Mark 8: 27-38 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Isaiah 50: 4-9a September 16, 2018
“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.”
Prayer: Lord, this is my desire, to honor you. So, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
I love Children’s Moments during worship, don’t you? So many times, the kids are just totally themselves. One time, years ago, a pastor was leading the Children’s Moment, and he asked the question, “What’s brown, has a bushy tail, eats nuts, and lives in the trees?” Hands shot up, and the pastor called on a little guy near the back of the group. He said, “I think the answer’s a squirrel, but I’m going to say, ‘Jesus!’” (https://www.homileticsonline.com/subscriber/btl_display.asp?installment_id=93040593, retrieved September 14,2018). Well-trained! God, Jesus, Love, all standard Children’s Moment answers!
And, of course, if I ask you, “What’s the greatest source of wisdom you have in your lives?” your standard answer is going to be God, Jesus, Love, right? Right!
Because it’s true. God’s wisdom is found in Proverbs. The Psalms. The Prophets. All throughout the Bible. Jesus is God’s wisdom in the flesh. His words were God’s wisdom spoken. His life was God’s wisdom lived out.
Love is God’s wisdom in verbal and action form. Remember what Rev. Emily Heath said (I shared this with you a few Sundays ago…) “As we move forward [in life], we must choose our own next right steps. The greatest commandment becomes our guide, even in the scariest of [moments]. When you are unsure, remember this: if the next step you take is done in love—love of God, love of neighbor, love of self—it will always be the right one” (Heath, Emily, Courageous Faith: How to Rise and Resist in a Time of Fear, Pilgrim Press, 2017, p. 146). Good wisdom!
But, sometimes we have trouble accessing the greatest source of wisdom in our lives. Often, prior to going to God, Jesus, or Love, we turn to what society says. What culture says. What common sense says. What is trending. What’s in favor, what’s not. What the general consensus is.
When Jesus asks the question, “Who do people say that I am?” he’s asking what people are believing about him. Are the people believing the rumors in the community that he is John the Baptist returned from the dead? Or, Elijah reincarnated? Or one of the prophets? Many are saying, “yeah.”
It’s easy to go along with what the general public says, isn’t it? We see that in our world all the time. Ever since 9/11, we saw a large rise in society’s belief that all Muslims are terrorists. Thankfully, I think that has settled back a bit, but make no mistake, it’s still there.
But, when Jesus asks “Who do YOU say that I am?” it’s a question of whether or not the disciples have chosen to turn to him. Turning to him means not turning to the culture’s belief. Not trusting a reputation, not putting faith in the rumors. All those are resources, not THE source. He’s asking whether or not they are choosing to listen to THE source of wisdom—God’s Spirit within their hearts, or to something else?
Peter is the first one to answer— “You are the Messiah!” Matthew’s version has Jesus responding saying, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven! (Matthew 16:17). Jesus saw Peter not relying on worldly sentiments, but on the source of holy wisdom coming from the Spirit’s work being done in him.
But, even so, divine wisdom often will contrast worldly values. Contrary to our liking, God will sometimes take us to places where we don’t want to go. When Jesus begins to teach that he will soon face suffering, Peter can’t stand it. “God forbid it, Lord!” he says to Jesus in Matthew’s version. “This must never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22). One moment Peter’s connected to God’s wisdom, the next, not so much. Isn’t that true for all of us at times?
But, Jesus, perceiving that his disciples were watching and learning from him, calls Peter on this, telling him that he is an Adversary (Satana) to God’s wisdom, that he has set his mind on human thinking, and to get behind him. Take note—the verb in Greek for “behind” is the same word as “follow” in the next verse ὀπίσω: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and [get behind and] follow me, or come after me.”
In other words, Peter is encouraged not so much to get behind and out of Christ’s way, but more to get behind him, get in step with him, and follow after him. Jesus tells the disciples to take up their cross and go with what he is teaching and doing.
