Sunday 16th September 2018
17th Sunday after Pentecost

Proverbs 1:20-33; Psalm 19; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

(Alternatives: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 116:1-8)

Words, spoken and written, have a prominent place in the current season of readings. This theme is given particular emphasis through the epistle of James, comparing the tongue to the rudder of a ship, or the first flame that starts a forest fire. The writings of Proverbs speak of Wisdom being heard in the streets and public squares – there is a clear sense here of God’s message being embodied in the corporate life of a nation. Psalm 19 draws in a further strand through acknowledging that God’s message can be conveyed without words through the signs and realities of the created order. Although not so literally expressed, we might recognise that the Psalmists commitment to “walk in the presence of the Lord” (116:8) has parallels with “Wisdom spoken in the street and square”.

These various strands offer a foundation to consider how we might speak God’s truth in the “squares and streets” of our own world. There is another opportunity to recognise that work “per se” is not evil, but the various ethical issues and scandals that have emerged in recent years, underline the importance of hearing God’s voice and message within every aspect of our shared life. Business is not beyond or immune from the narratives of our faith, but clearly in the sights of the Biblical writers.

An obvious profession that emerges from today’s readings is that of a teacher. This provides opportunity to pray for all who work in education, especially at a time of year when new terms and semesters are getting underway. This can not only include those who work in recognised academic roles, but acknowledge that many of us, in the course of our daily lives, both as part of a workforce or as parents, through voluntary work etc. will offer and receive guidance and instruction from others. Work is a human interaction, and through our words, example and instruction we influence and impact the lives of others. This is to be celebrated and received from God as a mutual responsibility.

One of the key struggles that many Christians have in forging connections with their faith and their work is that the workplace seems such a hostile environment for people of faith. They will often recognise the ideals of a faith-work agenda, but feel helpless in the face of a catalogue of behaviours, systems and practices that seem both immovable and contrary to the values that define their own Christianity. The Gospel reading may offer some inspiration here – the declaration that Jesus is the Christ, seems utterly contrary to the idea of him being handed over to the authorities and crucified. This is why Peter is so ready to rebuke the very idea. The image of the cross is a reminder that human circumstances can often appear utterly contrary to our Gospel beliefs, yet God can still be at work through them. As a congregation is commissioned to seek and serve God from Monday to Friday, without being indifferent to the difficult circumstances that some will face, we can nonetheless be invited to embrace the working week in faith that God can be at work in the most hostile of circumstances.