Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost Study

17TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST   09-19-2021

FIRST READING:   Jeremiah 11:18-20

Last week, we were looking at one of the “servant songs” in the Book of Isaiah (there are 4 “servant songs”) and noted that the servant – who could perhaps be identified as Old Testament Israel, the prophet Isaiah, some other prophet or person, the Messiah, or, in Christian minds, the still-to-be-born Jesus – remained faithful, determined to fulfill the mission that has been entrusted to him in spite of the trials and the suffering it brought.

Today, in the Book of Jeremiah, we hear of the suffering of the prophet Jeremiah… unless he us using the individual pronoun “I” to speak on behalf of his community. Jeremiah was called to be a prophet to the southern Jewish kingdom of Judah before, during, and after the invasion of the Babylonians. He was called to be a prophet to a people who would not readily listen and respond to God’s message of judgment. He was charged with the task of delivering a gloomy message in a gloomy time. And Jeremiah didn’t like his mission at all. And Jeremiah told God exactly how he felt about this.

Today’s reading is the first of those 6 “laments” by Jeremiah when he complains to God, accuses God, quarrels with God, reproaches God, pities himself, and even wishes he had never been born. The 6 “laments” in Jeremiah are: 11:18 – 12:6; 15:10-21; 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-13; and 20:14-18. In today’s verses the prophet speaks of a plot to kill him and hopes that God will punish those plotters, make them hurt real bad. He probably thinks that it’s the least God could do considering all the misery and distress God has put Jeremiah through!

Based on a very simplified image of the prophet Isaiah as a quiet, determined, and faithful servant… and of the prophet Jeremiah as a complaining, unwilling, yet nevertheless also faithful servant… which of the two, if either, do you most resemble? 

When has obeying God ever alienated you from others (even those closest to you) and caused plots against you, so that you felt like “a gentle lamb led to the slaughter”? Do you feel comfortable, in light of your Christian faith, in seeking God’s vengeance? In your “Jeremiah moments”, what have you asked of God? 

A lament in the Bible is often more than just continued complaining and unending sorrow. It is hope… or at least a desperate crying and reaching forth towards hope. A lament in the Bible is often relational; it looks, waits, and begs for God to act, even when God seems too late – past time and beyond belief.

 

SECOND READING:   James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a

We sure could use a little of James in the fabric of our relationships! James wants us to submit to God and to try to obey God’s intent for how we think, speak, and act towards each other. He believes that, when we draw closer to God, we experience peace, joy, comfort, love, and hope. He believes that, when we draw closer to God, we show God-given wisdom, God-given gentleness, God-given humility, God-given-mercy, God-given righteousness, God-given peace.

James tells us to seek to obey God.  But we don’t like to be told what to do – by anybody and for any reason. We have misunderstood our freedom and our liberty in so many ways. Some don’t want to submit to the speed limit. Some don’t want to submit to filling in their tax return. Some don’t want to submit to standing in line and waiting for your turn. A former President and his “patriots” doesn’t want to submit to a national election that was lost by about 8 million votes. And just think about some of our politicized debates in the midst of this long shadowed valley of COVID-19; our United States have the most infections, the most deaths, but still can’t even agree that there is a pandemic, let alone whether I ought to wear a mask, keep my distance, and receive a vaccine. “Nobody can tell me what to do!”

James says that we allow our own wants and whims to lead us to all sorts of aberrant attitudes and actions – “bitter envy and selfish ambition”, “boastful and false to the truth”, “disorder and wickedness”, “partiality or hypocrisy”, “conflicts and disputes”, “you want something… you covet something”, “murder”, “the Devil” . James submits that there is a war inside of us that causes the troubles among us.

There are two kinds of wisdom. Are you “wise in the ways of the world” or does your wisdom come from above? James believes that God can teach you how to speak and act wisely, not out of the ambition of self-seeking and serving, but out of the joy and grace and peace of God’s Spirit within you.

  That is, IF you are willing to humble yourself and submit to God.

 

GOSPEL READING:  Mark 9:30-37

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke we find that each Gospel speaks of three different times that Jesus spoke and taught of his impending betrayal, suffering, death, and resurrection – but did any of those disciples really hear the good ending to it all? It’s possible that Jesus spoke and taught of this more than three times… we don’t really know… but the Gospels want us to sense that he had become more pensive, more solemn, more focused on a mission that included suffering and execution, a cross.

In each of these three Gospels the reaction of the disciples is not very different. In Mark, all three times the disciples seem to respond with objections, disbelief, fear, and ignorance. They repeatedly demonstrate how badly they have misunderstood the true nature of his redemptive mission.

After his first “passion prediction” – last Sunday’s Gospel reading  from Mark 8 – Peter had objected, Peter rebuked Jesus, he could not accept that Jesus as Messiah must suffer and die. After his third “passion prediction” in Mark 10, James and John will ask Jesus for positions of glory in the future kingdom when Jesus is crowned, when Jesus sits on a throne. And after today’s second “passion prediction”, the disciples are arguing about which one of them is the best, the greatest, the first disciple.

When have you or I stopped following Jesus where he leads and tried to turn the journey into a personal quest for power and prestige and privilege? We all need to “check ourselves” from time to time, to humble ourselves, to seek God’s mercy, and to receive God’s grace as a gift, unearned and undeserved.

Jesus talked about the call to “be last of all and servant of all” (verse 35).

Then he took a little child… 

(one who was considered mostly as property, a thing, insignificant, worthless, and lowly)

and put her, put him among them…

    (and no teacher of any status would have used an unimportant, unknown child as a positive example to teach his disciples)

he put the child among them

    (those who thought of themselves so highly, these so worried about their greatness, their status, their prestige) 

and he picked up the child into his own arms

    (with love and compassion, without any malice… almost like he was receiving the child, claiming the child, valuing the child as his very own)

and Jesus said to them…

    (to challenge their jealous boasting, to confront their selfish ambition)

Whoever welcomes such a child in my name welcomes me, and not just me but the one who sent me.” Welcome the child. Or an outsider. The least and the lowliest. The lost and the lonely. Or those at the bottom. Those who aren’t making it. Those who don’t fit in, who don’t count. Anybody.

A disciple in any century, in any setting, therefore, is supposed to fulfill the role that Jesus does – freely loving, sacrificially loving. For true disciples then and now, the focus must change from our self to others. TO FOLLOW JESUS WHERE HE LEADS, RENOUNCE YOUR AMBITIONS FOR GREATNESS AND YOUR HANKERINGS FOR PREEMINENCE… AND TAKE UP A LIFE OF EMBRACING THE “LITTLE ONES” AT THE BOTTOM OF LIFE’S LADDER. It is the way of Jesus, the way of the cross. And sometimes the question “Who is the most important, who is first, who is the best?” just does not make sense any more.  

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2024
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