September 16, 2012
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
In the news this week is a violent backlash against a film that went out on Youtube depicting what to many Muslims is a profane and demeaning portrayal of the prophet Mohammed. It would be foolish to think that those who made the film did not know the likely response. But we have in this country a fundamental belief in the right of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
This has become a stumbling block in many parts of the world. In many countries, someone making such a film would be arrested by the government, and either silenced or killed. In Egypt, it is a widely held belief that everyone has the right to freedom of speech AND you are not allowed to demean or insult religion (whether Muslim or Christian or any other). It is a difficult concept for those who have had no experience with a fundamental freedom of speech to understand. They do not have a category for letting such things be said and the authorities do nothing to stop it. This is not all that lies behind the violence today, but it certainly provided a spark.
Our right to freedom of expression, while vitally important, is not without its problems. Freedom of speech includes freedom for people to say things that are morally wrong, or outrageously untrue, or simply hateful. We hold as fundamental the inability to limit some speech because it quickly becomes the ability to limit all speech.
Having said that, James has a word or two to say about rights and freedoms. Just because we have the right to say something does not mean we ought to say it.
James condemns the tongue that just got through praising God which now curses those made in the likeness of God (neighbor, stranger or even enemy). Anyone here ever finished your prayers, turned on the news, or seen a political ad, and found yourselves cursing the people you see, whether out loud or in your hearts?
When we leave worship, how long before we say something that is gossip, or demeaning, or hurtful? How soon after worship is over can someone cutting us off on the freeway wreck our compassion?
How many relationships have been hurt or destroyed not by actions, but simply be words? How many moments of reconciliation have become moments of grief and brokenness because of a tongue that outran the brain behind it?
James looks at the complexities of what it is to be human and reminds us of how difficult it is to stay with Jesus every moment of every day. Just because we have the ability to do or say something, and may even have the right, does not make it the right thing to do or to say.
Peter, the rock on whom the church is built, the one who is the bold and steadfast leader of the Apostles, is no less human than the rest of us. Jesus asks about the gossip around town.
“Who do others say that I am?”
“Elijah; John the Baptizer; one of the prophets like we used to get.”
“Who do you say that I am?”
It is Peter who answers: “You are God’s anointed. You are the Christ.”
And Peter thinks he knows what this means. A king to sit upon the throne of David in Jerusalem; a leader who will guide the armies of earth and heaven to drive the pagan Romans out of Israel; one who will restore Israel to the opulence and splendor of its days under Solomon.
Jesus lays out a different plan. He tells them plainly that he will be arrested, handed over to the religious and political authorities, and he will be killed. And on the third day, he will rise again.
Had Peter continued to listen, he might have found out what this all means. But he cannot. He pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him. Let’s let that sink in for a moment. Peter rebukes Jesus. The snarky side of me (the part that James just warned us about!) wants to ask Peter, “How’s that working out for you?”
Jesus will have nothing of it. However harshly he has criticized Pharisees, however severe his judgment of the Temple system, he saves his harshest critique for Peter. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.” Then he goes on to explain to the disciples that what he is talking about is what each one of them must face.
Dying to self. Rising to Christ.
It is in our grasping after life, trying to secure our own future, trying to control what will be, that we lose any chance of compassion for our neighbor, for the stranger, for our enemy.
It is in giving up these things, and resting in God, that we find our life, and can live as Jesus teaches us.
When we strive anxiously, we may live for many years, but is it really living? When we live in thanksgiving to God and with compassion for our neighbor, the stranger, the enemy, do we not discover what it means to truly live?
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
What can we give, except our thanks and praise.
Thanks be to God.