Tag Archive: Audrey Assad


Last Sunday’s sermon on Matthew 16:21-28, preached at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA.

Peter has got to be one of my favorite disciples. I mean, last week, he gets a gold star for naming Jesus as the Messiah. And then this week, Jesus is calling him Satan. In my mind I imagine Peter frolicking around saying “Jesus is Messiah! I got it! I got it!” Then in the next moment, he’s looking down at his shoes and saying, “I don’t got it…”

To use a recent metaphor, it was like Jeff and me trying to kayak between Chincoteague and Assateague on Monday. We could see where we wanted to go and were paddling together thinking, “we’re getting there!” But then when we looked around, we realized we hadn’t gone anywhere and we were, in fact, drifting backwards due to the currents and the wind. So sad. One step forward… two steps back.

And frankly, don’t we all sometimes feel like Peter must have felt?I know it’s usually the minute I think I’ve got something figured out that I realize, “nope! Still oblivious!” And really, who can blame Peter for his outburst – for trying to stop Jesus from talking about the fact he must suffer and die? Peter is listening to his Lord – his friend – and he’s hearing that this person he loves is going to suffer and die. No one wants to hear that someone they love is hurting or dying. And no one is really certain what to do or what to say when someone they love is hurting. No wonder Peter takes Jesus aside and tells him, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”

Jesus’ response makes it clear that his future suffering and death on the cross aren’t easy for him either. He responds by calling Peter, “Satan,” a word meaning “the adversary.” Jesus hears in Peter’s words the temptation to abandon his mission. And his forceful response shows that whereas Peter’s insight about Jesus as the Messiah was divinely given, this statement is temptation from the one who opposes God. Although Peter might have thought he was being helpful and saying there had to be a better way to save the world, Jesus straightens Peter out by saying he’s not looking at things from God’s point of view.

As the Talmud says, “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Peter saw as he was – sad and afraid of what might come down the road for him. He couldn’t see that this was the way to new life.  He couldn’t see that Jesus’ suffering and death would bring about new life for all of creation. He saw things from a human, not divine, point of view.

And boy is that easy to do! Believing in Jesus and loving him, ok. But denying yourself, taking up your cross, following someone else, and losing your life… that’s a hard sell! Who really wants to do that? Who wants to die to themselves in order to gain new life? I’m just fine where I am now, thank you very much!

But that is what Jesus is calling Peter and us to in this passage. It’s what we are invited into when we are baptized. In those waters and with ancient words we are crucified with Christ and raised to new life. We die to our old selves and as the Apostle Paul describes, we are clothed with Christ. We’re marked with the cross of Christ forever. That is not only a phrase we say, but a part of our identity – in baptism we are made a people of the cross, saved by God’s grace, and called to follow the way our Lord and Savior walked.

Called to turn from ourselves and our own egos and to turn toward God. Called to turn from merely serving our own desires to serve and care for others. Called to practice dying to our selfishness in order to listen for and obey God’s call in our lives.

         Whoa. That’s a tall order. Frankly, it sounds exhausting and like a lot of hard work. I like the way Audrey Assad puts it in her song, “The Way You Move:”

I know that the hardest part
of love is not the
things I have to give, no
It’s what I give up, I’m giving up ground
and I’m trading in my solitude for safety now,

All my pride, you know it doesn’t stand a chance
against the way you move,
You’re tearing up roots & breaking down walls,
and I don’t stand a chance at all,
against the way you move.

I think she hits the nail on the head. It’s hard to hear Jesus’ call in this morning’s reading because it challenges us to let go of our pride for the sake of the Gospel. To die to ourselves in order to be free to experience new life and transformation in Christ. It’s a call that requires sacrifice for the sake of God’s rule and for the benefit of others – even those we don’t particularly like. In a society of individualism, instant gratification, and consumerism, so many things bombard us and promise to make us better or happier people. It’s especially hard to turn away from those things in order to follow this challenging, but life-giving call of Jesus.

So what are you unwilling to let go of or to lose in order to follow Christ? Maybe it’s your reputation. Maybe it’s your money. Maybe it’s your feeling of superiority. Maybe it’s control. Maybe it’s your idea of success. And what about us as a congregation?

We want to grow, but it’s so hard for us to really let go and say, “Ok, God. I’m all yours. Help me to follow you, even if it’s into places I don’t want to go. Shape me into the person you’re calling me to be.” We find ourselves thinking, “what will I be giving up in order to grow deeper in my faith?” Or, “God, what are you going to change about me or ask me to do?” Or, “God, I’m scared that you will call me to something I cannot possibly handle.”

Following God is hard because it requires sacrifice and probably doing things we don’t readily want to do. Look at Jeremiah. He was serving as God’s prophet. He called God’s word a joy and a delight and he took these words on wholeheartedly, living them out. As he says in the reading, he didn’t even hang out with the fun crowd, but sat with the weight of God’s words of judgment to the people on his shoulders. And now he’s fed up, hurting, indignant and telling God he feels like he got suckered into something that he doesn’t really want to do anymore!

