September 16, 2012 “ 16 Pentecost, Proper 19 B
Isaiah 50:4-9a; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
When should I say something and when should I just keep my mouth shut? What should I say and how should I say it? There are people who just seem to think with their mouths and don’t worry about such questions but it seems that most good, faithful people, even though we make many mistakes with our tongues, worry about when to speak and what we should say. What should I tell my daughter whose relationship is falling apart? What should I tell my son who doesn’t know what he’s going to do? What should I tell my friend who has lost everything? What should I say to someone who seems to be making all the wrong decisions?
The prophet Isaiah shares with us that the Lord God has given him the tongue of a teacher and tries to make use of that gift to bring hope to a broken world. The psalmist uses his voice to cry out to the Lord who hears his prayer and brings healing. The reading from James warns us that our tongues can get us into tremendous trouble, reminding us that no one can fully tame that tiny little monster. Jesus asks his disciples what people are saying about him and asks, who do you say that I am?. Then, curiously enough, he tells them to keep their mouths shut until they understand more clearly what his being the messiah really means.
A friend of mine has a new prayer that most of us could use: Lord, keep your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth. While there have been times when my silence has allowed some trouble to continue, there have been many more times when my mouth has caused much more trouble than there was before I opened it. When should I speak? What should I say? And how should I say it? Of all our human dilemmas, this just may be the most regular one we face.
Jesus and the disciples are gathered in Caesarea Philippi in our gospel lesson. That’s a gentile region a good deal north of Jerusalem. Jesus has been traveling around the gentile region spreading the good news of salvation and a message of hope for all who want salvation. The kingdom of God is open to anyone who wants in, anyone who humbly acknowledges God’s abiding presence in the world. The doors of God’s kingdom are wide open.
This setting also provides a place of perspective for Jesus and his followers, a place where he begins to prepare them for what is to come. After hearing all this wide-open kingdom-talk, what lies ahead is going to be a huge shock. It is time for Jesus to head back to Jerusalem, back where the religious elite has a tight rein on the people’s understanding of God and how God works. It’s time for Jesus to begin the walk to the cross. The time of his passion draws near.
Jesus is the long awaited Messiah. He knows that and his ministry has led some others to begin to believe it. Things are amiss in the world as Jesus enters it. There is a great need for healing. People are blind, people are deaf, people are hungry “ physically and spiritually. The Romans have reasserted their authority, the Jewish establishment has forgotten its mission and is more interested in protecting the institution of the temple and ritual worship. Life is empty. When Jesus speaks of an adulterous and sinful generation, it goes deeper than sexual indiscretion and law breaking. Life is not right. There is a deep dissatisfaction with the covenant between God and his people. The people no longer understand that God is among them as redeemer. The people have wandered away. They have lost hope. There is no gratitude among them. What they have seems not nearly enough. They are impatient and empty. God’s voice seems absent in their lives. And they seem to have lost their voice as well. They offer the sacrifices but the sense of awe and wonder is gone. There is no humble following of God. The people are more interested in convincing those in other camps that their way is the only right way. There is too much talking, too little listening.
Jesus has already brought a new sense of hope to that world. The blind are receiving their sight, the deaf are being healed, those understood to be undeserving dogs have been shown they are children of God and heirs of the kingdom. People are following Jesus and are in awe and wonder. They have left their divided camps and have come together in a brand new way. There is a new hope, a new freedom, something that anyone who has been touched with the grace of Christ can appreciate. Their old way of seeing things, those old burdens they were carrying, all of that has been released.
Today, in Mark’s gospel, we get the first voiced expression of the recognition of Jesus as the Messiah. Peter verbalizes it. He and others have surely thought it before, wondered about it, hoped it was so. Now he says it out loud and saying something out loud has great power. It makes it even more real and more alive. You are the Messiah. It must have felt good to have said it. Yes, I believe. Yes, God is right here. Yes, all that the world needs will be provided. The wrongs and horrors of life will be taken care of. God has reached out to me and touched me. Here is the answer to all my questions.
That’s right, Jesus answers. But keep your mouth shut. Don’t say a word just yet. There will be time to say it to others, there will be time for you to talk, but for now you must listen and let the belief sink in. I am the Messiah. God is here among you. But God’s ways are not your ways. You must learn more of God’s ways before you speak. If you talk right now, you’ll say the wrong thing so wait until the time is right. Wait until you really know what the Messiah is all about. Listen for a while longer.
God himself has waited to speak. The Messiah, Jesus the Son of God, is the Word made flesh. Jesus is God’s voice coming into the world. And it has come just when the time is right, after much waiting, much hoping, much longing. God speaks his word in the beginning of time to create all that is. God speaks now in Jesus to re-create the world, to bring back into his embrace all that has wandered far away. But even God has had to wait for the right time to speak his saving word.
If you’ve ever been to a Twelve Step meeting you have heard people share their experience, strength, and hope. And you have heard that voice come after a period of suffering, a time when there was no strength or hope. You have heard that, as we are faithful to our particular paths, the way is made clear, that while suffering in itself isn’t intended by God, it is used by God to show us his own compassion. You can’t tell me something you know nothing about.
Right after Jesus tells his followers to keep their mouths shut, he tells them to take up their own cross. In time they will tell the world about the cross. For now they must first carry the cross. They must watch Jesus carry his cross. They must carry their own cross. Before the strength and hope, there must first be the experience. Out of the experience will come the strength and hope. That is the assurance of our faith.
We don’t so much tell others things that will protect them or solve their problems or make their pain go away. We walk with them, we help them carry their burdens, we carry our own and we trust them to carry what can only be theirs to carry. We trust God to speak to them when the time is precisely right. Jesus doesn’t offer some cheap, quick fix. Jesus offers abiding hope, the assurance that the suffering which lies ahead of us, and which lies ahead of our loved ones, will be met by the eternal Word of God.
There is the time to speak but first there is the time to follow and be faithful, the time to come to know God’s grace deep within our hearts. Sometimes we only want to wear the cross or talk about it but our wearing it and talking about it is only as good as how we have carried our cross.
What should I say? I can only say what I truly know. Do you know the love of Christ? Is it real in your life? If it is, your life will be a word of hope for others. If you do not know the love of Christ, of if you have forgotten the love of Christ, open your heart and let it in. In time you will know what to say to others, but first hear what the Lord has to say to you.