Tag Archive: Flaws

The sermon I preached last Sunday on Mark 1:9-15 at Community Lutheran!

The first Sunday in Lent is always the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.  But all of the details that we have in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, the dialogue between Jesus and Satan, the specifics of Jesus’ temptations, are all absent in Mark’s Gospel.  Mark’s Gospel spends two brief sentences on the temptation before moving on.  Why doesn’t Mark spend more time on this epic showdown between Jesus, the Son of God, and Satan, the adversary?

I think there are two reasons.  First, Mark is more interested in the fact that Jesus has the power to resist Satan’s temptations and to conquer the ruler of this world, then spending time dwelling on details.  Second, Mark’s Gospel is constantly on the move, driving us toward the cross.  Part of Mark’s frenetic, no frills telling of the story is inviting the hearer into the action, asking the question, “how would you respond to this situation?”  Mark wants each of us to become part of the story.  Will we respond with our minds on the things of this world, or on the things of God?

The text begins as Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan.  As he comes up out of the water, the Spirit of God descends like a dove into him.  The Spirit fills Jesus and then immediately drives him out into the wilderness.  We heard that Jesus drove out an unclean spirit a few weeks ago and, here, the Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness.  It’s Mark’s way of saying Jesus is prepared for his mission in baptism and thrown out into the field.

Stanley Spencer - Christ in the Wilderness Driven by the Spirit (From: http://uploads6.wikiart.org/images/stanley-spencer/christ-in-the-wilderness-driven-by-the-spirit-1.jpg)

Stanley Spencer – Christ in the Wilderness Driven by the Spirit (From: http://uploads6.wikiart.org/images/stanley-spencer/christ-in-the-wilderness-driven-by-the-spirit-1.jpg)

The wilderness is the place where the Israelites wandered for 40 years.  It’s the place of danger where wild beasts and bandits roam, but it’s also a place for meeting God.  It’s a place of terror and testing, as well as a place of learning, growth and insight.  Throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus goes to the wilderness to find solitude, rest, and to spend time in prayer.  And now, Jesus finds himself in the wilderness, being tested by Satan.  He’s surrounded by wild beasts, which could be life threatening, but he is unharmed.  The coming of the Son of God, now filled with the Holy Spirit, brings order to the wild places and the beasts that inhabit them.  Angels wait upon Jesus, and at the end of 40 days, Jesus rejoins society to proclaim that God’s rule is breaking into the world.  That people should continue turning toward God and having faith and trust in the news that God has won a victory for their sake – and for ours.

As I mentioned before, Mark wants us as the hearers of this story to become a part of the action.   God’s reign is bursting onto the scene and we’re invited to be a part of it.  Jesus’ defeat of Satan in the wilderness will keep playing out in the ways he casts out unclean spirits, heals the sick and suffering, confronts leaders whose hearts are in the wrong place, and finally, defeats sin, death and the devil through the cross and the resurrection.  Mark wants us to know that Jesus not only subdues the wild beasts in the wilderness, but that he’s capable of taming the beasts that dwell in us as well.

We are filled up with the Holy Spirit at baptism and sent out into the world.  And we often feel tossed and blown about by the winds and storms, like Noah with the animals in the ark facing 40 days and nights of torrential rain.  But no matter how bruised and battered we feel, the Spirit is always sustaining us, just as it did Jesus as he battled Satan’s temptations.  And as we face our own trials and temptations in life, we too, have angels, messengers of God, who serve us in the middle of our wildernesses and deserts.  If you take a moment and look at the faces around you, you’ll see exactly what the angels of God look like.

The Holy Spirit fills us up and takes us where we need to go, much as it drove Jesus to the place where he could say “no” to the temptations of this world in order to say “yes” to God.  However, I’ve found that when the Spirit of God takes us where we need to go, sometimes it’s the place we’d least like to go.  Now, please listen carefully.  I’m in no way saying that God causes us to suffer so that we can learn.  God does not wish us ill, but longs for the wholeness and the restoration of the world.  God loves us and wants us to thrive.

Even so, we know all too well that trials, temptations, and difficulties will touch each of our lives.  Jesus’ temptation shows us that the Spirit abides with and sustains us in our wildernesses.  The question is then, “how is the Holy Spirit at work in this? How might God use this situation to bring about good or transformation in my life?”

