Tag Archive: Baptism


This was the sermon I preached on February 1 at Community Lutheran Church.

Sitting here on a Sunday morning, maybe it’s hard to see what this morning’s story about casting out demons has to do with your life today.  But can you imagine what it would be like if this passage was playing out before you? Shut your eyes for a moment.  Imagine the stone walls of the synagogue.  You hear a man speaking at the front of the room on a raised dais.  He’s teaching about the Scriptures you’ve heard your whole life, but there’s something different in his voice.  Instead of debating and discussing what these Scriptures mean, it sounds like he knows.  There is a confidence and authority that carry his every word.

As you listen, all of a sudden you hear a cry – eerie and otherworldly, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”  You see a man crying out in this voice, running to the front of the synagogue.  The teacher speaking at the front of the room yells sternly, “Be silent, and come out of him!” Before your eyes, the man shakes violently and cries out loudly.  You cannot believe what you’ve just seen and heard and you’re wondering who this teacher could be.  Who is this man who carries such authority in his words and actions? You cannot wait to tell others.

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Open your eyes.  Welcome back.  When we hear this story, I think we tend to lump it into a group of biblical stories that we feel may have been relevant to people thousands of years ago, but feel like they have little to say to us today.  We hear about Jesus casting out unclean spirits – exorcising a man! – in the middle of a worship service and it makes us feel… well, maybe a little uncomfortable.  Do we just ignore this story? I don’t think we should – I think we’d be foolish to do so.

Mark’s Gospel has been moving along with lightning speed.  So far, God has torn open the sky at Jesus’ baptism, sending the Holy Spirit to dwell within and empower Jesus for his ministry.  Then that Spirit drove him into the wilderness to be tested by Satan.  And last week, we heard that Jesus called disciples to follow him.  Today, we have Jesus’ first recorded ministerial act in Mark’s Gospel – and it’s an exorcism!

The Gospel tells us that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath when all of this occurred. On a day when people are called to rest, take delight in God, worship and renew relationships with others, an unclean spirit causes chaos.  But Jesus will have none of it – where chaos, destruction, and harm try to reign, Jesus ushers in God’s kingdom and restores the natural balance once more.  Jesus brings healing to the possessed man and restores him to his place in his community.  In essence, Jesus frees and allows him to once again enjoy the Sabbath given by God.

And while the spirit inhabits one man, it utters, “what have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” This spirit could be speaking on behalf of the forces of evil as a whole.  But I also think this tells us that Jesus is not just engaging in a one time battle with one spirit, but in a fight against all that would seek to threaten, destroy or enslave creation.

This language may sound odd, but we actually hear it every time we celebrate a baptism.  In the baptismal rite, which is basically an ancient form of exorcism, we are asked, “Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?” and “Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?”  Three times we are asked to renounce sin, death and the devil, and three times we affirm our faith in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The unclean is washed away, and we are given the Holy Spirit – “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy” in God’s presence.  From baptism on – often the very beginnings of our lives in the church – we are shaped by Jesus’ authority and power to drive out sin and the forces that defy God.

So why do we skirt these readings? Why do we relegate them to stories from the past? We write these stories off, but they have so much to teach us about God.

I think sometimes we tend to get comfortable with God.  We forget what Mark’s Gospel is trying to tell us– that this is a God who tears apart the heavens to be with humanity.  A God whose first act is to get rid of the dangerous spirit that is impeding a man’s ability to be a part of his community, his ability to worship God, and keeping him from enjoying life.  A God who tears apart chaos, confusion and hurt in order to bring healing and wholeness.  A God who will be broken and torn to bring redemption to all of creation.

We get a little too comfortable and settled, thinking we know what God is up to – that we’ve heard it all before and there’s nothing new.  Maybe we even think God acted in the past, but we feel that it’s clear from the news that God is nowhere to be seen or powerless to act. I think we all do this, myself included.  But I think when we find ourselves thinking this way, we end up selling God short.  We don’t trust that God wants to be at work and is at work in the world and in our lives.  Each of us has our own demons and unclean spirits we struggle with.  Pride.  Greed.  Insecurity.  Lack of trust. Judgmentalism.  Lack of confidence.  An inability to say no. Fear. Consumerism. All of these things can possess and paralyze us – making us unable to move forward as followers of Christ.

