Tag Archive: Forgiveness


If you only knew…

This was Sunday’s sermon at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA, done in spoken word/slam poetry style from the perspective of the unnamed woman in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 7:36-8:3).

If you knew what kind of woman I was,
You would know
that you should run –
Take off,
Say “I’m done”
Flee from the very sight of me,
And never look back,
Not for lack of compassion,
But because the rules tell you so.

You would know
As soon as I barged into that place,
The look of fear,
Disgust,
Disgrace,
Sweeping over that Pharisee’s face
is your cue –
Do what our culture says to do.
Walk away – forget what you’ve seen.
If you only knew.

Imagine – I’ve heard it all before.
The whispers, the stares, the shame that floods,
Do they think I don’t care?
Do they think I don’t see the glances?
Praying instead for second chances?
Do they think I don’t feel?
Like I don’t have any worth?
Hurt.
Day in and day out.
I carry it all.
If they knew what kind of woman I was.

But somehow in my heart I know,
You’re not like them.
And so I take the last remaining shred
Of street cred and dignity and go to buy
The alabaster jar.
Hope beyond hope
That you’ll forgive the sin that mars
My life
My future
My relationships.
If you only knew what kind of woman I was.

So I’ve come here among your ranks,
Overflowing,
Gushing,
Weeping,
In sheer thanks,
For forgiveness you have yet to bestow.
Low I crouch,
And anoint your feet,
Beat,
Beat,
Beat,
My heart thumps as tears flow freely,
Jesus, will you see me?
If you only knew what kind of woman I was.

I glance Simon in the corner of my eye,
He’s wondering why
I’m here,
Without an invitation
He dines with
The healer of the nations.
“She doesn’t deserve it,
What a waste.”
Waiting to put me in my place,
But unable to pull me
Away from this table,
Even as he burns up inside:
“If he knew what kind of woman she is.”

Every one of my tears
A prayer,
Crying out for all of my years:
“Don’t shove me aside.
Love –
let there be love.
I don’t want to hide.”

And you don’t.

You tell that Pharisee,
Although he thinks he can see,
Although he thinks he perceives,
And thinks he believes,
Rightly –
He’s wrong.
I’m forgiven and free –
Mercy
Washes over me.
I’m seen and I can see –
You know who I was
And who I can be.

You send me on my way,
Saying,
“You’ve been saved.”
And for the first time
I’m light,
Airy,
The weight’s been lifted,
And I want run all around,
From town to town,
Proclaiming,
“If you only knew what kind of woman I was!
If you only knew what kind of God he is!”

You see,
Because that’s your game,
Taking,
Shame,
Blame,
Pain,
And forgiving,
Giving,
A new way of living.
If you only knew what kind of God he is.

But people always misunderstand,
Land to land,
We’re all the same,
Stuck in our sin,
In – ward looking,
Pointing at others,
Blind to our own misdeeds.
On a campus where
Crime is seen as just a youthful fancy,
Or in Latvia –
Women preaching the Gospel
Have made men antsy.
If you only knew what kind of God he is.

Gossip,
Racism,
War,
Hate,
Sins of scarlet
Far and near,
Mark our world,
Jar our lives.
Drowning in disappointment –
Is there a balm –
An ointment?
To soothe our weary souls?

So don’t ask me to simmer
When there are people who need
A glimmer
Of hope
Mercy
Justice
A voice and a choice,
In a world gone bad
With people who are mad –
Trapped in their own mistakes,
Fears,
Trying to break others
Cause they can’t deal
With their own stuff.
Enough!
If they only knew what kind of people they were,
And could be.

We’ve been anointed,
Appointed to tell the story,
Of YOUR glory,
Of your cross,
Your rising
Your Spirit,
To all who will hear it.
To proclaim your kingdom,
Be heaven to earth
Bringing
People of peace
Loving the lost and forgotten
If we only knew what kind of people they are.

