Tag Archive: Gospel


This was last Sunday’s sermon at Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA

The resting human heart beats an average of 60 to 100 beats per minute.  Thump.  Thump.  Thump.  In addition to pumping our blood and keeping a steady supply of oxygen flowing throughout our bodies, the heart has long been seen as the center of thoughts, personality, actions, emotions, and wisdom.  So I’d venture to say it’s pretty important.

These texts we have for this morning are tough.  And they’re tough not because they have hard words or are particularly difficult to understand.  In fact, they’re fairly straightforward.  But they’re tough because we don’t like what we hear.  Deuteronomy tells us that the law was a gift given to help people to live out the covenant in the new land of Israel, and by living them out, help other nations see who God is.  Jesus tells the Pharisees that they’re elevating human rules to a divine status, while ignoring what is truly important – hearts that follow God.  And James gives instructions for the new Christian community, calling them to turn from the things of the world in order to live out of their faith.

Each of these texts calls us to a higher standard of living.  As Eugene Peterson translates James: “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other.  Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.”  Ouch.

These texts hold up the mirror and call us to take a long hard look at ourselves to see where we are missing the mark, falling short and not following God.  They remove the excuses we so artfully craft about our words and deeds and call us to account.  They strip everything down to some basics and challenge us to live out our faith in the world.  They call out, “when did you last say something unkind or hurtful about someone else?”  “How many times have you refused to help another in need because you were ‘too busy’ or wanted that extra money for something else?”  “When have you found yourself looking down upon someone else?”  “Have you been envying what your friends, family, or neighbors have?”  These questions make us squirm.  We don’t want to think about them or answer them.  We don’t want to think about how our speech and action might reflect our hearts.  We rush about, perhaps rarely taking time the think about the effect our words and deeds have on others.  But it is necessary to slow down and sit with them.  To ask God to reveal in us those places where we are not living out the life to which we’ve been called.

As some of you may know, I am a “Walking Dead” fan.  Last summer, Jeff and I began binge watching this show on Netflix.  I’m sure binge watching is another sin! For those of you who don’t watch, the walking dead or “walkers” are zombies who have begun wreaking havoc on society, bringing about an apocalyptic scenario.  The show follows a small band of very different people as they try to survive.  One would think that the zombies would be the scariest part of this show.  But the surprise is that the real threat – the real underlying danger – is not from the undead, but from the living.  The people who have survived the apocalypse are capable of far more hurt, pain, deceit, inhumanity and death than the zombies are.  That’s why the show is so interesting.  Zombies are fun, but the psychology and group dynamics are fascinating.  You watch an episode and think, “who would I be in this situation? And how would I respond?”

And so it is with us.  Jesus tells the Pharisees that they’ve got things all backwards – it’s not all about the rituals that keep us clean on the outside or insure that we’re eating the right foods.  No, we should be more worried about the inner workings of our hearts and whether or not they are leading us down the wrong path or are following God.  The threat could be coming from the outside as with zombies, but most likely, it’s coming from within.  A truly scary thought indeed.

It is abundantly clear that the human heart is capable of evil things.  This week has brought reports that the Nigerian schoolgirls are still missing, that ISIS continues its reign of terror, of two journalists shot and killed in Roanoke, of the continuing struggle against racism, of infidelity on the Ashley Madison website, of migrants and refugees displaced by violence and searching for a place to lay their heads.  The list, unfortunately, could go on and on.  It is easy to hear this and to feel paralyzed by the evil within our own hearts and that we see taking place around the world.

So where is the good news? James uses this beautiful phrase that I love.  He calls us to “…welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.”  Looking at our asphalt driveway, I’m always amazed at how weeds manage to push through asphalt and concrete, driveways and sidewalks.  These hearty little plants find a way to thrive in spite of their tough circumstances.  The Word of God, planted in our hearts, has the power to bust up our rocky and hard hearts – to burst through the hardness of our sins and selfishness – and bring about the beautiful flowers and fruits of the kingdom.  The word of God – the grace and promises of God – implanted in our hearts are slowly at work, calling us to account for our sin, bringing forgiveness, and inspiring us to live out God’s love in the world.