As Frederick Buechner wrote, “God knows we have our own demons to be cast out, our own uncleanness to be cleansed. Neurotic anxiety happens to be my own particular demon, a floating sense of doom that has ruined many of what could have been, should have been, the happiest days of my life, and more than a few times in my life I have been raised from such ruins, which is another way of saying that more than a few times in my life I have been raised from death – death of the spirit anyway, death of the heart – by the healing power that Jesus calls us both to heal with and to be healed by.”

Christ offered healing on the Sabbath to the man possessed and he offers healing to each of us today.  Through the Word speaking to our lives, bread broken and wine poured out for us, and this incredible community of loving saints, Jesus offers us healing and a way forward through the confusion.

One thing that strikes me hearing this passage is that the unclean spirit Jesus cast out did not go quietly – it convulsed and cried out before finally departing.  Sometimes the way to healing is going to be loud, messy, and confusing, but always, Jesus is at our side, working for our well-being.  We are followers of the cross – and Jesus hasn’t promised that the road will be easy.  The cross is at the heart of Mark’s Gospel – it is where Jesus will be revealed as the Messiah.  And just as the sky ripped in two at Jesus’ baptism and God declared Jesus’ “Beloved Son,” on the cross, the curtain in the Temple will be torn in two, showing for once and all who Jesus is and that God’s people are no longer separated from God.  The road may be difficult, but God is always with us.

As Buechner pointed out, the healing we experience is never just for us as individuals alone.  Often, God uses others to heal us and uses us to heal those around us.  We are blessed to be given the opportunity to walk with others in their difficulties, to pray for and encourage them, and to reassure them that God cares for them.

We think of some of these stories as meant for people far different from ourselves, but are they really that different? We hear of violence around the world or even in our own backyards, or struggle with addiction, chronic illness, or the memories and regrets of the past. There is evil in the world and there are real, undeniable difficulties in our lives. Why wouldn’t we say that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, crucified and risen from the dead, has the power to heal and make whole all that is wrong in this world?

So today, on this Sabbath, and in this house of worship, where do you desire healing in your life? Where do you feel broken and long for Jesus to put you back together again? What demons and past regrets would you have Jesus cast out?

Our healing may not be as dramatic as this morning’s reading or always look like what we were expecting, but Christ is working to bring healing in all areas of our lives.  Healing in our relationship with God, with others, with ourselves, as well as physical, emotional and spiritual healing. Thanks be to God! Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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Pointing To The Light

We heard about John the Baptist last week, and again, this week, we get another description of him, this time from the Gospel of John. But what is so fascinating to me is that the description we get of him is really… non-descript! We know that he was sent from God, that his name was John, that he was to witness to the light, and that’s about it. That leaves me with a ton of questions, and apparently, I am not the only one, because the Jewish authorities sent people to ask John who he was. He told them straight up that he wasn’t the Messiah, and when they asked if he was Elijah or the prophet said to come as a forerunner to the Messiah, he answered no. The only thing he would tell them is, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”

It reminds me of a song my mom used to sing to me when I was little: “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”

The original was about a little girl losing her yellow basket, but reading the Gospel, I re-imagined the song going a little something like this:

Are you the Messiah?

No, no, no, no

Are you Elijah?

No, no, no, no

Are you the prophet?

No, no, no, no

Just a voice crying out,

A voice crying out!

I know… it’s sad, but maybe it’ll help me remember all the people John the Baptist was being mistaken for!

So who was this man anyway? What was he up to? And why does it matter for us?

John the Baptist is described here only in terms of what or who he is not. He’s not the Messiah, the one to redeem all of creation. He’s not the prophet Elijah who was carried into the heavens by a fiery chariot and was, therefore, rumored to come back before the Messiah appeared. He’s not even the prophet like Moses who was supposed to come before the Messiah.

And when he is asked “what do you say about yourself,” he says only that he is the voice crying out in the wilderness, “make straight the way of the Lord!” Instead of really answering, he only points to the coming of the Lord. He tells his inquirers that there is one they don’t even recognize standing in their midst – one who is greater than he is and for whom they should be looking. His calling is to “testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.”

Now, the lectionary doesn’t do us any favors here because it leaves out the part of the text that tells us who this light is. It’s the part that goes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” For those still wondering who the light is, it’s always safe to go with the Sunday School or Seminary answer: “It’s Jesus!”

