Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost Lessons

16TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST   09-12-2021

FIRST READING:   Isaiah 50:4-9a

This text, found in the second part of the Book of Isaiah (Chapters 40-66 are often called “The Book of Comfort”) is generally referred to as a “servant song”. It is the third of four found in Isaiah. Common to these “servant songs” is the suffering that the servant endures, yet the servant remains faithful, determined to fulfill the mission that has been entrusted to him in spite of the trials and the pain. In all of these “servant songs” there is no clear indication of who the servant is; some have suggested it is Old Testament Israel, the prophet Isaiah, some other prophet or person, the Messiah, or – in Christian minds – the still-to-be-born Jesus.

Like Jesus, the servant does not strike back at his detractors but trusts in God’s steadfast love. Like Jesus, the servant does not blame God, who has surely given this mission, as the responsible cause of the suffering.

The four “servant songs” in Isaiah are: 42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-9a; 52:13 – 53:12. You might read them and note the similarities and differences.

When have you experienced challenge, rejection, and pain from others because of your faith? Does knowing of God’s approval and trusting in God’s steadfast love give you the courage to serve anyway? 

You might also read Romans 8:31-39, a New Testament passage where Paul expresses confidence in God.

 

SECOND READING:   James 3:1-12

So many people today, especially here in the United States, seem to be out of control with what they say and how they say it. We create our own alternative realities… we insist that we ought to be completely free to think, speak, and act in any way that we please… and we so easily mock, criticize, condemn, and threaten the lives of others who aren’t “in sync” with what we think or want. There is little patience, little humility, little respect, little listening, little intentional conversing. There is much shouting, cursing, division, and destruction.

Perhaps our recent former President, who seemed to enjoy the personal attention he got for saying whatever he wanted – regardless of truth and without concern for the hurt or the hate that might be generated – didn’t help the situation at all. But he alone does not account for our current situation.

Our words, offered face to face or in social media, have the power to destroy. Today’s reading uses various images to illustrate how damaging and hurtful the way we speak to and about others can be. Not only are we challenged by James to control our speech, but what we say and how we say it are to reflect our faith.

The wrong word in the wrong place can spark a raging forest fire between and among many people. On the other hand, the right word at the right time can bring a little heaven into someone’s hell… can bring peace or comfort or joy or hope or love. Do you think that most of the things you say, including the way that you say it, tend to be “wrong” or “right”? Ask the Lord to give you wisdom and insight into your own life and the lives of others, that you may discern when to speak, when to listen, and always how to love as Christ loves you. 

Knowing just how dangerous your own tongue can be, may you be humble and cautious and reflective in your interaction with others… may you continue to learn and grow in how you speak and how you act… and may you find that you can do less cursing of others and more blessing.

Many a child might have heard a mother or a father say, “Watch your mouth.” That’s what James is saying to God’s children.

 

GOSPEL READING:  Mark 8:27-38

Traveling along…on the way… Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” I imagine they were quick to answer:

“Some say John the Baptist…”  That was the man crying in the wilderness, wearing camel skins and eating bugs and urging the people to repent and to turn to God and baptizing them in the Jordan River… he had been beheaded by Herod Antipas… but some, including Herod, thought maybe he had come back to life.

“Others say Elijah…”  That was the mighty prophet who called down fire from heaven to lick up the water during his showdown contest of sacrifices, his contest of “Which god is real?” with the 450 prophets of Baal… that was the mighty prophet who had challenged Israel, “Who are you going to serve, God or Baal?”… his disappearance into the skies was reported but not his death… and his return at he end of the ages was predicted and expected.

“Still others say one of the prophets…”  

These answers by the disciples represented a summary of the people in the regions of Galilee and Judea who were personally observing Jesus and listening to Jesus… or were hearing about him… and this was what they were guessing based on the evidence they had.

When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”, those disciples did not share some of the more negative responses that were floating around – negative responses that Jesus surely had heard and already knew about, negative responses based upon preconceived notions and personal biases and even on “religious” principles. So the disciples did not say, they did not remind Jesus that his own townspeople thought he was just the carpenter’s boy, and a smartass kid at that…
and that other people outside of Nazareth wondered if anything good could ever come from that town…
that his own brothers mocked him and thought he was a lunatic…
and that the priests saw him as a threat to the religious system…
the Pharisees saw him as an unrighteous breaker of the Law and the traditions…
the Sadducees  saw him as a heretic because he taught about the resurrection…
and the scribes saw him both as a blasphemer falsely claiming to be closely connected to God and also as an agent of Beelzebul, the prince of darkness…
and that the highest religious authorities were already considering him an enemy to be eliminated…
and that the Roman overlords were already wondering if he was a revolutionary with political and military plans, someone to be stopped in his tracks.
The disciples did not mention any of this to Jesus on the road that day.

Different answers, different opinions about who Jesus is. But the important question is the one that follows in the very next verse in our Gospel reading when Jesus asks his disciples:

“But who do YOU say that I am?”

It really doesn’t matter so much what others say or what others think about Jesus, what some TV show or printed article you read tells you, or what some church or some preacher tells you about him… what matters most is your answer to this question. You can’t get any more personal and “spotlighted” than this:

WHO DO YOU SAY THAT JESUS IS?

This is the question Jesus asks each of us every day, and we answer that question, each day, with our life:

Who do YOU say that Jesus is… and not just with your lips?

In your heart?

With your daily deeds?

Through your values?

By where your feet take you?

In your most challenging times?

This question is foundational for individual faith. And I believe that when you answer the question, “Who do I say JESUS is?”, you are also answering the question, “Who am I?” So… if Jesus is the Son of the living God for you… if Jesus is your Friend… if Jesus is your Savior… if Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ… can he also be the Lord of your life? Will you listen to and learn from him, lean on him and love like him? Will you care about the right things and show concern and compassion for all people? Are you ready and willing to follow him, here, now, and throughout your life’s journey? Be careful how you answer! 

When Jesus asked his disciples as they traveled on the road, “Who do YOU say that I am?”, disciple Peter is quick to offer an answer. For a moment any spiritual deafness he has diminishes, his mental blindness breaks. He stammers in amazement, “You are the Messiah!”  [“Messiah” is the Hebrew word… some Bibles have “the Christ”, which is the Greek word.]

Then Jesus talked about his own understanding of his identity, his own understanding of his mission. He started to teach them.

Peter stopped smiling. Something wasn’t right. This was embarrassing. This was completely wrong. Peter took Jesus aside… he started to rebuke, to reprimand Jesus… he started to correct and to scold and to criticize Jesus, student to his teacher, follower to his leader… and I’m sure he got kind of emotional and loud and not-so-pleasant… and the other disciples would have heard, noticed, and felt uncomfortable… you can’t hide these public outbursts, these angry exchanges sometimes… others can tell – Do you know what I mean?

Jesus not only talked to Peter and the other disciples about what path HIS would be, suffering and death… he also told THEM, as clearly as possible, what THEIR path must be, “If any want to be 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 a person to gain the whole world and forfeit his/her life?” 

Who wants a God who is going to behave like this? And why would anyone choose to follow Jesus in THE WAY OF THE CROSS? More intimately, would you ever dare to deny yourself, to take up your cross, and to try to follow behind Jesus wherever he leads you? To the mystery of undeserved suffering Jesus brings the deeper mystery of undeserved love! To the real power of sin, death, and evil, God brings the greater victory of resurrection – new life for Jesus and, through Jesus, new life for all who believe and follow.

Jesus is true life. Jesus is unspeakable joy.

Have life. Find joy. Take up your cross and follow Jesus in the path of servant love. 

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