Because God loves us far too much and far too generously to leave us with hard and sinful hearts, God becomes human, even ripping apart the heavens at Jesus’ baptism to get through to us.  And at the end of Mark’s Gospel, at the crucifixion, God will once and for all rip apart the Temple curtain that separated God from humanity.  That says something about God’s heart for us.  God’s actions, retold throughout scripture and seen on the cross and in the resurrection, reflect God’s tremendous love for all creation.

Ok, it's not exactly a baptismal image, but Andy escaping Shawshank Prison is definitely being given new life, and the rain is a great reminder of baptism! (From: http://6f9e5b2993b2676fe5af-84a7d838f746c494b9783302a5a26cce.r46.cf5.rackcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/The-Shawshank-Redemption.jpg)

Ok, it’s not exactly a baptismal image, but Andy escaping Shawshank Prison is definitely an image of being given new life, and the rain is a great reminder of baptism! (From: http://6f9e5b2993b2676fe5af-84a7d838f746c494b9783302a5a26cce.r46.cf5.rackcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/The-Shawshank-Redemption.jpg)

That’s the love and the life we’ve been welcomed into in baptism.  When we were washed in that font, we were raised to new life in Christ.  That’s not just a nice phrase! It is an invitation into a new way of being, a new way of thinking, a new way of speaking, and a new way of living.  Each and every one of us has been freed from sin, death and the devil in order to live a new life – a life of Christ-like love and service to others.  As James puts it, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”  We live out our faith and show others that our hearts love God when we care for orphans, widows, the marginalized, and all those in distress.  And we point to God’s action in our lives when we refuse to give in to the ways of the world – the ways that would tell us to use others for our own personal gain, to put personal riches and power above the poor and the voiceless, or to turn a blind eye to violence, hatred, and injustice.  Because, miraculously enough, the human heart is also a place where wonderful things can happen – transformation can occur, compassion can spring up, kindness and empathy, charity and generosity can flow forth.

We have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to follow Christ and to bear fruit in God’s kingdom.  It is not easy.  It is difficult and frustrating because we run smack dab up against our own selfish desires and the temptations and priorities of the world.  But we are not alone.  Christ has called and equipped us for this work and he will see it through.  Look around.  These are your sisters and brothers whom you have been called to support and with whom you have been called to worship God and serve in the world.  We will not live up to this godly life perfectly – no one can.  But we have been welcomed into this new life in baptism and these texts today call us to pause and think about what it looks like to live that life out.  To ask for forgiveness where we’ve fallen short.  To celebrate and give thanks for the way that God’s implanted word has begun to transform our hearts.  And to dream with hope, wonder, and awe about the amazing things the Holy Spirit might do in our lives and in this place to help others know God’s incredible love.

I’ll leave you with an Irish prayer from the 15th century that is a wonderful reminder and a promise of God at work: “O Son of God, do a miracle for us and change our hearts.  Thy having taken flesh to redeem us is more difficult than to transform our wickedness.”  If God can take on flesh to redeem all of creation, think about how God is at work in our hearts.  Thanks be to God! Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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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.

Stained Glass

Shards of colored and painted glass
fused together in patterns to craft
a vibrant, reflective mosaic
that tells the marvelous story
found in your Word.

Broken and sinful people
bound together by the rushing
breath of Your Holy Spirit
creating a vivid, living tapestry
that speaks and shares the Gospel.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

First Sunday in Lent

Today is the first Sunday in Lent. Ash Wednesday, only 4 days ago, marked the beginning of my journey. With quiet time for prayers and reflection, as well as a cross smeared on my head in ashes, my season of Lent started.

