A Harvest of Ground Cherries and Righteousness

Preacher: Nathan Hosler

Scripture: Mark 8:27-38 & James 3

Mark 8:27-38
8:27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”

8:28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

8:29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”

8:30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

8:31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

8:32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

8:33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

8:34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

8:35 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.

8:36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

8:37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

8:38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Approaching this passage Jesus has been healing. Doing that Jesus thing. He has been meeting the expectations of a Messiah. The highly expected one. One who would save and liberate politically—shake off the oppressive empire!—with divine power. And this, naturally, will be in support of the ethnic, religious, and political entity of Israel—the people of God. That their God, the one who brought them up out of slavery would liberate—and likely with force—made a great deal of sense—both practically and theologically. Though the crowds may not have been connecting the dots, the disciples were beginning put 2 and 2 together.

So, he was healing and then…on the way. On the way to the villages of Caesarea Philippi he asks a question of public perception—what do the polls say? Who do people say that I am? The disciples reference the latest data, responding with some names of notable prophets and saintly folk. 

Then Jesus asks, what do you think? And Peter nails it! Great job Peter! Peter was not ashamed of Jesus or Jesus’ words. Peter was not ashamed and spoke boldly—with clarity. You are the Messiah.

Shortly thereafter Jesus begins to speak of his death—a clear failure of expectation. If the hope and expectation is for a religious revival and military or political victory, this is a clear failure—abject even. Naturally, this is objectionable. And Peter, best in class, objects with confidence. Peter not only objects but takes him aside and rebukes him. Rebukes Jesus. Perhaps like a coach in a movie who rallies the faltering sports champion to be. “You got this! Don’t give up now!” Jesus, this can’t be!

This time, rather than nailing it, Peter is sternly rebuked. “Get behind me Satan.” Get behind me…Satan. Ouch. 

Jesus flips expectations. “You must deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me.” “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

8:35 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.

8:36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

8:37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

8:38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words…. of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

This is not a general valorization of pain and suffering. My running through pain in a trail race isn’t this. It also is not used by those in power or in comfort to those crushed and put down by abuse. In the US context African American commentators, theologians, and ethicists have importantly challenged the valorization—the glorification of suffering—turned towards those who suffer by the powerful. 

However, especially for those in power. For us in a place like DC in a church a few blocks from the US Capitol—the heart of the Empire. What does it mean for us—for me—the hear these words? Now I don’t feel particularly triumphant. I don’t feel like I have gained the “whole world” nor that such a situation is imminent. But I wonder at times—how do visions of “success” shape my world? How do assumptions of power or access or education or salary or job security shape my vision of the world? And how should Jesus reshape these—mold these.

Our second passage is James chapter 3. This passage also challenges and upends. However, in the same way, it upends in a way that is not against life. It is not against life but for life. It isn’t a dour gloomy grumpy no fun no life-life. It may challenge our assumptions of life and consumption and security and ….and… but it is life. True life. Abundant life. Eternal life. Lively life. Life that is more for others than me. It reads:

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

See! See! It is what I said (I read the passages earlier in the week so I had an advantage). “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” Sounds pretty good. In our garden at home, we have ground cherries. A lot of ground cherries (at least for a tiny garden). Ground cherries grow relatively low to the ground and the plant looks a bit like a flat tomato plant. The fruit is quite small—maybe the size of a small marble with a husk that ¾ the size of a super ball (to be scientific). The husk is geometric but also round. When the fruit falls on the ground it is ripe—which makes the harvest like a daily Easter Egg hunt. Finding these little lantern-like globes around the bases of plants and mixed in the okra plants. The fruit is like a tomato but tastes like a tart pineapple. So, if a harvest of ground cherries is this good, a harvest of righteousness must be THAT good. 

Though this passage begins with a challenge that may make the voice of a preacher quake, it ends with the glorious harvest of righteousness. And while this passage and others are quite serious, we see the consistent witness of scripture be that this is not simply a list of very super-duper strict rules to get right in order to pass the test but an invitation to life. An invitation to life—LIFE. This life invites seriousness and focus—the world is certainly full of serious and difficult things—but it is also a harvest of ground cherries and righteousness—a joyful with gratitude celebration of the gifts of the One who has created and sustains us. [pause]

This weekend we face the pain of 20 years since 9/11—those lost in the attacks of that day and also the results of our response. And as a congregation we experience the joy and gratitude of our years with Jeff and Julia. 

These, and many moments throughout our days, invite and urge us to stay (or get) focused on the one who gives life—a life defined by the Spirit, living in joy and courage and love. We’ve got work to do—life to harvest. Righteousness to harvest and peace to sow. “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” Amen.

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