Because up your sleeve there’s an ace.
Grace –
Yes, a table of grace,
A place
We can meet you face to face,
Touch you
Like a woman
At another table,
Who loved much.
If we only knew…

© 2016. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

(From: http://www.heqiart.com/2-the-life-of-jesus.html "Mary Magdalene" by He Qi - This woman is unnamed, but some have associated her with Mary Magdalene)

(From: http://www.heqiart.com/2-the-life-of-jesus.html “Mary Magdalene” by He Qi – This woman is unnamed, but some have associated her with Mary Magdalene)

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“Get Up and Eat!”

Sunday’s Sermon from Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA.

With all these readings about bread, I’ve been thinking about Holy Communion an awful lot.  In 2004, during my year abroad in Germany, I attended a tiny Lutheran church.  That first day I was there, they had Communion, but I didn’t go forward because I didn’t know the rules.  After the service, I asked the pastor in my slow German, struggling to pull together the right church words in another language, if I could receive communion.  “I wasn’t baptized Lutheran,” I’d told him.  I just remember the smile on his face as he said, “as long as you believe Christ is present there, you may receive.”  I felt so relieved to be welcomed at that table, able to be fed with the others gathered for worship.

When I returned home in 2005, I didn’t go to church since I was nervous because I’d had a difficult experience at a church when I was in high school.  But by 2007, I found myself really missing the community of faith.  I was hungry and thirsty for God, and I knew the only way I could grow in my faith was to try going to church again.  I needed Holy Communion – I needed to hear those words, “the body of Christ, given for you” and “the blood of Christ, shed for you.”  So I found a church, was welcomed again at the table, and I continued to heal from my past experiences with the church.

In 2012, during seminary, I studied for three months in Munich, Germany, living in a wonderful ecumenical community.  One night we gathered for worship in the small chapel, coming together from all different countries and denominations, singing, praying, listening to God’s word and sharing Holy Communion.  When the time came to distribute the bread and wine, the pastor gave to one person, and then that person distributed it to the next person, saying, in German: “Nimm und iss. Christi Leib, für dich gegeben” (“Take and eat.  Body of Christ, given for you.”).  I think the non-native German speakers were a little worried because no one wants to mess up speaking God’s promises to another person.  I know sometimes people get nervous speaking these words in English because they’re such important words of grace.

But then I saw the kingdom break in in a wondrous way.  When the bread reached a man from Brazil, he closed his eyes and spoke in Portuguese to his neighbor.  He spoke these words in the language that was close to his heart and said them the best way he knew how – authentically in his mother tongue.  As we went around the circle, others spoke in their native language.  But even with the variations in the words, you could tell that the words people used were the words that meant something to them.  It was wonderful to hear these powerful words in different languages and voices.  The variety brought such a richness to the experience and made me think about the feast to come – that colorful heavenly banquet, where people will be gathered from every corner of the world, from all different backgrounds and times, all speaking one language – the language of praise.

Running throughout my life, like a beautiful and life-giving thread, throughout various faith communities and around the world, Holy Communion has been there.  It has been a meal of welcome, of healing and forgiveness, a sign of the kingdom, a foretaste of the feast to come, and a challenge.  I would not have been able to make my journey without it and I hear that echoed in Elijah’s episode in the wilderness.  Elijah has just had an epic duel with the prophets of the Canaanite god Baal to see whose god is truly God.  Elijah and the Lord of Israel win the contest, and in a difficult bit of Scripture, Elijah has the prophets of Baal killed by the sword.  Queen Jezebel is outraged and threatens to kill Elijah, so he flees into the wilderness.

There, under a lone tree, he’s scared, exhausted, overwhelmed, perhaps feeling like a failure, and wondering what the future is going to hold for him.  Struggling with his situation and wishing for his own death, he lays down, tired of fighting, to get some rest.  It’s then that an angel of the Lord wakes him up, saying, “Get up and eat.”  He does, and then promptly lays back down for a nap after his holy snack.  But the angel of the Lord returns and tells him, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”

Now, if I were Elijah, and I was exhausted and hungry, that angel would have to be awfully careful approaching me and telling me that I had a journey to get ready for! But he eats, and he’s sustained for 40 days and nights until he reaches Mt. Horeb where he will encounter God in silence and be called to go back into the fray.  He’s fed to go back out to do God’s work in the world.  He’s challenged not just to sit and be fed, but to use that sustenance and strength to be a part of God’s changing work.