We are encouraged to do the same—take up our cross and get behind, get in step, and follow in Christ’s wisdom. These words are by Christ who has been given the tongue of a teacher.
Christians believe that Isaiah’s words foretell the coming of Christ. The words predict the Messiah to be a faithful servant who is nurtured by God, taught by God, gifted by God, whose source of wisdom is God and is continuously learning from God. And, the faithful servant doesn’t turn away from following God’s will, even if adverse.
Isaiah’s words can be our words. God is our source of wisdom. We are encouraged us to turn to God—morning by morning. Each day, we are encouraged to let God teach us. Day by day we can let God open our ears of understanding. Can we let God take us to places that, with our inner consciousness stirred by the Spirit, we would not turn away, but we would act in that moment, tapping into our source of wisdom, which is believing in the power of the gospel? The wisdom of the gospel is that it has the power to identify life’s brokenness, invite change and restoration, and foster forgiveness and joy, and creates a freeing, deeper communion with God, with new life, even if it brings adversity at times… because we follow Christ and his wisdom.
I was intrigued by an event that happened in Washington D.C. last month on the anniversary of that horrific marchon Charlotte. Apparently, the D. C. Metro system planned to provide special trains to get white supremacists to a Unite the Right rally on the Mall. The Metro said it was trying to avoid trouble on the trains. But, the Metro’s largest union objected strongly to the plan, whose members were mostly people of color. The union president of Local 689 Jackie Jeter said, “Local 689 is proud to provide transit to everyone for the many events we have in D.C. We draw the line at giving special accommodation to hate groups and hate speech.” The pressure grew from there and became strong enough that the Metro canceled its plans for separate trains (Century Marks, The Christian Century, August 29, 2018, p. 8). And, only a handful of white supremacists gathered for the rally.
Do you think that was a moment when the inner conscience of the union president was stirred? She invited change and restoration by facing an example of life’s brokenness. And acting on behalf of others, she did not turn away from the moment. I believe in that moment, an opportunity for many people to have a deeper communion with God occurred because when something right occurs, God is in it. When new life occurs, God is in it. That’s the power of the gospel, the power of new life happening outside the church, no less.
The power of the gospel to lead people to new life through repentance, grace, forgiveness, acceptance and love has to be learned and practiced in our homes and inside our church first, though… these are the workshops where we learn where our source of wisdom is. God in Christ as our source of wisdom occurs when we say grace around our dining room tables. when night when saying prayers with our kids. And, right here, within our sanctuary, within our Faith Formation rooms, within our Consistory, commission, and committee meetings and the ministry we do— these places are where we learn to practice our faith so that all can live in the gospel’s wisdom of truth and hope and redeeming love.
In a few moments, we are going to install our Faith Formation teachers and shepherds and Commission members into their respective ministries as part of our Faith Formation program. This calling to serve our children, youth, and adults, to help them to know where their source of wisdom is, to help them increase the love of God and neighbor, to help them have open ears and hearts, to help them live in the truth of God’s power of the gospel for new life—this calling is a most profound calling. Our teachers, our shepherds, our youth advisors, our helpers, all have the tongue of a teacher… all can sustain those of us who are learners, those who are weary, those of us who choose to tap into our source of wisdom. All know where the source of their wisdom is. And like any good teacher, all know that they are also learners, too. God awakens each one of them in ways unique to them, helping them to learn more, helping them to discern how they will teach and form faith in others. How they will inspire learners to reach out and practice the gospel alongside them.
So, let’s pray for our Faith Formation people… every one of them. Let’s pray that they will help us to form deeper faith, to help us navigate the waters of life. Let’s pray that they will forever inspire us to turn to God, Jesus, and Love as our best and only sources of real wisdom. Let us pray that they might lead us to practice our faith so that, as we read and hear the news, as we see life and death occurring all around us, we might not turn away from the moment, but instead will be the people who trust in God, who speak words of the truth of the gospel, who invite people to move out of comfort zones, and witness to the power and the love of Christ. Thanks be to God! Amen.