Thursday, October 24, 2013

Walk Faithfully: God Values Wisdom

Walk Faithfully:  God Values Wisdom                               10/20/13
I Kings 4:29-34, II Timothy 1:3-12, Mark 8:27-38

Most of life is watching three words dance and fight, work and play together.  What are these words?  Past. Present. Future.

We are who we are because of the past.  We are motivated to change because of the future.  And we do all of this stuff of life in what is called, the present.  Today.  Today is really the only place we live.

There are a few times in every persons life in which today becomes a crossroads.  Today becomes a check in point where you can see the past and the future clearly.   Perhaps it is your first day at a job, when you see why you studied so hard, and where all the opportunities of a career are before you.  Maybe it is your retirement, when your faithful work is now rewarded with time to pursue what interests you.  Maybe your child is ready to graduate, and your presence and instruction will have do for now and you can return to other roles in your life.

In our gospel story, there was a literal place which provided a clear view of the past and future, called Caesarea Philippi.  It was an elevated location, in which one could view Galilee behind you and Jerusalem in the distance.  It also has become a symbolic place in which we see the ministry of Jesus Christ more clearly.  Galilee is where the people saw Jesus at work, Jesus the teacher and healer.  Who do men say I am?  Jesus asked his disciples.  The disciples offered the water cooler answers.  But with Jerusalem in mind, Jesus digs deeper.  Who do you say I am?  Peter answers correctly:  You are the Christ.

Despite this correct answer, Jesus warns the disciples not to tell anyone the answer.  This is a text that has caused confusion for most readers.  We get last week’s lesson.  Jesus heals a man, and then tells him to go tell everyone how the Lord had been good to him.  We understand that.  But why would Jesus tell the disciples of all people to keep quiet on the matter.

The common answer lies in the Roman Empire, with its powerful ability to crush any illegal religion, or any religious teacher who would detract from Rome’s self-perception of power.  It would seem that Jesus still had work to do.  But perhaps there was something else.  Mark Williamson, a commentator, writes that the disciples didn’t understand Jesus.  They had a wrong impression of him, and Jesus did not want that misinformation spread any further. 

At Caesarea Philippi, the disciples looked back at the Jesus they had come to know.  And they looked forward by acknowledging he was the Christ.  And this idea that they had no idea of what that meant has some merit.  Jesus sits the disciples down to teach them, speaking very plainly.  Imagine the moment.  How plainly?  I am going to suffer, be rejected by the religious establishment, be killed, and then I will rise again.  Imagine being a disciple hearing Jesus speaking.  This speech is mouth dropping, stunned look, smoke rising from an overheated brain type of speech.  One of the disciples in particular, Peter---you may remember him as the one who five minutes before was the first to call Jesus the Messiah—yes him, Peter expresses what  he is thinking about as Jesus is plainly teaching…
--Jesus, are you sure?
--Jesus, you don’ know that for certain
--Jesus, you are scaring us
--Jesus, we feel uncomfortable listening to this
--Jesus, let’s just return to the blessed are the peacemakers lesson.  That is more palatable.

Peter takes Jesus aside and tells him how inappropriate it is to talk of such things.  You are the leader.  What will people think of you?  How will people look at us?  The Scripture says that Peter rebukes Jesus.  How dare you say such things!

The problem in all of this is that Peter forgot who he was.  He was a disciple.  He was a follower.  Taking upon him the safe and convention thoughts of the world, Peter ventured out as the teacher, attempting to correct Jesus, or at least keep him manageable.  The one who called Jesus Messiah had no idea what this meant.

When Jesus comes to a similar conclusion, he “turned and looked at the disciples, he rebuked Peter, get behind me Satan!”  You aren’t thinking of God, you have in you the things of men. 

Jesus had come to do good things in Galilee.  He came to teach and inspire, to work and to heal, to love and to bless.  But he also came for Jerusalem’s work.  He came to be a sacrifice, he came to die for sins, he came to bring back sons and daughters to a right relationship with God.  Long ago, God the Father spoke in plural form and said, Let us make humankind in our image.  Sin had tarnished that image and separated sons and daughters from their God and their God given image.  Jesus was here to make it right.  And to make it right, Jesus would walk faithfully before God in whatever needed to be done.  Not my will, but Thy will be done.

In this clear moment, when past and future were in full view, Jesus invited us to see wisdom mysteriously.  Jesus invited us to be faithful to him.  If anyone would come after Jesus, let them take up their cross, deny themselves and follow Jesus.
If you want to save your life, you’ll lose it.
If you want to gain the whole world, you’ll lose your soul.
If you are ashamed of Jesus, he’ll be ashamed of you.
Whoever loses one’s life for Jesus and for the gospel, will save it.

