St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Pentecost 17 2012 Sermon
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Corby Varness

Today’s readings are full of advice.  Did you notice that?  I believe that if we take all of this advice and live by these words we will be wise and good and God will love us even more.  So, we’d better pay attention, huh?   The first reading teaches us how to be super women.  James gives us good advice on living our lives based on wisdom from above and Jesus, in the Gospel - well, Jesus just cuts to the heart of the matter and clears everything up.   I’m glad of that because I found myself overwhelmed by all of this advice.  The advice in these readings goes from impossibly hard to maybe something you and I can achieve.
 
We come to church to learn how to live, right?  So let’s take these readings apart bit by bit and see if we can absorb some of this wisdom. 
 
The reading from Proverbs asks: “A capable wife who can find”?  Indeed, who can find a wife like this?  Apparently some women read this and try to model their lives after this paragon of virtue.  I can’t imagine every being half the woman described to us in this passage.  She works all the days of her life, she doesn’t sleep much as she is providing food for her household and tasks for her servant girls.  She buys a field and plants a vineyard with her own strong arms.  She helps the poor and the needy, she keeps everyone in warm clothes, she makes linen garments and sells them.  While doing all of this, she laughs and she is wise and she doesn’t worry.  Meanwhile, her lazy husband sits at the city gates and visits with his friends.
 
This is the last teaching in the book of Proverbs and it is meant to wrap up all of the teachings in that book.  This impossibly perfect wife is not meant to be a real person but is the personification of wisdom, wisdom for all of us, men and women.  Don’t you think we should all work hard, take care of our families and help the poor and needy?  The advice that speaks the most to me is that we should try to do all of these wise things while laughing and not worrying about the future.  I need to work on that!
 
In our next reading James asks, “Who is wise and understanding among you?”  James shows us the path to wisdom: Live well, live wisely, live humbly.  How you live is what counts, not what you say.  Don’t be mean, don’t boast, don’t lie.  Those aren’t wise.  Wise people work to get along with others.  Wise people are gentle and overflowing with forgiveness and blessings.  Wise people are not like spoiled children, always wanting to be first.
 
James tells us to let God into our lives.  Say no to evil and say yes to God and God will be with you.  Call out to God.  Get on your knees before God.  It is the only way you’ll get on your feet.
 
There is a wise Jewish proverb that says that people need to bend down low to hear what God says.  Practice the humility of kneeling.  Get on your knees before God and you will hear God.  Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.
 
See?  This is a lot of advice, isn’t it?  Is it clear as mud yet?  Well, thankfully, Jesus distills the whole message for us.  Listen to how clear he makes everything for his disciples. 
 
Jesus is getting serious here.  He is telling his friends once again that his end is near.  How frightening it must be for them to hear that this man they worship is going away.  Do they act frightened?  Well, not so much.  They actually begin to argue about who amongst them is most important.  Who is the greatest?
 
This reminds me so much of Jeff’s friends as they walk toward the car in a bunch.  There is ALWAYS a mad dash to call ‘shotgun’ and try to nab the front seat.  Teenage boys, disciples ... all the same.
 
So those disciples are calling ‘shotgun’ after they hear that Jesus is going to die.  They want to sit in the front seat.  They want to be most important.  Ay.  Jesus just sighs and sits down with them in the house.   “OK, listen.  Here is how it works: whoever calls shotgun has to sit in the backseat.  No, that isn’t what he said but it is almost the same thing.  He said, “So you want first place?  Then take the last place.  Be the servant of all.”
 
Then to make his point perfectly clear he took a little child, the least important person in the whole world to these disciples.  Jesus takes the child in his arms and says, “Do you see?  Even this child is more important than you.  If you embrace this child, then you embrace me. When you embrace me, you embrace God who sent me.”
 
Our culture teaches the exact opposite of this lesson.  We don’t honor servants or little children.  We are honor the smartest, the strongest, the prettiest, the most popular.  One doesn’t hear many accolades for the one who chooses to stay in the background so that others may shine.   We cheer for the guy making the touchdown, not the blockers who opened a path for him!  I’m glad my son is a lineman so he can learn this servant lesson Jesus teaches!
 
But Jeff, let your friends sit in the front seat and you get in the back.  Maybe the rest of us can practice letting people go ahead of us at the post office or in the grocery line.  Let us each just do our best at living out the wisdom of today’s teachings.   Help the poor and the needy and do it with a smile.  Get down on your knees before God and God will draw near to you.  If you want first place, take the last place.  Be the servant of all.  Amen.



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