My friends in Christ, as I spent the past week reflecting on our for lessons today I became aware of how congruent they are with Canon Steve Rottgers’ “Ripe for the Harvest” program that we’ll be implementing in the next few weeks. Last week we heard an amazing sermon from Fr. Steve. As someone who is keen on preaching, it was good to hear his exciting words. We are entering an exciting time at Trinity, and today’s lessons are very helpful in putting us in the right spiritual frame of mind to work the Ripe for the Harvest program and benefit from it.
Our lesson from Proverbs speaks of Holy Wisdom. The Latin word for wisdom is sapientia, and please note, it is in the feminine form. In some bible translations, Proverbs is written in poetic meter. Sadly, our text today is in prose and we lose so much of the meaning when it is written as such. Wisdom “cries out in the street, promising us that she will make her words known to us. Holy Wisdom warns us to listen to her…”those who listen to me will be secure and will live in ease, without dread of disaster.”
Our epistle, James, is my favorite of the epistles. Epistles are letters written to the various early churches, in the first century after Christ’s resurrection. Epistles offer wise counsel, good advise, and, sometimes, dire warning. Today James warns us about our tongues. It compares our tongues to fire; it stains the body, setting on fire the cycle of nature. James reminds us that we can tame the creatures of nature, but we cannot tame our tongues. We bless and we curse with the same tongue, and James grieves, I think, that this need not be so.
In our wonderful Gospel lesson, Jesus is walking with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Imagine being there. The dust. The hot desert air. I can feel the heat in my nostrils and the sandy grit of the desert on my teeth. Imagine being with the disciples, simply chatting with your teacher. I’m sure they were laughing, talking…they probably had their guard down. Jesus asks them what they thought others said he was. Brief answers were given. “John, Elijah, one of the prophets.” Christ then asks, “But who do you say I am?” I’m sure he was testing them.
My brothers and sisters, time and time again I hear Christ ask me, “Who do you say that I am?” Sometimes I hear that question on a daily basis. I hear it when I struggle. I hear it through my chronic pain. I hear it in joy. I hear it when I look into someone’s eyes. “Jon, who do you say that I am?”
My answer, like that of the disciples, is “You are the Messiah.” Christ’s response in his time was a stern warning not to tell anyone about him. Two centuries later, we’re Christians…we can’t keep the secret. We must be fools for Christ…we must reflect his love to others, we must be his eyes and ears and example to a hurting, pained world.
So, we follow Christ. Being a follower puts many of us in an odd place. We live in the United States…the land of the rugged individuals. We live in a place that reminds us of this every day. We drive fast to get “there” (wherever that may be) first. We play sports where winners win and well, you know folks, nice guys finish last. We don’t give out awards for the “followers of tomorrow.”
I have this amazing phone. It does everything for me but drive Tishie around where she has to go. This phone has what are called “apps” on it. The word “app” is short for “application” and basically means a computer program. Most apps are meant to make your life easier, and like most things in life, some do and some don’t and some are real time wasters.
I have an app on my phone for an amazing thing called Twitter. Twitter is a social network where you can post messages about anything you want (a statement, a thought, and idea) but it has to be no more that 140 characters. People who use this app are called Tweeters and the messages we send are called Tweets. Twitter is one of the few things in life where it’s possible to follow people. Following is one of the objectives of Twitter. I can tell you who my followers are and who follows me with the press of a button. My Twitcaster app can even suggest followers based upon my interests.
If twitter had been around in Jesus’ time, he would have had a lot of followers. People were curious about the things he did and the things he said. By the time our gospel lesson today takes place, Christ is a well know man, and he has his followers, the disciples.
Being a disciple simply means to be a student. Remember though, this is Mark’s gospel, my favorite, because his disciples are just like us…sometimes so spot on in understanding Jesus and sometimes totally clueless about him. I love this story because *finally* the students get it right. Jesus is the messiah. His clueless disciples, so much like us, finally get it.
But that’s not enough, even for Peter. Just a few verses after Peter gets it right, he’s pulling Jesus aside to tell him he has the wrong one. He begins to rebuke Jesus for saying all this stuff about the Messiah having to suffer and be rejected and killed. “What kind of Messiah is that?” Peter demands. Jesus cuts him off: “Get behind me, Satan.” Now Jesus isn’t calling him Satan lightly; remember that Jesus began his ministry with Satan beside him, tempting him to see what kind of Messiah he really would be. Jesus calls the crowd and the disciples around them, and he gives them all the answer to the question of what kind of Messiah he really will be, what kind of Messiah they are following: “If any want to become my followers,” he says, “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 the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Tough words, my friends in Christ. Losing our lives for the sake of the gospel does not always mean death. But it does mean martyrdom. Please do no not misunderstand me…we think of martyrs as people who died for their faith, who literally lost their lives for the sake of Christ and the gospel, but that’s not the original meaning. “Martyr” is a Greek word that simply means “witness.” And what does a witness do? A witness tells the truth of what they have seen and heard, no matter what.
So I ask the question I ask myself in every sermon. You folks know the routine. “What do these lessons mean for us, at Trinity Church, Independence, Missouri, in the year of our Lord 2012?”
As we begin the Ripe for the Harvest program, we enter an amazing time. We have the opportunity to witness. We will witness what we like and what we don’t like and we’ll even be able to be prophets by sharing with each other, in this safe, anonymous way, what our dreams are. My dear friends in Christ, ask for wisdom. Be honest. Use your tongues to say what you want to say. Tell us what works and what doesn’t. Most importantly, dream big. AMEN