Tag Archive: Follow


This is the first sermon (September 13) in our sermon series, “The Way of the Cross: Our Journey with Jesus,” at Community Lutheran.

 

Today is a huge day! We’re kicking off the Program Year with Rally Day, we’re giving blood, and we’re even training Sunday School and Confirmation teachers.  It’s also the day we’re kicking off our sermon series, “The Way of the Cross: Our Journey with Jesus.”  Over the next six weeks, we’ll be exploring more what it means to be a disciple of Christ by taking a closer look at Jesus’ encounters with others in the Gospel of Mark.

This discussion in today’s text between Jesus and the disciples, and especially Peter, is a great way to start off our series.  Jesus and the disciples are traveling through Caesarea Philippi, an ancient town, with a strong cult to the Greek deity, Pan.  As part of worshiping Pan, there were frequent sacrifices made.  It’s in this area that Jesus asks his disciples, “who do people say that I am?”  They tell him what they’ve heard – that he’s John the Baptist come back from the dead, or the prophet Elijah returned to earth, or maybe one of the other rock star prophets of Israel’s past.

The Ruins of Caesarea Philippi (Banias/Panias) - January 2014

The Ruins of Caesarea Philippi (Banias/Panias); The cave for sacrifice can be easily seen even from a distance – January 2014

I can see Jesus nodding thoughtfully, taking it all in.  And then I see him looking at them and asking, “But who do you say that I am? Thanks for reporting what you’ve heard – that’s well and good, but I want to hear who you say that I am.”  Silence falls over the disciples as they wonder what’s going on.  Slowly, Peter clears his throat and says, “You are the Messiah.”  Jesus tells them to keep quiet about his identity and they continue walking.

I always imagine Peter smiling, truly pleased with himself for coming up with the right answer and thinking, “I’m in good cause I’m with the Messiah.”  Maybe he was even thinking “YES! I AM AWESOME!” Or whatever the Aramaic equivalent of that is.  But, of course, the story doesn’t end there! Nope, unfortunately for Peter’s ego, they keep walking.  Mark’s Gospel tells us, “Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  He said all this quite openly.”

In this area where people sacrificed animals to satisfy a half-man, half-goat god, fully human and fully divine Jesus reveals that he will suffer and die.  He reveals openly that he will offer himself as a sacrifice, bridging the gap between God and humanity once and for all.  This is too much for Peter.  It messes with his image of who a god should be and what a god should do.  It’s not at all what he thought the Messiah should be about.  Jesus’ teachings about a suffering Messiah are completely the opposite of God who is glorious, mighty and worthy of praise, aren’t they?

Peter can’t take it and so he speaks up, being the bold and the brash fellow that he is.  Maybe he was thinking he’d get two right answers in a row.  No such luck, because Jesus tells him “get behind me, Satan.”  Zing! From all-star disciple to major failure in a few verses.  That’s why I love Peter! We all have those moments where we feel like we’ve got it and we’re moving in a great direction and then … BAM! We realize we don’t have it at all.  It’s like a scene in the 1980s comedy, “The Three Amigos.”  Steve Martin’s character is chained in the enemy’s prison, but he realizes he can move the chains by pulling his arms and legs forward toward the chain release lever.  He slowly creeps forward, saying, “gonna make it.  Gonna make it. Gonna make it.  Gonna make it.”  He reaches the release lever, and shouts, “I made it!” Then is slammed back against the wall with an “Ow.”

This exchange between Peter and Jesus is just like that – Peter thinks he’s figured it out and Jesus clarifies pretty strongly that he hasn’t.

I find Jesus’ words interesting and not just because he just told Peter that he’s acting like Satan, the accuser and tempter.  I find his words interesting because if I had an enemy, the last place I would want the enemy or the adversary or the accuser to be was at my back – I can’t see him, I don’t know what’s going on.  These words are a form of rebuke for sure because they also appear in the Old Testament, but I think it’s also saying something to Peter.

If you’re behind someone, most likely you’re following them.  Jesus tells Peter to get in line – “get behind me.”  Stop setting your mind on human things – the things everyone in this world thinks are important.  It’s like Jesus is saying, “Peter, don’t you see? Those aren’t the things that God cares about.  God has something else in mind – something that involves dying and rising, sacrifice and new life.”  So Jesus tells Peter “get behind me” and to all who are gathered, “take up your cross and follow me.”  It’s a lot harder to follow someone else, the ways of the world, or our own evil hearts, if we have our eyes firmly set on Christ and we are carrying our crosses.