And God’s response is interesting. If you come back to me and continue to do my will, you will speak my words as a prophet and people will listen and turn to you.   Even though they fight against you, I will give you strength so that they will not overtake you. I will be with you even though this road is difficult. This is the promise we, too, have in Christ. In taking up our crosses and following Jesus, we are going where he has been and he is accompanying us on the journey. No matter what. It is not a promise of an easy life, but the promise of Emmanuel, God with us through it all.

When we find ourselves stuck in a rut or overwhelmed by fears or worries, remember that carrying our crosses is never something we do alone. Even Jesus had help carrying his cross from Simon of Cyrene. We too, need help from Christ and from others in the body of Christ to carry our crosses. When we are baptized and marked with the cross, parents, sponsors and the entire congregation promise to help us live out our faith in the world.  

Because, ultimately, the act of taking up a cross is public.   Those condemned to die by crucifixion were forced to take up their cross and parade to the location of their execution. It was a public humiliation. And when we take up the cross, the ultimate symbol of Christ’s love and obedience, it is a public event. We don’t simply do it in the safety of our own homes, but it calls us to go out into the world and follow Christ in word and deed. We take up the cross for the sake of others. We bear one another’s burdens and lay down our lives that we might find new life in the people and places God calls us to encounter.

To be a disciple means to not only be a follower, but to be a student. As we think about the school year and Sunday School beginning again, we are reminded that we are called to be life-long students of Christ and his cross. We are students always learning what it means to walk in the way of the cross, to turn from ourselves and to God.   To turn outward, instead of being curved in upon ourselves, Luther’s very definition of sin. We may balk at or stumble and fall under the weight of the cross, but we are never alone in trying to carry it. Thanks be to God. Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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Persevering in Prayer

This is Sunday’s sermon I preached on Luke 18:1-8 at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, Virginia.

The Gospel reading this morning opens with this: “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”  Jesus says the disciples have a need to pray always.  It’s a necessity.  It’s not a suggestion or a tip, but it’s necessary.  That’s pretty strong language.  And maybe as good Lutherans we don’t like to hear that language of “must,” but when we think about prayer as our means of communication with God, it is pretty important stuff!

In thinking about prayer, I spent some time on that most theological of resources, YouTube, watching movie clips in which people try to pray.  While one from the end of Bruce Almighty was very touching and heartfelt, most of them were funny.  Usually, in these scenes people unaccustomed to praying are asked to pray before a meal or before a group of people.  They try to build a prayer, stringing together bits and pieces of religious language they’ve heard, along with song lyrics (a little Godspell perhaps?), and even the Pledge of Allegiance.  People look up from their prayers, eyebrows raised, concern on their faces and awkwardness and hilarity ensue.

Now watching these clips gave me a good chuckle, but these movies also pointed out another truth: many people are uncomfortable with prayer.  Maybe that’s why Jesus spends a great deal of time encouraging the disciples to pray, especially in the Gospel of Luke.  In Luke’s Gospel, we hear about Jesus praying and discussing prayer more often than in the any of the other Gospels.

Jesus’ parable about the persistent widow must have struck his listeners and the early church as pretty funny.  Here’s a vulnerable widow persistently harassing a judge who is neither objective nor impartial to give her justice.  The odds are not in her favor, and yet, she never gives up.  Finally, he gives in, figuring that it’s in his best interest to give her what she wants.  And what we miss as English speakers is that the judge actually says he’s going to act “in order that she doesn’t finally strike him in the eye.”  Yes.  That’s what it says! So Jesus is telling a parable where the powerful judge is worried about a vulnerable, powerless widow giving him a black eye.  This lady might not only physically make him look bad, but also ruin his reputation by continually seeking justice.  The image must have been quite an absurd one to Jesus’ hearers!

Jesus goes on to say that if even this terrible guy gives justice to the widow out of his own selfish interests, how much more will a good and loving God give ear and justice to God’s chosen ones who cry out day and night?

Right before this story, Jesus spoke with the Pharisees and explained that the kingdom of God was already present.  He explained that it was not completely here and that it was unlike any other kingdom they might have seen in the world.  Instead, he said that it was here already, growing in and among people.  He then spoke about how the Son of Man would come again unexpectedly.  It is in this context that we hear about the need to pray always.

In the first communities to receive and hear Luke’s Gospel, the faithful believers were eagerly waiting for Jesus to return and to bring about the fullness of God’s kingdom on earth.  But they needed encouragement to hold on and to be faithful during this period of waiting.  The Romans had destroyed the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem, and the believers were trying to figure out what it meant to follow Christ in the Roman Empire.  How long must they wait for God’s reign and justice?  How long must they hold on until Jesus returned?  And how could they hold fast in the meantime?

