Living Our Faith: Community

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November 4, 2018 All Saints Day

John 11:32-44

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . . 

This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.”

This quote from Thomas Merton comes from his book, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. It provides a vision of what we want to see in a community. The realization of everyone living together as one. In Jesus Christ, we are called to live together in community with our brother and sisters, loving and supporting the other.

We can come to the realization that Thomas Merton does, however, we first encounter brokenness and despair. For the people of Bethany, the people are mourning the loss of Lazarus. Mary and Martha are at a loss because they were hoping that Jesus may come to help heal their brother the same way that he has healed many others throughout the countryside. It is Mary that we hear say to Jesus, “If only you were here!” Mary knows Jesus and the power and authority to heal and if he would have been present at the time her brother died, he would still be alive. In the brokenness that the community of Bethany has encountered, doubt begins to set in and people begin to wonder if Jesus truly is able to do the things he has promised. In a way, they have excluded Jesus from their community and set their sites on the truth that Lazarus is dead.

It is easy for us to exclude people from community. We don’t invite them in. We ignore them. Amid this, we experience brokenness. At times it appears our communities are torn apart. It can happen at any time. It can happen during natural disasters, like hurricane Michael in Florida. It can happen in mass shootings like at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh a little over a week ago. We are bombarded with reminders that heaven has not came to earth yet and that our world is still full of evil. From the outside, it appears that communities are easily shattered.

Despite the evil that pervades us, communities are present to raise up those that need a boost. We may quickly hear of the death and destruction, but the community that is quite often raised up from it is even greater. Communities are made stronger as they struggle together and look for a sense of belonging, safety, companionship, and relationship. New communities, or at least new realizations of communities, have arose time and time again out of the death and destruction that we quite often hear of through the news. The communities that come through these struggles are transformed into a new thing as they grow and are challenged. They get better together.

While Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, the community rejoices. It is a sign of God’s saving grace that has come to reside in their community. It is a chance to witness Jesus and the healing he is bringing to the world. Jesus does not unbind Lazarus, he calls the community to work together to unbind him. It is God coming to live among mortals as we read in Revelation.

The church is a place of community if we are open with one another and support one another in our struggles and temptations. We can be present for one another when we do not know where else to turn. We can bring love and support in the name of Jesus Christ.

If we are honestly following the word of God, we are brought to a sense of community as we learn to love our sisters and brothers. The city of Pittsburgh has come together in the aftermath of the shooting last weekend at Tree of Life and the local Islamic center had raised over $70,000 in the first few days following the tragedy. The communities in Florida devastated by Hurricane Michael are banding together to support one another along with disaster relief organizations throughout the country.

In Richmond, we practice living in community by supporting MCREST, and working with our neighbors from other churches. Community comes in many forms. Thomas Merton’s vision of seeing each other as God sees us, is what living into community is all about. As he says, if we did see everyone this way, “There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed.”

It is in the promise of the Resurrection, that Jesus welcomes us to a new life. A life surrounded by all the saints that have gone before us. A life that is brimming over with the goodness of God and we are embraced for eternity.

Let us pray. God, you draw us in to community to be with one another so that we may see Christ in our sisters and brothers. May you continue to be present with us in our brokenness and provide a peace that comes by gathering together. Amen.

 

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You Will Be Free Indeed!

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October 28, 2018 Reformation Sunday

John 8:31-36

As many of you know, I grew up in a town that was just a little bigger than Richmond. It lacked diversity, much like Richmond. And honestly, there was little to do in town, so we would quite often drive to Lansing on the weekends to go shopping or see a new movie that our little theater in town would most likely not get.

I don’t think I was much different from most people when I looked forward to getting out of the town to seek my own freedom. As soon as I got my drivers license and my own car I was able to go anywhere that I wanted. My parents even trusted me enough to drive all the way down to Cincinnati without adult supervision. When I decided to attend Central Michigan University, it was an hour and a half from home and it meant I would have the greatest freedom yet!

That freedom also came with responsibility. There were times when I questioned the freedom that I sought when I would have little money and things were just not going the way that I expected them to. The freedom that we often desire when we are younger is a false sense of freedom. It is only in Jesus Christ that we find true freedom that cannot be found elsewhere.