Even in the good times, the Spirit of God urges us to confront the wilderness and wild beasts in ourselves. Whether that’s examining the ways we focus too much on ourselves and our egos, meditating on our penchant for looking out for ourselves first and foremost, or admitting our unwillingness to take a hard and honest look at our flaws.  We are called to examine ourselves throughout our lives, but especially in this contemplative season of Lent, as we prepare to walk with Jesus to the cross.  As we, too, prepare to say “no” to the priorities of the world in order to say “yes” to God’s priorities.  It is at the cross that we are able to let go and crucify our sins, flaws, errors, mistakes, and hurts, in order to be resurrected with Christ into new life in which we can freely serve and give of ourselves.  Even so, that journey to the cross can be scary.

As we slow down enough to begin the hard work of prayer and reflecting honestly, we hear those voices in our minds – the whispers that tempt us to despair and to doubt.  “If people really knew who I was, they wouldn’t want anything to do with me.”  “I’m not good enough.”  “I don’t know what I’m doing – I feel like an imposter.”  “I have to put on a brave face – I have to hold it together, but I’m falling apart.”  “Does God really forgive me? Does God really love and welcome me as I am?”

We find ourselves surrounded by those wild beasts, threatening our fragile, man-made security.  We hear the snarling and we’re afraid because we think we’re alone in the wilderness.  But Jesus has already defeated the temptations of this world and tamed the beasts.  In him and through him, he’s doing the same in our lives.  In Jesus’ temptation we are reminded that the Holy Spirit is always with and within us, and that God’s messengers, our sisters and brothers in Christ, are present to help us in our difficulties.  We are reminded that God’s rule is breaking in, even in the middle of the awful things we experience.  And we are reminded to turn toward God and to believe – to lean on and trust – that the good news is really for us.  For each and every one of us, no matter what we’ve done, haven’t done, or the ways in which we feel inadequate.

We may think about this text in terms of our own individual struggles and temptations, but it also has a lot to say about our life in community.  The church is drawn together by the Holy Spirit.  We are people from all different backgrounds, journeys, and experiences brought together to worship God.  And we may disagree on some things – that’s only natural -, but at the heart of who we are and what we do, we are united through our belief in Christ.

Where might the Spirit be driving this church? Is it to places we’ve never been? Places we feel uncomfortable going to because “we’ve never done it that way before?” Or might the Holy Spirit be nudging us to stop doing the things we’ve always done because we need to spend our energy on new things to which God is calling us? Today is our Annual Year-in-Review Congregational Meeting.  Rather than being tempted by individual agendas or the worries of the world, it is a time to be filled with the Holy Spirit, sustained in our work together, and driven forward into the future by the breath of God.  It’s a time for us to celebrate the ways we’ve served, learned and grown in the past year, as well as to dream about how God may be calling us to serve, learn and grow in the year ahead.  It’s a time for us to come together as the body of Christ and to spend time in prayer and discernment as to how the Holy Spirit is kindling a fire in our hearts.

Whatever your temptations and difficulties, whatever wilderness you find yourself wandering through, you are not alone.  God is with you and will never leave you, and the community is walking with you.  When I was in the wilderness of discerning where the Holy Spirit was leading me to serve my first call, there was a Phillip Phillips song that spoke to me.  Although it’s a pop song, it reminded me of God’s faithfulness:

Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear

The trouble—it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home

May the Holy Spirit fill and sustain us as we contemplate where God is leading and calling us to serve this Lent.  Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Yesterday was Reformation Day, which I started by humming “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”  As a side note, I personally believe that every day should begin with this song! Anyway, after a musical beginning, I headed out early as I do every morning to Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) München so that I would make it to my Hebrew class in time.  As I walked into the building from the subway I was thinking about spending time with my husband and one of my best friends later that afternoon.  Half daydreaming, I looked up at the door and there was a sign on it that said the building would be closed on Thursday, November 1 for Allerheiligen (All Saints’ Day).  I grinned, knowing that this day off gave me more time to spend with my hubby and friend, but then I looked pass the paper sign and through the glass door.

Through that door and on the left side of the grand old university hallway was a homeless man, sitting on one of the metal chairs that folds down from out of the wall.  He was wearing a black winter hat and had his hands tucked into his jacket pockets.  His head was leaned forward, bowed down in sleep.  I had seen him there before, wandering the university’s halls or sitting on the chairs on colder days, so I wasn’t really surprised to see him in the building.  However, seeing the note about Allerheiligen – about All Saints’ Day – and looking at this man jarred my senses.  The question that came to mind was: “who are the saints of God?”

