Tag Archive: Discipleship


Sermon #3 (September 27) in our sermon series “The Way of the Cross: Our Journey with Jesus” at Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA.

Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from heading to the cross and got put in his place – told to set his mind not on human things, but divine things.  The disciples argued about who was the greatest and found themselves looking at a child and being told to welcome the least of these.  Now, the disciples run to tattle on someone who is performing deeds of power – driving out demons in Jesus’ name.

Out of breath, they run up to Jesus.  “Teacher! We just saw this guy and he was casting out demons.  In your name! We tried to stop him because he’s not one of us.  We did well, didn’t we?!”  And, much to their surprise, Jesus says, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.”  I can see the disciples stopping short and muttering, disappointedly, “Uh… ok.  I guess we’ll just keep walking to Jerusalem then.”

In order to understand what’s going on here, it’s helpful to go back earlier in chapter 9.  A man had brought his son to the disciples for healing. This boy was suffering from a demon that in modern terms seems to be epilepsy.  But the disciples couldn’t drive out the demon.  So Jesus casts it out and tells the disciples when they ask why they couldn’t cast it out, “‘This kind can come out only through prayer.’”

Now there is a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but he’s not even in Jesus’ group.  In light of this previous failure to do deeds of power like their Teacher, the disciples seem jealous of the other exorcist.  They are insecure, confused, struggling with their identity as followers of Jesus, and perhaps even afraid that Jesus will kick them out of the inner circle.  After all, they are the handpicked twelve and they can’t even cast out a demon!

The refrain that is repeated throughout last week’s text as well as today’s is, “in Jesus’ name” or “in the name of Christ.”  Children are to be welcomed in Jesus’ name.  Demons are cast out and wholeness restored in Jesus’ name.  People are to receive hospitality – a cup of water to drink – in Jesus’ name.  And woe be unto those who cause anyone who would believe in Jesus’ name to stumble.  In short, the name of Christ has tremendous power.

The disciples have heard Jesus predict his death twice already, and they’re trying to get a handle on what they are supposed to do and who they are supposed to be as followers.  In this search for clarity about their identity, the disciples are eager – super eager in fact – to point out the faults and shortcomings of this man operating outside of their little group.  Instead, Jesus uses this encounter to refocus their attention on themselves.  Because they have been called to follow Jesus and bear his name, they shouldn’t stop this man from doing good just because he’s an outsider.  Instead, they should be focused on the ways their actions are preventing healing and good news from flowing to people in Jesus’ name.  Because it’s not about the disciples’ names, but about whose name they carry and how they represent that name.  The actions of the outsider are welcomed while the insiders are warned to be mindful of their own actions.

In baptism, we are marked with the triune name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – often with a cross traced upon our foreheads.  It is this name we are to carry throughout our lives.  It is the name in which we are called to live, to love and to serve others.  It shapes and forms our identities.  But as the Gospel points out, because we bear this holy name, we also bear a great deal of responsibility.  Jesus’ words to his disciples ask us pointedly, “how are you getting in the way of the gospel? How are you a stumbling block to others?”

This week, we have been inundated by photos, videos, and news of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States.  While I’ve enjoyed it, and I think the Pope has wonderful things to say, he’s kind of a tough act to follow.  I mean, I can’t say that I’ve talked to Congress, washed the feet of prisoners, called for peace on a global scale, or even had a Fiat take me around DC! What on earth have I been doing with my life?! It is easy to look at his actions and feel like we cannot live up to them, but I really like how President Obama put it in his welcome speech to the Pope: “Your Holiness, in your words and deeds, you set a profound moral example.  And in these gentle but firm reminders of our obligations to God and to one another, you are shaking us out of complacency.  All of us may, at times, experience discomfort when we contemplate the distance between how we lead our daily lives and what we know to be true, what we know to be right.  But I believe such discomfort is a blessing, for it points to something better.”

Each of us, washed in the waters of baptism and marked with Christ’s holy and precious name, has been given a beautiful gift.  The gift of forgiveness and discipleship in Jesus’ name.  We have been given the opportunity to serve God and the world in the name of Christ.  Jesus issues a challenge, calling us to stop judging others and forcing us to look instead at how we may be keeping others from encountering the good news, the living God in their own lives.  Are there things that we hold dear that might be stumbling blocks to others experiencing God’s grace? Maybe it’s as simple as not moving in our pews to make room for new folks.  Or maybe it’s prioritizing television watching over spending time in prayer or devotions.  Maybe it’s in the way we speak about others which cheapens our witness to Christ.  This is the discomfort we experience when contemplating the distance between how we lead our daily lives and what we know to be true.  It’s the discomfort the disciples experienced that day with Jesus and it’s the discomfort that can provoke thoughtful prayer, contemplation and change in our own lives.  It’s the discomfort that can lead to asking for forgiveness and opening a space for the healing of our spirits.  Because Christ has begun a good work in us and will bring it to completion.