Sometimes we find ourselves feeling wiped out, tired of all the rigmarole, and we don’t know how we’re going to make it.  We face illnesses, aging parents, difficulties with raising children, stress at work, struggles with our finances, problems at school… Sometimes all we want to do is curl up in a ball and stay under the covers.  And those first followers of Jesus felt the same way.  Those who followed, experienced his healings, listened to his teachings, and were fed by him, were a people who were tired of oppression under foreign rulers, tired of struggling to eke out a living, and wondering when their circumstances would change.  They knew all too well about poverty, discouragement, and hardship.

And when Jesus, a man whose family they know, says that he’s the bread of life – the one who will give life, not only now but eternally – well, that’s just too much for them! When he says – “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – that must have sounded downright crazy to his listeners! They must have been thinking, “teachings are helpful.  Healings, feedings, and miracles, we love! But this is going too far. How on earth can we accept this?”

I think as much as we may try to avoid talking about it, we, too, have these feelings.  We hunger for God.  We long to believe in God’s promises.  We ache to know that things are changing and the kingdom is coming.  But sometimes we feel like Elijah and those first followers: tired, weak and broken down by all of the pain of our lives and the world.  And the thought of heading back out there is wearisome.  We come to this place and we desire to be fed.  We come to Communion and we wonder if a wafer and a sip of wine can change our lives.  We ask, “Can such a simple meal change me? Will Jesus really meet me there in such simple food?”

Yes. Yes, he will.  And this simple meal does change our lives.  You see, the God we worship doesn’t work the way we think or expect God to work.  God works through plain old water and every day, ordinary bread and wine.  God’s voice is heard through normal people reading from a book, through fellow bumbling disciples called to preach, and through every one of us ministering to others.  God’s presence and power are felt in praying for others, in unglamorously serving together in the community, in small acts of kindness and hospitality.  The glory of God worked through frail human flesh, vulnerable and weak, to redeem the entire cosmos.  Yes, Christ will meet us in bread and wine.  It’s just the sort of surprising, outrageous and laughable thing that God would do.

It’s easy to get caught up in life.  To be overwhelmed, even during summer vacation season.  To find ourselves running every which way and dealing with all sorts of things we never anticipated.  To find we have far too much on our plates, but realize we’re, ironically, not really being fed spiritually.  So how do we slow down, stop, and eat? How do we make time to receive and participate in that which is life-giving and life-sustaining?  How do we remember that when we open our hands, we’re not just going through the motions, but saying, “Jesus, I need you.  I can’t do it on my own.  Thank you for welcoming me.  Forgive me for the things I’ve done or failed to do.  Help me to follow you and strengthen me so I can serve you in the world.”

We are called to get up and eat – to receive the God who comes to us, the God who is continually drawing us to himself.  We may, like those following Jesus so long ago, have a hard time swallowing that Jesus can and will sustain us throughout the bumpy journey of life with all it’s twists and turns, peaks and valleys.  But the One who dwelt with us and experienced the hardships of life as we do, has conquered this world once and for all through the cross and resurrection.  We have nothing to fear.  He has promised to be with us and to meet us in broken bread and wine outpoured.  While it may seem that a morsel of bread and a sip of wine cannot possibly keep us going, time and time again, they give us forgiveness, hope and strength.  And as this food with God’s promise sustains us, slowly, but surely, Christ transforms us one little bit at a time.

God knows that it seems impossible.  That it seems too good to be true.  So we’re invited again and again to see, hear, touch, smell, and taste that the Lord is good.  To keep meeting God at this holy table to that we can remember that Jesus is the Bread of Life – the one who nourishes us so we can go out and live.  Because God knows we need this grace, we are invited over and over again to join the feast – young and old, rich and poor, no matter where we’ve come from.  God draws us and calls us to come and be refreshed – to get up and eat so that our life’s journey will not be too much for us.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Awake in Advent

Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, I preached on Mark 13:24-37 at Community Lutheran Church:

If you’re anything like me, the past few days have been spent in a sort of hibernation mode. Packing in delicious food, watching T.V. and meditating on the wonders of comfortable pajamas and sleeping in. I am slightly ashamed that I really didn’t do a whole lot that was productive in that time. Yet, at the same time, I know that it was needed. Valuable time to rest and recharge. Precious time to spend with Jeff, the dog, and my family and friends. And I hope that you were able to have some of that time as well.