John is the one called to prepare the way of the Lord, to get people ready for Jesus’ coming, and to point to him when he appears on the scene. He is called a “witness,” or in the Greek, a “martyr,” and indeed, he will give his life speaking God’s truth to the powers that be. His whole identity is bound up in Christ. When Mary visits John’s mother Elizabeth, John leaps in the womb at the sound of Mary’s voice, rejoicing that Mary and Jesus have come near. From the very start, he is intimately connected with the Savior, and as the text tells us, pointing to Jesus was the very thing he was sent from God to do.

Just as John was called to be a witness to Christ, so, too, are we called to point to Christ. This day in Advent is called Gaudete Sunday or Rejoicing Sunday – a day to rejoice at the nearness of the coming of the Lord in a season of waiting and preparation. Part of that means pointing out and rejoicing over the places where we see Christ in the world. As a German theologian put it, “The time of fulfillment has dawned. We are already surrounded by the wonders and miracles of God” (Helmut Thielicke). This week I saw the wonders of Christ in so many places – in the faces of friends at a synod worship service, in the sharing of the Eucharist on Wednesday and with some of our homebound members, in a van full of toys collected for LINK, in laughing and praying with others… The list could go on and on. Where did you see Christ? Where can you point to God’s presence or activity in the world?

The world is full of darkness and difficulty, pain and suffering. Sometimes, life is just rough. We, like John, are called to witness to the light – to point out that God is here among us even if all seems difficult. And when we cannot see God for ourselves, we need others to point to God to help us see. We are called to proclaim with joy the wonderful things that God has done – that God is with us, loves us more deeply than we can even imagine, and has forgiven and welcomed each of us as beloved children. That is amazing news and a reason to rejoice if I ever heard one! It’s the type of news that causes the overflowing of poetic praise we hear in Isaiah: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness …For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”

In baptism, we have been clothed with the garments of salvation and the robe of Christ’s righteousness. Just as John’s identity was in Christ, in baptism our identities have been shaped by the cross of Christ and sealed in the Holy Spirit. We know that God’s love for us is not dependent on what we do, the connections we have with people in high places, our jobs, our skills, or the amount of money we have. And out of that wonderful knowledge, our praise is to spring up before all nations. We rejoice because of what God has done for us and we are called to share it with others.

I take heart that John is not your normal, average, everyday person. He was a little weird. He was born to parents far too old to have children, he ate wild locusts and honey, he wore camel hair, a garment which was a sign of being a prophet, and he lived out in the wilderness. The wilderness was not a quiet getaway either, but a place feared and seen as disorderly and dangerous, where wild beasts and fierce bandits lived. It was a place of desolation and waste, where people find themselves bewildered and often lost – yet this is the place where the covenant with is Israel was made. This is the place where prophets lived/fled to. It is the place where Jesus will go to be tested and where he will feed thousands. It is a place of trial and difficulty, but also of learning and strengthening one’s reliance on God.

I find great comfort in the fact that God worked through someone who was on the margins, who was outside of the box in order to point to the light of the world.  I find incredible hope and joy knowing that God can work through each of us, no matter how “unorthodox” it may seem. Because the beautiful thing is that God works through you and me – through the poor, the marginalized, the hurting, the quirky, the broken, the serious, the weak, the imperfect, and the goofballs to bring about healing and wholeness, and the kingdom of God on earth.

John spends his life pointing to Christ, bearing witness to the light and life that will allow humanity to see God and each other more clearly. He is the lone voice crying out and preparing the way for Christ to come and usher in the Kingdom of God. The voice is a powerful concept in Scripture – God’s voice speaks and brings creation into being. The Word of God, Jesus, becomes flesh and dwells among us. God speaks through us and our fragile voices bear the voice and the words of God – comfort for those grieving, hope for those struggling, laughter for those rejoicing, and encouragement for the downtrodden. How will you use your voice to cry out that Christ is near? How will you use your voice to rejoice that the coming of the Lord is near? How will you use your life to point toward Christ in others and in the world?

My prayer is that each of us will find ways of pointing to and focusing on Christ this season and throughout the year. That we would have the bold and audacious confidence of John the Baptist in claiming our identities in Christ, as well as John’s humility in knowing that the one who is coming is the one far greater than ourselves. Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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.

Sunday’s sermon from Community Lutheran in Sterling, VA.