We are all tempted to look at those outside of ourselves or our little groups and think that others are doing it wrong or shouldn’t be allowed to do it at all.  Other denominations worshiping in the wrong style.  Neighbors tending their yards in the wrong way.  People praying differently than we do.  But Jesus warns us that our time would be better spent searching our hearts and allowing those who bring about good in his name to continue.  Instead of tearing down, how can we take the opportunity to build up and to point to God’s grace and love?

Recently, there was a story of a Turkish couple who took the money they could have spent on their wedding reception and instead spent it, and their wedding day, feeding thousands of Syrian refugees.  This couple, who are Muslims and not Christians, caused me to pause and to reflect on how I was welcoming others – offering a cup of cold water to the thirsty, bread to the hungry, and shelter to the homeless.  The “outsiders” helped this “insider” see and hear afresh the call of Christ.

Today you will have the opportunity to come forward to receive individual prayers for healing.  As James wrote, “Are any among you suffering? They should pray.  Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”  Soon, I will invite you to come forward to receive prayers in the name of the Lord for healing, forgiveness, strength, or whatever you may need this day.  Come and be strengthened, remembering the name in which you live, move, and have your being.  Come, and give thanks for the healing and wholeness that comes through life lived in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

 

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God’s Wild Kingdom

This past Sunday’s sermon on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52, preached at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA.

 

ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν… The kingdom of heaven is like a pastor who stepped into the pulpit one Sunday speaking foreign words. The listeners were confused and unsettled, wondering how they could interpret what she was saying.

Yes, like foreign words heard early in the morning, the kingdom of God is surprising, baffling and catches us off-guard – making us sit up and pay attention. Oh, and by the way, those words, ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν…,mean “The kingdom of heaven is like…” Now you can rest easy – I promise I won’t use anymore Greek today!

There are basically six different parables in this week’s Gospel – six! It seems as if Jesus is trying every possible way to get the disciples to grasp what he is speaking about. He’s already told them the parable of the sower and the parable of the wheat and the weeds. And now we hear these other parables about the nature of the kingdom of heaven. At the end, Jesus even asks them “have you understood all this?” They answer “yes,” but I’m wondering if they actually did understand or if they just needed to get past the parables!

These parables may seem disparate, but each one of them offers a glimpse into a different aspect of God’s kingdom – like facets on a diamond. The first speaks of God’s kingdom as one that begins small, spreads like a wild and invasive weed, and becomes a tree – a welcoming place where birds, symbolizing the people of many nations, make their home.

The second parable offers that the kingdom is like a tiny bit of yeast that permeates, lightens and expands our entire world. The next two parables describe the kingdom like a priceless treasure or pearl for which someone sacrifices and gives up everything in order to keep the newfound treasure.

The fifth parable reminds us that there is both good and bad within the kingdom, since it’s like an abundant catch of fish that needs to be sorted onshore. And Jesus’ final parable tells us that the kingdom is like the head of the house who not only brings out new treasures, but refurbishes the old to make it new again.

We speak about the kingdom of God and being a part of it by serving God and others. We even pray that it will come every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer. But I find that it’s easy to forget what the words “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God” really mean. These parables help to present a fuller picture and call us to reexamine our thoughts and beliefs about God’s kingdom. They declare that the kingdom is priceless, powerful and grows in amazing, often unseen ways.

When Jesus spoke these words, he was speaking in the shadow of the Roman Empire. This was an incredibly powerful and unforgiving empire, ruling the lives of not only Roman citizens, but also slaves and conquered peoples, crushing rebellions and dissenters underfoot. Speaking of the kingdom of heaven as opposed to the kingdom of Rome was radical and dangerous. Remember, part of Jesus’ sentence leading to the crucifixion dealt with him being a king and having a kingdom – something seen as a direct threat to Rome.

But I think we forget that we, too, have kingdoms and empires –we have things that rule over us and our lives. In some places, perhaps it is an oppressive government. But we cannot forget all of the other things that we allow to rule us – money, anger, fear, prejudice, material goods, gossip, anxiety, ourselves… The list could go on and on. And how often are we content to live under these rulers!

It is striking that Jesus speaks about the kingdom of heaven as something that people rush out and sacrifice all they have had previously to obtain. This sounds like a terrible maneuver or investment strategy to our ears, but it means putting our trust solely in God. And the people in these parables don’t grudgingly sacrifice their things or their old way of life to follow God. No, they do it with joy: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” They are excited and brimming with joy because they know the kingdom of heaven is better than anything else. So what sacrifices have you made for God’s kingdom? And where does your allegiance lie – with the kingdoms and mindsets of this world or with the kingdom of heaven and God’s ways?