Each year, it seems that the Christmas season starts earlier and earlier. Now, emerging from a turkey coma, the world is going full steam ahead into Christmas, with decorations, shopping, parties, cookie baking, Christmas carols and the hustle and bustle of the holidays. With this flurry of activity and stress, it can be really easy to lose sight of God.

Meanwhile, we in the church enter into a time of expectant and hopeful waiting, yearning for the coming, or Advent, of Christ. As a result, the four weeks of Advent are kind of an odd time because we know that Christ has already come 2,000 years ago, yet we’re awaiting Christmas and Christ’s second coming where he will reign in the fullness of his kingdom. Holy and anticipatory waiting contrasted with the busy-ness and often chaos of the month of December.

And then we get these fiery passages about God tearing open the heavens, suffering in the world, the sun being darkened, the moon’s light giving out, falling stars and the very powers of the heavens shaking. Ummmm… yikes! I definitely feel the draw of watching the Grinch, making snowmen, eating gingerbread and laughing at ridiculous hip-shaking dancing Santas!

When we hear texts about the end of the world and the second coming of Christ, I think we have one of two tendencies. We may get nervous and try to figure out when it’s happening and how to read the signs of the times. It makes sense that we would try to figure it out given what we hear in Scripture, but Jesus also tells us, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Not even Jesus knows when all of this is going to occur! I think our second tendency is to say, “I don’t know when this is going to happen, so I’m not going to think or worry about it.”

Both tendencies, however, miss what we are being called to. And that is faithfulness. We’re being called to keep our eyes peeled – to be like watchmen, waiting with our senses on high alert, prepared for whatever will come next. That’s why we hear this Gospel text in Advent – in the season of waiting, preparation, anticipation, and hope for the things to come.

But what do we do while we’re waiting? We keep watch and keep alert for the ways God is active in the world. And we keep watch and keep alert for the places and ways in which we can actively participate in God’s kingdom, whether that’s listening to those who are hurting, cooking for and serving the hungry, praying for and encouraging others in the faith, or repairing and building homes for others. We use this season to prepare our hearts to receive Christ at Christmas and every day through worship, prayer, fellowship and service. We live out our baptisms and are fed by the Word of God, and at the Lord’s Supper. We use this time to allow God to continue shaping us and helping us to recognize Christ in our neighbor.

I’ve been struggling over the past week, and maybe many of you have been, too. I’ve been listening to conflicting reports from Ferguson, Missouri, reading articles, opinion pieces, and listening to interviews… I’ve been trying to figure out what happened there. I’ve been disturbed by the violence, not only of Michael Brown’s shooting, but also of some of the protestors. I’ve been upset by the hate and the vitriol I’ve heard and read. I’ve been saddened by families torn apart, by the hurt, frustration and the brokenness of the situation in Ferguson that is rippling across the country. And I’ve been wondering how I, as a follower of Christ and a white woman in Virginia, can or should respond. I know that by virtue of my skin color, where I’ve been born, and my circumstances in life, I have been lucky – I have not had to worry about the affects of racism. So when an event occurs that highlights the racial divide, the poverty and lack of opportunity for people of color in our country, I struggle to find what to say or do.

I know, however, that the temptation is to hear about these events, acknowledge them, and then just continue with my life. To hit the snooze button rather than keeping awake for the places God might be calling me to use my voice, my role, or my gifts for the sake of my brothers and sisters. But the truth is, while we await the fullness of Christ’s loving, merciful, and just reign, we are invited to be a part of God’s kingdom work. To keep alert and attuned to how God is tugging at our hearts.

And God is tugging at each of our hearts a little differently. Jesus says in his parable, “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.” Each of us has our own work. We have a voice and we have opportunities to get involved in our world. We are invited to be a part of the conversations and reconciliation needed in so many different issues at hand, whether that’s poverty, education, working for peace, caring for the sick, comforting the dying or grieved. You have been invited by God to speak to and live out the hope and love you have been given in Christ Jesus. To keep awake – to be alive and fully present instead of asleep, complacent or missing out of the life into which God is inviting you. Where do you feel like God has awakened you to a need in our world? How might you use the gifts God has blessed you with to make a difference?