The Israelites think that they have it all made. They believe that everything is alright in their lives and that there is no where else they need to turn. They have not been held captive like their ancestors and all they have seen and encountered is freedom. Yes, their land may be under Roman rule, but they have been given the freedom to worship the way they choose. As long as they do not disturb those in authority. Thus, Jesus coming onto the scene is a big warning sign for them. His actions and words are starting to stir up the people and thus the freedom in which they thought they had. In truth, it is not a freedom that is anchored in the truth of God. Their sense of freedom does not reside in the truth of God, rather it resides in their own personal doing.

This was the same issue that Martin Luther had over 500 years ago now with the leaders of the church. They attempted to control everything and did not leave room for the truth that is Jesus Christ. They attempted to control grace when it was not theirs to control. They began to judge others when it was not in their right to judge.

While we think we may be free today, I am sure that you too at one point or another have been captive by some ill devised thought. We like to test the boundaries of our perceived freedom. We like to think that we are in control when really the only thing that we can control is our own personal actions. We make the decision to follow Christ and in the midst of that, there are always other distractions that attempt to steer us away from Christ. The sin that steers us away from Christ is evil. It distracts us and pulls us away from the word of God. It holds us captive in its grasp and yet, Jesus reminds us that he is present to release us from its grip.

Each and everyone of us are called to be in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Like our day to day relationships, we sometimes get out of line and make bad decisions. Despite our bad decisions, the word of God never leaves us. It is present for us to turn to in our time of need and be the foundation for us to rest in when our faith is troubled. It is in the power of the word that Martin Luther realized that we are justified by grace in our faith alone. While others may attempt to judge us, it is only in God that we must answer. While others may sometimes look at us differently, it is probably because we are following the word of Jesus Christ and walking in the way as his disciples.

As our faith grows in the word of God, we are led to freedom from the powers of sin and death. While it is in the powers of sin and death that enslave. We must learn to place our trust in our faith and the freedom found in the truth. For when we place our trust in sin, we are not free. Whenever we place our trust in death, we are not free. It is the truth that will set us free. That freedom was found in Jesus Christ for the disciples and is where we find our freedom today. It is not in our ability to move away from home. It is not in being able to decide whatever we want to do. It is in following Jesus and the way in which he is calling us to journey.

It was through Martin Luther’s revelation in the word, that he found a freedom that he had been missing. A freedom that had went on hiatus from the teaching of the church. In this revelation he saw the need to re-form the church. While Luther found this revelation in the letter to the Romans, a movement was started to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people. A gospel message that is full of grace and mercy. A gospel message that gives us freedom like we could never experience in our earthly treasures, but only embrace in a truth that sets us free. The wonderful thing is that this freedom is not just for us. If it is true for us, it is true for all of humanity. Our God welcomes all of creation into relationship and the freedom that comes in knowing the truth found in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let us pray. Ever re-forming God, you have created us, yet are far from finished in seeing us grow as disciples called to live out your word. May we be shaped by your truth so that we can embrace the freedom that can only be found in you. Amen.

Living Our Faith: Service

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October 21, 2018

Mark 10:35-45

Whether you choose to admit it or not, I am sure that many of you have a guilty pleasure television show. A show in which you can escape your life and immerse yourself into television for an hour or two. Many of our current television choices have extended into the realm known as reality television. We live vicariously through watching others live their lives, face their fears, or strive for success.

I admit that I enjoy Survivor and The Amazing Race and have imagined myself competing on them. You may enjoy American Idol, The Voice, Dancing with the Stars, America’s Got Talent, Big Brother, The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, or one of the many other ones that are too numerous to name. If you think about it, all these shows are competitions and the goal is to determine who is the greatest. It could be the greatest talent, greatest singer, greatest strategist, or greatest dancer. There can be a desire to be lifted above our peers and be selected as the greatest. Of course, this just doesn’t happen on reality television, but also in the Olympics, sport leagues, and even intellectually, like Jeopardy.

Now, I am not saying there is anything wrong with this, but it can lead us away from the teaching of Jesus. Jesus came to serve and through his teaching we are called to go out and be the change we want to see in the world that reflects heaven on earth.

