IN a moment of fancy I can almost see the author of the Letter of James today, walking down the streets of Melbourne.
I picture him getting off the train at Flinders St station, strolling across Fed Square, heading down the stairs to South Bank walk, watching/listening as a small group hang on the words of a person who has every play for the year committed to memory. Someone gets a call and he follows that group as they move a little further down the walk to join another group, where everyone is hanging on the words of man and someone whispers “he should know he’s played local footy since he was 8 ”. Everywhere there is noise, boastful statements are made everywhere he turns. He walks on until he makes it to the G but he can’t get in, sold out game of course, so I imagine my nephew in law offering to take him home. It’s past her bedtime but Miss 4, is in her PJ’s, with Richmond jumper proudly on display and she decides “It’s not worth staying up, because there’s no Dusty and he’s my favourite”. I can imagine the author of James would say today what he said 2000 years ago “for where there is selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable and gentle”. There is nothing peaceable about that walk to the G.
I remember coming home as an adult with my Dad on the train, following a close game, of traditional rivals. Two middle aged men, were more than threatening to take each other out, and this was prior to the day of the PCO’s. Everyone was moving away from them and leaving as we pulled into a station. My dad, a big man, ex police, ex security officer, moved against the crowd until he was next to them. He engaged each in conversation and before long all three were calm and in fact agreeing about the game. Yes, we have all seen the chaos that “worldly wisdom” causes, whether young or old, in the playground we start to see this “worldly wisdom”, emerge, maybe from a senior student who convinces us that they must be right because they are older. I tell this story as an illustration of what I feel the author of the letter of James was trying to achieve in this passage.
My own ego has caused my information/wisdom to be distorted and cause hurt and harm within this community. We don’t have to go as far as to kill to cause disputes and conflicts. It is often agreed upon that the letter of James was written at a time of disputes within the new church.
But it is also here in this congregation that I have seen God’s wisdom outpouring. Lately it’s been working with the amazing people that have made up the Outreachers working party, all have specialist knowledge and wonderful skills, but we have worked together relatively harmoniously seeking God’s hand in all we do, and a few weeks ago in our last Engage day I worked harmoniously in a multiage group, where everyone’s talents were given and received seamlessly. God’s wisdom. Or rather the fruit of God’s wisdom is according to the author of the Letter of James, purity and peaceable.
I don’t think the author would have enjoyed the academic disputes over his identity. Whether it was Jesus’s brother as many seem to historically point to, or one of the other prominent James mentioned in the Gospels, I am fairly confident that he would not approve of any disharmony that scholars seeking the “truth” might cause within the faith community, because what is generally agreed upon is that the author was a Jew, with a strong knowledge of Jewish law and an understanding of God’s harmonious wisdom, who paired wisdom with good deeds.
Now I find it interesting that this week it is paired with a passage that is causing a lot of disharmony amongst faith communities today.
Now I speak of Mark 9: 30-37, one of 6 similar readings, 2 in each synoptic Gospel, it is such an important narrative, that we have 6 versions that appear in the Synoptic gospels, Matthew 18:1-5and Luke 9:46-48 and then Mark 10:13-16, Matthew 19:13-15 and Luke 18:15-17. And though John, does have a similar statement, as a whole, it uses the term “child of God”, consistently when speaking about Jesus’s followers, thus showing us written within the text that it understands the significance of these 6 synoptic passages.
Some authors talk about them framing passages that teach about the Kingdom of God.
Now, generally it is accepted that Mark is the first source from which the other Gospels reflect, except in this passage where Matthew 18: 3 is often felt to be the prime source. Each of the versions have their own take on the story, but there are some specifics that they all agree on.
The placement of this passage in all the Gospels indicates movement, a progression of the story to the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a watershed moment when the gospels begin to become serious about Jesus’ mission and identification of who He is. We see that clearly in this passage from Mark as they move through Galilee, and Jesus tries to teach them who he is.
