Is 50:5-9a; Ps 116:1-9; Jas 2:14-18; Mk 8:27-35
September 12, 2021
Second Collection after Communion: Diocese of Salt Lake City Retired Priests
“Thank you for your service.” Over the past 20 or 30 years we’ve heard this phrase more and more often. Perhaps we’ve uttered it ourselves. Usually it is in reference to the very tiny percentage of people who serve in our country’s military.
I was not going to preach about 9-11 this weekend, but it’s hard to avoid given all the publicity and awareness going on at this 20th anniversary of the attack on our homeland. The endless sequence of sorrow, loss, purification, strengthening and ultimate triumph is really the prevailing story in the Bible. With some closer attention to our Scriptures, perhaps it is especially in times like this when the hopeful message of our religion seems most relevant.
No doubt you’ve listened to quite a lot of commentary this week from a sociological, political, strategic and tactical, diplomatic, and often emotionally-charged ‘human interest’ perspective. Much of it has been very good as we try to assess and take stock of a highly ambiguous point of time in our lives, individually and as a nation and as faith communities.
There ARE a number of particularly profound parallels. Twenty years almost to the day between the 9-11 attacks and the withdrawal of all our troops and diplomats from Afghanistan with rather ambiguous results, to put it mildly. Mission accomplished? “Thank you or your service.”
It’s been twenty years between the heroism of the flight 93 passengers which likely saved an attack on the US Capitol and the domestically orchestrated internal attack on the capitol in January 6 of this year. In our efforts to help establish some form of democracy in the Arab Muslim world we have let our own sense of democracy and civil discourse go by the wayside. “Thank you for your service.” Today’s recessional hymn reminds ‘America the Beautiful’ to ‘mend thine every flaw, to confirm thy soul in self-control, in liberty and law’.
Think of all the sincere and very intense prayers offered up over the past 20 or 30 years by individuals, families, faith communities, neighborhoods and even political assemblies. Begging God for mercy, safety and ultimate victory. In the meantime, according to a number of credible surveys and of course just looking at who shows up at most religious services, we are quickly becoming a less religious country and culture. Our young people are not buying in. “Thank you for your service.” These “thank you’s” might sound particularly hollow if the intended recipient is missing a limb or two, or missing their memory or their former emotional bearings.
But again, the Bible is the story of suffering and loss and redemption and ultimately triumph. What part of that continuum or timeline are we currently living in?
One of the many interviews I heard this past week was with Leon Panetta who served as Director of the CIA and later as Secretary of Defense during the Obama Administration. One of his comments was that ‘Americans tend to have short memories.’ We like to move past our struggles and get on with the next more optimistic venture. “Thank you for your service.”
Despite the many challenges, and if we have managed to avoid the many combat opportunities served up by our country, those of us who have grown up in post-World War II America have enjoyed a relative prosperity and peace largely unheard of in human history. We have probably watched waaaaaay too much TV and have seen too many action flicks with a one- or two-hour resolution to major problems. We’re done with the pain; we’re ready to move on. “Thank you for your service.”
Where is all the Biblical wisdom in our current lessons?
The second reading from the Letter of St. James reminds us of one of the long and former contentions between many Protestant denominations and Catholicism. Are we save by ‘faith’ or ‘works’? The short answer is ‘Yes’. Protestants, very generally, would have said that once we acknowledge that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior we are saved and not much can reverse that decision. Sort of a ‘one and done’ scenario. Catholics would contend as St. James points out today, that one might say, “’You have faith and I have works.’, but then emphasizes, ‘Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.’ The point here is that ‘being saved’ requires a life of discipleship.
And then of course in the Gospel today Jesus is telling us that being a genuine disciple requires us to carry our cross… throughout our lives. We must help carry the pain of the world from generation to generation. We must carry the burden of proclaiming Truth that the world does not really want to hear or learn. We must help carry the grief that is an inherent part of being part of God’s wounded and confused people. This will go on until the Second Coming. NOT ‘one and done’.
Jesus also rebukes Peter by warning him that he is thinking like humans think, not as God thinks. This is after Peter has rebuked Jesus. After Peter has rebuked God! This is of course the great human problem. We forget who God is! With all the prayers offered in the past 20 or 30 years, were we really listening to what God was saying to us? Or did we first decide what we wanted, and the outcome we desired and then called in God for assistance? To which God were we all praying?
This past week as I was meditating over these Scriptures, the part that most jumped out at me was today’s psalm, “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” This is the Good News. Even and especially during our times of tribulation, loss and struggle, the living God is with us. We live one day at a time. The quality of our lives, the quality of our ‘yes’ to the cross and to discipleship, determines whether we are eligible for Heaven. Heaven will be full of holy rollers who are able to praise God even while we carry our part of Redemption and salvation history.
Perhaps more than anything else right now we are called to take the time to carry our grief biblically. It’s a time to be humble before God. This is not a sign of weakness or failure; this is a sign of Hope and strength. Sometimes God lets us linger in the desert long enough for us to get refocused ……….. because He loves us.
Over the next few months we might try to develop the habit of reading… no praying…a psalm every day. There are 150 of them. Perhaps some of you are already doing this. One per day. Read all the footnotes from a good Study Bible and get the historical and perennial context of what God’s people are experiencing. Take at least 10 minutes to ponder, reflect and contemplate. And don’t forget the many people who keep us safe each hour of every day. And thank them for their service.