Tag Archive: Jesus Christ


Sermon #3 (September 27) in our sermon series “The Way of the Cross: Our Journey with Jesus” at Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA.

Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from heading to the cross and got put in his place – told to set his mind not on human things, but divine things.  The disciples argued about who was the greatest and found themselves looking at a child and being told to welcome the least of these.  Now, the disciples run to tattle on someone who is performing deeds of power – driving out demons in Jesus’ name.

Out of breath, they run up to Jesus.  “Teacher! We just saw this guy and he was casting out demons.  In your name! We tried to stop him because he’s not one of us.  We did well, didn’t we?!”  And, much to their surprise, Jesus says, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.”  I can see the disciples stopping short and muttering, disappointedly, “Uh… ok.  I guess we’ll just keep walking to Jerusalem then.”

In order to understand what’s going on here, it’s helpful to go back earlier in chapter 9.  A man had brought his son to the disciples for healing. This boy was suffering from a demon that in modern terms seems to be epilepsy.  But the disciples couldn’t drive out the demon.  So Jesus casts it out and tells the disciples when they ask why they couldn’t cast it out, “‘This kind can come out only through prayer.’”

Now there is a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but he’s not even in Jesus’ group.  In light of this previous failure to do deeds of power like their Teacher, the disciples seem jealous of the other exorcist.  They are insecure, confused, struggling with their identity as followers of Jesus, and perhaps even afraid that Jesus will kick them out of the inner circle.  After all, they are the handpicked twelve and they can’t even cast out a demon!

The refrain that is repeated throughout last week’s text as well as today’s is, “in Jesus’ name” or “in the name of Christ.”  Children are to be welcomed in Jesus’ name.  Demons are cast out and wholeness restored in Jesus’ name.  People are to receive hospitality – a cup of water to drink – in Jesus’ name.  And woe be unto those who cause anyone who would believe in Jesus’ name to stumble.  In short, the name of Christ has tremendous power.

The disciples have heard Jesus predict his death twice already, and they’re trying to get a handle on what they are supposed to do and who they are supposed to be as followers.  In this search for clarity about their identity, the disciples are eager – super eager in fact – to point out the faults and shortcomings of this man operating outside of their little group.  Instead, Jesus uses this encounter to refocus their attention on themselves.  Because they have been called to follow Jesus and bear his name, they shouldn’t stop this man from doing good just because he’s an outsider.  Instead, they should be focused on the ways their actions are preventing healing and good news from flowing to people in Jesus’ name.  Because it’s not about the disciples’ names, but about whose name they carry and how they represent that name.  The actions of the outsider are welcomed while the insiders are warned to be mindful of their own actions.

In baptism, we are marked with the triune name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – often with a cross traced upon our foreheads.  It is this name we are to carry throughout our lives.  It is the name in which we are called to live, to love and to serve others.  It shapes and forms our identities.  But as the Gospel points out, because we bear this holy name, we also bear a great deal of responsibility.  Jesus’ words to his disciples ask us pointedly, “how are you getting in the way of the gospel? How are you a stumbling block to others?”

This week, we have been inundated by photos, videos, and news of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States.  While I’ve enjoyed it, and I think the Pope has wonderful things to say, he’s kind of a tough act to follow.  I mean, I can’t say that I’ve talked to Congress, washed the feet of prisoners, called for peace on a global scale, or even had a Fiat take me around DC! What on earth have I been doing with my life?! It is easy to look at his actions and feel like we cannot live up to them, but I really like how President Obama put it in his welcome speech to the Pope: “Your Holiness, in your words and deeds, you set a profound moral example.  And in these gentle but firm reminders of our obligations to God and to one another, you are shaking us out of complacency.  All of us may, at times, experience discomfort when we contemplate the distance between how we lead our daily lives and what we know to be true, what we know to be right.  But I believe such discomfort is a blessing, for it points to something better.”

Each of us, washed in the waters of baptism and marked with Christ’s holy and precious name, has been given a beautiful gift.  The gift of forgiveness and discipleship in Jesus’ name.  We have been given the opportunity to serve God and the world in the name of Christ.  Jesus issues a challenge, calling us to stop judging others and forcing us to look instead at how we may be keeping others from encountering the good news, the living God in their own lives.  Are there things that we hold dear that might be stumbling blocks to others experiencing God’s grace? Maybe it’s as simple as not moving in our pews to make room for new folks.  Or maybe it’s prioritizing television watching over spending time in prayer or devotions.  Maybe it’s in the way we speak about others which cheapens our witness to Christ.  This is the discomfort we experience when contemplating the distance between how we lead our daily lives and what we know to be true.  It’s the discomfort the disciples experienced that day with Jesus and it’s the discomfort that can provoke thoughtful prayer, contemplation and change in our own lives.  It’s the discomfort that can lead to asking for forgiveness and opening a space for the healing of our spirits.  Because Christ has begun a good work in us and will bring it to completion.