Today is Holy Trinity Sunday, and I’d like to begin by saying that I don’t understand the Trinity.  Amen.  Nah… just kidding – you can’t get off that easy! And I think Pr. Joe is with me on this, too.  I find that no amount of seminary training or theological study can help us fully grasp the Holy Trinity.  As St. Augustine put it in a sermon: “What then are we to say of God? For if you have grasped what you wish to say, it is not God. If you had been able to comprehend it, you would have comprehended something else in the place of God. If you had been almost able to comprehend it, your mind has deceived you. It is not God, if you have understood it.  But if it is God, you have not understood it.”  Whoa… That was not so helpful, Augustine…

The God we confess as three distinct persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is a mystery.  On the one hand, I sometimes find this mystery frustrating as I try to understand and to explain it to others, and maybe you do, too.  On the other hand, however, I find that the doctrine of the Trinity is always inviting me to a deeper encounter with God and with others.

The idea that the God we worship exists as three persons in relationship with one another – in community – is amazing to me.  At the core of God’s very being is relationship.  One of the best depictions of this that I’ve seen is Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity.  Painted in 1425, this icon features three divine angels seated around a table.  These figures are taken from the description of the angels who met Abraham and Sarah at Mamre. The figures not only relate to one another through their body language and hand gestures, but also through the rich blue color, a symbol of divinity, used on a portion of each of their garments.  These holy beings not only form a circle and a community by themselves, but they invite the viewer into the conversation and intimacy of the table.

Trinity Rublev

Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity

This is the community, relationship and intimacy into which God graciously invites us.  God the loving Father calls us through the Holy Spirit to an encounter with Jesus Christ – God in the flesh, visible and approachable.  God invites us into the holy conversation and leaves a space at the table open for each of us, inviting us to join the party!

Today’s texts speak about God as community.  We hear it in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians just as we hear it every week in our worship: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”  And in the Gospel we hear Jesus tell the eleven disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” 

Both of these verses point to the second part of trying to grasp the Trinity.  The triune God doesn’t just invite us into relationship with God, but calls us into relationship with one another.  God draws and gathers us together through the Holy Spirit as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Today, we are reminded of this incredible good news in the celebration of the baptism of Xander.  In baptism, we are not only brought into relationship with God through water and God’s promises, but also made a part of the community of Christians here in this place and around the world.

Because God exists as community, communion with God is always communion with one another.  We come together for worship every week to pray together, to share Christ’s peace with those around us, to sing songs in unity and harmony, to receive communion from and with others, and to be blessed to go back into the world to share the communion we’ve experienced here.  We come to deepen our relationship with God and we wondrously find ourselves in relationship with one another.

When I was a new to the Christian faith, I thought I could read my Bible and study on my own.  I found, however, that I wanted to be able to discuss faith and life with others who were trying to follow Christ.  I wanted to be with others who knew God and could help me learn more.  After being a part of a community in high school that proved divisive, I was ready to quit organized religion.  I decided that I would follow Christ, but on my own – without a community.  Sure, I would talk to my Christian friends about faith, but I wanted no part of church life. 

Once studying in Germany, I thought I’d give church another shot.  And so after a time, I found myself nervously walking down a street to a small church in Freiburg, Germany.  I was alone and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be welcomed, or that I wouldn’t understand anything, or that there would be the same insider/outsider lines drawn at this church as I had experienced before.  I prayed and told God as I walked that I was nervous and the response I received was what we heard in Matthew’s Gospel, “You are not alone – I am always with you.”  I ended up loving being a part of that little community, trying to sing the hymns and follow the service.  There, I found people willing to help me learn the liturgy, people who welcomed me although I was a foreigner, people who invited me over for Easter lunch since I was alone, and people who invited me to take my place at God’s table.

Once back in the States, I thought that I might not find another church as welcoming as the one in Germany, so I again avoided organized religion.  That was all well and good until I realized that I was missing out on being able to talk to others about faith. I felt kind of isolated.  I had questions and I wanted grow in my faith, but I needed support.  I was hungry for God and I found myself missing Holy Communion – I longed for and needed to hear those words, “the body of Christ given for you,” “the blood of Christ shed for you.”  So again, I nervously stepped through the doors of a Lutheran church.  The rest is, well, history in the making!