This morning in our gospel lesson from Mark, we encounter James and John approaching Jesus asking that they be able to sit at his right and left hand in his glory. You can imagine that this starts some grumbling among the other disciples. Why do James and John think that they are better then everyone else? What gives them the right to be able to sit in positions of authority once Jesus has reached his glory?

Maybe we have it all wrong. It could be that their intentions are not really that bad. Perhaps their ambition should be applauded. Maybe they just want to show Jesus how much dedication that they have for the mission that they have been called and want to ensure that he is aware of it. In this are opportunities for the disciples to learn and for Jesus to teach. Jesus shares what it will truly mean to follow him into the reign of God.

This attitude did not begin with the disciples, and it did not end there either. All we must do is think back on some of those reality shows, and it is easy to witness the egotistical arrogant attitude of many contestants, hoping to become the greatest. The last thing that is on the mind of many of them is to serve their opponents. There will always be contests and games, but the question that should always be in the forefront of our mind, is how do we treat our opponents, either win or lose? Do we show them love as Jesus would have? Are we willing to serve them in their time of need?

Jesus was not into competition. As he states in our gospel lesson, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Jesus provided many examples for us of what it means to love our neighbors and serve them when they are in need. Jesus was always welcoming the stranger and those that were on the outskirts of society, as he talked and ate with them. Along with this, he lifted up the children and their open minds as something to model. He reached out to heal those that were sick. He was endlessly teaching the disciples and those that would gather in their midst to hear what it was he had to say. He washed the disciple’s feet. He ultimately went to the cross to show the love that he had for all of humanity. Through his death, he gave up his life and saved us from our sins. In his resurrection, we are reminded of the grace of God.

In the endless service that Jesus did, there was a love that flowed from him to all of those that he touched. Encompassed in that love is the same love and kindness that we can share with our friends, neighbors, and even the stranger.  The sharing of that love starts in our own neighborhood.

This short video is a great example of what it means to serve those in our own neighborhood.

This video was also a reminder that we do not have to be the greatest. If we care for others and reach out when they are in need, we will encounter the reign of God here on earth. Christian service is about loving one another well, and as people serve others the world gets a glimpse of God.[i]

There are many ways that we have an opportunity to get that glimpse of God here at Trinity. We glimpse God through the mission trips our Mission Team makes to Haiti, the food packing event through Kids Against Hunger, our Bicycle Ministry, donating food to the food pantry, and especially through MCREST which begins this evening as we welcome 30 homeless gentlemen into our congregation for a week.

I have also witnessed glimpses of God in you, our confirmands as we have had some great conversations in class; I have seen you interact with others at camp; and as you have served in many ways over the past couple of years. You do not have to be the greatest, because you have deemed great in the eyes of Christ. I pray that you continue to extend that same love to others.

Let us pray. God of love, you have called us to acts of service so that we may reach out to our communities with love. May we continue to serve our sisters and brothers alike, with the same love you share with us. Amen.

 

 

 

[i] Enuma Okoro, Animate Practices video series, Augsburg Fortress, 2014.

Living Our Faith: Sacraments

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October 14, 2018

Hebrews 4:12-16

I would like you to stop and think for a minute about the practices in your life that you have held close to your heart. Those things that you have looked forward to on a regular basis. Perhaps they have even shaped who you are today.

One such practice in my life became an annual tradition while I was still living at home with my parents. I was fortunate enough to grow up with an in-ground pool. The pool was a source of fun and laughter throughout the summer. To take a refreshing dip in the pool after mowing the yard was something that I looked forward to. Having friends over and not having to worry about anything on a hot summer day was glorious. For my family, pool season always opened on Memorial Day! Regardless of the weather. Pool season began when I would boldly jump in and break through the surface of the water for the first time. There were Memorial Days where I would enjoy the water and stay in as long as possible because it was eighty degrees out. There were other days that I would jump in and could not get out quick enough because it was barely in the fifties.

This became a spiritual practice for me and the water reinvigorated me after the endless cold of living through another mid-Michigan winter. There is also the obvious connection of the water to our sacramental practice of baptism. In the waters of baptism, we are washed clean and receive the grace of God.