Ok, but what on earth does it mean to deny ourselves and take up our crosses to follow Christ?  Does it mean saying of annoyances we experience, “I suppose this is my cross to bear.”  No.  It means turning away from the things that would lead us away from God and seeking to live out our lives in a Christ-like way.  Carrying our crosses is a constant reminder of whose we are and what he has done.  It is a reminder of God’s sacrifice on our behalf – a sacrifice made out of sheer love.  Who do you say that Jesus is? And what would it look like to live formed by Christ’s sacrificial love, so that we might share that same sacrificial love with those around us?

It might mean spending time working with the hungry children in our area, getting to know them, hearing their stories, and ensuring that they have food.  It might mean welcoming refugees, offering up your resources and maybe even your home so that someone might have a warm, safe place to stay.  It might mean journeying with someone as a Stephen Minister and providing a listening ear and a loving heart.  It might mean sitting with a friend who has lost a job and being there for them.  It might mean spending time tending the gardens of the church so that it looks welcoming for those coming inside.  The possibilities are endless.

The crucifixion, and indeed all of Jesus’ human life, took place in the midst of a period of oppression, poverty, suffering, despair and difficulty.  And the fact that we are called to take up the cross as well means that we are called not to run from the difficulties, the ugliness, or the pain of the world, but that we are called to journey with those who suffer.  Anglican N.T. Wright even described prayer in this way: “Prayer stands cruciform at the place where the world is in pain to hold together Jew and Greek and slave and free. To hold together male and female, to hold together a battered and bleeding world and say, ‘No, there is a different way to be human.’”

Yes, there is a different way to be human.  And ironically, it looks like letting go of the things society upholds in favor of the cross.  It means that in order to pick up our crosses and follow Christ, we sometimes have to say, “get behind me, Satan.  I want nothing to do with you” to the things that tempt us to despair, to give up, to fear, or to forget God’s love for the entire cosmos. So to what do you need to say, “get behind me?” Is it the rat race? Is it to taking on more work in order to seek some kind of esteem? Is it spending money on things you don’t really need? Is it that dread feeling of hopelessness when you look at the world? Is it the voice of scarcity that would tell you to safeguard everything you have and not share it with others because there might not be enough? Is it that nagging voice that says God cannot or will not forgive?

Today, I want to invite us to say to those things what we need to say – to put them in their right place in our lives.  Behind Christ.  Not before Christ.  To say, “get behind me.  I follow Christ.”  As Jesus says in the reading, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?” The way of the cross is hard.  It’s arduous and often times it’s not as glamorous as the life of those we see on TV or in movies.  But ultimately it is the way of true life – of life that is lived for something bigger than itself.  For the sake of God and for the sake of others.

Peter may have thought he won the prize with his first answer about Jesus being the Messiah.  And he was right.  But it was actually his mistake that led to the life-giving lesson.  Jesus is the Messiah, but it’s the kind of Messiah he is, and the people we are called to be as a result, that is truly life-giving.  God chooses to work through the weak, the imperfect, the foolhardy and often confused disciples, the brutal cross, and ultimately, the surprising, in order to being about abundant life for all people.  As followers of Christ, we are not perfect, but God has seen fit to work in and through us for the good of the world.  It may not be what we were expecting when we set out on this journey to follow Christ, but it is good indeed.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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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.

Promises

Carvings on a church in Munich, Germany

Carvings on a church in Munich, Germany

You didn’t promise everything would be easy,
Nor to shield us from all pain.
You didn’t promise we’d be wealthy or famous,
If only we just believed.

Instead you promised to be with us,
even until the end of the age.
Instead you promised that nothing could ever
remove us from your hand.

Instead you promised to forgive us,
time and time and time again.
Instead you promised to wrap and hold us,
comforted in your loving arms.

Instead you promised to make us new,
capable of truly amazing things.
Instead you promised to challenge us to follow
and stretch ourselves in your love.

So may we sink softly into your promises, trusting,
with all our heart and our soul,
with all of our strength and our mind.
And let the adventure begin!

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Disciple (III)

Disciple (\di-ˈsī-pəl\)

Empowered through worship
Encouraged in the Word
Energized and strengthened
Through bread and wine
Then blessed and sent
Back into the world
Together, sharing the One we follow.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Disciple (II)

Disciple (\di-ˈsī-pəl\)

Blessed with the Spirit
Gathered into community
With others bathed and blessed
Walking together, step by step
Praying for each another
In the holy name
Of the One we follow.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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