Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 19, Year B
September 16, 2018
Lessons: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 116:1-9; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people proclaim Jesus as Lord, and then do their best to live into this confession. It is both an act of faith and an act of stewardship of God’s amazing gifts and grace.
Key Scripture: He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? — Mark 8:34-36
“Anyone who knows Jesus knows that He’s everything. If you’ve got Him, you’ve got everything. If you don’t have Him, you don’t have anything. I know what it’s like to wake up before day and sense His presence [In the morning when I rise]. I think of the many times when ‘dark midnight was my cry, just before the break of day. Oh, give me Jesus!” — Louvenia “Mom” Painter
This week’s gospel invites us to be serious about how we identify Jesus. When Jesus asks his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter is quick to reply, “the Messiah.” Well, evidently he doesn’t really get it because just three verses later, Peter is rebuking him in response to his teaching. I can almost imagine Jesus saying “What part of Messiah do you not understand, Peter?”
Jesus chooses instead to be more forceful and clear with him, saying “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Ouch! That’s a verbal slap if there ever was one.
We know how the story goes. Peter wants to follow Jesus, but his humanness gets in the way. In the end, he turns out to be a pillar of faith, but it wasn’t an easy path.
What about us? Who do you say that Jesus is? Do you claim him as the messiah, as the savior of the world—and of you? If so, just what does that mean today? How does one take up a cross, deny oneself, and follow Jesus? What does it mean to lose your life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel to gain it?
There are not too many places in the world today where being a Christian can cost you your life; in fact, you can probably count them on your fingers. In much of the Western world, being a Christian will get no response or perhaps an outright laugh. Most Christians are ill-equipped to be evangelists and to make their own confession of faith, choosing instead to “toe the company line” (i.e. whatever black and white answers they’ve been carefully taught) or to keep silent and change the subject because they feel totally inadequate to the task of sharing their faith.
What Jesus is implying here, folks, is not simply forgetting your Monday through Saturday life for a few hours on Sunday. Instead, he’s talking about a total obliteration of the status quo in order to share the amazing good news of Jesus, the life-changing and mind-blowing gospel, the story of the Messiah who is already at work tearing down the false structures of power and greed in order to restore the reign of God. And you, all of us, are invited to lay down anything that gets between us and Jesus, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.
What might this look like? It looks like how Jesus does ministry. It’s welcoming the stranger, seeing the face of Christ in our neighbors, working for justice and peace, considering our consumption and choosing less, sharing our resources as we are able, getting out of our buildings and living our faith through our daily vocations and every single choice and decision we make.
Nobody said it was easy. Our work is to fully entrust all that we have, all that we are, all that we say and do to Jesus. We are to live IN Christ. And when we do, when we really and fully do, others will know we belong to Jesus, and we’ll be able to tell others who our Savior really is.
Consider singing “Give Me Jesus” today. This African American spiritual has no known author or composer and gets its roots and meaning from the trials and suffering of slaves. For more information about this hymn and genre of the African American Spiritual, read this article from the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.
This might also be a good Sunday to invite a testimony or two by asking people “Who do you say Jesus is?” You may want to “prime the pump” with one or more volunteers.
In this week’s gospel lesson, Peter gets in trouble by using his words to try and set Jesus straight. Instead, Jesus sets Peter straight and offers us all a good lesson. Peter’s issue was an untamed tongue; it certainly got the best of him in this situation—as it did at other times.
We, too, suffer from unruly tongues. Invite the youth to discuss how their tongues can get them and their peers into trouble. Do they see examples in the media of others with untamed tongues? What about on social media?
Invite the youth to consider solutions to this ancient problem. How can we today do a better job of “managing” our tongues in a complex and contentious world?
This week’s focus verses are “…but no one can tame the tongue–a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.” James 3:8-9
Ask the children if they have ever trained a pet. If you have someone who trains horses or works with therapy animals, ask them to share what it is like to train an animal to do therapy. Ask the children (and the congregation) if they know any experts in “tongue training.” James talks about how impossible it is to train our tongues: One minute we are praising God and blessing the Lord, and the next minute we are cursing someone who is made in God’s image or gossiping about one of our fellow children of God.
If James says we cannot train the tongue to behave, what are we to do? We pray frequently, we worship regularly, we focus our minds and hearts on Jesus and on his teachings, and we serve others in Jesus’ name. Most of all, we ask Jesus to help us. We will mess up. We will hurt others, but by constantly seeking Jesus’ help, we will find ourselves more and more like him and able to follow him and his example.
Finish with a simple prayer for tongues that behave. Remind the children that God loves them just as they are!
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
How are you stewarding your confession of faith? Is Jesus truly your all in all, your Savior? Are you able to share your faith with others? Consider what makes this difficult and how you might practice and gain confidence in sharing this amazing good news.
Stewardship at Home
In the Christian Church we confess the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed. Some Christians also confess the Athanasian Creed. These creeds remind us of what we believe, and they are really helpful as long as we focus on the words and don’t reduce them to rote recitation.
This week consider writing your own “credo” (Latin for creed, or literally “I believe”). What do you believe about Jesus, about the church, and about your discipleship walk? See if you can put it into words. For a wonderful example, check out William Sloane Coffin’s book entitled Credo. This short book contains quotes gleaned from Coffin’s sermons and other writings. Here’s a review of the book. Here’s a non-spiritual guide to writing a credo. You may find some helpful hints here, too.
Here’s a look back at our 2015 Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2015/09/a-case-of-teachers-tongue/
And here’s the 2012 Lectionary Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2012/09/the-gratitude-attitude/
Photos: Robert Douglas, S Reachers, and cross_road, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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