This second week of the Living Our Faith series brings us to the topic of sacraments.

While sacraments are commonly associated with religious ritual, that was not always the case. The word sacrament originally derived from the Latin word, sacramentum, and was used by the Romans when sending soldiers out to war. It was the most serious vow someone could make, to put one’s life up for the empire. There are rituals that happened long before that through the Christian churches own Jewish ancestry. Rituals are important and play an important role in forming community.

It is easy to partake in our modern sacraments. Especially when we don’t always fully understand the promises we are making. We can take them for granted and not fully live into them as God has intended for us. It is through the word of God that the sacraments embody the Holy whenever we baptize or whenever we come to the Lord’s Table to feast. The word of God does not come lightly. In our reading from Hebrews, the author writes, “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before God no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”

When we approach the table every week, we are naked before God.  All our vulnerabilities are laid bare and our actions are not invisible. God knows us and desires for us to be one with the Spirit. God wants us to be vulnerable. Not just with God, but in all our relationships. God wants us to be our true selves and to live into the reign of God.

The sacraments have not always been administered properly in the church and some have chosen to use them to their advantage as leverage or control. However, it is impossible to place limits on God. The moment that we try, God breaks through the fence, knocks down the wall, or clears the way for anything that may lay in God’s path.

God’s call for us this morning is to do the same!

Once again, we hear in the letter to the Hebrews, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need.” Jesus has led the way for us to approach the sacraments with a boldness that reflects our faith. A faith that lifts Christ up as our companion that can be with us in our weaknesses and cheers us on in our strengths. To be bold and confident as we are reminded of the baptismal waters that washed over us, and to eat and drink of the body and blood of Christ which brings us to full communion with God.

The following clip from the movie, Phenomenon, is an example of how Christ works in us through the power of God’s word in the sacraments.

Like the apple, when we eat of the bread and drink of the wine, Jesus becomes a part of us. Jesus is present with us and restores us. This is the grace of God at work in a world that is often at odds with itself. We are reminded of Christ’s death on the cross and the life that he has given for all of humanity. Through the sacraments, God’s word is active and thriving. God’s word fills our hearts, minds, and souls so that we may fully live into a relationship that is comprised of love and compassion.

The practices that we live in the sacraments are an outward and visible sign of God at work in the world today. All are invited to be a part of that work. To be washed clean in the ever-flowing waters; to feast on the bread of life. In these, we encounter a God that knows no boundaries and has broken down walls so that all may experience the reign of God.

Let us pray. Living and active God, you have initiated the commands for us to be baptized and to share in your body, broken for us. In the waters and at the table, may we be renewed and experience your loving grace in our lives. Amen.

Living our Faith: Prayer

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October 7, 2018

Psalm 8

Does prayer come to you naturally?

Do you find yourself in prayer throughout the day, or are you more intentional in your prayer as you set time aside in the morning or before you go to bed?

There are days when I find it easier to pray and other times where I am so distracted that I find it hard to focus. However, that is probably the time that I need to pray the most. I am sure that some of you can relate to this.

Some of you may have been praying since you could kneel beside the bed and say your nightly prayers. While others struggle with the whole notion of prayer.

Every Sunday we enter in to prayer several times during worship. From the Prayer of the Day at the beginning of the service to our prayers following communion, we lift our prayers to God. During our lessons, we have the opportunity as a community to raise our voices in unison as we chant the Psalm. The Psalms were meant to be sung and are prayers to an ever-present God. Those prayers come in many forms: lament, thanksgiving, praise, adoration, and asking.

This morning, Psalm 8 reminds us that through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are guided in prayer. We praise God, “whose glory is chanted above the heavens out of the mouths of infants and children.” This praise bubbles up through our beings as we enter into worship.

In the depths of prayer, we encounter the holy and grow in relationship with God.

While prayer comes easy for some, others would rather have root canal surgery.

Part of this could be shaped by our interactions in the church as we were growing up. Or, for some of us, lack of interaction.

It can also be easy to get discouraged when we pray. Depending upon who you listen to, you may think that you will get everything you ask for in prayer. Unfortunately, that is not the way that prayer works. If it were, life would be pretty boring. God is not a genie in a lamp granting our every wish.

