Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14) Amen
Part of my preparation for preaching week to week is to think about what I’ve come to call the “so what” of the lessons. “So what”, what do these lessons mean for me, for us?
What is God calling us to do in light of these lessons? This week I found myself wondering what does it mean to live out our Christian beliefs day to day through concrete words and actions? How do we, as individuals and as a community of faith, share in Jesus’ messiahship? In other words, what does it really mean to take up our cross and follow Jesus? Did you notice? That reading from James talked about how powerful what we have to say is. He makes the point that our tongues, while physically small, reveal the truth within us. James uses the metaphor of a forest fire, “ How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire.” According to James we can use our tongues to bless or to curse. And you know what? That fits with my experience. I’ve seen it happen.
I’d guess you have too. Sarah, and Megan, and Beth provide an example. Here’s what happened when they were in grade 11. They had been friends for years. Sarah and Megan went to kindergarten together. Beth moved to town in grade 3. Their parents called them the three musketeers. I’m not sure what got into Sarah that spring, perhaps she was jealous when Megan and Beth got parts in the school play but she didn’t. Maybe she was upset when Beth began to date seriously when she and Megan didn’t. Who knows? In any event one night Sarah hacked into Beth’s Facebook account. Using Beth’s name she posted some very damaging, and untrue, information about Megan. Talk about using the tongue, the power of speech, to curse! The information quickly spread among their classmates. Megan was devastated. Of course that gave Sarah the perfect opportunity to rush to the rescue as Megan’s oldest and best friend. It’s just that Beth was also devastated because no one believed her claims of innocence. And Sarah, well, Sarah just pretty quickly found that it was very difficult to live a lie. What should she do?
She had to pretend every day to be supportive of both her friends without telling a soul what she had done. She tried her best to just keep it all to herself and let the storm blow over but she found herself increasingly ashamed. She had acted without thinking through the consequences and now she regretted what she had done. Has that ever happened to you? Some half thought out word or action led to consequences you couldn’t imagine?
I think it’s pretty common really. Before we go any further though let’s think about collect of the day. “O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts.” It’s kind of a dangerous prayer. We acknowledge the obvious. We simply can’t please God on our own. Then we go on to ask something very important of God. We ask that that God through the action of the Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts. We leave ourselves open to be changed and empowered by God so that our speaking and our acting becomes a blessing to others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer provides an example. From the beginning of the Nazi rise to power Bonhoeffer, a German pastor, involved himself in protests against Hitler’s regime. Eventually he was imprisoned and in the end hanged for the part he played in resisting Hitler. How about Jonathan Myrick Daniels? In 1965 Daniels was attending the Episcopal Theological School in preparation for ordination when he responded to Martin Luther King’s appeal for people to come and help secure the right to vote for all citizens. After four months of working in Selma, Alabama, Daniels was shot to death while protecting a sixteen-year-old girl from the same fate. Bonhoeffer and Daniels used their tongues to bless others. I’m pretty sure they both used that collect and were shaped by it.
You know, that prayer has the power to shape us as well. We are all works in progress. And we don’t always get it just right the first time. It’s a good thing God is patient with us. Which brings me to our admittedly complex Gospel lesson for today. The lesson contains three important elements. First Jesus askes; “who do you say that I am”. And we hear Peter’s amazing confession. ”You are the Messiah.” Who do you say Jesus is? Next we listen in as Jesus says that he must be rejected by the religious authorities, undergo great suffering and die. We miss the reference but the word translated as “must”, as in “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering”, indicates that God is at work in Jesus’ life and in his death. The point is that we cannot understand the meaning of Jesus as messiah apart from the crucifixion. Last we hear Jesus teaching about the meaning of discipleship. Jesus clearly teaches that suffering is the cost of discipleship. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me 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.” For Jesus messiahship involves serving others even when it means suffering ourselves. Jesus shows us that messiahship means moving beyond personal comfort and safety to reach out to our most wounded, our most broken, brothers and sisters.
For Bonhoeffer in Germany during the 1930’s an 40’s it was the Jew’s. For Daniels in the 60’s it was African Americans. Who is it today? Who is it for us? Would you like to hear the rest of that story about Sarah, Megan, and Beth? Eventually Sarah talked with her pastor. They prayed about the situation and together they talked with Megan and Beth. Sarah confessed what she had done and apologized. The three of them let it be known that Beth’s Facebook page had been hacked and that the rumors about Megan were false. Together they were able to let the rumors die down. To be sure, it took a while to restore trust but their friendship survived. In fact they all went on to become peer counselors for other kids who found themselves in trouble. Senior year proved to be tough at times but their graduation pictures show the “three musketeers” smiling with arms entwined. Sarah says now that while she made a serious mistake she is so glad she was able to confess it, be forgiven, and even grow from the experience. Shortly before his death Jonathan Daniels wrote this: “The faith with which I went to Selma has not changed: it has grown…I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and resurrection.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, when the guards came for him that last time said to another prisoner; “This is the end. For me, the beginning of life.” Make no mistake, following Jesus is often difficult but it is a journey that leads ultimately to the new life of Easter morning. I wonder: How will we, as individuals and as a community of faith, shaped by that collect and empowered by God, share in Jesus’ messiahship this week? Amen