Tag Archive: Freedom


Salvation

Salvation.
The word is so loaded.
Weighed down,
ensnared in a web
of lines drawn between
in and out,
right and wrong,
redeemed and tossed aside.

But the word itself,
is salve.
It is healing, wholeness –
the thing that binds up wounds,
rifts and cavernous divides
between Creator and beloved creation,
between your aching heart and mine,
between your grievous sins and my own.

Salvation.
The word is so loaded.
Saturated with mercy,
Laden with freedom
bursting through the lines
we perpetually draw
to keep God’s grace
contained in our limited boxes.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Sharing in Paul’s Joy

This is the sermon I preached at Trinity Lutheran Church in Greencastle, PA today.

Philippians 3:4b-14:
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

As I began preparing for this sermon, I started by reading over the texts for the day. And as I read, I found myself being drawn to the reading from Philippians. So far, so good. But, oddly enough, as I read it again and again, songs kept popping into my head. And not hymns or contemporary Christian music, but a song from Disney’s Hercules movie and a song from the musical Hairspray. Weird. And as I tried to figure why this was happening, I began to think – what would it be like if Paul had put this passage to music?

(to the tune of “Without Love” from Hairspray)
Once I was a Pharisee
Who never broke the rules
Never looked inside myself
But on the outside, I looked good!

Then we met and you made me
The man I am today
Jesus, I will follow you
On your holy way

‘Cause
Without you
I consider all things a loss
Without you
How could I ever bear my cross?

Jesus, I’ll be yours forever
‘Cause
I never wanna be
Without you…
Jesus, you have set me free
No, I ain’t lyin’
You have set me free
Oh, oh, oh!

Perhaps it would have sounded something like that – well, if Paul was influenced by 1960s rock-n-roll and showtunes.

In any case, I think the joyful and upbeat tune conveys Paul’s message to the church in Philippi very well. This passage is a fairly well-known one, but I think that sometimes it’s hard to hear the joy, hope and appreciation in Paul’s voice when he says he considers all things rubbish for the sake of Christ.

Before we get there though, let’s take a look at how Paul arrived at this statement about rubbish. Paul starts by listing his inherited traits, including his Jewish ancestry and the traditions he participated in from his early life – like circumcision on the eighth day. Next, he moves on to describe what he himself had accomplished, saying, “as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Now, up until this point, it seems that Paul is almost boasting about his accomplishments. He was a Pharisee, one skilled in interpreting and explaining the Law of Moses. And not only could he interpret and explain it, but he followed it carefully as a way of life – an incredibly admirable endeavor. In addition, to show how devout he was, Paul even mentions his persecution of the church. One can almost see him sort of shaking his head as he admits this to his fellow Christians.

And then comes the twist. Paul says, “yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish…” In fact, Paul’s wording here is very strong – think of the strongest word for rubbish or filth you can find and that’s what Paul is getting at. Yes, Paul has a potty mouth here!

What would this statement sound like in our context? Imagine being born into a good family and then having a wonderful opportunity to go to an Ivy League school where you excel in everything you are doing. You graduate and achieve all you ever wanted – an amazing job, a sweet sports car and all the honor and prestige you could ever desire. Then, you have a life-changing encounter with the living God and tell your friends, “I count all that I had as nothing because of Christ. Actually, everything I’ve ever known and the opportunities I’ve had, have been nothing compared to experiencing Christ. I’ve even lost my six-figure job, my corner office and my amazing house and I consider them all garbage now because I have Jesus in my life.” Anyone who heard you say that would probably think you were in some sort of incredible denial, unwilling to admit that you had failed or fallen from where you were. It’d be a huge shock to hear those words coming out of someone’s mouth today and it was most likely a huge shock for Paul’s readers to hear him describe where he had been and how his life had changed.