We are all tempted to look at those outside of ourselves or our little groups and think that others are doing it wrong or shouldn’t be allowed to do it at all.  Other denominations worshiping in the wrong style.  Neighbors tending their yards in the wrong way.  People praying differently than we do.  But Jesus warns us that our time would be better spent searching our hearts and allowing those who bring about good in his name to continue.  Instead of tearing down, how can we take the opportunity to build up and to point to God’s grace and love?

Recently, there was a story of a Turkish couple who took the money they could have spent on their wedding reception and instead spent it, and their wedding day, feeding thousands of Syrian refugees.  This couple, who are Muslims and not Christians, caused me to pause and to reflect on how I was welcoming others – offering a cup of cold water to the thirsty, bread to the hungry, and shelter to the homeless.  The “outsiders” helped this “insider” see and hear afresh the call of Christ.

Today you will have the opportunity to come forward to receive individual prayers for healing.  As James wrote, “Are any among you suffering? They should pray.  Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”  Soon, I will invite you to come forward to receive prayers in the name of the Lord for healing, forgiveness, strength, or whatever you may need this day.  Come and be strengthened, remembering the name in which you live, move, and have your being.  Come, and give thanks for the healing and wholeness that comes through life lived in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

 

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.

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.

This is yesterday’s sermon from Community Lutheran Church!

I want to begin by asking you to close your eyes. Imagine before you a beautiful home, expansive and furnished impeccably. As you walk down the hall, you round a corner and see a huge banquet hall. The aroma of rich food and spiced wine reaches you before you see the table groaning under the weight of roasted meats, freshly baked bread, an array of cheeses, and brightly colored vegetables and fruits. Even the dishes themselves are exquisite. You’ve never seen a finer feast and you pinch yourself, trying to see if you are dreaming.

The Feast from Harry Potter... cause who doesn't love Harry Potter?! (From: http://i.imgur.com/VxChzNz.jpg)

The Feast from Harry Potter… cause who doesn’t love Harry Potter?! (From: http://i.imgur.com/VxChzNz.jpg)

Open your eyes. Hungry? This is the feast of Lady Wisdom described in Proverbs. She decorates her home like some sort of Martha Stewart guru and has her servant girls run around the city – even to the very top, inviting everyone to come in. But she doesn’t pass out invitations or even issue a formal decree. No, she calls out to everyone who will listen, “You that are simple, turn in here!” Well that’s one way to invite people! Perhaps she’s not so great with social etiquette after all. You see, if I were going to have a feast, the last thing that I would want to do is run around saying “Hey! Simple, senseless folks, come on over for supper!” I mean, for one, it’s insulting, and two, who knows who might show up?!

So what’s going on here? The book of Proverbs was a book historically designed to help instruct young people in the way to live their lives wisely. Wisdom is personified as a woman who sets a decadent feast, calling those who are in need of guidance and instruction to eat at her table. Here, eating is a metaphor for learning the way of God, being satisfied by God’s teaching and transformed by the meal. Lady Wisdom’s arch nemesis is Lady Folly – personified as a loud, lazy woman who calls out from her doorway, enticing the simple with promises of food and drink that sound appealing, but lead only to peoples’ demise.

Both call out to the simple, calling them to come and dine. The difference is that Lady Wisdom offers true food and drink – instruction in the ways of God that lead to life. Lady Folly offers food and drink that look good, but lead to death.

Given these two options, it seems only natural that one would want to feast with Lady Wisdom. But doing so requires admitting that we’re not as wise as we might have thought. It means humbly admitting that we need help and instruction in order to learn and grow, which can be more difficult than it sounds. As one member of the Wednesday Bible study put it, “we’re stupid and we don’t admit we’re simple.” It also means turning down what might seem appealing in the short term in order to embrace what is truly life-giving. And that can be a challenge.

I like the way David Brazzeal puts it in his book, Pray like a Gourmet: “Does your prayer life feel like you’re eating the same food over and over every day – mixing the same ingredients but hoping for a new, more enticing dish?

Or perhaps you’re experiencing something more like a divine drive-thru. You hurriedly place “your order,” always in a rush, expecting God to deliver it promptly at the next window?

Maybe your most intimate moments with God are akin to grabbing a cheap frozen dinner from the stack in the freezer and tossing it in the microwave: bland, monotonous, and predictably uninteresting.