Struggles and challenges come to all of us. It may be in the form of losing a job, a serious diagnosis from our doctor, or a death of a loved one. We are not immune to the happenings of life. When our prayers in these times do not get answered the way we want them to, we get angry at God. Some of us have probably even turned away from God at these times. While our prayers at times may not be answered the way we want them to be answered, it does not mean that God is not present with us. In prayer we are encouraged to turn to God even in times of lament. It is okay to express our frustration and anger with God. This opens us up to a new and right relationship with a loving God.

The power of prayer connects us to our own spirituality and the Triune God that is present with us in all eternity.

Brian McLaren presents four movements of prayer as an example for us to follow, using The Lord’s Prayer in his illustration.

  • Wake-Up: To the loving and mysterious works of God. We do this when we pray, “Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
  • Tune-Up: We know that we all have our own personal desires. The thing is, God also has desires for us. When we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven,” we begin to tune God’s desires to ours.
  • Ask: Do not be afraid to ask for what you need. Ask for where the burdens on your heart may be lessened and what it is you need right at this moment. We do this when we pray, “Give us today our daily bread,” and, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
  • Re-Enter: The truth is, we cannot stay in church forever. We are called to go out into the world to love and serve as Jesus did. We pray, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” so that we are prepared to enter the frantic chaos that can surround us in the world and our daily actions.[i]

While the Lord’s prayer is used as the framework for this model of praying, these movements can be used in any prayer. Our practice of prayer draws us closer to the loving God that desires to be in relationship with creation. In our prayer, we begin to wake up to the mystery of God and are able to tune ourselves in to the will of God and the calling that has been placed in our lives. As we ask for what it is we need, we begin to prepare ourselves to re-enter the world where we will encounter evil.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that we are not alone in prayer as he writes to the Romans:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Sprit, because the Spirit interceded for the saints according to the will of God. (8:26-27)

The Spirit is present to support us in our prayers. As we live our faith, we are shaped by the practices that guide our daily life. Jesus teaches us how to pray in the words of the Lord’s prayer. It is before his death on the cross that the disciples are prepared to carry his message forward and this prepares us for our life as we walk in the way of Jesus Christ. May you be freed to enter into the depths of prayer to encounter the holy and grow in your relationship with God.

Let us pray. God, wake us up to the wonders and mysteries of your creation. May we be open to your desires as we ask for those things that we need. In this relationship, you prepare us to enter into a world that is in need of your love and compassion. Amen.

 

 

 

 

[i] Brian McLaren, Prayer, Animate: Practices Video Series, Augsburg Fortress

Be Full of Flavor

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September 30, 2018

Mark 9:38-50

Jesus visits Peter at the Pearly Gates and asks how things are going.  “Well,” says St. Peter, “I have a complaint. You know, Lord, I’m scrupulous about my job here.  I interview each soul arriving at the Gate of Heaven, and I check to see if his or her name is written in the Book of Life.  I turn away the people not worthy to enter heaven, but a little while later I turn around and I see those very people wandering around on the inside!  I don’t get it! What’s going on?”

“Oh.  That’s my mother for you,” replied Jesus.  “Those people you turn away – she keeps letting them in through the back door.”

I will admit that when I was in high school I had the tendency to be quite competitive. Now, don’t get me wrong. Competition is not a bad thing. In fact, competition can help you up your own game. I was on the tennis team in high school, however, the competition that drove me was in the classroom. When I witnessed friends and classmates getting better grades than me, it made me furious. I was upset when I just fell out of my classes Top 10, because I thought the person in front of me took easy classes and did not challenge themselves nearly as much as I did. Where I sinned was in my wishes that people would fail so that I could be better. I was jealous. I was upset by those people that I thought had got in through the backdoor. While I was hoping to erect stumbling blocks for people, Jesus was there to ensure that I did not.

We have a couple of texts this morning where the characters are incited with jealousy!

First, in our reading from Numbers, the people are complaining. What else is new? However, this time, God tells Moses to invite the seventy elders to come to the Tent of Meeting.  It is here that God bestows upon them the same Spirit that Moses had received. That is all except two of them, Eldad and Medad, that remained in the camp. The jealousy is stoked up in those that were present when they hear Eldad and Medad also received the same spirit, even though they were not in the Tent of Meeting with Moses and the rest of the elders.

