Here are my thoughts for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost. The Scriptures are Proverbs 1: 20 – 33, James 3: 1 – 12, and Mark 8: 27 – 38.
Every time that I read the Gospel passage for today (or its corollary passages in Matthew and Luke) I think of the first few football games that I officiated with my father and brothers (many of the officials who worked with my brothers and my father were not aware that I was the oldest son and so my presence was often greeted by “you mean, there’s another one!).
But I also recall what Jesus said to John the Baptizer’s disciples when they asked him if He was the One or should they wait for someone else to come.
“Go back and tell John what’s going on: The blind see, the lame walk, Lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side.
“Is this what you were expecting? Then count yourselves most blessed!” (Matthew 11: 4 – 6)
Even today people are not going to believe unless they see the evidence before them that Jesus is alive and well. It does not matter what you say if your actions belie your words. And Jesus would later say,
“If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”
Surprised, they said, “But we’re descendants of Abraham. We’ve never been slaves to anyone. How can you say, ‘The truth will free you’?”
Jesus said, “I tell you most solemnly that anyone who chooses a life of sin is trapped in a dead-end life and is, in fact, a slave. A slave is a transient, who can’t come and go at will. The Son, though, has an established position, the run of the house. So if the Son sets you free, you are free through and through. I know you are Abraham’s descendants. But I also know that you are trying to kill me because my message hasn’t yet penetrated your thick skulls. I’m talking about things I have seen while keeping company with the Father, and you just go on doing what you have heard from your father.” (John 8: 31 – 34)
Mankind from its very creation has sought the truth and they have tried to make the truth very simple. But the truth can be very complex and very difficult to comprehend, especially if you put away the skills and tools that allow you to think “beyond the limits of the box.”
To me, this is the essence of what Jesus was saying to those who could not understand that He would set them free. They saw themselves as free men, descendants of Abraham who had never been slaves. The concept of freedom that Jesus spoke of (freedom from sin) was an enigma to them for they saw freedom in an adherence to the law. But as Paul would later write, such an adherence was as much slavery as anything else.
And when Peter rebuked Jesus for telling the disciples of his coming crucifixion and death, Jesus pointed out that Peter, even with his proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah, was still thinking inside the box. It would take Peter a long time; in fact, it would take all the disciples a long time before they would understand the truth that was behind the message.
We have the advantage though. We know the truth of the Message. But we still don’t think “outside the box” when it comes to living the Message. We ignore the cries of wisdom, as proclaimed in the Book of Proverbs. We see the evidence and we turn away from it. We argue for a very simple existence and we are blind to what that simplicity brings. We fix our mind on a code that is inflexible and we hold to it, no matter what the contradictions say. We proclaim a belief in the Word of God but we merely hold onto the words of God, not the Spirit.
We have no answer when someone points out that the Bible, the very words of God, allow us to sell our recalcitrant children when they disobey us. We have no answer when it points out that slavery is allowed in the Bible. We have no answer when our children leave the church the first chance they get because they cannot deal with the hypocrisy and back-biting that takes place in the church. We have no answer when we see people proclaim their allegiance to Christ as Lord but only after proclaiming their allegiance to their country first. We have no answer when we hear that violence, death, and destruction throughout the world are necessary if Christ is to come again in this world.
What do we say when others say that God sends hurricanes or tornados to ravage the land and kill innocent people because there were sinners living there. What are we to say when others say that it was God’s will when children die in senseless acts of violence.
We may have the knowledge but we lack the wisdom. We hear the term “fear of the Lord” and we place in the context of an emotion. But this phrase is more a statement of knowing God, of having God in our heart, of living what the words mean, of living the Spirit of the law.
One of the books that I have used in developing my understanding of God was Letters of a C. O. in Prison (Timothy Zimmer, The Judson Press, Valley Forge, 1969).
We say, many of us, that such and such a condition is evil, that such and such a goal is good; this is the spirit which binds us, not in commitment, but in the possibility of commitment. For it is what comes after the good and evil have been defined and agreed upon that determines the grain of activism. Do we practice what we preach? Or, do we, advocating peace, resort to violence in our advocacy? And advocating freedom, refuse to face the real threat to our security which freedom brings? And advocating love, hate the haters more than they hate us? . . . If we preach love and freedom and peace, we must first love, be free, be peaceful — or better yet not preach at all but let love and peace and freedom speak for themselves in our actions. (Pages 36 – 37)
Zimmer’s words echo the words that James wrote some two thousand years ago. You have to be careful what you say and you have to do what you say.
It was the point that Christ made in the second part of the Gospel reading for today; it is the one thing that I think too many people do not understand. They are willing to say that they know the words of God but their very actions, their very thoughts, their very deeds belie what they say.
We lack the wisdom because we are not willing to take that second step in our lives, the step to commit to Christ. We are unwilling to put everything aside and walk with Christ, for we know where that walk could take us and we do not want to go there. We fear the walk while proclaiming our love for Christ.
Seek the truth and the truth will set you free. Such an easy sentence to say and it somehow just melodically rolls off the tongue when you say it. But the word seek is an active word; you cannot seek the truth by standing on the sidelines of life and merely pronouncing that you believe. You cannot say the words of God are true unless they are in your heart as well as your mind. You cannot proclaim Jesus as the Messiah and then not walk with Him.
I have made two commitments to seek the truth in my life. One of those commitments was to seek the truth found through reason and wisdom, the other through faith. You cannot, I believe, live in world of reason without faith nor can you live in a world of faith without reason. When I earned my Bachelors degree in Chemistry in 1971, my Masters degree in Education, and my Doctorate in Science Education in 1990, it was to seek the truth about this world in which I live, the world of reason.
My life was committed to Christ through baptism on 24 December 1950 and I reaffirmed that commitment when I was confirmed as a member of the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church of Aurora, Colorado, in 1965. When I heard the call to become a lay speaker in the United Methodist church in 1990 and when I answered the call in 1991, I reaffirmed my commitment to seek the truth in the world of faith.
The challenge for each person today is to make the same commitment, to seek the truth in the world of reason through wisdom and knowledge and to seek the truth in the world of faith, to escape from the slavery to sin and death. The challenge today is to seek the truth so that the truth can set you free.