Sermon, 9/5/21: It’s Not Easy Being Green! Or, the Challenge of Being Christian

Posted on ; Filed under News

15 Pentecost

Psalm 125; Proverbs 22:1–2, 8–9, 22–23; James 2:1–10, [11–13], 14–17; Mark 7:24–37

They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well.’ Mark 7:37

Kermit the Frog of Sesame Street fame used to sing a song that, to this day, resonates in my mind. 
It's not that easy being green
Having to spend each day the color of the leaves
When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow, or gold
Or something much more colorful like that
It's not that easy being green
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things
And people tend to pass you over 'cause you're
Not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water
Or stars in the sky
But green's the color of spring
And green can be cool and friendly-like
Or important like a mountain, or tall like a tree
When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why,
But why wonder, why wonder? 
I am green and it'll do fine,
it's beautiful
And I think it's what I want to be

Kermit’s song had a melody that was catchy and, although written in a major key, seemed deliberately somewhat melancholic.  It was intended to get children to take pride in their uniqueness, in their individuality.  I do not know whether my then-young daughters caught on to the subtleties, but to this day, when I no longer have an excuse to watch that children’s program, I recall Sesame Street and Kermit the Frog. And I think of this song, because it could just as well been written and sung for adults, even for Christians.

It was the encounter of Jesus with the Syrophoenician, as told us in the Gospel according to Mark, that caused me this week to think about Kermit that, in turn, caused me to further reflect on our relationship with Jesus of Nazareth, whom we recognize as the Christ, the Messiah of God.  Jesus the Christ was different.  He was unique.  Kermit was different, but he was who he was. The Syrophoenician woman, otherwise unidentified, was different.  She, a woman from a region that today includes Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine, was who she was, a woman; a woman on a mission who had the courage, the audacity, to address a man (an unrelated man, a stranger) in order to beg a favor.  This woman is the heroine of the hour, because her request provided Jesus of Nazareth with the opportunity to clarify for those of his era, and of ours, that the commitment of the God of creation was and is not simply to one tribe and one tribe only.  National borders and walls do not constrain God’s love.  You and I are beneficiaries of her courage.

As it is not easy being green, or to come from a group that may find itself not with “the in crowd,” so is it not easy being a Christian.  Years of personal and professional experience have taught me this: Our assertion for independence and individuality notwithstanding, we do not want to be different from those around us.  The peril of being a Christian?  We want to fit in.  But if we are Christians, we have to be Christians.  But by what standard do we measure ourselves?  Just how many compromises do we make in order to not stand out, or be ostracized?

Jesus Christ is our gold standard, and Jesus was different.  Jesus was known for healing people and making them whole.  Everywhere he went, the deaf heard, the lame walked, the blind saw, and the sick were made well.  Often those needing Jesus’ healing powers were too weak or too timid to come to Jesus by themselves, so their family or friends would bring them.  Or they would sneak up on him and touch him.

Today’s gospel is but one illustration.  Some friends brought to Jesus the Christ a man who was different.  He had two problems: he was deaf and because he was deaf; he had a pronounced speech impediment.  The man’s friends begged Jesus to place his hands on their friend and heal him.  Jesus led the man away to a private place and, in the quiet of this private place, Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears.  Next, he used some of his own spit. (Or, in elevated English, [he used] his own saliva and touched the man’s tongue with it—most unsanitary by today’s standards!  Then Jesus looked up to heaven and prayed.  He followed his prayer by saying “be opened!”  Instantly, the man could hear, and he could speak clearly.

When the people realized that the man was healed, they were naturally quite excited.  And although Jesus asked them not to tell anyone, their enthusiasm and wonderment could not be contained.  They talked about it everywhere and to everyone.  They shared the news because they were completely astounded by what Jesus had done.  They proclaimed: “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

“Everything he does, he does well.”  Consider this brief biography.  Luke writes of him, as a boy growing up in Nazareth: “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom and the favor of God was upon him” (Lk 2.40).  As a twelve-year-old, he sat among the teachers in the temple, listening to them and asking questions.  Luke writes further: “and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Lk 2.47).  Upon his return to Nazareth, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” (Lk 2.52).  He had done everything well, even to the point of astonishing his parents and the teachers.

At his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus saw the heavens open and the Spirit of God descending like a dove on him.  He heard a voice saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mk 1.11).  Following his baptism, he retreats into the wilderness for 40 days, where he was tempted by Satan.  These temptations were real, but Jesus passed the tempter’s test well.

Jesus was known for his teaching and preaching.  People called him “rabbi,” teacher.  It was said of him, “He taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (Mt 7.29).  His teaching was delivered in the language of the common people.  It was simple and emerged from the life of the people; yet despite its simplicity, it provided profound insight into the ways of God and the ways of humanity.

The spoken word, as we know, was not his only medium for teaching.  He taught by example.  People saw how he lived and what he did.  These acts were received with astonishment by all who witnessed them.  Jesus did everything well: he brought healing to lepers and paralytics, to deformed persons, to the demon-possessed, to the deaf, to the blind.  He stilled a storm.  On one occasion he fed 5000 people.  He did everything well.

Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt.  He was hailed by the crowds as he entered, and because he did everything well and was a threat to the religious and political establishment of that day, they plotted to kill him.  Even the manner in which Jesus the Christ died, his forgiving of the one criminal who, being crucified himself, mocked Jesus, caused a Roman soldier to exclaim: “Truly this man was God’s Son.”  In life and death, Jesus did everything well.  And Easter morning validates the excellence of his life.

Jesus did everything well.  What does this mean for us?  Like Kermit the Frog, Jesus is who and what he is.  As believers of Christ, we are his disciples.  We are who we are, each of us with talents and limitations.  We seek to follow him, to imitate him.  Surely, striving for excellence in discipleship is a life lesson that we can take from today’s gospel.  To that end, we see a Jesus who is not only a savior for the next world, for the world to come; he is also our exemplar for this world.  He is a model of what it means to live within the will of God in this world.  Seeking to do everything well, striving for godly excellence in all we do is our aspiration.

As Christians, as imitators of Jesus the Christ, we cannot become wallflowers.  We strive to bring wholeness to fragmentation; to preach, teach, and live the good news of Jesus Christ in a world filled with division and hostility, recognizing, though, as Kermit reminds us, it’s not easy being green.  But like Kermit, what other choice do we have if we identify ourselves as Christians?  To show love rather than apathy or hate; to seek justice where injustice abounds; to bring aid into lives filled with destructive tendencies; to seek peace in the midst of disharmony and violence.

James, in his letter, simplifies for us what it means to be a people of faith, does he not?  He writes: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?  Can faith save you?  If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?  So, faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:16f.)

As people observed Jesus, they said, “Everything he does, he does well.”  My question this week is this: What, pray, will people say of us who profess the faith of Christ crucified?  Will our lives point to the excellence of the One, whom we call Lord, or will they lead others astray?  May it be said of us, who seek to follow Jesus, “They do everything well.”