It’s clear the disciples are failing to understand, because they are arguing about which one of them is more important. In each of the Gospels Jesus’s way of addressing the disciples and the disciple’s ability to speak freely to Jesus is slightly different, each reflecting a different view of the author. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus asks what they have been speaking about, but they do not tell him. Now Jesus, shows his wisdom, His understanding, not by being critical of them, nor verbally shaming them. No, in response to their argument about who is the greatest, He takes a child and this part is exclusive to Mark, Jesus takes this child, generally agreed to be of preschool age, in his arms, and put’s it among the disciples. “Whoever welcomes one such child, in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not me but the one who sent me”
This child is embraced, and not just physically by teacher, prophet, Son of God, but embraced as being of importance, greater importance, than, the disciples.
It is a confronting image to see the devaluing of those Jesus had hand picked, those that we know, thanks to the value of hindsight who “finally got it”, but at this stage were so naive.
How do we welcome a child, this is not specified it is left to each age, and situation to answer this question for itself? But Jesus placed the child amongst the adults. How do we welcome a child?
I find it interesting that these two reading have been paired together. For almost 20 years, the reciprocal passage in Matthew has sparked a modern day movement, called the Child Theology Movement. This has been causing disharmony around the world in many congregations.
Now we all access the scriptures for our own learning, we might read using our history, or read using our senses, or maybe we follow a formulae, read, draw, or journal then pray. We might follow a guide, or if we come from the Wesleyan tradition, perhaps use the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of scripture, tradition, experience and reason. Academics also use many methods to explore scripture. When I started my theological studies in the early 90’s we were given a formulae to follow, look at the narrative, the form and structure, literary criticsm, language, use of metaphor, etc. A few years into my studies and I started hearing about Liberation Theology, and not long after that it’s love child Feminist Theology, and for the last few years I have been enmeshed in the Child Theology movement, which has grown from the methodology of the Liberation and Feminist theologies. Except that the Child Theology Movement requires both the study of the Word and pastoral application. It takes as its “lens” the Matthew version of the Mark reading we heard today and uses the identifier “ to place the child in the middle” as it’s means of coming to both academic and pastoral work. To welcome a child is to welcome God. Thus from the Child Theology Movement there must be a pastoral response to this passage in Mark. How do we welcome children, unlike some ways of thinking theologically, there is no metaphors involved, it deals with the actual child. The child is not a metaphor for the lowest, the poorest the most needy. It is a living child, and Christ’s example is to embrace it and place it in the middle.How do we welcome children?
All of these methods allow us to think about a piece of Biblical writing, they let us shine a light on a reading in a way that our own reasoning might not. They give us a way of viewing God beyond the constraints of ourselves, because God is so much bigger than anything I could constrain God in, and very importantly according to the Letter of James, wisdom brings peace, not disharmony. How can all these disparaging viewpoints create a state of wisdom. How do we remove our ego’s so that God’s vastness is left in the teachings not the disputes about who is right.
What then would the Child Theology Movement think about the James reading? Children are not mentioned, at all in this reading, but then neither are they excluded, Wisdom, comes from God. The author of James, like the Child Theology movement requires a pastoral response. Age, education, none of the conventional social ideas of Wisdom are mentioned, wisdom comes from God for those who seek Him. Over the last few years working with children in worship at Wesley, I’m left in no doubt that a child seeking God will receive this wisdom. Take a moment to think of a child you know, or who you’ve taught or even think back to your own childhood experience.
Unfortunately James’s word’s could apply in academic circles where the Theories fight for supremacy, as they do in every congregation in town.
How do we welcome a child, this is not specified it is left to each age, and situation to answer this question for itself? But Jesus placed the child in the middle. How do we welcome a child?
Let’s think about this question as we sit in quiet contemplation for a moment, and pray for God’s wisdom as we live in community.
Given at Highfield Road Uniting Church Canterbury Melbourne Australia
For those unfamiliar with Melbourne Life, we watch a strange form of Football said to have an indigenous beginning, called Australian Rules Football, and the Grand Final is this weekend. It is so important to our way of life that we have a state holiday for it. You can find out more here http://www.afl.com.au
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