how do we achieve it? 

Comment

Note that Job does not allow extreme challenges to disturb his relationhip with God.  The Pharisees challenge Jesus in suggesting Moses allowed a relationship between a man and a woman who have become “one flesh” through marriage to be severed by divorce.  Jesus simply suggests that divorce is a form of adultery.  How do we apply these scriptures beyond simply saying keep your relationship with God and don’t commit adultery?

I think the answer is one of defining what a healthy relationship should be – and how we both contribute to it and are shaped by what we get out of it.  This topic is certainly too broad to tackle in a brief comment about scripture, but allow me a few observations.

Forgiveness – First is that the unsaid but vital element of our humanity is the capacity for forgiveness.  In the face of dramatic personal injury inflicted at the hand of another, our ability to embrace the reality of human capacity for mistakes and heal, then grow in spite of them is fundamental to our ability to strengthen character and successfully evolve.  I continue to believe that one of the most important elements of our Christian faith (that not enough people devote time to thinking about) is what an important role forgiveness plays in our ability to adapt.

Integration – I also included after the quotes today a graphic attempting to illustrate some hierarchy in relationships.  What is the distinction between our relationship with God, our parents in early years that shapes our outlook and lives, the community and friends with whom we compare ideas and express ourselves, and certainly the one person, our partner in life with whom we share the most intimate of bonds.  The whole person is affected by all of these relationships in different ways at different times, but the way we embrace the value of each of these in our actions to support others or be supported by them remarkably influences who we are.  In fact, perhaps a reasonable metric of assessing the quality of life may be the measure of our success in each of these areas.

Open Mind – I think one of the important aspects of relationships that Jesus reminds us about in todays guidance is that of being open.  Note the phrase “… whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” I read this as a clear reminder of the importance of our maintaining mental flexibility to be open to God’s grace through other people.  This is not an easy thing for people who have been “seasoned” by the suffering life invariably requires.

May each of us be reminded of the importance of these things – and incorporate them actively to enhance the quality of our relationships.

Quotes for Today

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

Mohandas K. Ghandi

Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking together in the same direction.

Antoine De Saint-Exupery

People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.

Audrey Hepburn

Integration

Key Relationships  Character & Integrity

Proper 21 (Yr B) – 9/30/12

15 Sep

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22

or Track 2  Psalm 19:7-14 & Numbers 11:4-6,10-16,24-29

James 5:13-20

Mark 9:38-50

 

Psalm 124

Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

 Opening Exercise

Consider the following question:

  • When you encounter a situation in which someone is doing wrong, what is the catalyst sufficient to drive you into action to stop it?

 Appointed Passages

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22

1 So the king and Ha’man went in to feast with Queen Esther. 2 On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” 3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me–that is my petition–and the lives of my people–that is my request. 4 For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” 5 Then King Ahasue’rus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” 6 Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Ha’man!” Then Ha’man was terrified before the king and the queen.

9 Then Harbo’na, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Ha’man has prepared for Mor’decai, whose word saved the king, stands at Ha’man’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10 So they hanged Ha’man on the gallows that he had prepared for Mor’decai. Then the anger of the king abated.

9:20 Mor’decai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasue’rus, both near and far, 21 enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month A’dar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, 22 as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

{Montreal Commentary: This book is a novella set in Persia during the Exile. Ahasuerus (probably Xerxes I, 486-464 BC) the king has banished Queen Vashti for disobedience. Esther, a Jewish orphan, has been brought up by her cousin, Mordecai. When the king seeks a new queen, Mordecai offers her as a candidate, without revealing that she is Jewish. She is chosen. Mordecai then discovers a plot to assassinate the king; he tells Esther, who tips off the king. Ahasuerus’ life is spared. The king makes Haman his vizier (prime minister). Custom required all to bow to the vizier, but Mordecai refuses to do so, so Haman plots to destroy Mordecai, who has now revealed that he is a Jew. Haman decides to destroy all Jews, not just Mordecai. A date for the slaughter is set by lot (Akkadian: pur). Haman gains the king’s consent for his plan: Haman argues that “their laws are different from those of every other people …” (3:8). He even offers a bribe to those who will kill Jews. A royal decree is sent out by courier to all the land. Through a servant, Esther learns of the plot. At Mordecai’s urging, she risks her life by going into the presence of the king uninvited, to make a request of him. The king agrees that she may ask him at a banquet. Meanwhile, Haman prepares a gallows on which to hang Mordecai – on the date set by lot. The king recalls that Mordecai saved his life, and says that he intends to honour someone (but doesn’t say whom); Haman thinks he is the one to be honoured.}