No community is perfect.  I have experienced ugliness in the church and maybe you have, too.  We’re always a motley crew of sinner/saints all gathered together.  But I have also experienced the incredible beauty of community.  I have been formed and shaped, welcomed, loved and taught by pastors and laypeople alike.  And my relationship with God continues to grow because of the encounters I have in this community of faith.  When young and old offer their gifts, or a child offers a prayer during the Children’s Message, or I listen to the wonderful conversations at Bible Study, Adult Forum, or Adults Anonymous, I catch glorious glimpses of God in community.  Where have you seen the face of Christ in this gathering? Who has helped to form and shape your faith?

We all need others to remind us of God and point to God.  There’s too much hatred, hurt and pain in the world for us to bear by ourselves.  And when we’re hurting or don’t know where to turn, we need others to help us see that God is with us.  We need others to care, ask about our lives, and to say, “I’m praying for you.”  We need people to share how God has been active in their lives to encourage us in our journeys.  We need others to inspire us to step out of our comfort zones by sharing their gifts.  In short, we need one another – each and every person.  That kind of sharing and mutual support takes real vulnerability – the type that says, “I struggle, too, but let’s lean on and learn from one another.”  Are we ready for that?

In World Cup terms, it takes a team of eleven working together to be successful.  Usually there are a multitude of passes and maneuvers before anyone can score a goal.  Or, as some might say, a “GGGOOOOOOLLLLL!” Hmmm, now that I think about it, Jesus sent out 11 disciples in today’s text – coincidence, I think not! The point is that no one can maintain the marathon up and back pace of a 90-minute soccer game and score by themselves.  They need their teammates.

Today’s Gospel says that Jesus came to the eleven disciples on that mountaintop and they both worshiped and doubted.  And in my experience, that seems about right.  We worship and doubt, wrestle and struggle.  And still, in spite of their doubt, Jesus sends the disciples out to make communities in the name of the holy community.  Even without perfect faith or complete understanding, he still tells them to baptize, to share the good news, to make disciples, and to teach.  Because the thing is, he’s going to be with them.  ALWAYS. Even until the end of the age.  We will keep messing up, but Jesus continues to forgive us and send us out to build relationships and community in the name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  To keep trying to live out our new lives in Christ together in community because where two or three are gathered, Christ is there among them. 

We are not perfect and we never will be, but the God who does live in perfect communion continues to call us together and to breathe new life into us through the Spirit.  So maybe we won’t always understand the Trinity completely.  But the faces around us will help us understand that God, the three-in-one, calls us to live out our faith in community because it is through relationship with others and the sacraments that we experience God.  And I have learned that I need that community, always, even to the end of the age.  Don’t you? Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

This was this morning’s sermon, preached at Community Lutheran Church!

 

 

Today is a big day here at Community!  We’re celebrating 15 young peoples’ First Communion, and we’ve got two baptisms happening.  It’s a day full of joy! We’re welcoming people into the body of Christ in the waters of baptism and celebrating how we continue to grow and live out those baptisms through receiving God’s holy meal time and time again.

And we also have this wonderful passage about salt and light, cities on a hill and what it means to live out our faith.  This passage always makes me think of the musical Godspell:

You are the light of the world!
You are the light of the world!
But if that light is under a bushel,
It’s lost something kind of crucial
You got to stay bright to be the light of the world

You are the salt of the earth
You are the salt of the earth
But if that salt has lost its flavor
It ain’t got much in its favor
You can’t have that fault and be the salt of the earth!

I love musicals and this song makes remembering Jesus’ words catchy and jazzy!

However, I think when we hear this passage, our tendency is to think, “what do I have to do to be salt?” or “what do I have to do to be light?”  I think we hear Jesus’ words in the second part of the passage and they put us on edge: “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Gulp.  Well, I’m out!  Good luck, right? To give you an idea, the rabbis, the descendants of the Pharisees, name 613 commandments or mitzvot to follow.  If we’re honest, it’s hard to even follow the 10 commandments, right? So how can we possibly reach such an incredibly high bar?! We can’t.  We all fall short. And thankfully, God knew this and took on humanity to do what we couldn’t do – to fulfill the law and the prophets.  And so we’ve been made righteous through Christ, our savior.  In God’s eyes, Christ has made us righteous – right before God – through his self-giving life and death on the cross.

We know this.  We are reminded of it week after week.  We remember it when we enter the church and see the font – the waters in which we were forgiven and welcomed as children of God.  We remember it when we are graciously invited to the feast and we hear those words, “‘Take and eat; this is my body, given for you.  Do this for the remembrance of me.’” “‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.  Do this for the remembrance of me.’”

