We are halfway through ‘ordinary time,’ the Season after Pentecost. A time when we learn what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ. The gospel readings are full of questions. Questions are one of the ways the community of disciples seeks to understand Jesus and his ministry. We, too, seek to understand the significance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for our lives, our communities, and the earth. We are on a quest, a search for God; that grows from our faith and our desire to live the Christian life more fully. As a community of people we gather with our various experiences to question, learn, and celebrate together. (Whole People of God take home leaflet 2006)
It is a quest which may take us to places where we hadn’t planned. My studies at the Atlantic School of Theology took me to more than one place that I hadn’t planned… both geographically and metaphorically. In my final year of studies, as part of my Supervised Field Education program I worked in a small residential facility for women recovering from addictions and abuse. Part of every day is participating in a 12 step program that Bill W developed for Alcoholics Anonymous, and is used to treat just about every kind of addiction. Part of that 12 step program is the Serenity Prayer, which I think most of us have heard: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
The wisdom to know the difference….
In our First Testament reading we hear Wisdom crying out on the street corners. Wisdom is very highly valued in the Older It can refer to human wisdom, garnered from experience and reflection. It is generally practical, leading to a full, profitable, and wise life. (the Revs. Stew Clarke and Catherine MacDonald) Listen to the words as written in Proverbs 1:
1:20 Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.
1:21 At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
1:22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
1:23 Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you.
1:24 Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
1:25 and because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof,
1:26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you,
1:27 when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.
1:28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
1:29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
1:30 would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof,
1:31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices.
1:32 For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them;
1:33 but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”
To us, she may as well be saying, “How long do we choose to remain ignorant?
There is a saying, ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.’ And indeed it is, because once our eyes have been opened, there is no turning back. Once we know something, we cannot un-know it, even if that would be our preference. How many of us would rather not know of the statistics of child poverty in Canada? How many of would like to ignore the almost daily reports of violence somewhere in the world? Climate change?
If we are honest with ourselves, I think we have to admit to our wish to remain ignorant at time. Or at least I have to admit to it.Partly I think because those problems seem so overwhelming and beyond the scope for us to do anything about.
We have a little knowledge about those things… but not wisdom. For wisdom we need knowledge… For wisdom we need prayer…For wisdom we discernment….
Much of this reading is harsh in many ways; she talks about consequences for not heeding the voice of wisdom. And while this may not mesh with our idea of a loving God, a loving Father… a loving Mother… I imagine we have all had the experience of being a child and being told ‘or else.’ Or we have been the parent and said ‘or else.’ I think that one of the hardest things for a parent to do is watch their children make their own mistakes and suffer the consequences. If it is hard for us, imagine how much harder it is for God to watch us make mistakes, and to allow us to suffer the consequences of our actions.
But the reading also speaks of Wisdom laughing at us when we are panicked and anguished because of our actions. I cannot picture God doing this. Throughout the Bible are stories of the people turning away from God, but God always welcoming them back, just like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son. But we must listen for the voice of wisdom crying out in the street. The stories we have of Jesus’ life tell us that he listened to Wisdom’s cry.
In the gospel reading beyond the Sea of Galilee and on the other side of the Jordan, at Caesarea Philippi, just south of Mt. Hermon. Not long before, Jesus had fed the 4000, had challenged his disciples to understand what that meant, shaken his head in disappointment at their lack of insight, and restored sight to a blind man. Now Jesus asks what they are hearing about him, challenges his followers to reflect on his meaning for them. (The Revs. Catherine MacDonald and Stew Clarke)
Let’s listen to Jesus words to his first followers and written in Mark 8:
8:27 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?”
8:28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
8:29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”
8:30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
8:31 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.
8:32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
8:33 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.”
8:34 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.
8:35 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.
8:36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
8:37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
8:38 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.”
Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do others say I am?” A legitimate question as he became more and more aware of the risks he was taking. But it is the second question that speaks to my heart.When he asks, “Who do YOU say I am?”
And I believe that that question is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago.
Who do YOU say Jesus is? Whatever your answer it, it shapes your worldview.
Words matter. We are shaped by words and in turn our world and are communities are shaped by words.
There is a video, a Ted Talk called, ‘The Danger of a Single Story.”
In it Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes the problem, explaining, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Instead, she explains, we must seek diverse perspectives — and in turn, writers must tell our own stories. Telling the stories that only we can tell, about our experiences, hopes and fears, helps break down the power of cliches and stereotypes. From her own childhood writing featuring only blue-eyed children frolicking in snow — because though she had never seen snow, all her books included it — to her American college roommate’s confusion that an African could speak English, Adichie explores the power of stories: “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.” (https://thewritelife.com/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie/)
The danger of a single story is demonstrated in the gospels, where we have four different accounts and perspectives of Jesus’ life. The writers told four different stories, sure there is some overlap, but they are in many ways distinctly different. What are some of the stories we use to describe Jesus? What are some of the stories we remember?
I know that I would probably answer that differently at different times in my life. Some days he is a friend and companion, rejoicing in our learning and growing. Some days he is the healer, who takes our hurts and wounds… perhaps doesn’t make them go away… but the one who sits with us in our pain, promising never to forsake us. Some days he is the man of action, the one who challenged the religious and societal structures of his time. The one who encourages us not to accept the status quo, not to live on the surface, not to fear change and transformation.
Who is he for you today? Who is he for us? And a companion question… Who are you in relation to Jesus? Or who are we, as the Elmsdale Cooperative Ministry, in relation to Jesus? What are we called to do as Christians? What is the purpose of our life together?
Alice Mann and Gil Rendle say that there are really only three questions that a faith community has to ponder:
- Who are we?
- What is our purpose?
- Who is our neighbour?
For those questions we need wisdome, we need knowledge, we need prayer, we need discernment.
My first year with you folks, we spent a lot of time in Listening Circles, opportunities to respond to a series of questions. And when all the data was compiled, there was a story that you wanted to tell. What are some of the stories we tell? What are some of the stories we tell about our church? The one I keep referring to is the story about what you said you want this congregation to be:
1. Focused on faith
2. Welcoming, accepting and inclusive
3. Caring for and being open to another
4. Connecting with the wider community.
Those were further refined by the values exercise we did last June where the characteristics, traits or values were defined as:
1. Acceptance (9)
2. Caring (15)
3. Community (9)
4. Faith (7)
5. Family (8)
6. Friendship (13)
1. Praying and Seeking Faith
2. Loving, Compassionate and Encouraging
3. Serving and Engaging with our Community
1. Caring (5)
2. Faith (4)
3. Acceptance (3)
How are these stories lived out? Are they indeed lived out? Are they the stories our neighbours and friends hear when we talk about our church? If you were to ask a stranger what they had heard about our church, what would they say? Would they, as John Pentland says, “Hear good things about our church?”
The stories we tell matter… the stories we tell over coffee, in the parking lot, in the kitchen making pies or a turkey or roast beef dinner, in UCW, those stories all matter. They matter because they shape our world and we are shaped by them. If we gripe and complain all the time, the story we are telling is a lack of joy. If we always see the downside of anything, the story we are telling is one of pessimism. If we only tell stories of when the Sunday School was full, we dismiss the children and teachers who are sharing their faith now. If all we talk about is how little money we have, then we are dishonouring God’s abundance that is present here!
Our relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit can help us tell a story of hope, abundance and joy. Who do you say Jesus is for you and for us? Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity to seek wisdom and ask questions. Amen.
Proverbs 1: 20-33
Mark 8: 27-38
September 16, 2018
Elmsdale Cooperative Ministry