These are some of the most difficult words in the gospel.  And everything in our culture attempts to sabotage these words, or at least make them manageable.  Peter’s attitude is alive and well in our world…the follower rebukes the leader.  The disciple manages God.  The worshipper tells their Maker how things will be.  Mark Williamson writes:  “Disciples are not to guide, protect or possess Jesus, they are to follow him.”  Most of us have had a moment or been in a place where we understood who Jesus is, where we could see the past and the future clearly in light of the living Christ.  I want you to remember that moment, or that time, as today, we heed the call to follow faithfully.

I want to read a poem written by a prisoner some 70 years ago.

(the poem, read in its entirety, was Who Am I?  by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The last line reads, "Who am I?  they mock me, these lonely questions of mine.  Whoever I am, thou knowest O Lord, I am thine")

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who was imprisoned for his faith.  His faith, and some minor detail about a failed assassination plot on Hitler.  But mostly his faith.  Dietrich is looking back, wondering about an uncertain future, all within the confines of today.  In the midst of great difficulty, hope was his foundation.  All that he was, all his questions of identity are answered…Who am I?  I am thine.  I belong to God.  And God has been faithful to me.   Therefore, carrying all that I am, I walk faithfully, following Jesus.

This is exactly what the Apostle Paul did two thousand years ago.  In writing to a young pastor named Timothy, who was probably 35 or 40 years old, Paul tells Timothy to fan the flame of faith.  Paul is writing from prison.  He is writing from a spot in which he can see both his past and his future very clearly.  He knew the One in whom he believed.  The God whom his forefather’s had served.  The One he invited Lois to know.  The One he had invited Eunice to know.  The One he was persuaded now lived in Timothy.   He knew the One who was faithful to him.  He knew the One who had saved him, not because of anything he had done, but because of God’s own purpose and grace.

Paul also saw the future.  He saw this gospel destroying death and bringing life and immortality to light.  He saw the spirit of power, love and self-discipline transforming people’s lives.  He saw God calling us into a holy life.  He saw a God whose future was as long as his past.  He saw that all that he gave to God was guarded by God, entrusted to God for that great day of victory.  He knew the One in whom he had believed would be seen.  God was faithful, yesterday, today and forever.

Our Sunday School theme for today was “God Values Wisdom”.  Value is the important word here.  We often consider God as commanding an action or conduct.  Have you ever thought of God as valuing something?  God assigning worth to an idea, trait or way of life?  What does God think is important?  What has great worth to God?  One of the answers is wisdom.  Last week, in a dream sequence, Solomon gets to ask God for one thing, and he asks for wisdom.  This week, we see the dream come true.  God is faithful to his promise to Solomon.  God gives to Solomon a breadth of understanding of a wide variety of topics:  the Cedars of Lebanon and the hyssop that would grow in the cracks of the wall, the animals and the birds, the reptiles and the fish.  Solomon was given proverbs, that is, wise sayings and over a 1000 songs.  People from all over the world would come and hear Solomon.  Kings would send their subjects to go and listen to Solomon.  It sounds like all the makings of a prototype of a university, with the King lecturing on the world and how it functioned.  Solomon was more wise than those of the East, than the great Egyptian empire, than Ethan the Ezrahite, Heman, Calco and Darda the sons of Mahol.  Individuals that time has distanced us from knowing.  Solomon’s wisdom was famous throughout the earth. 

Solomon serves to remind us that if we are willing to lose ourselves, we just might find our self.  If we are willing to look at what God values, we might find life.  If we are to see what is important to God, we might start to understand who we are.  I learn who I am when I see who Jesus is.  Who am I, we ask with a similar complexity that Bonhoeffer wrote:  We belong to God.

And because in Christ we can see the past and the future, and because we belong to God today, we are called to be faithful.   On November 3rd, we are not going to worship God in this sanctuary.  There are several opportunities to worship God outside these walls with fellow brothers and sisters from this congregation, and 8 other NJ congregations.  It is an experience called:  the Church Has Left the Building.   Some projects are listed in the Narthex.  I am asking you to sign up for one that interests you, to participate that day, and to experience what God has for you.  There are many Scriptures that invite God’s people to proclaim good news to the world.  We want to take one Sunday a year to learn that for ourselves. 

The Queen of Sheba went to Solomon.  She was in search of wisdom, and she heard that Solomon was the wisest. She traveled from the ends of the earth to make her way to his teaching.  This idea makes sense to us:  go to the best.  Jesus declared this about himself:  Now one greater than Solomon is here.  We know the One whom we have believed.  We have seen the Lord in our past, and we see him in our future.  Today we are faithful to the Lord.

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