The Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 50: 5-9 (Third Song of the Servant: The Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?)
Psalm 116:1-9 (I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living)
James 2:14-18 (James explains further that faith without works is like a screen door on a submarine)
Mark 8:27-35 (Jesus to Peter: "Get behind me, Satan!")
Over the last few weeks I've written stuff here that is for the most part general in nature. If you got the impression that I was getting preachy, you're probably right. As a minister I am charged to do that.
Having said that, though, the best preachers (in my opinion) somehow manage to weave the fabric of their own life into their preaching, and make it a bit more personal. Probably a bit more real, too. To rely on a gimmick of sorts (my recent "Signs for Our Times" series), while well-intended, doesn't lend itself well to getting personal - and possibly misses an opportunity to be an example of "living" faith. I hope to correct that this time. It may not quite reach the standard set in the epistle of James, but it's substance. That is what counts.
Apart from the psalm, this week's selected readings ask many questions; this has inspired the "Pop Quiz" subject line. I'll try to answer a couple of these - just don't be surprized if the answers come in the form of more questions. And no, this isn't some gimmick-like attempt to tie-in with the Jeopardy! game show - although it might be interesting if Alex Trebek put forth the clues.
Isaiah asks Question #1: The Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?
That begs these questions - Is God my help? Do I see the hand of God extended to me through help and assistance from others?
This is tough right from the start. I can feel the sweat on my brow just thinking about it! While I could rationalize much of my sense of peace and security through deliberate thought and careful planning (yes, these are important), it's incomplete without recognizing God's major part in it. Some thoughts are but a snapshot. Plans often have to change on the fly. The two most consistent things about this life are human inconsistency (in which I do well) versus God's consistency (in which He excels). That a divine constant exists is what enables me to work through it all.
James puts forth several questions, best summed up as Question #2: Is your faith one that works? Do your actions echo your beliefs?
These guys don't make it easy, you know? I mean, sure; your actions echo your beliefs whether or not you profess them verbally. And if your faith works only for you, some further inner research may be in order. It seems to be an inevitable part of everyone's personal regime. When I try to be constant, I inevitably get too narrow a focus. That's worked great for a short time. Maybe I put too much emphasis on our human inconsistency. When I learn from my weaknesses, they can be overcome. But if I just sit there and stew over them, nothing good can come from it.
Jesus asks the big one, Question #3: Who do you say that I am?
Oh, this one is easy, right? Or is it?
Sure, as believers and disciples we can all answer just as blustery as did Peter: You are the Christ! The Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior and Redeemer of humankind! But is that answer from head knowledge, or from deep within the heart and spirit?
I can readily identify with Peter. Who else can say something so profound, and then in the next breath say something that irritates Jesus to the point of saying Shut the hell up!
You're reading him. I've done it - I've behaved like that many times in direct contact with people I love dearly; my family who looks up to me for leadership and support. The good news is I'm much better at spotting that behavior than I was earlier in my adult life. The bad news is that I realize it about a second and a half after those irritating things leave my mouth.
With all that, what sort of score should I expect to receive?
Thank God this isn't among the sort of quizzes I find all over Facebook and elsewhere in cyberspace. Optimistically, I hope for an A-, but practically, it's more like a C+. If I listen to the doomsayers and the fire & brimstone people, I could even be looking at a D- or even worse. Happily, God's justice is more balanced; and his mercy, love, and grace is priceless extra credit. God invites us to participate in much more, and that's the stuff that gives everyone the chance to shine.
That's why I'm going to let go of many less-significant issues and questions tonight. There will be no sounding off on the plight of the merry misfits with whom I keep company away from home; no harping on the seemingly endless jumping through hoops to merely get things done. Besides, my dear wife gets much more done in a day than me. She'd be the first to put me in my place if I bluffed my way through life.
If you aren't sure about where you are with God, you've likely scored higher than many who know answers. May that be a springboard for a life at peace from within, a peace only God can give.
Just don't let it go to your head.