  • What was wrong in what Haman was planning to do?  Who specifically were the others who were his “accomplises” in order for this bad act to be realized – and would their actions have been wrong also?
  • Was the king justified in killing Haman?

James 5: 13-20

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Eli’jah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

  • How are prayer and forgiveness connected?
  • Even when prayers are not directly answered, what are the benefits of making them?
  • What is the distinction between arbitrarily imposing your ideas on others (usually not good) and saving a sinner from wandering (a good thing)?

Mark 9:38-50

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

{According to the Montreal Commentary: In vv. 49-50, “salt” has three meanings:

  • in v. 49, it means purified, as ore is purified to metal in a furnace; before Christ comes again, we will be purified through persecution and suffering;
  • In v. 50a, “salt” is a seasoning agent; the disciples are the salt of the earth, the agents of spirituality; if we lose our effectiveness in proclaiming God’s word, what use are we?
  • In v. 50b, “salt” is distinctive character: this matters, but so does harmony in the community.}

Questions for this reading –

  • What constitutes “putting a stumbling block” before someone in the religious sense?
  • The second paragraph seems to suggest separating yourself from those who are not aligned with your Christian principles.  When is this action appropriate?

Comment

It is ironic that we have on the same day the message from Jesus of tolerance for the methods of others whom we may not understand and the story in Esther of the seeming intolerance of both Haman, who had planned to kill a large number of Jews, and the King who had him put to death.

The question that emerges to me is how to distinguish when to be patient versus when to confront.  Said in another way, when we encounter difficult life choices or events that stretch the limits of our decision making judgment, how do we evaluate the fundamental motives for ourselves and others and what actions are appropriate given our moral principles?  I think this process is helpful to formulating the right path but not an easy one.

So how do you get to know someone thoroughly enough to understand who they are and what drives them?  Where is the set of questions and score sheet that tallies up the green light versus the red one?  Perhaps most importantly, are we teaching our children and the next generation our values in a way that will give them strength of religious and moral conviction?

I attended a presentation some time ago by a former accountant who, after many years of seasoning, became a specialist in forensic accounting and fraud detection.  The presentation he provided contained numerous examples of people making choices that were morally wrong, but gave them some advantage.  Perhaps the most disturbing were the studies of high school and college students regarding academic cheating and telling lies.  These surveys point to a remarkable rise in the proportions of kids who have no qualms about lying or cheating.  Worse yet is that some surveys produce the responses that they don’t see any moral conflict in doing so.

Our future would seem to have significant challenges assuming these surveys are indeed representative of today’s young people.  I walked out of the presentation with a sense that I simply cannot look at the world and people in the same way as when I entered that room.  The saying “Trust but verify” has for me almost has become “verify before you trust”  simply on the basis of that talk.  I feel an incredible need to be more confrontational with regard to beliefs than I can recall.

My prayer for all of us is that we grasp the core of our spirituality and love for humanity in order to grow toward a more purposeful and moral existence.  Even further, that we not only expect, but demand the same from those who are close to us by gently probing and openly discussing our moral framework .  We will all be better for the effort.

Quotes for Today:

Everything you now do is something you have chosen to do. Some people don’t want to believe that. But if you’re over age twenty-one, your life is what you’re making of it. To change your life, you need to change your priorities.

John C. Maxwell

We should not permit tolerance to degenerate into indifference.

Margaret Chase-Smith

I do not want the peace that passeth understanding. I want the understanding which bringeth peace.

Hellen Keller

Proper 20 (Yr B) 9/23/12

9 Sep

 Wisdom 1:16-2:1, 12-22 & Proverbs 31:10-31 or

Track 2 Psalm 54 & Jeremiah 11:18-20

James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a

Mark 9:30-37

Psalm 1

for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Opening Exercise

Consider the following question:

  • In the eyes of the Lord, is it sufficient that we take a right action, even if not for the right reasons?