Paul does not stop here, however. He says he wants nothing more than to be found in Christ – to be found following Jesus, no matter what the cost. It is at this moment that Paul declares that all his works and blameless adherence to the law don’t mean anything without faith. As he explains, it is through this faith in Christ that he, that is Paul, and we too, have righteousness that comes from God. God does not look at us and see our works, judging whether or not we have been “good enough” or judging whether or not we have measured up. Nor does God look at us and see our sins piling up around us.

This is where the love for God and the joy and hope I was speaking about earlier enter into the picture. Paul’s love for God stems out of his overflowing gratitude for what Christ has done for us on the cross. Because of the cross, when God looks at us, God sees the righteousness of Christ. Instead of the multitude of sins, God sees Christ’s perfection and the loving obedience that brought him to the cross on Calvary. God sees us covered over in mercy and grace. It is through Jesus that we have been made righteous – that we are able to stand before God. That, my friends, is grace. It is that precious gift, freely bestowed by a loving God. It is not something that we attain through clinging tightly to the law or by living perfectly. Otherwise, we wouldn’t make it – we would all be judged under the law and found wanting. As Casey Novak, Assistant District Attorney on the hit television show Law and Order: SVU pointed out, “No one is above the law.” As someone slightly more credible than Ms. Novak, namely Martin Luther, put it “…we let God alone work in us and in all our powers do we do nothing of our own.”

It is with this in mind, that Paul continues his letter passionately, saying that he wants to know Christ, to experience him and the power of the resurrection. It would be easy to see why one would want to experience the resurrection with its redemptive glory and invitation to new life, but Paul also states that part of the experience of knowing Christ is sharing in his sufferings. Here, Paul is saying that he wants to die to sin and experience new and abundant life with Christ. This is what we are to do every day in living out our baptism. Daily, we die to the old person and we are raised again, loved and forgiven to go out and serve.

Lest we become frustrated when we feel like we continue falling short and sinning far too much, Paul assures us that we are to keep on moving forward. We can do so because Christ has made us his own. This phrase “Christ Jesus has made me his own” is interesting because it can be translated as “I have been won by Christ Jesus.” Jesus has won us in the fight against sin, the powers of the world and the Devil – the very things we renounce in baptism. Jesus is with us, strengthening and encouraging us to continue following him. No matter how many times we stumble or fall, Christ has already won us and nothing can remove his victory. The key is to keep trying, no matter how difficult it seems. To keep moving forward, even when it may seem like you’ve done something unforgivable or when you feel there is no hope.

Paul reassures the Philippians and us that he is by no means perfect yet, but that he is also journeying “toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” That’s an awful wordy sentence, but I think we can break it down and make it a bit easier to understand.

A few weeks ago, many of us, myself included, were glued to the television watching the Winter Olympics. We cheered for the United States and for those who had overcome so much to make it all the way to the medal podium. We teared up over those touching stories the announcers presented between all the action. We were absorbed in what happened in Vancouver. With all of this in mind, however, I couldn’t help but think about the athletes’ lives after the Olympics finished. They have spent their whole lives straining toward the Olympic prize, trying to beat incredible odds to attain that one glorious, shining moment on the winners’ podium. But what happens when they have achieved that?

In his letter, Paul writes, “not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s goal isn’t an Olympic medal, but rather life in God through Christ. In fact, the Greek phrasing Paul uses can be translated as “the prize of the upward invitation of God in Christ Jesus.” God is inviting us to a whole new life and a new way of thinking. Our goal is not one that we can achieve, like putting a check mark on a to-do list, but the goal is rather the invitation to a whole new way of life. It’s only the beginning of the adventure that lies ahead of us.

Life with Christ is just that – an adventure. It’s dying to our old selves and discovering our new identities as people living in and walking with Jesus. It’s picking up our crosses and following our Lord. It’s failing and falling, and getting back up, knowing that Christ is with us and will not let us go. It’s looking at life through the eyes of Jesus and realizing that, thankfully, we don’t have to be perfect to be loved by God! It’s struggles and joys, fears and hopes, death and resurrection. It is an adventure, but it is one we are by no means traveling through alone. God is with us and will remain with us. Moreover, our brothers and sisters in faith are our companions on the trip.