It is downright scary to ask these questions of ourselves because it means going against much of what society teaches us. Asking about what we can sacrifice for the idealistic and nearly impossible sounding kingdom of heaven flies in the face of what many would call common sense. And yet, that is our call as disciples of Christ – to live as God calls us to live, not as the world does. It makes us confront the prevailing storyline that there’s not enough to go around and that we therefore can never truly help those in need. Or that those who appear different than we are for one reason or another do not have the same hopes, dreams and needs as we do. It makes us confront the ideas that forgiveness, reconciliation, and peacemaking are weak or foolish endeavors. It calls us to be people of radical hospitality and generosity.

The kingdom of heaven is beautiful and glorious, foreign and surprising given what we know of the world. To describe it using events of our own time, “The kingdom of heaven is like a beautiful land where the homeless and refugee feast at the table of God alongside the rich and well-connected. Where Palestinians and Jews see one another as brothers and sisters.   Where the boundaries of ethnicity, economic status, background, sexual orientation, and class melt away so that we finally see one another as fellow children of God.”

The kingdom of God is unexpected, mysterious and not yet fully established. And it can be incredibly difficult to keep faith and hope when there is so much around us that tells us so glaringly that there is pain, injustice and evil in the world.   But Christ is calling us to step out of our comfort zones and embrace God’s wild kingdom. To see glimpses of it breaking in. And it is breaking in.

Can you see it? It’s where Rwandan students like George and Bosco are receiving an education that will help them continue the transformation of their country. It’s in the smiles of children singing VBS songs and learning about God’s love. It’s breaking through when a Muslim professor in Iraq sacrifices his life in order to speak out against the persecution and murder of his Christian neighbors. It’s forgiveness and love instead of revenge and bitterness. It’s where someone generously and humbly offers the gifts they’ve been given to help others. And it is found in bread broken and wine shared among a diverse group of people.

The kingdom of heaven is popping up here and now in little and marvelous ways all over the world.  And maybe we can’t always see it because the bad and horrific news gets so much air time, but maybe we can take a page out of Solomon’s book and pray for an understanding mind – literally a listening heart – that will be able to see both the good and evil and discern God in the midst of it all.

And we can remember that no matter what happens, God is bringing this kingdom about.  Paul talks about this beautifully in his letter to the Romans when he says that nothing, including other kingdoms, empires, rulers, or even angels, can separate us from God’s incredible love.  Hearing that just makes me feel lighter somehow. No matter what hardship there is in our lives or in the world – no matter what horrors we hear about or experience – we are firmly embraced in God’s love. Knowing we are secure in Christ’s love, now and always – that is freedom to live and work for God’s kingdom.

There are so many kingdoms and rulers in our lives – so many things we can choose to serve. So who will we serve? Will we listen to Christ’s call to joyously be a part of God’s wild and growing kingdom, even if it involves hardship and sacrifice? Or will we be content to dwell in the kingdoms of this world?

I’d like to close with the words of a Taizé chant that have been echoing in my heart this week: “The kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom.” Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Bitten

I was bitten…bad.  It happened 11 years ago and I knew I’d been bitten when it happened, but I didn’t know that there would be lasting effects.  More than that even – it had permanent effects.  The travel bug chomped down and refused to release me.  It happened in July of 2001 when I traveled to Germany and Austria with my high school German club.  I was bitten.  Infected.  And I haven’t been the same since.

And in less than a week, I will set off, driven by this same bug bite and an insatiable curiosity for the wonders of the world.  I will journey once more to Munich, my first international destination in 2001, to live in an ecumenical community and to study at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen (the University of Munich).  I go not knowing what to expect, but only with the hope and expectation that I will learn and grow through my experiences.

I will miss my husband, family and friends tremendously, but I know that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I feel that grabbing such opportunities when they arise is so important to discovering who we are, challenging ourselves to go outside of our comfort zones, and growing.

My previous travels have always been so important in my faith journey.  It seems that seeing a new place, meeting new people and being filled with awe at each new sight or landscape helps me to reflect on my life and experiences.  Traveling invites me to reflect on the imaginative and artistic God who created the world and inspired humans to create.  Being in and exploring a new place helps to shed light on the places I have already been, or the places where I usually am.

And so as I prepare to travel, I pray that God will keep my heart and mind open to new things.  That this time will be one of learning in the university classroom, but also in the classroom of life.  I pray that this time will be one in which I grow in faith – a time of continuing to discover who I am in Christ.  I look forward to worshiping with my brothers and sisters from different denominations and various countries.  And I look forward to hearing how God has been at work in their lives.  I pray that God will be at work, transforming me through this trip (and always!) for a life of continued discipleship.

I hope to post more about my travel adventures and what I’m learning and discovering here on this blog.  Keep in touch!

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

 

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