St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401

Sermons

  • Do We Know Who We’re Following? – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    September 12, 2021

    The past two weeks, the Book of Proverbs has been telling us about Holy Wisdom, an aspect of God that is an intrinsic and essential part of every creature, every child of God. This aspect of God is rooted in our soul and is nourished through the cultivation of a devoted heart, an open mind, and a willing spirit.

    Holy Wisdom grows in us the more we practice listening for God and the more we let go of our pain and fear. Holy Wisdom grows in us the more we practice Jesus’ two commandments:  Love God.  Love your neighbor as yourself. Holy Wisdom is contrasted to foolishness or worldly wisdom, a waywardness that can prevent us from remembering that our soul’s gift is a deep knowledge of God.

    “How long,” Wisdom cries out at the gates to the city. “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?  How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?”
    Indeed.

    How long will we ignore the truth of love, waiting for us to believe in it’s truth?

    Holy Wisdom is a knowledge so complete and so built-in that we respond from a place of Love.  It is the law that is written on our hearts… as foretold in the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah; that is spoken about by Paul in his letter to the Romans. And Jesus, our teacher, is always trying to help his disciples reconnect to this, to hear this truth, to hear this word of God.

    We’re halfway through Mark’s Gospel and, if we remember last week’s reading, Jesus has just begun to minister to the Gentiles, those who were not raised with Jewish teaching.  He listened to Holy Wisdom when the Syrophoenician woman reminded him of her essential belovedness.  He opened his own heart and taught others to open theirs.

    Afterwards, he goes on to heal a person from deafness, to feed multitudes with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish, and finally to heal a person from blindness. And all the while, Jesus points to these miracles, these healings, and says… “Do you have the ears to hear and the eyes to see?  Do you perceive and not understand?”

    Andrea’s dive into the world’s wisdom is about more than just the clothes she wears.

    There’s a book and movie called The Devil Wears Prada.  The main character Andrea is a young, aspiring writer in NYC.  And she gets a job as the assistant to the editor of the biggest fashion magazine in the world. But our Andrea is anything but a fashion plate.  As a matter of fact, she has a general contempt for the fashion industry, which is easily spotted by her new co-workers.

    When she realizes the reason she’s having such a tough time in her new job is because she doesn’t take it very seriously, she decides to dive into the highly competitive world of fashion.  Soon she develops an aptitude for being a part of that world and excels at her work.  She gains the respect of her colleagues and even of her demeaning and demanding boss.  She attains worldly wisdom and learns how to wield power.

    But in doing this deep dive, Andrea begins to lose connection to an essential part of herself. In order to be successful, she starts to make choices that enable her to acquire status, forgetting about what it means to care for others – her friends, her loved ones, even the people with whom she works. She becomes enamored with this world as she masters it and sees her path to greatness.

    She starts to participate in the transactional nature of worldly wisdom, seeing herself in terms of what she offers and seeing other people as objects from whom she can get something – approval, recognition, advancement.  And she begins to walk away from those who love her. She has become so deeply entrenched in that world and its ways, that she has lost her own humanity.  One day, she realizes that she has become the devil that wears Prada and she quits.

    But she doesn’t return to her previous contemptuousness either.  Instead, she comes to a deeper understanding of herself and has a deeper compassion for the people with whom she worked. She understands that “greatness” by the world’s standards is too costly because it will cost her her own soul.

    This is similar to the situation in which Jesus finds himself in today’s Gospel.  Peter, specifically, wants him to walk away from the path of non-violence so that Jesus can lead a revolt. After all his teaching and all his attempts to get his disciples to see what the Reign of God is really about, he finds himself faced with their demands of worldly greatness.  And he rebukes Peter saying, “Get behind me, Satan.”

    All four Gospels carry this story in one form or another. The lesson starts with a simple question:  “Who do people say that I am?”  What are people saying about me?  How are people trying to make sense of what I’m doing?

    And then Jesus turns the question on the disciples.  He asks us: “What about you?  What do you understand about the Reign of God? Who do you say that I am?”