Ash Cross from Google Search

In general, I look forward to Lent – to the quiet and penitential season which allows us to examine and rest in our relationship with God. “Examine” and “rest” don’t seem like two words that should go together, but reading Psalm 51 (the first Psalm I’m working on memorizing and the Psalm read at the Ash Wednesday service), has helped me to understand Lent in a different light:

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6 You desire truth in the inward being;1 therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God1 is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
19 then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

This is a song of penitence – a prayer that God might turn God’s face from the psalmist’s sins, that God, in God’s “steadfast love” and “abundant mercy,” might blot out or erase the psalmist’s transgressions. This is the examining part of Lent, and what Lutherans would call “the law.” We are all sinners. We have all done things we know we should not have. Moreover, we have all committed sins that we may not even recognize as sins. We have also failed to do the things we should have. In short, as Paul writes, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

But this is not, thankfully, the end of the story. There is also the resting part of Lent, or, as Lutherans, would call it, the gospel part of “law and gospel.” This is the good news that God does indeed forgive us – no matter what we have done or failed to do. The good news that God can and will create clean hearts in us and restore the joy of salvation to us. Joy. That’s a word we don’t often hear in Lent, but I believe it is crucial. In examining our sins and noting how we have fallen short of God’s glory, we are driven back to the cross of Christ, forgiven of our sins, and it is there, at the foot of the cross, that we know the joy of God’s salvation – of God’s grace, mercy and love. This is the love and comforting embrace in which we can rest – holding firm to the promises of God.

I am really enjoying reading the Psalms carefully and trying to memorize them. It’s difficult and can be frustrating, especially when I don’t get it right even after many attempts, but once memorized, it’s been amazing to speak Psalm 51 aloud and actually think about the words I’m saying. To recite the psalm not just as a monologue, but as a prayer has made helped me to appreciate the Psalter not just as a thing of the past, but as a collection of prayers and songs to be used in conversation with God.

As for being off of Facebook, what a blessing! Surprisingly, it’s been easy to avoid it and I don’t miss it much, although it is hard to break the habit of compulsively checking it every 5 seconds. Sigh. I think I may limit myself to once a week once Lent is over because I’m enjoying the detachment. Over time, I think I may notice that being disconnected from Facebook will encourage me to connect on a deeper level with family and friends – that it will help me to really be present with them, not thinking about something else or multitasking while we talk. We’ll see, I suppose!

© 2011. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Hosanna, Hosanna!

I am absolutely in love with “Hosanna” by the Soweto Gospel Choir!

Here are the lyrics:

Let the weak say, “I am strong”
Let the poor say, “I am rich”
Let the blind say, “I can see”
what the Lord has done in me (Repeat 3x)

Hosanna, hosanna
To the Lamb that was slain
Hosanna, hosanna
Jesus died and rose again
Hosanna, hosanna
To the Lamb that was slain
Hosanna, hosanna

Jesus died and rose again (Repeat 5x)

It’s simplicity, sweeping dynamics and incredible harmonies really convey the beautiful message of the Gospel.  In the midst of a stressful and hectic semester, I’ve found rest and calm in the lyrics and tune of this song.  In times of stress or great pressure, what brings you peace?

This song reminds me that God is already at work in the world, changing the lives of people by bringing hope and peace through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Lord is busy at work in people, making the weak strong, the poor rich and the blind able to see what God is doing.  Lest we think, “oh, that doesn’t include me,” let’s not forget that the words “weak,” “poor” and “blind” can also pertain to our faith lives.  After all, how many times do we struggle with doubts or trusting God, or forget to make time with the One who created and cares for us?  How often do we miss what God through the Holy Spirit is up to because we’re looking at the world not through God’s eyes or the eyes of faith, but with human ones?

This song is a reminder that God is already transforming us and that the kingdom of God has already been initiated.  And for that, we can say “Hosanna, Hosanna!”

Let us pray…Gracious Lord, we give thanks for the gift of your Son Jesus Christ and for your beautiful work in the world.  Strengthen us by your Spirit to be a part of this work and move in our hearts that we might be filled with love for you and our neighbors.   May we at all times and all places give glory and praise to you, shouting and singing “Hosanna” with all of creation.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

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