Church of the Holy Spirit, Rev. Ann Saunderson

Jeremiah 11:18-20, Psalm 54, James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a, Mark 9:30-37

            Good and Holy God join with us in the wonder of this new day.  There

is a brightness created in community, an opportunity for illumination.

May we each come alive in the word and worship, inviting new vision for our

lives and community.  Amen

Jeremiah, James and Jesus are our teachers this morning.  Our work is to find the holiness of these lessons from scripture and the holiness of our lives in the here and now.  Each of these biblical teachers offers a strong prophetic voice.   Walter Brueggemann states, “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the that of the dominant culture around us.”

We all have our work cut out for us as we discern who the modern prophets are that deserve our support and attention.   Frederick Buechner, offers witty edged modern day midrash that I find helpful in unpacking the messages in our readings.

  • Prophet means spokesperson, not fortune-teller. The one whom in their unfathomable audacity the prophets claimed to speak for was the Lord and Creator of the universe.  There is no evidence to suggest that anyone ever asked a prophet home for supper more than once.
  • The prophets were drunk on God, and in the presence of their terrible tipsiness no one was ever comfortable. With a total lack of tact they roared out against phoniness and corruption wherever they found them.  They were the terror of kings and priests.
  • Like Robert Frost’s, a prophet’s quarrel with the world is deep-down a lover’s quarrel. If they didn’t love the world, they probably wouldn’t bother to tell it that it’s going to hell.  They’d just let it go.  Their quarrel is God’s quarrel.

Jeremiah embodies being a truth teller, while also identifying the struggles people were facing.  He penetrates the numbness of the royal establishment by articulating this grief those in power ignored.  “And the Lord said to me:  Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem”.  Jeremiah forecast the Babylonian captivity and the people cast him in jail.  The prophet stands between God and the people and often that is a very dangerous position.

James the brother of Jesus, leader of the early church in Jerusalem, encouraged the small Christian churches to bear witness and follow God’s guidance as they struggle to take shape.  James offers pastoral and prophetic teaching.  The omissions from today’s reading rob James of his prophetic edge.  If the lectionary had allowed him to cry, “Adulterers!” then we might have cause to remember Ezekiel or Hosea.  If we’d read, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners” or the verses that address murderous cravings, and quarrel producing covetousness, the Epistle would probably have sparked our attention more.  James was addressing church conflicts and wanted to draw listeners back to God’s wisdom and the path Jesus offered.  James said, “Who is wise and understanding among you?  Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.  But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”  James brought consultative observations and exhortation for the new churches…just as Paul did in his epistles.  Both preached peace, compassionate care within the community.  James leads right into Mark’s Gospel.  And perhaps our church quarrels as well.

Jesus prophetic voice is strong, his decisive solidarity with marginalized people and the accompanying vulnerability required by that solidarity is touching.  His readiness to forgive, to heal even if it bend’s the status quo about the Sabbath, table fellowship with ‘outcasts’ and public inclusion of women in his circle.   Today’s lesson includes the second of three passion announcements.  “The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”  These passion announcements of Jesus are the decisive dismissal of every self-serving form of power. in his day.  Jesus flips conventional wisdom about what constitutes true greatness.  Prophetic criticism aims to create an alternative consciousness for the possibility of enabling new human beginnings to take place.

          There is a story of a conductor who, while directing a large group of percussionists, raised his arms and signaled a huge corps of timpanists to sound their instruments.  The din lasted a moment, then he raised his hands again and waved them to silence.  Addressing the percussionists, he reminded them of a principle they had obviously overlooked.  “The music,” he said, “is in the drum, not in the mallet.  One does not beat the music into the drum; one coaxes the music out of the drum.”  Then taking a mallet, he struck the drum and gently let the mallet rise off the skin, as if the mallet were pulling sound from the kettle.  The resulting sound was musical, full and resonant.

There is always a tension for the prophet, to be sensitive regarding the message or to use the mallet.  As Christians, we bear the cross that Jesus bore within, the daily embrace of all that it means to be human and to have the fullness of life coaxed out as witness for all.   For life was not imposed upon Jesus, life was not beaten into Jesus, nor is life beaten into us.  The life is in Him and He is in us, even as the music is in the drum.

Mother Teresa said, “If you don’t remember anything else, remember Jesus’ words, ‘Whenever you did it to the least of my little ones you did it unto me.’  Each night before you go to bed look at your hand and, on your fingers, see the words, “You did it for me…You did it to me…You did it with me’.  Then ask yourself, “What did I do for Jesus today?  What did I do to Jesus today? And What did I do with Jesus today?

Our three ‘teachers’offer wisdom for us today.  Pick your biggest arena of concern in the world, culture, politics, Vashon or _________.  The essential question for the church is whether or not its prophetic voice has been co-opted into the culture of the day.  The community of God’s people who are striving to remain faithful to the whole counsel of God’s Word can be prophetic voices striving for Justice, Mercy, Forgiveness, Equity, Healing and Peace.  This holy work has already begun at Church of the Holy Spirit.


This prayer is from Brian McLaren


Source of all truth, help me to hunger for truth, even if it upsets modifies or overturns what I already think is true.

Guide me into all the truth I can bear.

And stretch me to bear even more, so that I may always choose the whole truth even with disruption over half-truths with self-deception.

Grant me passions to follow wisdom, wherever it leads.   AMEN