I understand. I’ve been there too. We all deal with twenty-first century pressures, stresses, distractions, and time constraints. We fall prey to the default mode of our culture- fast and efficient. We’ve even allowed what George Ritzer calls the ‘McDonaldization’ of our society to invade and take root within the very relationship that is most precious to us – the one that, in fact, is the source that sustains and nurtures our soul. No wonder we feel spiritually anemic and malnourished.”

Sometimes we settle for the fast food of Lady Folly and the world rather than attending the gourmet meal of Lady Wisdom and God. I think it’s one of the reasons we’ve been spending so much time talking about Jesus as the Bread of Life. Food is essential to our survival and we don’t usually need to be reminded to eat, but we do need to be reminded of who Jesus is – the One who sustains and gives life – and about how important it is to be nourished in our faith.

In the Gospel for this morning, Jesus pushes the idea of being the Bread of Life even further – to a point where it sounds like, well, cannibalism. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Yikes. Of course, we hear this and we think of the Last Supper, the cross and resurrection, but it must have been shocking to hear. But here’s what I think he’s getting at.

Jesus gives us himself – completely. He gives us his body and his blood on the cross. He gives everything he has for our sake. And he gives us something to chew on. We’ve looked at Lady Wisdom’s feast versus Lady Folly’s and one of the differences is that Lady Folly’s food is an easy meal. It sounds good, but it doesn’t taste great and it leads to destruction. The feast that Lady Wisdom sets and the feast that Jesus offers is not an easy meal.

Jesus says those who eat of his flesh will have eternal life. And the word that he uses for “eat” really means “to gnaw” – yep, it means “to chew.” Christ gives us something to chew on – something to think about. He doesn’t give us something easy to swallow or easy to digest. He gives us something that causes us to wrestle, to wonder, to engage with for the rest of our life. We can’t just down it in one single solitary gulp and be satisfied. It’s something that we are constantly required to chew on, to savor, and to think about.

We’re invited to return to the table again and again to try and figure out what God means for our lives. What faith means for our lives as individuals, what it means for our life as a people in community, and what it means when we walk out of that door and engage with people from different backgrounds and different places. What it means when we go to work or when we serve in our various roles. We are forced to gnaw on our faith and to figure out what it means to live it out. Like a dog chewing on a bone, we are to be engaged with our faith and in our relationship with God.

I love the metaphor of attending the feast, because I love food, but also because it’s an active metaphor. God invites us to the feast and we come to partake of the rich food – to learn and practice our faith, but also to share around the table. Since we’re Lutheran, maybe it’s helpful to think of it as a potluck. God provides the main dish and an abundance of strong coffee, and we all bring a dish, maybe it’s a Jell-O casserole, representing our gifts, skills and experiences to share with others. Together, in community, we worship, learn and grow, and we wrestle with our faith, our questions and our doubts.

We are lavishly saved by God’s amazing grace through Christ’s cross and resurrection, but that doesn’t mean that life will be easy or the way clear-cut. We will always need help, instruction and support in God’s ways – in trying to live as followers of Christ in the world. That’s why we come back to this place week after week to hear God’s word and be forgiven and strengthened at the table. Because we will always be distracted by the loud shouting of Folly that would cause us to turn from God, to live in fear, to belittle ourselves or others, or to seek fame and glory instead of the way of the cross and a life of discipleship.

God wants life for us – abundant life – and not just in eternity, but here and now. God wants to feast with us and to be active in and with us. Christ is inviting us to eat and drink more deeply so we might discover that the food of the world we’ve been settling for – power, riches, acclaim, success, popularity – it might look good, but really ends up leaving a bad taste in our mouths. Just as Christ gave his flesh and blood – everything he had for us – we’re invited to give our whole selves to following him. Bland prayer life? Come on out to Diving into Prayer and try something new. Feeling like you want a refresher in the basics of faith? Sign up to help teach Sunday School – it’s a blast and it’ll help you learn as well. Looking for a way to serve, but unsure of how to do so? Come out on Rally Day to learn more about our ministries here. Christ is inviting us to swap the metaphorical frozen pizzas we’ve been living off of, for the richness of a gourmet meal.

“You that are simple, turn in here!” We don’t like being called simple, but if it reminds us to turn to God instead of relying on ourselves, it’s a good thing. If it points to the good news that God wants us to lay aside our own agendas and ways we’re missing out on God’s abundance by settling for Folly and cheap substitutes, it’s a good thing. My prayer for all of us then is that the Holy Spirit might humble us and open our hearts so that we can see and taste the splendor of the magnificent feast God lays before us each and every day. Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

“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.

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