It is this journey we experience on a smaller scale during the Lenten season. We began on Ash Wednesday, confessing our sins and with the reminder that we are dust and to dust we will return. As we journey, maybe we have given up something or taken up a new spiritual discipline in order to try to focus more on our relationship with God. Next week will be Palm Sunday and then, Holy Week. Good Friday will bring the crucifixion and with it, the reminder of the heavy price Christ paid for us on the cross. But the Easter Vigil and Sunday will once again remind us of the Resurrection and the hope and joy Jesus’ rising brings to us.

I believe it is with this joy that Paul writes. He has come to realize through his encounter with Christ that it is not about him and how well he can uphold the law or obey the rules, but rather about the beautiful and unmerited gift of grace and forgiveness that God gives us. Take a moment. Think about that. That’s freedom. It’s freedom from the frustration and despair that comes from falling short of what we should be. It’s freedom from the exhaustion we feel when we are trying to live up to other peoples’ standards or trying to be all things for all the people around us. It’s freedom in which God says “I have done this for you – rest in this grace and know that I love you.” Paul’s joy is one of liberation and his hope is one of hearing the invitation of God and setting out to join God on the adventure.

Yes, God is with us through it all, sustaining us through the Holy Spirit, and encouraging us by reassuring us that Christ has already made us righteous before God. How amazing to have a God who loves us so much! Thinking of this, let us share in Paul’s joy and hope. And, knowing this love and the freedom and righteousness we have through Christ, how can we keep from singing? Amen.

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Why Don’t We Just Dance?!

I just saw the video below and besides being cute and entertaining, it made me think, “why don’t we just dance?”

I love Josh Turner for many reasons (his brilliant baritone and handsome features to name a couple!), but I think when I listened to this song this evening, I heard it with new ears. As I watched the peoples’ expressions as they saw dancers (in a so-called flash mob) break into fun moves into the middle of the mall, I realized that they were all in shock. They looked baffled and puzzled, and some of them even seemed concerned about the sanity of the dancers!

Although the onlookers seemed to enjoy it at the end, they were confronted with something out of the ordinary. Here were people who were not conforming to society’s norms – it is not normal to bust a move in the middle of a crowded mall and it is even more unusual for a group of people to do so! But Turner’s refrain poses a great question: “why don’t we just dance?” Why can’t we seem to cut loose? Why don’t we just give it a try?

When you’re dancing, your whole self is involved – your body, your mind, your spirit and emotions are all together. Even if you’re a terrible dancer, you can’t argue that this isn’t the case! The physical activity boosts endorphins and naturally makes you a little bit happier. More than that, I find that when I’m dancing, it’s easy to be in my own little world and if I’m having a good time (which I usually am), I’m not thinking about others’ impressions of my hideous dancing or awkwardness. I’m not trapped by my own self-consciousness.

I will be the first to admit that I have no shame. By that I mean I’m willing to make a fool of myself. Whether its acting on a stage, or playing a goofball to illustrate a point, or even dancing alone before the crowd in the bar has started to just to make sure I’m having fun, I have done some bold things! I’ve even been known to burst into song and dance in public and while that’s certainly not appropriate everywhere, I think sometimes we just need to loosen up a bit – to shake up the world and keep it on its toes.

Sometimes it seems we’re so worried about being socially acceptable or popular or about fitting in (thanks, peer pressure!) that we forget how much fun it is to just let go; we forget how freeing it is to truly be ourselves in the midst of the world. Maybe if we did let go, we’d encourage others to have a bit more fun and not to take things so seriously all the time. There are horrible troubles in this world and I’m not saying we should ignore them by living our lives in a Pollyanna-type state, but why can’t we bring a little joy and light to the world.

