9/12/21, Church of the Holy Spirit, Rev. Ann Saunderson 

Pentecost 19–Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 116:1-8, James 3:1-12, Mark 8:27-38 

There are things that the old man has to do before his last day comes, the loose ends of a whole long life to gather together and somehow tie up. And one of these in particular will not let him sleep until he has done it: to call his eldest son to him and give him his blessing, but not a blessing in our sense of the word—a pious formality, a vague expression of good will that we might use when someone is going on a journey and we say, “God bless you.” For the old man, a blessing is the speaking of a word of great power; it is the conveying of something of the very energy and vitality of his soul to the one he blesses; and this final blessing of his firstborn son is to be the most powerful of all, so much so that once it is given it can never be taken back. And here even for us something of this remains true: we also know that words spoken in deep love or deep hate set things in motion within the human heart that can never be reversed.   (from Frederick Buechner)

From Isaiah we heard, The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.  And from James Epistle, Not many of you should become teachers…for you know we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  Our use of words, speech, and listening all hit home for us today.   For the old man in the story it will be a relief to speak the words he needs to say to his son.  For the words spoken with heart, sincerity and love touch us and remain with us.  There are many seasons in our life, and many opportunities to speak with grace or thoughtless haste.   We know the welcome greetings we offer visitors or the person we do not know are so important.  Add in the dimension of authority, power the impact of our words gains depth and complexity.

How many of us have been ‘shut down’ by a word, and even more powerful a glance or an eye roll.  Our non-verbal’s can communicate more than words.  And as we pray for the huge fires burning in the West, the image James gives us is apt.  How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire. 

At the office, in the family, in the classroom and in church we deepen our relationships and understanding when we can listen to feedback regarding our tongue, and how our words are received.   Those in our circles can reflect what helps and what hinders.  That vulnerability to listen and to reflect in the long run can deepen trust and assist us as we communicate.  Our sense of belonging deepens as trust grows.   It is not enough to assume that what I needed when I was new to the job, church, classroom is what another needs.  Asking is the best pathway to understanding what that child, adult, or elder is seeking.

The old man surely must have had many experiences to raise these last words to his son to this level of importance.  His yearning becomes prayer, and with God’s help his son will hear what his father has to say.

As I read and reread the Gospel passage from Mark chapter 8 the image of parents sending their child off to college emerged, or the homeowner selling a beloved home and wanting the buyer to know all the minute details…the writer/poet taking months to craft a key passage.  I also found the words of Jesus to be harsh, difficult and tense.   A host of messages emerges from these 12 verses today.  Walter Brueggemann’s book Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, contains 8 prayer/poems which speak to this section of Mark.  Here is one titled

The God we would rather have

We are your people and mostly we don’t mind,

Except that you do not fit any of our categories.

We keep pushing

and pulling

and twisting

and turning,

trying to make you fit the God we would rather have,

and every time we distort you that way

we end up with an idol more congenial to us.

In our more honest moments of grief and pain

we are very glad that you are who you are,

and that you are toward us in all your freedom

what you have been toward us all along.

So be your faithful self

and by your very engagement in the suffering of the world,

transform the world even as you are being changed.

We pray in the name of Jesus,

who is the sign of your suffering love. Amen.

Some have called this passage from Mark scandalous because it offers such a startling and inexplicable claim that this person Jesus of Nazareth is both a real human being and God incarnate. Jesus is also very direct with Peter and with us today.    If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  This coming Tuesday is Holy Cross Day.  Appropriate as Jesus is aware that his cross is becoming more real, even amidst the clamoring crowds, healings, and acclaim.  And his disciples are befuddled giving diverse answers to the question Who do you say I am?  The tensions around meaning, identity, purpose were as real for Jesus and his disciples as they are today.

Words from, Theresa of Avila, express the call Jesus hoped his followers would embody.   Teresa lived in the 1500’s, a Spanish noblewoman, called to convent life.  She became a Carmelite, was a mystic, religious reformer, author, theologian and earned the rare distinction of being declared a Doctor of the Church, four centuries after her death.  One papal legate described Teresa as a restless wanderer, disobedient, and stubborn femina.  She and many in the world continue to remind us of our true calling as we follow Christ, offering words of healing, comfort and at times prophetic.  We pray for the wisdom and freedom to follow Jesus amidst the complex, arenas of conflict in our world.  We also seek to be healers, peacemakers and wise in our use of words.

          Christ has no body now but yours.   No hands, no feet on earth but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world.  Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.  Yours are the hands though which he blesses all the world.  Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.  Christ has no body now on earth but yours”  Teresa of Avila


Rev. Ann M. Saunderson