A Few Gems

James 3:17
Mark 6:1-13

It gleamed in the sunlight.

Clear and radiant,
the emerald was set in a simple gold ring.

“That’s beautiful,” I said to my mother.

“Oh, I got in the Smoky Mountains,” she replied,
“There is a place where you can buy pails of dirt
and sift for gems.
If you find one,
they can shine it up and make it into jewelry.”

“I have some extras,” my father said to me.

JOY_2955Later, he shared these rocks with me.
He said to me:
this is a ruby
and here are a few emeralds.

Can you see it?

In their unpolished form,
they are not clear. Or radiant. Or gleaming.
It makes me wonder:
Do we have eyes to see the splendor that is before us?
Do we have ears to hear the glorious treasures around us?

The book of Proverbs tells us that
wisdom is better than gold
and insight is better than silver.[i]
Wise living, it tells us,
is like a jewel that graces our neck.[ii]

Yet I wonder,
how do we live in a way that is wise,
particularly when we inhabit such a reactive world?

I find myself pondering how to cultivate
a practice of thoughtfulness when
news comes at us twenty-four seven;
reactive posts fill social media feeds
and people, it seems,
are quick to judge, to anger and assume.

Thinking wisely is at the heart of Christian living;
          it is like a jewel to grace our neck.
Yet, in today’s world,
how do we cultivate such a life style?

The letter by James gives us direction,
explaining:
“The wisdom from above is,
first of all pure,
then peaceful, gentle,
open to reason,
full of mercy and good fruits
without uncertainty and insincerity.”

There is much richness here,
but what strikes me is that
“the wisdom from above is
… open to reason.”

This is a Biblical mandate to think,
          to consider options,
          to listen,
          and to reason together.
 

This is a Biblical dismissal
of narrow-mindedness,
ignorance and foolishness.
 

James instructs us to reason together
because we are all quite blind,
as the townspeople in the Gospel remind us.

In the Gospel story,
Jesus returns to his hometown,
teaching them the way of life
that is really life,
and all the townspeople can think is:
isn’t that the day-laborer?
isn’t that Mary’s kid??

They can still remember Jesus
running around as a kid,
with dirt smudged on his face.
They dismiss what Jesus is saying, asking:
Where does this person
get their wisdom from??
Where do they get off teaching us?

Perhaps in Jesus’ day,
there was also the temptation to
be quick to judge, assume and anger.

It stands out to me that in this town,
Jesus worked no miracles
apart from healing a few sick people.

Wisdom is about
            creating space,
            listening,
            being open to feedback
            and considering options.

I wonder:
In Jesus’ hometown,
what are some things
that the people could have done
to get wisdom and to get insight?
What could they have done
instead of kicking Jesus out?

Fear, habits, custom and familiarity
crowd out the town’s people ability
to see what is right in front of them.

Fear, habits, custom and familiarity
can crowd out our ability to see what is before us.

We need to reason together,
because we are all blind.

American Baptist minister, psychotherapist
and author, Bob Beverley,
explains our blindness like this.[iii]
He says, take anything in your life
that is what the Bible calls sin.

Beverley writes that
the trouble with sin is that
it becomes fused with you,
meaning if becomes so much a part of you,
you are one with it –
and you don’t even notice it.

Beverley continues saying that
the purpose of the spiritual journey
is to create a distance, or a dissonance
between yourself and your sin.

Beverley adds:
We are all, in one way or another,
in one pea soup of fog.
Like the townspeople turning away Jesus,
we don’t always know it,
and the reason is become we have become the fog.

Yet, with Wisdom’s help, the fog lifts.

Perhaps a greedy person wakes up
to their lack of compassion
and is astonished at their former blindness
to the needs of others.
Perhaps a townsperson wakes up
and is shocked at their inability
to see Jesus within their midst.
Perhaps we wake up and see
that there are really emeralds and rubies before us.

Beverley tells this story:
“I have a client who is a New York City firefighter.
One night in therapy, I told him of an idea I had
that everyone person should put into practice.
I proposed this idea rather casually,
and to tell the truth, I didn’t give it much thought.
At our next session, this man to me that
my idea was one of the best he had ever heard.
It is something we will call the ‘Committee’…
I guarantee it as the best tool against our blindness
I invite you to select a group of people from you life.
It could include your spouse, [a teacher],
a business colleague, and a few friends.
They should be people who are firm but gentle.
The job of this committee is to meet
every few months
to assess and evaluate your life
based on the goals, dreams and standards
that you have articulated for yourself.”

The letter from James states:
“The wisdom from above … is open to reason.”

Proverbs says,
“in a variety of counselors, there is safety.”[iv]

This opens us up to feedback and accountability,
and perhaps this is scary,
but what is more scary is
having people in your life
see how you are messing up
and not telling you about it.

Maybe the people of Jesus’ hometown
could have benefitted from having a committee.

Or perhaps,
if they weren’t quite up for the committee,
they could have considered:
is there anyone in their life
who could speak the truth to them in love?
They could at least have one-person committee.
Or perhaps, they could have listened to their own personal feedback,
that quiet voice inside that is whispering, “This isn’t working”?

We need to reason together because we are all quite blind.

We all need prophets and alarm clocks to wake us up,
which is why Jesus comes to us, continually
inviting us to awakening,
to live in the present and see what is going on.

To do this we must think, and thinking is a communal effort.

We are not meant to figure this out alone,
which is why when Jesus sends the disciples out
to share the wisdom of God,
Jesus sends them out in groups
rather than one by one.

We are not meant to figure it out alone,
which is why I am so thankful for this church,
because together we discover
wise thinking and living
and a better way of being.
We uncover the gems of Jesus,
like a treasure hunt,
and it gives my heart joy
that cannot be measured.

Christianity leads people to be bigger.
Jesus emphasized compassion, gratitude,
reverence for all people, thinking outside the box
and the eye-opening wisdom.
None of this makes people small and petty.

This week was the four year anniversary of our journey together,
and I have been thinking about how
in  our travels together to follow Jesus,
my life itself has become bigger.

I think about the ways that
you have taught me about new life and generosity,
how strangers here teach me what kindness looks like,
how you to teach me to pray without ceasing
and how, together, we light a candle
when the world seems dark.

You show me what beauty looks like through
music and flowers, song and dance,
the design of peaceful places
and the gifts of gardening and house painting,
food serving and jam making and card sending.
Here I learn about steadfastness and love
and what it looks like to walk
through the valley of the shadow of death with one another.
Together we discover what it is to pause
and to listen to Jesus.

There may be rubies on the table,
but what has more worth and value
is this community and the work of God that it is doing.

This is my prayer today:
Holy God continue to lead us,
                   that we might be faithful and open
                   to the gems of your teaching.

May we write down these life-giving gems:
study them, pray about them,
post them around our household
and follow Jesus to gleaming treasures
that surpass our imagination.

Peace. Love. Joy. Wisdom. Courage. Beauty.

Salve for your soul.

These jewels are yours.

Now and evermore.

Amen.

[i] Proverbs 16:16

[ii] Proverbs 3:22

[iii] Bob Beverley explains this in book How to Be a Christian and Still Be Sane, pp. 11-15.

[iv] Proverbs 11:14

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