Sermon for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost 2021

Dates: September 16th and 19th, 2021

Preacher: Pastor Ashley Rosa-Ruggieri

First Reading: Jeremiah 11:18-20

Psalm: Psalm 54

Second Reading: James 3:13--4:3. 7-81

Gospel: Mark 9:30-37


What a momentous day it is, for me to be preaching here at my first Thursday service at Trinity. I've had so many welcoming words and new faces, just in my first few days, and there is so much energy, so much anticipation, so much excitement for what we as a church are going to do together. The future ministry of Trinity is shining with new possibilities in this moment of change, and I am overjoyed to bask in the glow of those possibilities. And yet, we also all know that there will be a time when the glimmer fades, an end to the honeymoon phase, a point where we are left in the reality of life together. And life together can be messy.

Let me explain what I mean when I say life is messy. I come from a family where people do not like to be wrong. We are all stubborn, we are all loud, and oftentimes we tend to claim to have wisdom that we do not necessarily have. Throughout these past few years, I have seen a similar phenomenon play out in person, on Facebook, and in the news. And then even seep into our congregations, and the wider church. And so when I read the start of our James passage today, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” my initial reaction is to want to say ME! I am wise and understanding. Until I keep reading and realize that the type of wisdom James describes as wisdom from above, is far from my own individual ability. He describes it as “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” Have you ever known someone with this type of wisdom? Of course not! This type of wisdom that James describes is unattainable for us here on earth. We can pray for our actions and wisdom to be more like the wisdom from above, but it can never fully reach the reality of a pure, peaceable, gentle, yielding, merciful wisdom without partiality or hypocrisy, because we are human.

In fact, it is often our own inability to achieve this type of wisdom that leads to conflict and arguments. Yet, seeking this type of wisdom, even in the midst of times of conflict can help us build as a community full of christ-followers who are learning from one another and growing together. Preacher Ron Valdez says it like this: “The wisdom from James is not that conflict in and of itself is a problem. An absence of conflict is unhealthy when disagreements and different perspectives have been stifled to maintain peace at all costs. Likewise, conflict can be healthy when it serves to allow a variety of voices and perspectives to be heard, to expand our understanding of ourselves and others, to clarify our priorities, to advocate for mercy and justice.” But how do we do this? How do we use moments of conflict to grow in our messy life together? Let's look at our Gospel reading to consider that question.

The disciples in today's Gospel are a great example of what NOT to do. At this point, Jesus has been touring with his disciples for quite a while now, and in this passage he makes his third passion prediction to them. This is the third time in the book of Mark where Jesus straight up tells his disciples he is going to die for them and then rise again three days later. And yet when there is misunderstanding from the disciples, they are too afraid to ask Jesus. The Bible often puts wisdom on one side and then foolishness on the opposite. The disciples are so afraid of feeling foolish here that they choose to live with their misunderstanding instead of asking questions and admitting they do not know something. Next, they begin to argue with one another along the road about who is greatest. When Jesus confronts them at the end of their journey, they were silent, because they once again felt foolish for having an argument like that. The disciples' fear of foolishness shows up in two different ways here. First, they feel foolish for not knowing what Jesus means, then they feel foolish for acting like they know something that they could not—who is greatest. The good news in all of this is that we can let go of the expectation of ourselves to always be wise. The disciples foolishness shows up because they are too afraid to admit there are things they do not know. They choose to hide that by remaining silent, and then by vocally arguing. Neither one gets at the heart of the foolishness, which is the humility it takes to admit you do not know something and the courage to ask and listen to the response.

Jesus finally comes in at the end of our Gospel reading and explains the first must be last and must be servant of all—the first, the wisest must have the humility to not be the greatest or the wisest. Then Jesus references a child among them. This child is meant to represent those among us whose wisdom is not heard because of the stereotypes and systems working against them. For this child, they are seen as too young, unpowerful, naive, and unimportant in the grand scheme of community. But for Jesus, this child is not meant to be the one who is written off and cast aside, they are meant to be welcomed and listened to, and given a voice. And this is what being in community means. The role of the child can be replaced by many in our current society, by those who are pushed away for the language they speak, the job they work, the people they love, and so on. But all of these intersecting identities make life together more messy because we cannot always understand the lives of others different from ourselves. In the passage, this child, whom society deems as foolish, teaches us about the wisdom from above. The mess of community is found here in the times of misunderstanding, disagreement, pride, and unyielding change, but, those do not have to be roadblocks in our ministry together, they can be opportunities to learn from one another.

We may not be able to attain the wisdom that James describes, but we can strive to use that type of wisdom as we form our ministry together. We can learn from the disciples mistakes that it is okay to ask questions where there is misunderstanding and to admit at times that maybe we are not the greatest. And finally, we can learn from Jesus that the ones who society often pushes aside or writes off, are the ones capable of teaching the greatest lessons of all when we welcome them and listen to them. May God bless our ministries with the wisdom from above, the courage to ask questions, and the humility to listen to those who are not always heard. Thanks be to God.