Old Testament: 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.”
The Response: Wisdom (7:26-8:1)
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.
The Epistle: 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 Gospel: 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
North of the Golan Heights, on a hillside at the foot of Mt. Hermon, is perhaps the most beautiful place in all of Israel and Palestine. In ancient times, it was the site of a worship complex dedicated to the Greek god Pan. It is currently part of a nature preserve, lush and green. At its center are a waterfall and a stream that is one of the main sources of the Jordan River. Today, the place is called “Banias.” In Jesus’ time, it was known as “Caesarea Philippi.” It is the location for today’s gospel reading. It was there, in that lovely setting, that the exchange that serves as the fulcrum for St. Mark’s version of the gospel took place.
The gospel according to Mark is a mystery story in two parts. Up to this point, the question that it poses has been “Who is this man, this Jesus of Nazareth?” In today’s gospel reading, Peter solves the mystery: “he is the Messiah.” From that point on, the mystery to be solved is comprised of two subsequent questions: first, “What kind of Messiah will he be”; and second, “What must we do if we really want to be his followers?”
Once Peter had put together the pieces from all that he had heard and seen Jesus say and do, the first answer was easy, at least from a theoretical perspective. It still is. It is easy to say that we believe that Jesus is God’s Messiah, God’s Christ. According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 2.2 billion people in the world do so by identifying themselves as Christians.
But answering the dual questions of the second half of Mark’s gospel is far more difficult, if we are willing to live with the necessary implications of our responses. Immediately after Jesus accepts Peter’s affirmation that he is the Messiah, he clarifies that title by insisting that he is called to be a suffering Messiah, one who will die because of his faithfulness to God’s call. And he then makes clear what those who will be his followers must be prepared to do: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Peter was certainly willing to go along with Part One of Jesus’ identity, but he wanted nothing to do with Part Two. And, in truth, most of us are right there with him.
The image of taking up one’s cross in life is one that is frequently distorted and misused and that often totally misses the point. People tend to toss the expression around as if it referred to any kind of problem they might be facing. “The arthritis in my knees acts up when it rains; I guess that’s my cross to bear.” Or, “I have to work extra hours to pay off my mortgage and the loan on my cars; I guess that’s just my cross to bear.” Nothing like that even approximates what Jesus’ message means. Instead, “taking up one’s cross” means freely taking on some suffering or some danger or some significant risk for the sake of the kingdom of God, in order to be faithful to the kind of life to which God calls us in Christ. And there, of course, have been and still are people who are willing to do that.
I am currently reading historian Jon Meacham’s latest book, The Soul of America, in which he explores a series of crises in the life of our nation and the role that great leaders have played in bringing the nation together and healing its wounds when others have torn it apart with lies and hatred. That message of hope for the future, despite what we are going through today, is an encouraging promise considering our current state of affairs.
This past week, I read the chapter dealing with the Civil Rights struggle during the 1960s. That era’s atmosphere of blatant bigotry and outright lies and the intentional spreading of fear and hatred are still shocking today. And the bold actions that principled people, both in the government and outside of it, took in order to transform a deeply divided America and to better ensure the equal treatment of all people still has the power to encourage and inspire. These committed Christians did so at great personal risk to their positions and even to their lives. Their struggle came at great personal cost. But their conviction that they needed to accept the vicious opposition and dangers that accompanied their work, simply because of their belief in the God-given dignity of every human being, drove them on. They clearly took up their cross in response to Jesus’ call.
Similar bold actions have impelled others, and continue to impel others today, to take up the struggle for human dignity and compassion on behalf of other children of God: for women, for racial minorities, for people of various sexual orientations, for refugees and other immigrants, for people of other national origins or religious beliefs. All have required and continue to require taking up a cross and following where Jesus has led the way.
Affirming that Jesus is God’s Anointed, God’s Christ, God’s Messiah has profound implications for the way we live our lives. The late Fred Craddock once wrote (Luke, p. 127): “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.”
Before we try to answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” we better stop to consider very seriously the implications of our answer, where that answer will inevitably lead us. The search for the answer to Mark’s first question — “Who is this man, this Jesus of Nazareth?”– led to the scenic hillside of Caesarea Philippi. The search for the answer to Mark’s second set of questions — “What kind of Messiah will he be” and “What must we do if we really want to be his followers?” – led to a hillside also; but this time, it was the barren hillside of Golgotha. Are we willing to walk with him to both hillsides?