In the gospel lesson from Mark, we witness the jealousy of Jesus’ disciples. How dare someone else be healing in Jesus’ name. Someone that is not part of their group. Jesus has been teaching the disciples to move more to the thoughts of God, and yet they still slip back into human thoughts. The thoughts of the worldly and worrying about their own egos and how they may look in the eyes of Jesus compared to this other person that is healing in the name of Jesus.

Jesus, in return, begins to rebuke their human thoughts. His words seem to be harsh and very much in your face. He is attempting to wake them from their stupor. To make them realize that they are not the only ones that can proclaim him as the Messiah, and in turn bringing healing to the sick and broken in his name. He reminds them of who they are in a brash way, that I am sure garnered their attention.

You would think that overtime we would finally catch on to what Jesus was teaching. Our egos do not seem to let us do so. Our egos pull us into the depth of ourselves and we are encouraged to worry about our own personal wellbeing at the expense of others. When we do decide to join with others, we tend to come together in common interest and then find those of differing opinion and looked negatively upon them. Our society is so split among lines today that we fail to find the humanity in the other person that has differing opinions.

We let our ego get in the way of reaching out in love and compassion. We erect stumbling blocks for others, hoping that they may fail and therefore move us ahead in whatever it may be that we are striving to reach.

If you recall the gospel lesson from last week, the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest among them. They wanted to make sure that they were sitting next to Jesus when it really counted. The person that is healing in Jesus’ name has thrown a wrench into their plan.

That is the problem. It is their plan, not Jesus’ plan. Jesus reminds them in his tough teaching that everyone will be salted with fire! Everyone will have that peace of God within them. It is in the salt that they bring flavor and preservation to a world that needs love and compassion. It is in the salt that life abounds  joyfully. The salt brings out the true flavor of what it means to follow Jesus. Sharing in others joys as well as in their sorrows.

I will admit that being salted sounds funny. However, when something is not salted it is bland. Jesus does not want us to be bland. We are called to share in the good news of Jesus Christ and this requires us to be bold and flavorful.

Jesus is always lifting the children up as an example for all to follow. While young, children have not fully lived into their ego yet. They have yet to be fully pulled into the me-society, where they think everything needs to revolve around them. They are happy for one another and cheer each other on. When my son was younger, he competed in sport stacking. Which if you do not know what it is, you have 12 cups and you must see how fast you can stack them in various patterns. The joy on their faces and the joy they had for one another when setting personal bests or even rising to the top of the competition was incredible. They cheered each other on, even if it meant that they were now placed lower in the standings.

This is what Jesus wishes for us. It is an incredible example of exactly what Jesus is doing! He is standing in our corner and cheering us on. Each and everyone of us! It does not matter if we are part of the in group or following him. He is cheering us on, knocking down those stumbling blocks that others may place in front of us, and welcoming us into his loving embrace to experience life and to live it abundantly and full of flavor.

Let us pray. God of peace, you call us to be at peace with one another. May we continue to be guided by Jesus and be open to his teaching as we are pulled towards the reign of God. May your salt enhance and preserve us in our daily life. Amen.

 

 

 

Who Do You Say I Am?

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September 16, 2018

Mark 8:27-38

Who do you say I am?

This question alone could keep us in thought and prayer for a long time. I have been confronted with this question, or similar ones, several times in the past few months.

Twenty years ago, as a non-church goer.  My answer would have been simplistic and secular. Of course, I knew who Jesus was as a person. I knew he was connected to God in some manner and I knew that he was the part of the reason that Easter and Christmas were celebrated. I believed in him as a historical person and I knew that he did not look anything like the famous Warner Sallman painting, which Trinity has a copy of hanging in the front entryway.

I connected the cross to Jesus and I knew that where there was a cross I would be able to connect with a community of Christians. The cross has been depicted in many ways as you can see around the sanctuary this morning. May of you are probably wearing a cross.

Who do you say I am?