On Tuesday, October 30, I had visited the Alte Pinakothek, a gorgeous art gallery featuring medieval and Renaissance art from all over Europe.  A lot of this art is religious in nature, and many of the paintings featured saints with their golden halos and the symbols of their sufferings, deeds, and miracles.  Having minored in Medieval Studies in college, this was all familiar (and wonderful!) to me.  I know a lot of the saints stories and so looking at these paintings featuring these people is kind of like visiting old friends.  But thinking about these depictions in contrast to the man I saw sleeping in the hall of the university… what a world of difference.

“Who are the saints of God?”  “Who are the holy ones of God?”

Are they just those who have lived exemplary lives?
Are the saints limited to those who have been martyred in the name of Christ?
Are they only those who can work miracles?

Martin Luther spoke of Christians at “simul justus et peccator” (simultaneously justified through Christ and sinners).  This means that while we are forgiven and washed clean of all our sins in baptism, we still continue to sin – we are always, at the same time, saints saved through Christ and his righteousness, and sinners.  Crazy!  Through Christ’s loving acts – his death and resurrection – we are all glorious saints, just like in those in the paintings.  At the same time, we are also imperfect people who continue to mess up, hurt ourselves and others, and fall short.  And as sinner/saints, we are dependent on God’s grace and not on what we have done or haven’t done.

And what of the homeless man?  I don’t know his situation or circumstances.  I don’t know his story.  I have no idea whether or not he believes in Christ.  I have no idea if he’s been baptized.  But what if I were to act as if he were one of the holy saints of God?  What if I looked a bit closer and saw Christ in him?  How would this change things?

I still love medieval and Renaissance art.  The vibrant colors and masterful depictions of Biblical stories, classical myths, and saints continue to enchant me.  But looking around, I think that there are other beautiful works of art.  They’re not depictions done in the medium of gold leaf, rich paints or delicate carvings, but depictions artfully crafted by the fingers of God in flesh and blood.  They’re images with flaws and imperfections, shocks and surprises, but maybe if we look a bit harder, we might see a halo poking through.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

“Homeless Man Sleeping with His Bible”

Flaws and…Floss?!

A brief warning before you continue. This is an odd posting!

Today, as I was driving home from school, I began thinking about mirrors and how they provide a reflection of us. But what if the mirror reflected our innermost character? What would we find? I have the feeling that we’d probably get glimpses of ourselves that were less than favorable. I think we’d see our flaws or our sins more clearly, especially if we were using one of those mirrors that magnifies – then it’d read “objects in mirror actually as bad as they appear!”

In thinking about this, I wondered what analogy I could use to describe this further. Here’s where the post gets odd. The analogy I came up with is this: Imagine you’re all dressed up for a ball or some other fancy event. You’ve gone all out picking out a beautiful outfit and primping until you’re perfectly put together. You have a wonderful time and you talk with everyone under the sun, including that special someone you’ve had your eye on. When you get home, dizzy with excitement from a wonderful evening, you stop by the mirror before heading to bed and there it is…a huge piece of food stuck in your teeth.

AHHHHHH! How long has that been there!?! It’s hideous…horrendous…horrible… The evening flickers before your eyes – oh my gosh, who saw you like that? Your heart sinks as you realize it was probably there most of the evening, including when you talked to that perfect person.

Sadly, I think we’ve all lived through this terrible and socially awkward situation, albeit maybe not quite as bad as described above. Sometimes, you have a friend with you who is close enough to you to point out the situation to you. It’s always awkward receiving this news, but it can save a great deal of awkwardness and embarrassment in the long run! After all, the only thing worse that having your friend tell you about the food in your teeth is getting home and finding out that its been there and you had no idea.

Maybe its like this with our flaws, too. We wish we didn’t have them and that they never came up, like a piece of spinach in a perfect smile, but they happen and sometimes, probably more often than not, we can’t see them. So what do we do? Well, we get by with a little help from our friends.

Matthew 18:15 states, “If another member of the church sins (against you), go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.” Much like the coveted friend pointing out a food faux pas, a friend can also gently point out when we go astray or err and when we are…well, not living up to our full potential. As with the food, isn’t it much worse to find out way down the line that you’ve been doing something wrong or harmful than the temporary awkwardness of having a friend point it out early on so you can work on the problem? I think so.

Trusted friends and mentors act as our mirrors – our sounding-boards for viewing and reflecting on things that we’ve done or are thinking about doing. It takes relationships grounded in trust, respect and love in order for this to work. It also takes practice to confront people with care and grace – to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:25).

So rather than be afraid of confronting our flaws or sins, let us turn the mirror on them so that we can see clearly to work on addressing the problem with the support of our friends. Let’s not go through the party of life ignoring the problems people may try to gently make us aware of. Rather, let’s listen and work on the problems, seeking to follow God anew each day.

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

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