notre dame montreal


Sermon for Ordinary 25

Sermon Ordinary 25

The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

Draw near to God

Our readings this morning have something of a counter cultural feel about them.

The reading from Proverbs, part of the Old Testament wisdom literature seems to value people for who they are not what they do or how famous they might be.

There is mutual respect outlined between the man and the woman, a man and his wife

In the Epistle reading, James speaks of the importance of understanding and applying wisdom to our lives.

A wisdom which is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality or hypocrisy

That seems a strange concept in our world which seeks knowledge and information often without thought or reflection on what that knowledge and information is really telling us.

We seem to be a generation which wants to look things up on YouTube to see how things are done, we ‘Google it’ when we want to find some piece of information or other, and many people seem to live their lives by the gospel according to Wikipedia

Wisdom seems to be more about how we reflect on our knowledge and understanding and let is shape us and the world around, its outward looking as well as inward reflection

It seems the opposite of a selfish world where often we just want knowledge and information for the power it gives us, over our circumstances, our situation and over other people

James reminds us we are to draw near to God and He will draw near to us.

The gospel reading of Mark follows the counter cultural theme.  Jesus has just been telling the disciples that He will be handed over, betrayed and killed, after which He will rise and the disciples now seem to be more interested in who might take over from Him once he’s gone than anything else.

Who’s the best is a constant theme in our world today.  We have league tables galore.  We have school league tables, football league tables, performance league tables and many more.  Not that they are all wrong, or wrong in themselves, but when they become the end rather than the means (to judge performance and make improvements where needed for example) then they begin to loose their purpose.

Think too of the TV programmes we watch and are transmitted, many of them around competitions to find the best or most successful.  Strictly Come Dancing, Bake off, Artist of the year, The Apprentice, Bargain Hunt, the list goes on.

Who is the best, and what does it take to win, to be the leader and have others respect and acknowledge us.

Jesus turns this upside down.  We are called to be servants, servants of all people.

It’s not about being the cleverest, the one with the most knowledge, not about striving for knowledge or a wisdom that can then shape the lives of others to our will and wants

It’s not about being first in the Christian competition to know most about the bible or theology (not that this is wrong in itself, we are called to know more and more about God and His works and mission) but about coming last, putting others first.

About coming close to God and welcoming Him into our lives.

What might that mean?

Sometimes that might mean adjusting our priorities to be more in line with what God is doing in our world and our lives.

Perhaps not jumping in to a situation with our human knowledge, skills and expertise but taking time to reflect before taking action.  Finding out what God is doing and what He might want us to offer.

It’s not about not doing anything, James and Jesus are clear about that, we don’t need to spend forever working out what God might want us to do…

Perhaps it’s about a simplicity in our actions and motivations, doing things that are for others with no consideration of what that might mean for us, or what others might think of us

Perhaps it’s a ‘letting go’ of the things we like to control, because we can, and seeing what happens when we let others step forward

All of which requires real wisdom, God’s wisdom.  And to know God’s wisdom seems to be to know something of God Himself

The book of Proverbs is part of the Old testament wisdom literature.  There is an introduction to what wisdom is about at the beginning of the book, many wisdom sayings as the central element of the book, wisdom sayings not like pithy anecdotes but based on the experience of life of the Jewish people, and perhaps drawing on wider wisdom sources around at the times

And then we have the poem about the ‘capable wife’ as it’s translated in the NRSV, a ‘strong woman’ as it is in the Hebrew, the perfect mistress to the house as its sometimes understood. The wife of noble character…

But its more than just that, if it is that at all.  The passage comes at the end of the book of Proverbs.  It’s an acrostic poem with each line starting with the 22 subsequent letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

It’s a summary of what the whole book is about.  It depicts a woman (or even man) who is truly wise

In the Old Testament wisdom is personified and represented as a woman.  Some would even say wisdom reflects the feminine aspect of the divinity.

She stands as the kind of person we are all called to be, the reading from Proverbs articulates this completely. 

Wisdom, we see, is an essential and creative part of God’s character and of His creative and ordering role.  Wisdom is created by God and its creative and ordering principle runs through every part of life if we allow it to do so.

Coming close to God, as James invites us to do, is the essence and starting point of all wisdom and life.

Without coming close to God we can’t hope to come close to life and allow God to come close to us.

It’s about being servant hearted, getting into the flow of God and beginning to understand what He might be doing in our world and having His wisdom to begin to take out part in bringing that about.

To be part of the order and design of the universe, God’s universe and to live our lives the way God intended them to be.