The answer was to be persistent in prayer.  And the same is true for us today.  Prayer is a means of communicating with God.  As Teresa of Avila, the 16th century mystic and reformer wrote, “Prayer, is nothing but friendly intercourse, and frequent solitary converse, with Him who we know loves us.”  It’s a way of not only telling God what is on our minds and in our hearts, but of being open to listening to the whispers of the Holy Spirit.  It’s also a way of connecting with one another in community.  Listening to others pray not only inspires us to pray, but also opens us to the concerns and needs of those around us.  And coming before God to intercede for others brings us closer to those for whom we are praying.  Prayer shapes our attitudes toward God and others and transforms our hearts in the process.

Prayer is an incredible gift and yet I still find that I don’t pray as often as I’d like to or as I should.  And maybe it’s the same for you.  I’d love to tell you that I pray every day for an hour, but that would be lying.  When things are difficult, perhaps it is easier to pray more, but what about when things are going pretty well? It has been my experience that God is always patiently and persistently reminding me of my need to pray.  I am reminded of this through others requesting prayer and also through others in the body of Christ reminding me of the importance of prayer.  I also experience God calling me to prayer through that still, small voice that seems to gently say, “spend time with me in prayer.”

And even then, I confess that I sometimes put it off, metaphorically sticking my fingers in my ears and saying, “la la la la – I’ve got other things to do!”  But I’ve found that once I make that time to pray, it is almost always the case that I feel a greater sense of calm and peace.  You see, God always faithfully pursues, calling us to spend time with God in spite of ourselves.  Out of amazing love, God has chosen each and every one of us.  And so, God wants to hear everything that we have to say, even if we’re angry or frustrated with God.  That’s incredible.

But then there are the other times when prayer is a struggle.  Sometimes it seems as if God isn’t listening and that things will never change.  Sometimes the prayers seem to go unanswered.  Sometimes it seems that the right words don’t come and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of that peace or calm showing up.  Sometimes even though we feel called to serve or to take action, it can seem that what we’re doing isn’t making any difference.  What then?

It is then that we are to be persistent – to continue praying and bringing our needs, hurts, hopes and dreams before God in prayer.  It is then that we can remember that Jesus continued praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before the crucifixion even though it was difficult.  It is then that we can remember that Jesus prayed for his disciples and continues to encourage us to pray.  It is then that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.  It is then that we persevere and push onward, trusting that God does hear and will act.

And it’s crucial to remember that we are a part of a community.  We’re not just praying alone or for our own needs, but with and for others and they for us.  As Martin Luther wrote in A Simple Way to Pray: “Finally, mark this, that you must always speak the Amen firmly.  Never doubt that God in his mercy will surely hear you and say ‘yes’ to your prayers.  Never think that you are kneeling or standing alone, rather think that the whole of Christendom, all devout Christians, are standing there beside you and you are standing among them in a common, united petition which God cannot disdain.  Do not leave your prayer without having said or thought, ‘Very well, God has heard my prayer; this I know as a certainty and a truth.’  That is what Amen means.”

When Jesus asks if he will find faith when he returns, I think he’s talking about this dogged, messy, stubborn, persistent faith that keeps on praying despite the odds.  It’s a faith that keeps on keeping on even though it doesn’t make any rational sense.  It’s hanging on tightly to God, even when it may seem foolish to others to do so.  It’s the faith that follows the way of the cross, believing that in death there is life.

In the words of one of my favorite singers, Audrey Assad:

My faith is not a fire
As much as it’s a glow
A little burning ember
In my weary soul
And it’s not too much
It’s just enough to give me hope
Because your love moves slow

God calls and empowers us through the Holy Spirit to persistent prayer and faith.  God invites, reminds and emboldens us to keep a steady ember aglow, waiting for God to fan us into faithful flames, capable of setting the world on fire with God’s love.

Unlike the unjust judge, God longs for us to spend time in prayer, pouring out our hearts, silently and aloud, through words and actions, individually and in community.  As Luther reminds us, “prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance.  It is laying hold of His willingness.”  Praying to God is not wearing out a selfish and partial judge, but persistently embracing and enjoying God’s goodness and the relationship God wants to have with us.

In the week ahead, I invite and encourage you to experiment with prayer.  Pray for each member of your family – even the extended family.  Pray for your neighbors.  Pray for Community Lutheran.  Pray for the people you pass on the sidewalk.  Pray for people with whom you have a hard time interacting.  Pray for the person who cuts you off in traffic.  I know, that’s a tough one!  Request that others pray for you.  See what happens! Remember, you don’t have to be eloquent or use big theological words – you are talking to God, the One who knows you better than anyone else, even yourself.  God has given you a voice and a way of praying, so embrace it and use it!  Thanks be to God! Amen.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Audrey Assad singing “Slow:”

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