We know this incredibly good news and, yet, sometimes we lose sight of it.  Sometimes it remains in our heads and doesn’t quite connect with us in our hearts.  And so I hear in Jesus’ words in the Gospel today words of amazing promise: “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”

You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.  You all know by this point that I love grammar.  So here goes!  “You all” – plural – meaning all ya’ll.  “Are” – present tense meaning right now, at this very instant!  Each and every one of you is salt and light! Great, you may be thinking, but what on earth does that mean?!

In the ancient world, both salt and light were precious.  Salt was a valuable trade commodity, a symbol of purity and wisdom in Mesopotamian thought, and was used in sacrifice.  It was, and is, a seasoning and a preservative, helping food last longer, and was also used as a cleansing agent.  Light was precious because people were dependent on the sun or lamps to see – remember, they didn’t have fluorescent bulbs in every building to making working or shopping easy! It was also a common metaphor of God and God’s salvation.

So what is Jesus saying when he says that we are salt and light? I think he’s saying, “You are a precious commodity, seasoning the lives of others around you.  You are a sign of God and you help others to see God’s salvation.”  What amazing words.  What empowerment.  What abundant grace.

Jesus doesn’t say that we will be salt and light if only we do this, that or the other thing.  Instead, he says you are already salt and light because you have been made bright and well seasoned! We have already been illuminated by the current of God’s love and grace running through our lives.

And Jesus doesn’t stop there.  Rather, he says that it is important to remain salty and illuminated! We do so by staying plugged in to God, as well as by letting our lights shine forth into the world. Jesus says that we aren’t to hide or misuse the gifts and the calling we have as children of God, but rather to put them to good use.  It’s even a part of the sacrament of baptism – the newly baptized receive a candle and hear, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Through the leading and strength of the Holy Spirit, we are to seek after and do our best to follow God, humbly serving and pointing to God.  We will make mistakes and mess up, and we will never be perfect, as much as this recovering perfectionist would love that! But just because we aren’t perfect doesn’t mean we can’t let our lights shine brightly or that we can’t make a difference.  Remember, God has made us light and salt and we have something to share with the world.  And no matter how often we fall short, God forgives us and frees us to go back out into the world – to make a difference by following Jesus, the Light of the world.

I’ve been thinking about being light and salt for a while now and trying to keep my eyes open to see where people are salty and bright.  And I’ve experienced some wonderful things! I’ve witnessed people listening to one another and comforting each other at the Compassionate Friends grief group.  I’ve seen people step up to shovel and salt the church sidewalks – more of a literal use of salt, I suppose! I’ve heard of the life-changing work that LINK is doing in our community.  And I’ve been reminded by so many of you in conversations, e-mails and phone calls the things you do day in and day out not only for this church, but for your jobs, schools, other non-profit groups and the larger community.

Those things may seem small or to go unnoticed, but those are the little things that help to season others’ lives – to have an impact on them.  As Catholic nun, Sister Jean, put it in a trailer for the upcoming documentary, Radical Grace, “In every encounter, something sacred is at stake.”  Even a smile, a kind word, or a simple action can shed light on God and reflect God’s light into someone’s life.

Being salt and light for the world means working for the kingdom of God.  It means calling for an end to injustice and standing with those who are oppressed and downtrodden.  It means comforting those who mourn and having compassion on the suffering.  It means speaking out against persecution and bullying, and caring for the hungry and the poor.  It’s a big job!

But we have been called and welcomed into this kingdom work in our baptisms.  We’ve been made part of a community – sisters and brothers all called to work together to make the world a bit brighter.  And we continue to be strengthened to do this work every time we receive bread and wine – the promise of Christ for us and with us.  We welcome others, grow in grace and share Christ’s love.

So as we celebrate with these young people being baptized and receiving communion for the first time today, may we hear the promises of God anew.  You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.

And in the words of Godspell:

So let your light so shine before men
Let your light so shine
So that they might know some kindness again
We all need help to feel fine.

Amen.

Beeswax Candles Burn Brightly by Golgotha in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (Photo taken by Annabelle Markey in January 2014)

Beeswax Candles Burn Brightly by Golgotha in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (Photo taken by Annabelle Markey in January 2014)

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

 

 

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