Psalm 1 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Jeremiah 11: 18-20 September 23, 2018
Mark 9: 30-.37
“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.”
Prayer: God, on this journey of faith, may we be deeply in touch with you always. Amen.
This past week my brother in Illinois called in. We chatted mostly about his job as a police officer. He painted me a frightening picture that made pray for him and all cops working in the world of drug enforcement. In his little small town in Illinois, he and his officers put themselves in harm’s way all the time. They have undercover officers trying to buy and sell drugs in order to infiltrate the underground world of drug sales. He told me about different levels of undercover police activity that he and his fellow officers engage in—(and what I’m telling you is only the tip of the iceberg—he told me so much!). It starts with what’s called a “buy/walk” which means an undercover officer goes to a drug dealer intending to buy the drugs (crystal meth) and walk out with no further action. It helps to gain the trust of the drug dealers. One transaction. No arrest. They do that a few times until they’re ready to go the next step which is to arrest the dealer and go to jail, or become a “CS” or a “confidential source.” As a CS, a person starts working for the police taking them to another dealer, distributors, etc. trying to gain more and more undercover access, going to higher and higher levels, each one becoming more dangerous. Eventually, through several steps, the DEA gets involved on the higher levels, and officers get closer to the head of the snake, the cartels, where sometimes big “sting” operations may take place.
It’s a dangerous business. A terrifying world. A bunch of guys going down the dangerous path in order to get the upside, the good of making the world a safer, healthier place. Our chat made me much more appreciate the work he does and the work of tens of thousands of police officers everywhere.
Our chat also reminded me that in the world of faith growth, on our spiritual journeys the concept is often true. The way down is often the way up.
All three of our biblical texts give us food to ponder on this idea. Psalm 1 identifies the path of righteousness compared with the path of wickedness. On our journeys, we’re invited to ground ourselves in God and be like trees planted by a stream of water. Have faith that God watches over us on our journey of righteousness.
Jeremiah goes a step further. He says that grounded in way of righteousness sometimes will mean doing the righteous thing in God’s eyes which may be totally crazy in our eyes. The servant of God, referencing the Messiah, will go on God’s journey, out of comfort zones, facing devised schemes, facing danger, “like a lamb led to slaughter,”… but, the servant goes with commitment to God, knowing God is present… knowing God has a divine purpose… knowing that sometimes God’s path down is the way up.
Of course, we as Christians read the gospels and believe that Jeremiah’s depiction of the Servant Messiah now comes true in Jesus. þ Jesus, walking and talking with his disciples tells them for the second time that his journey takes him down the path of betrayal and death. But paradoxically, that is the way up, because after three days, there will be resurrection. After three days, new life. Not just for Jesus, but his death and resurrection magnifies much more profoundly the resurrection power God always had, but now becomes much more real. Much more tangible.
So, Jesus’ way down into betrayal and death leads to our way up—salvation and life. This is the divine journey. It leads to new life, new hope as we face our problems. It can lead to an energized, determined spirit that responds to injustice, or sparks a righteous defiance of evil in the world.
In 1970, Yale University held a gathering of leading black jazz musicians raising money for a department of African-American music. Musicians such as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Mary Lou Williams, and others gathered for three days. During a performance, some person unhappy with their presence, called in a bomb threat. Police attempted to clear the building, but Charles Mingus refused to leave, remaining onstage with his big string bass. He said, “Racism planted that bomb, but racism ain’t strong enough to kill this music. If I’m going to die, I’m ready. But I’m going out playing ‘Sophisticated lady!’ And Mingus’ defiant music filled the space with passion and protest, and hope and life in the face of danger and evil. (Ramsey, Mark, “What if Jesus Meant All This Stuff?” Journal for Preachers, vol. XLI, No. 4, Pentecost 2018, p. 23).
The journey of righteousness that goes through the struggle but has a purpose of revealing God’s resurrection power is a divine journey. It can create for us a new positive attitude based on trusting God, no matter what the “out of comfort zones’ God may take us to. It leads us to a transformation of heart, mind, and spirit, which takes us to care for the under-privileged, the under-represented, the under-included, the under-accepted.
I like the story Dr. Wil Willimon tells (he’s the former chaplain for Duke University and bishop in the United Methodist Church). When he was a bishop of several UMC churches in Alabama, he went to one of the churches that served breakfast to homeless people every morning. He recognized a man in the kitchen washing dishes, up to his elbows in dishwater. He was a lawyer and a member of the largest, most affluent congregation in the city. Willimon said to the lawyer, “I think it’s wonderful you are here washing dishes for the homeless.” “Good for you,” he mumbled not looking up from his work. “Have you always enjoyed ministry with the homeless?” “Who told you I enjoyed working with the homeless? Have you met any of the homeless out there? Most of them are crazy, or so addicted, or messed up; that nobody, not even their family wants them home.” Willimon stuttered a bit, “Well, I, uh, er, I… that’s all the more remarkable what you are here doing. How did you get here?” The man looked up from the dishwasher and said, “I’m here because Jesus put me here. How did you get here” (Ramsey, Mark, “What if Jesus Meant All This Stuff?” Journal for Preachers, vol. XLI, No. 4, Pentecost 2018, p. 23)?
That’s a good question for each of us, I think. Because if we’re on the divine journey, it’s a God-centered journey. And, we got here because God calls us here. God’s purposes are enacted through us…
And, Jesus’ call to care for the least of these puts us at places like dishwasher sinks, like the serving tables at First Reformed Church in Lancaster. Those of you going to First Reformed Church Tuesday, know that you’re going not to win points with God but you’re going because Jesus’ call puts you there. You’re on a divine, God-centered journey of faith.
þ And Jesus’ call to those joining our church today or if you’re considering joining us in the future, know that we’re a church that strives to be on this divine journey. It sometimes takes us to a defiant righteousness against evil and wrong. It sometimes takes out of our comfort zones and into places where there is great need, and even possibly into danger sometimes.
But, we’re committed to God’s cause, God’s ministry in this place. And believe me, the divine journey always takes us closer to God’s heart. It always takes us to a deeper relationship with God. And it always gives us wonderful opportunities to see God’s resurrection power at work, even if it means going through the ringer sometimes to see it! Thanks be to God!
Let us be quiet and reflect upon this message.