Bible Readings Proverbs 2:1-11, Matt 20:20-28,
How many of you have played darts... or maybe archery has taken your fancy? What is it about having a target to hit that moves us to throw tiny darts or shoot arrows? That desire to hit the bulls eye captivates but if the bulls eye eludes us then it’s the most frustrating thing. And what about that name bulls' eye where did that come from? Its origin is uncertain but one school of thought believes it dates back hundreds of years when English archers used to gather after church in the village and use a bull's skull to see who was the most accurate shooter, whoever could literally fire their arrow into the bull's eye was decreed the best... so what are you up to after church today?.... I won’t be entering, my attempts at darts finds me struggling to even get on the board.... I miss the mark far more than I hit it, how about you?
Darts and Mother's Day how do you connect those two? Well that’s a good question I wondered about that myself as I started to write!! But it all comes down to wisdom, it all comes down to hitting the mark and missing the mark, bull’s eye or back board!
Stop and think about your mums for a moment here. What sort of wise advice did they have to offer when it came to helping you hit the bulls eye of life? My mums favourite go to was “treat others the way you want to be treated.”
And what about us, how often do we feel like we’re right on target and how often do we feel like we are missing the mark?
Well being a mum myself I know for sure that even mums don’t always hit the bulls eye, I've missed the mark many times. In our reading from Matthew this morning it would seem the mother of James and John was doing her best to help her boys to hit bull’s eye, but in doing so it seems she was having one of those miles wide of the mark moments. She started out well coming to Jesus respectfully, even kneeling before him, and maybe she came with the best intentions in the world, wanting what she perceived to be the best thing for her sons... to rule one on either side of Jesus in his kingdom (most likely she was imagining an earthly kingdom)....
But you have to wonder what her underlying motive was in asking such a thing?
Stop and think a moment about what motivates us….is our primary motivation to serve God’s kingdom or to serve our own? This woman was thought to have been one of Jesus’ disciples along with her sons, they’ve all given their lives to following Jesus but still selfish ambition still had a way of rising and instead of hitting the bull’s eye she and her sons miss the mark completely.
What are our underlying motives?
If we’re totally honest I suspect we might be surprised to find that some of the things we do with the best of intentions might be more motivated by selfish ambition than we would like to think... and the problem with selfish ambition is it’s a one-way road to destruction.
The good news for us is that it wasn’t just James, John and their mother who struggled with missing the mark.... the other disciples were indignant when they heard what this mum had the gall to ask Jesus... they all got upset because they all wanted that place of honour for themselves... they all had underlying selfish ambition going on.
R.T. France picks this up saying “The indignation of the other disciples was that of Jealousy not holy humility, The ten are no more free of ambition than the two.”
How is that good news for us? Because Jesus didn’t reject or give up his followers for exercising a trait that is familiar to many of us, he helped them find a better way, the way of wisdom.
The writer of Proverbs, Jesus and James (the brother of Jesus not the brother of John) as did many of the biblical authors understood that selfish ambition was destructive to individuals and was lethal to community living…
James was writing to a community that was under economic persecution and it was stopping people getting ahead in the world… but James was primarily honing in on the teachers as his target. Why? Mainly because they were teaching with an underlying motive of selfish ambition and as a result missing the mark big time.... instead of thriving community life they were creating factions and dividing the church with harmful words….
So James is appealing to those who think they are wise saying, “if you think you are wise…. prove it by your actions because what I see going on here isn’t how Godly wisdom acts. What I see at work are the fruits our selfish ego and its potentially lethal to our community!!”
For James faith and actions always go hand in hand you can’t have one without the other… to hit the bulls eye you have to walk the talk.
James says, (Read with me) “ For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.” (James 3:16, NLT).
For James selfish ambition and Christian community was an oxymoron they couldn’t co-exist.... for Christian community to hit the bull's eye it needed to be lived out the way God intended, lived out by acting with Godly wisdom rather than selfish ambition…
What does Godly wisdom look like? “17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favouritism and is always sincere.” (James 3:17, NLT).
Alan Brehm says “For James, the real goal of the one who seeks the meaning of life in the “fear of the Lord,” in “walking humbly with your God,” is wisdom. Wisdom that is a way of life defined by walking in God’s ways— humility, meekness, gentleness, along with integrity, peace, and justice! For James, “wisdom” is about taking our faith in Jesus and making it real in daily life.”
In our world wisdom’s often associated with knowledge, but in a biblical understanding of wisdom knowledge for knowledge sake will miss the mark. Recognizing God is the source of all we are and putting the knowledge we have into practice for the good of our world is where wisdom is found. Walking the talk as James said.