There is one other time this phrase “keep awake” or “keep watch” is used in the Gospel of Mark. It’s in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus urges his disciples to stay awake with him and keep watch as he prays about his upcoming trial and then crucifixion. The disciples, as you may recall, fall asleep not once, but twice, nodding off at one of the moments of Christ’s greatest need.   As we begin the season of Advent, we are reminded not to ignore those in need around us, or to ignore God in favor of perfectly decked halls or the most expensive or decadent gifts. We are reminded to slow down a bit and to savor this time, watching with the eyes of faith for opportunities to experience Christ in others and to share Christ with others.

There is an Aramaic word that appears only once in the New Testament, but I think it helps to paint a wonderful picture of Advent. The word is “Maranatha.” Say that with me: “Maranatha.” It can either mean “Our Lord has come” or it can be read as a plea or command: “Our Lord, come!” This word is the prayer of Advent. It is stating with hope and confidence that our Lord has come. Although things may be difficult, God is in our midst and is working in and through us to bring about the kingdom. We know this because we know Christ has come, has died and was raised from the dead. We know that we have a God who brings about healing and forgiveness in even the darkest situations – even from the cross.

And yet this prayer expresses the eager longing of people tired with the way things are. It cries out and asks God not to delay in bringing about the fullness of the kingdom where all are seen as children of God, where justice abounds for rich and poor, black and white, young and old, and where love is the currency people spend freely.   Maranatha. Our Lord has come. Come, O Lord. Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

This was Sunday’s sermon, preached at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA on the Parable of the Talents.

The parable Jesus tells of the talents is all about risk. It’s not really about the amount of money involved, but rather what each of these servants or slaves does with what the Master gives him. In the Greek, it says the first two servants “worked with” the insane amounts of money they were given – 5 talents is about 75 years’ worth of wages and 2 talents is 30 years’ worth of wages. Even the servant who was given 1 talent was given a lot – that’s 15 years’ wages! That’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in today’s money.

So the Master gives extravagantly of his money to his servants – he hands it over to them to do with it as they will. And when he returns, the only one he is angry with is the one who didn’t do anything – the one who played it safe and buried the talent in the ground. It’s not because he didn’t make more money or didn’t make enough money, it’s because he acted from a place of fear: “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.”

While the other two servants were given huge amounts, they acted out of abundance and decided to invest it and see what would happen. Their reward was being able to enter into the joy of their Master. But the third servant acted out of fear, real or perceived, did nothing with what he was graciously given, and, in the end, his fears became reality.

We have been entrusted with the greatest treasure – the Gospel. Each of us has been given the lavish gifts of God’s forgiveness and grace. But the trick is that we weren’t given these gifts to keep them to ourselves – we have received them to share. We have good news to share with those who ache to hear a kind word. We have been given forgiveness and hope for those who despair and feel they can’t go on. We have seen a way of peace and reconciliation that we can proclaim and live out in a broken and violent world. We have the love of Christ to share in our actions and our words.

In seminary, we were talking about taking risks for the sake of the Gospel and sharing the good news. In that conversation, one of my favorite professors said, “a glorious failure is better than a tepid success.” Hmmm. That really stuck with me.  Success is good, but I would rather try something different or off-the-wall in the hopes that it might better communicate or show God’s incredible love, than just play it safe. The Gospel is worth too much not to take those risks.

Yesterday, I heard of NFL player Jason Brown, who at the height of his career was one of the best centers in the league and had a $37 million dollar contract with the St. Louis Rams. But in October of 2012, he walked away from it all, even as his agent told him he was making the biggest mistake of his life. He left in order to become a farmer in Louisburg, North Carolina. He had never farmed a day in his life. He learned by watching YouTube videos. Yes, you can do anything by watching YouTube! His plan? To begin “FirstFruits Farm” a farm that would donate the first fruits of every harvest to those in need, as well as providing other opportunities for people in the community. He describes it as the most rewarding thing, the most successful thing, he’s ever done.   As he says, “Love is the most wonderful currency that you can give anyone.”