I guess what I’m trying to say is “why don’t we all just dance?!”

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Under the Cross

Driving down Route 15 today, I saw something that struck me as odd and yet very fitting. What was it, you might ask? On the side of the highway, there are three wooden crosses, two white ones and one yellow/gold one in the center. Perhaps you’ve seen these elsewhere. I drive past these crosses nearly every day, but today was different.

Today, there was someone pulled over by a police man directly underneath these crosses. At first I thought, “that’s an odd place to stop,” but the more I thought about it, the more appropriate it seemed. Here was a man, caught breaking the law, parked at the foot of the cross. Aren’t we all guilty of breaking the law, i.e. God’s Law? Don’t we all run the risk of being caught by the long arm of that law and being punished? The answer? Yes.

That is, until Christ came. Until Christ bore our sins and burdens on the cross, we were in bondage to sin. However, through his death and resurrection, we have been miraculously set free to have new, abundant life and the freedom with which to live it. As Paul says in Romans 6:3-11:

3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Being raised to new life in Christ means that we have forgiveness and that we are free from sin, but it also means that we are free to respond joyfully to God’s magnificent grace. We are free to live boldly, loving without bounds and giving of ourselves to others.

In effect, I see the man pulled over under the cross as a fitting picture of all of us being caught in sin under the Law. We all need to come to the foot of the cross to find forgiveness for what we have done or what we have failed to do. It is only there, with the cross in plain view, that we can begin to understand what being forgiven for our sins and what the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, really means. All things revolve around what Christ has done for us on that tree.

I’m pretty sure the man who was pulled over wasn’t focused on Law and Gospel or thinking too much about the crosses, and I hope he had a safe and uneventful trip. For my part, I am thankful that I was reminded once again how important it is to keep the cross of Christ ever before us.

© 2009. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

A Most Beautiful Sight

A poem I wrote on the Metro one day in May…

I have wondered at the peaks of Alps,
Viewed from the sky high above.
I have marveled at breath-taking cathedrals,
Built from blocks of stone and love.

I have stood before the mysterious Sphinx,
Staring back into his regal eyes.
I have hiked at night the Black Forest,
Darker than the darkest of all the dyes.

These wonders that I’ve seen,
I count as blessings from on high,
but I ponder what I’ll see,
In the moment after I die.

When I encounter the One
I’ve longed for, face-to-face,
What “on earth” will I do
Consumed by overwhelming grace?

Will I kneel as a servant of a liege
As in days of yore?
Or will I run to meet Him,
Unable to fight the allure?

Or will I cast down my eyes,
Unable to meet His gaze,
Thinking of all those many times,
I failed to follow in His ways?

Or instead, will I rest
In His loving embrace,
Knowing that I have indeed
Finished the greatest race?

Do I dare reach out and touch
The scars upon His hands,
Feeling at once that which freed me
From these iron bands?

Do I speak or stand in awe,
At last without remark?
Or do I burst forth in all my joy,
Singing like a lark?

The answer is, “I do not know”
Nor shall I e’er while I’m here,
Instead, I shall await a glimpse,
Of Him, where in this life He should appear.

In the face of the man begging,
Too poor to buy something to eat.
In the weary face of a woman on the Metro,
Who waits to sit and rest her feet.

In the laughter and smile of a child,
There does His joy shine through.
Among the poor, the weak, the broken-hearted –
They are His unlikely crew.

Yes, it is not only in the Kingdom to come
That we can glance upon our King.
It is also in the everyday,
Every mundane and earthy thing.

Though I await eagerly that day,
When my precious Savior I behold,
It is my most fervent prayer,
That I may serve, be I young or old.

That I might look for Christ in those,
I encounter along my way,
Seeking to act well my part
In this divinely-appointed play.

© 2009. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Sun Streaming Through St. Peter's Basilica in Rome

Sun Streaming Through St. Peter's Basilica in Rome