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.”
A Song in Praise of 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.
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
It’s wonderful to be with you here today for our 18th annual Praise and Picnic in the Park. This gathering serves as a sort of hinge, connecting the summer to the fall, and the old program year to the new one. Appropriately, our Lectionary appoints for today a reading that serves as the hinge for the entire gospel according to Mark.
Up to this point, Mark’s account has taken the form of a mystery story; and the mystery has to do with Jesus’ identity. The question from the very beginning has been: “Who is this man? Who is this Jesus of Nazareth?” In the accounts of Jesus’ teachings and miracles, Mark gives us clue after clue. Finally, in the reading that we just heard, Peter solves the mystery and gives the answer: “You are the Messiah.” From this point on, Mark will proceed to flesh out that identity, exploring what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah and, by extension, what it means for us to affirm that Jesus is the Messiah; because making that assertion defines our own identity as well.
One of the most thought-provoking books that I have read this year has been David Brooks’ The Road to Character, which was released in April. In this volume, he explores the life of a series of notable people through the ages, focusing on the experiences that formed them and that built for each of them his or her unique character, the many factors that gave each of them his or her core identity. But before he does so, he sets the stage.
He begins his “Introduction” by drawing a distinction (pp. xi-xii) between two sets of characteristics or virtues in people’s lives. The more familiar ones are those that he calls the “résumé virtues.” These are the assets that “you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success.” They include most of the skills that our educational system tries to develop, as well as our professional development efforts in life. They consist of professional and marketable skills. They are certainly worth pursuing, but they can lead us to judge people solely by their accomplishments and by what they might have to contribute to our own material success, rather than by more important considerations. These qualities are important, but they are not the only ones, or even the most important ones, that deserve our attention.
The other set of characteristics are what the author calls “the eulogy virtues.” These are the ones that tend to take precedence over the résumé virtues when we or others look back at our lives as a whole and reflect on what we really value the most and on what they really value the most about us. These eulogy virtues are the ones that form our core identity. They include such qualities as honesty, dedication, dependability, faithfulness, compassion, and self-sacrifice. They focus on living for the sake of something greater, for the sake of others, for the sake of the common good. He describes these characteristics as focusing on “a moral logic, not an economic one. You have to give to receive. You have to surrender to something outside yourself to gain strength within yourself. You have to conquer your desire to get what you crave. Success leads to the greatest failure, which is pride. Failure leads to the greatest success, which is humility and learning. In order to fulfill yourself, you have to forget yourself. In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself.” While David Brooks draws on various sources in his own Jewish heritage for these insights, his words very closely parallel those of the Jewish rabbi whom we, along with Peter, identify as the Messiah, the Anointed, the Christ of God.
As we begin the 77th year in the life of St. Mark’s Church, it seems like a good opportunity for us to remember what we are about as a church, as part of the people of God. We certainly support our own parishioners and the other members of the greater-Dayton community as they work to develop their résumé virtues. These are important, and they enable us to make valuable contributions to the life of our community and of society as a whole.
But first and foremost, our role as a church is to focus on and help people develop their eulogy virtues: those things that are of lasting value. Those virtues might or might not help us to develop marketable skills, to advance in our careers, to make more money, to achieve material success; but they do make us better people. More specifically, they are the virtues, the characteristics, that enable us to do our most important job: reflect to the world the image and likeness of God in which we were all created.
As Jesus asks toward the end of today’s gospel reading: “What does it profit them to gain the entire world, but forfeit their life” or “their very selves”: that core of our being that truly makes us who we are. And that core is reflected most accurately and most clearly in those eulogy virtues.
And in the end, when our formal education and our work-life are past, when others’ memories of our accomplishments fade, when our status symbols are left behind, it will be only our eulogy virtues that will remain. Those who have known us, and especially those who have loved us and who have been loved by us, will not care nearly so much about the list of our accomplishments, about the size of our bank accounts, about the level toward which we rose in our business lives, as they will about whether we were kind, whether we were loving, whether we were compassionate, whether we were honest, whether we showed respect toward them and toward other people, whether we gave of ourselves for the sake of others, whether we lived our lives for something greater than ourselves, dedicating our time and our energy and our abilities and our lives to serving the common good.
The gospels according to Matthew (6:21) and Luke (12:34) both quote Jesus as teaching: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Which of these two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues or the eulogy virtues, are your greatest treasure? Which of them receives more of your time and attention? On which of them is your heart set?