A common phrase to hear nowadays is YOLO – Y O L O – or, “you only live once.”

Even though this phrase can be used to encourage wild or irresponsible behavior, it’s true that we only live once. So how are we going to use our lives? God has given us an abundance of gifts, and as the parable shows, even one talent, is more than enough. So how are we going to use what we’ve been given – the love of God, our lives, gifts, and finances – so that we bear fruit in the kingdom of God? We may not be called to walk away from the NFL or start a farm, but how is God calling you and this community to take risks for the Gospel? Will you work out of the abundance God has given you, or are you caught up in fear about falling short, failing, or not using what you’ve been given well? God knows that we will fall short or fail, and that’s ok. But are we willing to step out in faith and take risks to serve God?

Let us pray… you have given us amazing gifts out of your generosity and your abundance. You have given us the gift of salvation and forgiveness, the wonderful news of your love and grace. “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” Free us from our fears and anxieties to take risks for the sake of your Gospel. Help us not to bury the gifts you have given us, but to work with and use them to bring hope and the joy of Christ to all people. Amen.
For more information on Jason Brown, check out these articles:

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Last Sunday’s sermon on Matthew 21:23-32, preached at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA.

I love movies. My brothers and I used to have contests to see who could “name that movie quote.” We’d do accents and imitations, too.   So it was to my great delight when I found out that Pastor Joe knows a great deal of movie quotes. And on Thursday, when everyone in the church was quoting the Wizard of Oz, I was thrilled! That was my favorite movie growing up, but when I hit my teenage years, another movie took its place. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Some of you may think this an odd choice, but come on! Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in one movie with action, history, foreign countries, manuscripts, adventure, and faith – it’s right up my alley! And if you put that movie on when I’m nearby, I will begin to quote it – I can’t help myself.

Well, as I was meditating on the texts for this morning, one of the scenes from Indiana Jones came to mind. Indy is on the search for the Holy Grail and now it’s the climax of the movie. Time is running out because the evil art collector, Walter Donovan, who is in cahoots with the Nazis, has shot Indy’s father, Henry Jones, Sr. He’s done this to make Indy go in and find the Grail so that he can save his dad. The suspense!

Indy knows because of his dad’s research that there are three booby traps before you can even get to the Grail. And the clue to the first one was what popped into my mind: “Only the penitent man will pass.” I remember asking my Dad what “penitent” meant and hearing that it meant the person who is sorry for the mistakes they’ve made and the things they’ve done.

As Indy moves slowly forward, he keeps repeating, “The penitent man will pass.” Creeping through the dark tunnel, he talks to himself, “The penitent man is humble before God. The penitent man… The penitent man is humble. Penitent man is humble… kneels before God. Kneel!” And right as he says it, two razor sharp blades whirl from the stone walls, Indy narrowly kneeling and rolling to safety. It’s a fantastic scene and it’s stuck with me.

But the idea of the penitent passing or entering is exactly what Jesus speaks about in his encounter with the chief priests and elders we hear about in the Gospel.

Previously, Jesus entered Jerusalem humbly riding on a donkey while the crowds shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Then he cleansed the Temple, causing chaos and turning the religious establishment on its head. There, the children in the Temple continued to shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” which really got under the religious leaders’ skin. And now Jesus is face to face with the chief priests and the elders of the people. These aren’t every day Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, or lawyers. No, these are the religious elite – the head honchos of the Temple. And they’ve witnessed the uproar caused by his entrance into Jerusalem and the events at the Temple. They’re already majorly irritated and now Jesus is teaching in the Temple – on their turf. Oh snap!

So they come after him, questioning his authority. Basically, “Who died and made you Elvis?!” They want to know who said he could teach because clearly he’s not one of them. And rather than just answering them, Jesus throws the ball back into their court with a tricky question: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”

It may sound odd to our ears, but this is the theological equivalent of tossing a grenade in the mix because the chief priests and elders know it’s a trap and they can’t possibly answer. If they say it was from heaven, why haven’t they recognized John the Baptist as one of God’s prophets or been upset because Herod killed him. If they say that John’s baptism was of human origin, then the crowds who do believe and follow John’s call to repentance will be outraged. So they respond with, “we don’t know.”