Proverbs 1:7 tells us wisdom starts with God (what a surprise, not us!!) The Message puts it this way “Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.” Micah 6:8 - 9a “O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Fear the Lord if you are wise!”
Imagine I wanted to improve my dart playing skills and I enlisted the world number one darts player (anyone know who that is? Micheal Van Gerwen) and he taught me everything he knows, I can have all the knowledge in the world but until I pick up a dart and throw it I will never have a hope of hitting the bulls eye.... Godly wisdom isn’t just having knowledge it using that knowledge for good in our everyday lives!!
Paul tells us in 1 Cor 8: 1b - 2 “But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.”
The opposite to being wise in a Godly sense isn’t being uneducated…. Our reading from Proverbs calls us to cry out for insight and ask for understanding to seek wisdom.... no, the opposite to being wise in a Godly sense are those who think they know it all, the proud, the arrogant, those who think they’re right on the mark when in fact they’ve missed the board completely.
This was the situation James was dealing with…. teachers who thought they knew better…so James says “prove it…show me your wisdom in your actions.”
Jesus also called the disciples to show they had died to selfish ambition through the way they lived. (read with me) “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”
In essence Jesus was saying you need to re orientate your thinking... You can never hit the bulls eye in God’s kingdom by living a self-promoting life, no, you need to watch me. You need to see how I do it, I serve, who do I serve? I serve the frail, the vulnerable the outcast and when you follow me in this way you’ll hit the mark every time.
From Jesus’ perspective, true wisdom, true strength, true greatness is found in the kindness you show to the most vulnerable people in our world. Robert Wall highlights this saying “Jesus personifies wisdom and his radical acts of fidelity and love are the supreme characteristics of “wise dealing…”
In both Jesus’ and James situations this lack of wisdom wasn’t a faith issue in the sense of belief…all the people involved either knew Jesus personally or believed in him…this was a growth issue, both emotional and spiritual growth were at stake here. Jesus and James both understood when faith isn’t lived out with fitting actions it destroys Christian community.
James shows us what stunted emotional and spiritual growth looks like, it’s the place where selfish ambition and pride rule our actions, it’s the place of jealousy, bitterness, unforgiveness, coveting, no ones going to tell me what to do…. to get our hands on what we want…
The mother of James and John and the disciples show us what it looks like through desiring to be the most important, desiring to Lord it over others….in reality we really don’t need to be shown for we’re all too familiar with many of these traits…
We miss the mark when we refuse to say sorry
We miss the mark when we constantly criticize others
We miss the mark when we get impatient and intolerant with those who have different views or opinions to us
We miss the mark when we trample over others to achieve our ambitions
We miss the mark when we see the poor as products of their own making
We miss the mark when we manipulate and control to get our own way
We miss the mark when we deceive those we love
We hit the mark when we grasp Godly wisdom and we understand that community splits, worldly hatred and violence begin in the heart of the individual.
We hit the mark when we bring our weaknesses to Jesus and ask for his strength and wisdom gifted to us through the Holy Spirit to navigate each day.
We hit the mark when we cry out for peace in the world and ask for it to begin in us.
We hit the mark when we choose to stop deceiving the ones we love with selfish behaviours that are destructive to loving relationships
We hit the mark when our ambitions are pure and peace loving.
We hit the mark when we treat others with gentleness, respect and a willingness to yield when we know a better option is placed before us.
We hit the mark when we are gracious with others and treat everyone equally.
When we live the way God created us to live our lives bear fruit…equally when we live driven by selfish ambition our lives bear fruit… one hits the mark and one misses it totally.
James calls us to evaluate the way we live as a community in Christ ….
How can we help those who have no hope of hitting a bull’s eye?
How can we be a voice for the voice less?
How can we give respect and dignity to the people who are essentially invisible in our world?
How can we care about the rights and the quality of life of those, who, for the most part, nobody really cares about?
How can we, as my wise mum used to say, treat others as we would like to be treated?
How can we live out the wise advice our mothers gave us?
Jesus has hit the bull’s eye for us giving his life selflessly in love so we, who are absolutely undeserving and full of selfish ambition can live in a restored relationship with God and with each other…. No matter how bad our aim is today through the wisdom of God and the loving grace of Jesus flying on the wings of the Spirit our lives are full of bulls eye potential... do we have the wisdom to accept God’s call to lay down our selfish ambition and follow Jesus call to serve today?