 Appointed Passages

 Proverbs 31:10-31

 

10 A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.

11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.

12 She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.

13 She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.

14 She is like the ships of the merchant,
she brings her food from far away.

15 She rises while it is still night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her servant-girls.

16 She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.

17 She girds herself with strength,
and makes her arms strong.

18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.

19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.

20 She opens her hand to the poor,
and reaches out her hands to the needy.

21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
for all her household are clothed in crimson.

22 She makes herself coverings;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.

23 Her husband is known in the city gates,
taking his seat among the elders of the land.

24 She makes linen garments and sells them;
she supplies the merchant with sashes.

25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.

26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

27 She looks well to the ways of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.

28 Her children rise up and call her happy;
her husband too, and he praises her:

29 “Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”

30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.

  •  Several of the qualities of this description of a capable wife match those of wisdom in last week’s passage.  Does this mean that having a good (God fearing) wife constitutes wisdom?
  • Can kindness be taught with words?
  • Does fear of the Lord remove the ill effects of charm and beauty?  If so, how?

James 3: 13-4:3, 7-8a

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 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. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. 4:1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2 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. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.  7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

  • How can we develop “wisdom from above” (V. 15)?
  • Does “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly…”(V.4:3) suggest motivations for actions are key?
  • Is achieving pleasures for yourself always wrong?  What makes it so?

Mark 9:30-37

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Caper’naum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

{Montreal Commentary:  In Aramaic and Greek the word for “child” is the same as for servant, so v. 36 may also speak of welcoming a servant, one sent by his master. If so, Jesus is saying: whoever receives the servant receives the master. Whoever receives a child receives Jesus, and whoever receives Jesus receives God, who sent him. Both child and servant are without status. They are unable to repay a kindness, in earthly terms.}

  • Does being a disciple require that you abandon ambition for position and prestige?
  • What does it take for people who already have position and prestige to become disciples?
  • Are integrity and humility related?  Is one more fundamental than the other?

Comment

In working with people of wealth over many years, it has become clear that what is inside the person who may be surrounded by the power and prestige of wealth may be (and usually is) remarkably different than what you usually expect on the basis of their surroundings. 

In fact, quoting Thayer Willis, there is a dark side of wealth.  Specifically, the presence of wealth complicates the ability for people to find meaning in their lives, because it is easier to avoid the difficult self scrutiny that emerges from typical hardships that season humans and build their character.  It is perhaps more difficult to even get to the question of “Who are you?”, when there are so many distractions.

Of course it is natural, and expected that we all carry our load and be productive in society and life.  The traditional family father is presumed to be responsible to provide food, shelter, and support “well being” for his family.  Some people are much better at that than others, and due to being lucky in the corporate “lottery” of jobs, some people end up significant winners in the economic accumulations in life. 

But where does the line emerge between being a responsible creator of wealth that will be used for good and a self centered person who spends extravagant amounts on pleasures that are frivolous?  We probably all have made decisions that can be classified in both of these categories (note the quote below by Solzhenitsyn).

It is interesting that the typical human response is to envy people of wealth.  The very presence of wealth brings power.  People of wealth do not have to “sell their time and efforts” to support themselves, can travel as much as they want, have access to people and places that “ordinary” folks do not, and in general can experience any pleasure in life that happens to strike their fancy.

I’m reminded of the people in the animated movie Wall-E who had been evacuated to space from a polluted earth.  They were all overweight and lived on airborne lounge chairs that floated them around to meals, movies, shopping, etc.  They had actually become slaves to shallow lives the system supported and no longer even thought about things that may have truly given meaning to their lives.

In today’s gospel passage, Jesus reminds the disciples to quit comparing themselves to each other for relative ranking in importance and status.  The very act of doing so places the wrong measures of life on the table.  What counts is how we translate who we are into the relationships we have with others – particularly those who may need help in some way – whether they are wealthy or not.