And Jesus refuses to speak about where his authority comes from, because as he points out in the parable, the ones who need to know where he gets his power already know. Jesus’ parable is about two sons – one who says he won’t do something for his father but does, and one who says he will do something and doesn’t.   Remember the penitent man will pass – this is where the repentant ones come back into the picture.

The son who says he will work in the vineyard, but doesn’t follow through is like the religious leaders. They are people of God, teachers of the Scriptures, and powerful leaders in the Temple. They should know that Jesus is of God, but they don’t. They talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. The son who says he won’t work, but does it anyway, represents the tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners who have heard the word of God preached by John and now Jesus and who have repented to follow God. Contrary to all outward appearances and their roles in society where they are labeled as outcasts, they get it. And they’re entering the kingdom of heaven before the religious elite.

I see two major themes at work here: pride or arrogance, and humility or willingness to grow.   The religious elites are at the top of their game and they think they know exactly what the will of God is – exactly what God is up to. But the sinners are those on the edges of society, those struggling and looked down upon. These are people who know their own hurts and brokenness. They are people who know they have a need. They get the message because it touches them and means something in their lives.

Maybe it is easy for us to fall into the trap of talking the talk, but not walking the walk. Maybe we are relying on ourselves instead of God. Maybe we find ourselves thinking, “well, I may make mistakes, but at least I’m not like so and so!” We might think we’ve got everything neatly figured out. Or maybe we’re feeling tired and in need of grace. Maybe we are remembering those things we did that we’re still struggling with and holding on to, days, weeks, or even years later. No matter which son we are, God calls out and says, “Turn, then, and live.” Don’t live in the tiny confines of thinking you’re above everyone else! Don’t live trapped behind the walls of you’ve constructed of who God is or whether or not certain people deserve God’s grace! Don’t live wrestling with your old demons of sin, guilt and shame! Don’t let your past define you or determine your future! No, turn and live!

We have an incredible gift in the church. We have the gift of times of confession and forgiveness. It is a time to think about our sins and the ways we’ve fallen short and to bring them humbly before God. It is a time to be vulnerable and admit our wrongdoing and our desire to change – to be free of the things that have bound us. It comes at the beginning of the service so that as we come in, weary from the world, from acting like we have it all together and keeping up appearances, we can let go. We can ask for help and know that God has heard our plea and does not delay in forgiving. Christ has freed us from all our sins. It is done. And we confess as a community, acknowledging that we all struggle and that we all need help.

A while ago I was speaking with some people who didn’t go to church and they asked about how we had confession. I explained how corporate confession happened and they said “Wow. That must be incredibly freeing.” I was amazed that even people not part of the church would be moved by the chance to admit their wrongdoings and ask for forgiveness and help. And in that conversation I think maybe a little pride as one of the clergy was put in check by those who also know their need for confession and forgiveness, but who aren’t in a church every Sunday.

Paul writes the following in Philippians: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.” For our sake, Christ humbled himself and became obedient to God even to the point of death on a cross. Can we develop that same humble and obedient mindset as followers of Christ? Who are we giving authority in our lives? Can we turn from our pride and our arrogance and listen to how God is calling us to turn, live and serve?

In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Indy finally makes it past the booby traps, he encounters the Grail Knight, the guardian of the Holy Grail. But much to his surprise, there are many chalices in the room. The Grail Knight counsels him, saying, “… choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.” We, too, have to choose each day if we are going to walk in the way that brings the fullness of life. Are we going to start each day remembering our need of God and believing that God is at work in us, imperfect as we are? Or are we going to go throughout our day relying on ourselves?

The Grail in the movie is not a lavish, attention-grabbing bejeweled chalice that looks perfect, but rather a simple, common cup. The humility of the cup and of the tax collectors and prostitutes, remind us that to follow God is to admit our need of help, forgiveness, and transformation. Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

The Holy Grail from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (From: http://img4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20110317234056/indianajones/images/f/f1/Holy_Grail.jpg)

The Holy Grail from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (From: http://img4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20110317234056/indianajones/images/f/f1/Holy_Grail.jpg)

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