31:10 A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.1 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away. She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson. She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: “ women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.
Wisdom of Solomon 1:16—2:1, 12–22
1:16 But the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away and made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his company. For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, “Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end, and no one has been known to return from Hades. “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.” Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hoped for the wages of holiness, nor discerned the prize for blameless souls.
54:1 Save me, O God, by your name, and vindicate me by your might. Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. For the insolent have risen against me, the ruthless seek my life; they do not set God before them. Selah But surely, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. He will repay my enemies for their evil. In your faithfulness, put an end to them. With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good. For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.
James 3:13—4:3, 7–8a
3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
9:30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Aim: To show that the Good News is that the God of all Creation is our Lord—and that this God of unfathomable grandeur has come to us to show us that the Divine Purpose for all of life is to live in solidarity with each other and with the Creation itself.
Modern astronomy tells us that the Hubble telescope has revealed to us that there are more than seven galaxies in the known universe for every person on earth—that means that there are more than 42 billion galaxies out there; further, each galaxy has at least one billion stars! Can you get your minds around that? I know I can’t.
But if there are 42 billion galaxies times one billion stars in what we presumptuously call the known universe, it seems a bit ridiculous to imagine that the God we worship and call Creator of heaven and earth might be a Methodist! Or a Baptist; or a Presbyterian; Muslim; Jew; Hindu; Sikh; or any other of our human attempts to understand the Creator and the Creation. This God, the Creator God, is far more than anything we could possibly understand. At the very best, our attempts to understand God and the Creation—our religions—are feeble attempts to comprehend what is clearly incomprehensible to us.
Point One: We cannot arrive at an understanding of God by our efforts—intellectual or otherwise. At best, we can respond to what this Creator God has chosen to reveal to us about the Divine Being.
All of the religions of the world are human attempts to make sense out of the world we live in—and most of them are the fruit of human effort. But as commendable as that effort may be, it does not get us to a definitive understanding of God—only a rather dim approximation. The proof of this is in the fact that most of the time our religions are working hard to destroy each other—or at the very least, to put down each other.
Point Two: This brings us to the scandal of our faith as Christians: we claim that this Creator God has chosen to reveal the Divine Personality to us. We believe and proclaim that God has done this through the History of a People—the People of Israel and then the New Israel, the Church of Jesus Christ.
The outlandish and outrageous claim we make is exactly this: that the Creator God cares about us (the human race and our insignificant planet) and is personally involved in our history. This is, really, the claim of the Christian faith, the meaning of the Incarnation: Jesus, Immanuel—God is with us and cares about us.
Point Three: This same God has called us—each of us individually and all of us collectively—to live together, to care for each other, to serve each other.
This brings me to the most important insight—really a reminder of who we are—that I have for you today: Solidarity is the new name for faith.
I have had the wonderful privilege of having lived for more than 25 years of my life in Latin America. One of the many gifts I received from the people of Latin America during that time was the concept of solidarity.
We have this word in English, of course, but it doesn’t carry near the freight in English that it does in Spanish or Portuguese. In those languages and cultures, solidarity means family, friends, neighbors, fellow fans of your favorite sports team, your church, your city, your nation, and, in fact, the whole world as it touches you.
Unfortunately, we in the United States have been nurtured in a culture of what we love to call “rugged individualism.” The frontier produced this sort of mentality and the American churches nurtured this ideal, resulting in what I call the Great American Heresy: the individualization of the Christian faith—or, in other words, perhaps more familiar, the Me-and-Jesus Syndrome. Get right with Jesus and that’s all that matters. Raise your hand, go to the altar, speak to Jesus and then you can continue to beat your wife and children and exploit your workers and still go to Heaven, whatever that may mean today, because you are OK with Jesus. (No one ever seems to ask if Jesus is OK with them.) Lots of people “talk with Jesus every morning”—our president is one, to the reassurance of millions of people throughout the land—but it doesn’t look like very many people listen to Jesus—at all. Because Jesus calls us to serve one another, and that isn’t happening very much in today’s world.
God calls us individually and forgives us individually, but that is so that we can be together in love and service to each other—and to all of God’s creatures, human, animal—and the Creation itself.
The Story we celebrate in the Church—the story of the People of Israel and of the Church—is exactly that—the story of a People.
Our Creator God is much more concerned about our life as a People than about our individual sins and failures.
As we read the Hebrew Scriptures—what we Christians call the Old Testament—we see that God called the people, judged the people, punished the people and saved the people—as a People. Individual sins and failures were not unimportant, but God was much more concerned about the sins and failures of the Nation than about individual sins.
We, as a nation, are going to be judged by God, as God has always judged the nations. How do we treat the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the marginalized? How are we caring for God’s Creation? How are we living together in this world as one people—in solidarity with each other?
Jesus said that to him who has been given much, much will be expected.
We, the most fabulously wealthy nation in the history of humanity, are expected to be God’s People—showing other people how to live, and sharing our blessings with those who have nothing.
Are we doing that? What are we doing about the homeless? What do we care about the 40,000 people that die every day around the world for a lack of food? What about the 37 million people in the US who have no health care? What about the three million people who have lost their jobs in the past three years?
How can God be seeing this today?
And how about our invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq? What about the people of those countries who lost their lives in our attack against them? Do we think that God doesn’t care about them?
One thing that we must learn—and learn quickly—is that our God, the Creator of all that is, cares about all people—and expects us to care as well.
The great Swiss theologian of the 20th Century, Karl Barth, was asked in Chicago on his visit there in 1970 if he could sum up his 20 volume theological work, Church Dogmatics in a sentence. “Of course,” he said. “Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so.” But the 20 volumes went on to show how that love must be translated into discipleship, which means solidarity with all of God’s people and even the Creation itself.
Solidarity is the new name for faith. If we are going to call ourselves the People of God—if we are going to respond to God’s call to be God’s people—if we are going to live out the meaning of “Jesus loves me”—we must learn to live in solidarity with each other and with all of God’s people throughout the world—and with the Creation itself. Anything less than that will, without doubt, bring the Judgment of God onto us as a nation—as a People who are disobedient. May God have mercy on us—and show us the meaning of Solidarity in today’s world.
One final word: All of the above is God’s truth. It is who we are. But the best word is that living in solidarity with all people and God’s Creation is the most fun we can have in life. It is what we are made for and when we, as a Nation, learn that, we will discover that all of the blessings we have enjoyed throughout our history up to now have been a drop in the bucket of God’s grace. God is not threatening us. God has made us a promise. As we seek to live in solidarity as God’s people, God will be able to pour out more blessings on us than we can ever imagine.
Amen. So be it.