My prayer for today is that more of us spend time thinking not how to get ahead, but behind others who might benefit from our being a catalyst supporting their personal growth.

Quotes for Today:

All those who are righteous are in the hand of God.  In the eyes of the foolish, the righteous may seem to be weak, to be useless; but they have peace. They have hope, and that hope is full of the promise of immortality.

Susanna Metz (paraphrasing a verse from Proverbs)

If only there were vile people…committing evil deeds, and it were only necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.  But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.  And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

We say we exchange words when we meet. What we exchange is souls.

Minot J. Savage

Proper 19 (Yr B) – 9/16/12

1 Sep

Proverbs 1:20-33 or Track 2 Psalm 116:1-8 & Isaiah 50:4-9a

James 3:1-12

Mark 8:27-38

 

Psalm 19

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you,  O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”

Opening Exercise

  • What three specific questions would you ask someone to evaluate whether they have achieved a well lived life?  {Said another way, God has asked you to stand in for Saint Peter at the pearly gates and your job will be to assess the souls who are coming up for admission to Heaven – and your task is to recommend admission or exclusion to heaven.)

Appointed Passages

Proverbs 1:20-33

20 Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.

21 At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:

22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?

23 Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you;  I will make my words known to you.

24 Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,

25 and because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof,

26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you,

27 when panic strikes you like a   storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.

28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.

29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD,

30 would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof,

31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices.

32 For waywardness kills the simple, and the  complacency of fools destroys them;

33 but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”

  • Wisdom (v. 20) is calling us to take what action?
  • How is fear of the Lord (v.29) connected to wisdom?
  • When (and how) does complacency become a bad thing (v. 32)?

 

James 3: 1-12

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. 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 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 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. 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! 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. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue–a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

  • If those with great knowledge have a greater responsibility to use their knowledge for some purpose, how much knowledge brings on this responsibility?
  • How do we tell when the power of speech is being used for good versus evil?

 

Mark 8:27-38

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesare’a Philip’pi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Eli’jah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

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. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 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.”

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. 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. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 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.”

  • What is the purpose of asking “who do you say that I am? (v. 29)”
  • Assuming this is a question appropriate to ask those who are close to you,
    • How might the answers help you understand who you are?
    • What other question might be helpful in illustrating who you could become?
    • How would the discussion impact the relationships you have with those who give you feedback?
  • If you were charged to write a short summary of the value of your life,
    • What would it say?
    • If you are not satisfied with the summary, how can you change it?

 

Comment

I recall a management training session once in which the instructor directed the collected batch of type A personality attendees to form pairs – and ask each other the question “who are you?” with only a limited time for response.  Rather than stop at the first answer, we were instructed to ask the question again – perhaps the intent to drill a bit deeper or discover yet something else interesting about each other.  Several iterations later, it became obvious that this is a relatively rich question due to the layers it may probe for information.

It is a remarkably relevant question to ask ourselves periodically (certainly), but perhaps we should make it more of a routine practice to enhance our awareness of who we are in relation to others as we go about our daily routines – not just for ourselves, but in particular how the question may help our ability to get to know others.

We hear the famous quote from Jesus in today’s gospel “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.”  At least to me, we are personally more likely to “lose our lives for the sake of Jesus and the gospel” when we lower our guard, drop our introspective focus.  We embrace empathy by taking the sometimes risky step of probing those close to us in order to get to know them on a deeper level.

I say it is risky, because once we know someone more, we become more empowered to help them, but also assume more responsibility for the quality of the relationship which is usually strengthened in the process.  Typically, we   have more of a responsibility to “do something” that can make a difference in their life – even as simple as being there to listen and share their mental burdens in an attempt to share their load.

But then again, shared intimacy is the richness of life.

Those pesky relationships that bring us pain, also bring life – and – like it or not, the true value of life emerges through our relationships with others.

In fact, being able to shut out the background noise of our daily lives and focus on those things that are important – our relationships – is perhaps what Jesus and the Gospel had in mind.

 

Quotes for Today:

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”

Lin Yutang

 

“Wisdom is not acquired in finding answers to questions, but by developing the capacity to ask better questions.”

Mark Harbour

 

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Martin Luther King, Jr.