This is the message that I gave on the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, 24 September 2000, at Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY. The Scriptures for that Sunday were Proverbs 31: 10 – 31; James 3: 13 – 4: 3, 7 – 8; and Mark 9: 30 – 37.
Once, some years ago, one of my cousins came to hear me preach. As I had just begun my lay speaking career and he lived not too far from me, he was interested in seeing and hearing what I might do in the pulpit. Now, you need to know that my cousins Paul and his two brothers, Karl and Deane are ministers in the Lutheran Church (Paul being Evangelical Lutheran, Karl being a member of the Canadian Lutheran Church, and Deane being a member of the Missouri Synod). In fact, I found out that I am the fourteenth minister in the Schüessler family, a heritage that goes back to Martin Luther and Germany in the 16th century. But I should point out that I made the decision to follow the path that Christ put before me long before I ever became aware of what my heritage was.
After the service was over, Paul and I discussed a variety of things pertaining to preaching and family matters. Paul mentioned that the length of my sermons was appropriate but I had to be careful about saying that Jesus was a revolutionary.
I suppose that in my experience and because of what Jesus means to me, I saw much of what Jesus did in his ministry to be of a revolutionary nature. I have to chuckle now because Paul has come around to my point of view, when at the last family reunion, he used the same terminology to talk about Jesus’ work.
By putting a child on his lap, Jesus challenged the very assumptions that society was based upon. Children were not given much status in society and when Jesus said, “Let the children come to me,” he was letting people know that just as important as the rest of His disciples. The same can be said for women and the other members of society who were seen as lower in status.
The reading from the Old Testament also challenges assumptions about position in society. In Proverbs 31: 16 we read
“She considers a field and buys it;
From her profits she plants a vineyard.
These are extraordinary words to read in the Old Testament. The women we are reading about used her own means to buy and sell things; tasks normally prohibited to women in that time and place. She worked independently at a time when women could not leave the house.
This passage speaks of viewing a woman in terms of action, not place; to judge her, not by who she is but by what she has and will do. And what she has done will have blessings on her husband and her children as well. Her husband’s reputation comes as much from his wife’s reputation as it does from his (and woe, if he should ever forget that).
Jesus saw everyone in equal terms, not in terms defined by societal position or economic status. He knew that to judge others in this was a waste of time and energy. Countless times he stated that his mission was not about judgement but about helping. He did not spend one minute on the demolition crew, that is, tearing down people. He spent his energy on creation and restoration. Judging others was not his job.
He said, “I did not judge you. Your own words judge you.” (John 5: 45) He knew our accountability. He trusted each of us with our choices.
Judgement halts progress. When we judge others, we inhibit our own forward motion. Also, when we judge others, we are not doing our job because we are not in sync with the energy that moves us forward. Sometimes we judge others in ways that we are unaware of, such as looking to see where they are in the race. If you watch the track events in the Olympics, watch what happens when a runner starts looking over his or her shoulder to see where the competitors are. More times than not, the runner looses the place they were in because they were concentrating not on winning but on not losing.
Jesus said to Peter, “What business is it of yours what I say to John?” (John 21: 21 – 22) In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus points out that being great in God’s kingdom does not necessarily come from the manner in which power comes to those on earth, that to serve God may sometimes mean being a servant of the people.
Jesus judged no one because He knew that the final count wasn’t in yet. Even the thief nailed on the cross next to Him made it into Paradise because, with his dying breath, he acknowledged and saw the truth. Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23: 43)
Jesus changed the order of things. To some extent that was what James is writing about. Wisdom is meaningless if envy or jealousy or desire for worldly goods drives it. Only when the actions that one make speak of the wisdom one has can it be said that wisdom is good. But that has to come from Christ and the presence of Christ in one’s life.
Last week, I spoke of having a secondhand and a firsthand religion. A secondhand religion is one that you study about; one where following the rules is more important than understanding what the rule was about and why it was created in the first place. A firsthand religion is one where understanding the rules that we live by is of utmost, even if that means breaking a law made by man. At the conclusion of the story of Job, after Job has experienced a dramatic self-disclosure of God, Job exclaims:
I had heard of thee by hearing of the ear, but now my eye beholds thee. (Job 42: 5)
Jesus makes it possible for us to have the same understanding, to have the same experience. By changing the order of things, by making it possible to have a personal relationship with God through His Son, our lives have become better.