A Reading from the Book of Proverbs (1:20-33)
Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded, and because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you, when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices. For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”
Wisdom is a reflection of eternal light, *
a flawless mirror of God’s activity,
an image of divine goodness.
Though wisdom is only one, *
she can accomplish everything;
remaining self-contained, *
she transforms all around her.
In every generation *
Wisdom enlightens holy souls,
making them friends of God, *
making them prophets.
For God loves nothing so much *
as the person who lives with Wisdom.
She is more radiant than the sun, *
and outshines every constellation.
She excels daylight by far, for day is eclipsed by night; *
but evil does not overshadow Wisdom.
She spans the earth from pole to pole *
and orders all things well.
A Reading from the Letter of James (3:1-12)
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 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. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 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. 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! 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. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (8:27-38)
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 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. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 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.” 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. 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 what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 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.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
With last Sunday’s Praise and Picnic in the Park, we began our new program year: the 75th in the life of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Today we began our Sunday School program for the year, in two weeks our Choir will return, and very soon the rest of our tutors will be resuming their service to the children of Kemp Elementary School. As Carol Nancarrow announced last week, we are also beginning some renovation projects in and around our buildings, making them more inviting to everyone who comes here now and preparing them for the future. And our Vestry will soon be working on plans for the coming year and for the years beyond.
There is obviously a lot going on in and around St. Mark’s Church, and that it an exciting thing. We have had the joy of welcoming a number of new members over the past few months; we are beginning to take new initiatives in multiple areas of our ministry; and we are continuing to serve as leaders in our work in the wider community.
But, at the same time, today’s gospel reading reminds us that, even as leaders, our most basic role, our fundamental calling, is that of being followers: specifically, of being disciples of Jesus Christ. And, in order to be true to that calling, we need always to be listening, learning, reflecting and praying: knowing that the work that we do is not our own, but rather service in which we are engaged together in response to God’s call to us in Christ.
Since the beginning of last Advent, most of our Sunday gospel readings have been excerpts from the Gospel according to Mark. Mark’s version of the Good News is basically a mystery story divided into two parts. Throughout the first section, the part that we have heard so far, the question posed to Jesus’ hearers, and to us as well, is the question: “Who is this man? Who is this Jesus of Nazareth?”
Today’s reading is the hinge, the center point of the entire gospel. And in that reading, we finally find the answer to that first question. Peter, speaking on behalf of all the disciples, declares that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ: the one sent from God, the one for whom everyone has been waiting, the one who will usher in the reign of God.
But immediately, this passage poses the second question, the one that will dominate the rest of the gospel: “What kind of Messiah will Jesus be?” That is a critically important question for us personally, because who Jesus is will determine also who we are to be if we choose to follow him. And the answer to that question quickly becomes apparent: Jesus will be a suffering Messiah: one who pours out everything he has and is for the sake of the world and in response to God’s call.
Just as enthusiastically as Peter affirms the answer to the first question, so does he try to reject the answer to the second. Mark says that he takes Jesus aside; I can picture him putting his arm on Jesus’ shoulder to offer him some advice. He is confident that he knows better than Jesus, and so he wants to straighten him out about this Messiah thing. “Forget about this suffering stuff. I believe that you are the Messiah, but let me tell you what kind of Messiah you need to be. Just stick with me. Follow my lead, and you’ll be OK.”
But Jesus immediately and vehemently sets Peter straight. “I am not here to follow you. You are here to follow me. So get behind me, because I am the teacher, and you are the disciple. Be ready to follow where I lead, not where you want to go.” It’s a sobering message for Peter; and it can be a sobering message for us, as well, when we become overly sure about where we want to go in our life and ministry.
New Testament scholar Lamar Williamson (Mark, p. 153) has observed: “To say ‘Christ’ to someone is to give up the right to define what ‘Christ’ means.” In today’s gospel, Jesus made that very clear to Peter.
Fred Craddock (Luke, p. 127) has expanded on that same assertion when he wrote: “That a Messiah is coming is always an exciting and welcome message. [At the time of Jesus,} everyone had a sermon under the title “When the Messiah Comes,” a message including every hope, every dream, every ideal condition for which the heart longs. It is no wonder that the church’s message that the Messiah has come and he is Jesus has not been so popular. To believe the Messiah has come means we can no longer shape him to fit our dreams; he shapes us to fit God’s will.”
As followers of Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, we are always in a process of being shaped, of being formed, of being transformed into his disciples. And in order to be true to that fundamental aspect of our identity, we, too, need to be listening, learning, reflecting and praying. Those, too, are critically important parts of our life and ministry during the coming year and during every year.
As important as our works of service and leadership in this church and in the wider community are, still our most basic identity is that of followers, of disciples of Jesus. And it is through those practices, as well as through our service to the world in his name, that we learn what it means to proclaim him as the Messiah, the Christ, and what it means to affirm that we are willing to pick up our cross and follow him.