Proverbs 1:20-33; Psalm 19; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
September 16, 2018 –Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
Our scriptures today are a reflection on the value of reflection…the power that we can bring to a problem simply by considering it, identifying all the alternatives we have, and picking the very best one.
If you give yourself time to look at a situation, you let more memories come into play and you see more problems or possibilities…or both…in the future given each choice you can make.
In the Gospel reading, the impulsiveness of Peter is rebuked by the deep understanding of Christ. In Proverbs, Wisdom calls out the scoffers and tells them that they will pay for their presumption. James points out that you can’t unsay something foolish and you can’t undo a mistake.
We have become push-button people in a pain-killer culture. We shouldn’t have to think about it. It doesn’t have to hurt that much. We are entitled to instant results, instant answers and instant gratification. But…our senses can mislead us.
The bright colors in the ad draw our attention and then the talk begins at 50 words per minute. Those who want to sell us something don’t want us to wonder. They want us to buy.
This will take away your sadness. This will take away your pain. Don’t worry. Be happy. Pay here.
A friend of mine and I were talking over lunch in Billings one day. He had been a scout in the Pacific Theater during World War II. But he surprised me when he told me why.
He was colorblind. He had a vision defect. So why did that not disqualify him from being a scout where he has to see what there is to see…or die…and take a few…maybe quite a few…people with him.
It was simple, he said. People who can see color do not have to see the pattern of light and shadow to recognize what they are looking at. Colorblind people do.
When you come to a traffic light, for instance, is it the red light that is on top or the green light? I can never remember…because I don’t have to. Colorblind people can tell you that…because they do have to.
In a combat setting this meant, he told me, that he could see through camouflage. You and I would see that everything in a particular area was all the same color and we would move on.
My friend Ted had to get other information to figure it out and he would see leaves where there shouldn’t be leaves, or he would not see them where they should be, and he would know something was wrong.
How well did that work for Ted? Well, there we were, having lunch and he was talking about it 50 years later.
I remember sitting there for a moment, wondering if Ted was the one who couldn’t see things or whether I was the one who was missing something that was right there in front of both of us.
And I wondered what Ted was seeing…how much Ted was seeing…that I was not.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus is the colorblind man and everyone else is enjoying the color. They have seen him cure the sick, give sight to the blind, and make the lame walk.
It is a rosy picture, and they are waiting for the day…which will surely come any minute now… when he will overthrow the Romans with a word or a gesture or a great burst of justice coming down from heaven itself…and the throne of David will be restored on earth as it is in heaven.
But that is pocket change to Jesus. He has come for something far greater. Earthly power is fleeting, and he wants to give them something that is far more durable, far more wonderful and far more loving.
The kingdom of God is among you. Look! See more than the color. See more than pleasure. See more than a mortal triumph over the forces of nature that will one day consume you.
God loves you more than that. It is not about the days you will spend in the sunshine. It is about where you came from and where you are going and what it all means…in your village…in your nation…in the world…and in the world.
On June 10, 1963, President Kennedy gave the commencement address at American University. The Cuban Missile Crisis was still fresh in everyone’s mind. We were all stocking our basements with drinking water and canned goods so we would be able to survive the fallout of a nuclear exchange.
In the heart of the speech he said, “I have… chosen this time and this place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth is too rarely perceived—yet it is the most important topic on earth: world peace.
“I speak of peace because of the new face of war.
“Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable—that mankind is doomed—that we are gripped by forces we cannot control.
“We need not accept that view. Our problems are man made—therefore, they can be solved by man.
“Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process—a way of solving problems.”
Don’t look for the color in your vision of world around you. Look at the patterns in your vision, the relationship of light and shadow, truth and fiction, hope and despair.
Do not gamble your hope on things that are fleeing even as you get your first glimpse at them.
This morning, Jesus tries to get the disciples to see what is right there, staring them in the face, but they are fixated on loaves and fishes and cannot see the love and kisses – of peace, true peace – that is his offering to the world…God’s offering to us all.
Peter takes him aside like some White House staffer and tells him he is going off message. We must get back to what makes people happy, makes them feel powerful, makes Israel great again.
But Jesus replies to Peter’s rebuke with a rebuke. Get behind me, Satan! If we stop and look at where your line of thinking will end, it will end in a tomb sealed with a great stone.
That is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that death is inevitable—that mankind is doomed—that we are gripped by forces we cannot control.
Yes, I will die, but it will be a death that puts an end to death. There is more to life than who gets to be It in a game of Mother May I. What you can do now…what I can do now…is the story that people will tell about you…and themselves… to the last day.
There is a better story. One that brings joy, not just pleasure. One that brings hope, not just excitement.One that deepens our faith…and our lives…and the love of humankind.
James tells us this morning that the tongue is an evil power that dirties the rest of the body and sets a person’s entire life on fire with flames that come from hell itself.
But the tongue can be harnessed but the truth. A lie repeated over and over does not become the truth. It becomes a false lead, a false hope, an empty promise…full of sound and fury…signifying nothing …and nothingness.
The truth spoken once to a trusted friend, on the other hand, can change hearts from the self to the community…from what we want the world to be like to all that we might be able to do, one random act of kindness at a time…if we are ready to die unto ourselves and be born again in the love of God for all of us.
Kennedy's speech was made available, in its entirety, in the Soviet press so that the people in the Soviet Union could read it without hindrance. The speech could be heard in the Soviet Union without censorship because jamming measures against the western broadcast agencies such as Voice of America didn't take place upon rebroadcast of Kennedy's speech.
Khrushchev was so deeply moved and impressed by Kennedy's speech, telling Undersecretary of State Averell Harriman that it was "the greatest speech by any American President since Roosevelt."
Less than two months after the Kennedy's speech the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was completed. Less than six months after that, as I still recall very vividly, Chet Huntley told everyone watching, “Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States is dead.”
Less than a month after his Great Fast had stopped the violence all over India and Pakistan between Muslim and Hindu, he was shot and killed, not by a Muslim but by a Hindu.
Less than a month after Jesus rebuked Peter, he was put to death, more by the cries of his own people – “Crucify him! Crucify him!” – than by the Roman proconsul who became humble enough – or arrogant enough – to ask him, “What is truth?”
To those who would ask us to believe that the power of a word depends on how much we want to believe it…To those who would ask us to see the beauty of a day in the brightness of its color…
May we reply, “Satan, get away from me!” For life is meaning, not only for ourselves, but also for our loved ones…and for those who first loved us.
May our hopes see the good without counting the cost in pain and sacrifice we might feel as we pursue them. Let us not sneer or laugh at knowledge…but rejoice that we have been given the truth that life is everlasting.
May our tongues not start the fire that consumes the world with anger and pain. May they start the fire that that helps us to see what has been there all along in the darkness so that we will not stumble and fall, but overcome it.
Get behind me, Satan! What is it, O Lord, that you want to do in the world through me this day? Amen.