    New Testament scholar Ched Myers writes this: “We have arrived at the midpoint of the story.  Once again, Mark’s Jesus turns to challenge the disciples/reader.  “Who do you say that I am?”  This question is the fulcrum upon which the gospel narrative balances.  Not only that: upon our answer hangs the character of Christianity in the world.  Do we know who it is we are following, and what he is about?…

    Myers goes on to remind us that we are beginning the second half of Mark’s Gospel with Jesus announcing that we are on “the way to Jerusalem” or “the way of the cross…” which we are “told that we cannot save our lives by preserving them, nor lose them by giving them up; that to be “last” is to be “first,” and to be “least” is to be “great.””

    Myers reminds us that Jesus is teaching us about “nonviolence as a way of life.  Yet as this way becomes clearer, the disciples’ resistance to it increases…”  The disciples want someone who is great by worldly standards – a conqueror, a king.  They want someone who is willing to be contemptable on behalf of their own interests.  They want the Devil Who Wears Prada!

    Mark portrays this through the “drama of blindness and vision, deafness and hearing” and in it “we are compelled… to come to terms with our belief and our unbelief.”  (Myers pgs 235-236)

    But Jesus keeps saying: “Do you have the ears to hear and the eyes to see?  Do you perceive and not understand?”

    Who do the disciples say that Jesus is?  This is the pinnacle of the Gospel’s teaching because if we misinterpret what Jesus is trying to do, we lose our way and become susceptible to the world’s foolishness.

    Do we understand what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus?  “Do we know who it is we are following, and what he is about?”

    Following Jesus is a commitment to actively participate in bringing about the Reign of God.  Which is to say, a commitment to a non-violent way of being in the world. Yet, the world is violent.  But not always in ways we tend to think.

    Take, for example, our story about Andrea.  Was she someone we would have called “violent?”  Did she wield a gun?  Did she kill anyone? Did she participate in war?  Did she even cause another person to die out of neglect?  No.  Andrea was really just someone, like any one of us, who learned how to successfully navigate a system of power and advance in her profession.

    So, why is the story called “The Devil Wears Prada”?  What did Andrea do that was so wrong?  Why is her behavior counter to Jesus’ Gospel?

    It’s the moment at which Andrea’s world started to shrink and become a game of transactions that she could either win or lose. When Andrea started treating the people in her life as though they are objects in her world and began to view relationships as business deals:  What can I get from you and what do you need from me?

    That isn’t a non-violent path because it automatically labels people as either “worth my time” or “not worth my time.” Think of all the times in which we have worried about what people will say.  Or worried about what people will think. Do people like me?  Do people respect me?  Do people love me?

    When we get lost here, we are robbed of the truth of who we are – a beloved child of God.  And we can start to act out – gossiping, tearing other people down, losing faith in others, criticizing, complaining, not showing up, being resentful.  All… acts of violence.

    We lose our kindness.  We lose our compassion. We lose our connection to mercy.  We have lost our wisdom.
    So they are not only acts of violence against others, but they are acts of violence against ourselves.

    Because it all stems from the tragic belief that I have no value. When I believe I have no value, I try to gain value, acquire value, become valued or valuable… so that I can trade on that.  And, when I am really having a bad time believing in myself, I try to make sure that other people don’t feel valued.

    There is no love in that.

    Do we perceive?  Can we understand?

    Holy Wisdom is an aspect of God that is intrinsic in every creature, every child of God.  Holy Wisdom is ours.  The prophets tell us that it is written on our hearts.  Jesus came to remind us of this truth. It is Love that is built into us, waiting for us to remember. No matter what happens to us, this seed of hope never leaves us… even when we forget.  It’s the plot of just about every redemptive movie script ever written… a remembrance of our truth, our intrinsic value as beloved children of God.

    We are called to cultivate Holy Wisdom so that we remember this – that we are made in love by a loving God.  We are built to live in Love.

    A heart devoted to God. A mind open to really listening. A spirit willing to serve. This is the path of non-violence that Jesus teaches. It starts with being non-violent towards ourselves.

    Love God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Change the world.