Since joining the church, I have gotten to know Jesus Christ, and I am still striving to know him on an even deeper level. We can never fully know Jesus Christ until we are willing to carry our own cross and put up our own lives. This is a tall order and not easy. I have gotten to know Jesus Christ through a point of grace since the first time that I walked into a Lutheran Church. A grace that welcomes all people, saints and sinners alike.

While grace is abundant for all of God’s people, another challenging question was asked of me this past week, “When is it as a pastor, do you remind people of God’s grace and when do you remind them of Christ’s request that they die unto themselves?”

It is easy to go heavy on the grace and look completely past your own sins, and possibly even the sin of the neighbor or family members. Dietrich Bonhoeffer raised this same concern in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, when he talks about cheap grace. Do we take grace for granted, and think that we can do anything that we want and yet still be forgiven for it? Do we fully understand the measure of what Jesus means when he says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me? 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.”

We don’t like to suffer. We want to be as far from it as possible, whether it be health, finances, or temptations that pull us into a pit of despair. If I could give up my high-blood pressure medication I would jump at it. If I could find a way to pay of the church mortgage and ease some our financial stress, you bet I would in a heartbeat. To bear a cross is really the last thing any of us would want to do. Yet, that is where we find ourselves day in and day out as Jesus challenges us with the gospel.

Do not think for one minute that the disciples had any clue what they were doing either. Peter even begins to rebuke Jesus as he makes the first of his three predictions of his upcoming death on the cross. The death that Jesus speaks of is not something that they are expecting. It definitely is not something that they want to see happen.

When Jesus instructs them that they are going to have to take up their own cross, they are left slack-jawed. The cross that they know is a device of torture. It represents shame and death! The cross is nothing that they want to associate with. Like us, the disciples fail to understand what Jesus is saying at that moment. They have encountered a lot with Jesus as they have walked throughout the country and now it seems as Jesus is telling them to take it even one step farther and possibly give up their own lives.

Their image of Jesus coming to save them from the Roman Empire has been shattered. They were hoping for a conquering warrior to go against the Roman Empire, and now Jesus tells them that he is going to be killed. Yet, the second part of what Jesus tells them seems to fall on deaf ears. He will be raised in three days. Perhaps they looked over this, because they did not know what that means either.

While the cross represents torture and shame for the disciples, it will soon come to mean something even more. In the cross they will begin to understand what Jesus has been talking about. In the cross, they will find transformation and triumph. G.K. Chesterton says, “But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape.  Because it has a paradox in its center it can grow without changing. … The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers.”

It is here and, in his questions, that Jesus asks the disciples, that they begin to understand his true calling in the world. It is here in Jesus’ teaching that their formation as disciples is progressing.  While Jesus still shy’s away from wanting the rest of the countryside to know that he is the Messiah, he is beginning to open himself up to those that are following in his footsteps.

We can follow in those same footsteps that the disciples walked.

We do experience grace from a loving God. However, this grace would not have been possible without the cross to show us the way. Gilberto Cavazos-Gonzalez speaks of the cross in terms of spirituality when he says, “Christian spirituality begins with the cross; The cross of Jesus Christ, our own cross, and the crosses of our neighbors, especially the poor and the marginalized. The cross is encountered and embraced as a paradoxical sign of salvation. That which often seems bitter and fatal can be sweetness and life.”[1]

By taking up our own cross, we begin to die to ourselves. When we do so, we begin to let Jesus into the recesses of our heart. As we welcome Jesus into those places that we have a hard time letting others see, we can begin to answer the question, “Who do you say I am,” in a way that opens up the reign of God for us to experience in the present.

What is your cross you are called to take up? Or better yet, how are you called to follow Jesus in the world today? How do you choose to share the Gospel that is just as alive today as it was nearly 2000 years ago? How does it affect your relationships with others and are you as open as Jesus was?

May you begin to discern this for yourself as you meditate on the various crosses in the sanctuary. May you encounter life in the cross that once represented death.

Let us pray. God of Glory, you changed the meaning of the cross for all of us as Christians. May we continue to experience the change that you work in our hearts and lives daily as we come to the cross and in repentance and seek love. Amen.

 

[1] Cavazos-Gonzalez, Gilberto. Beyond Piety, The Christian Spiritual Life, Justice, and Liberation. pg 26.