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Who *Really* Wants to Take the Kingdom of God Seriously? (Mark 9:30-37)

I want you to notice the difference between Jesus and his disciples in this text today. It begins here with Jesus and his disciples on their way through Galiliee, and Jesus “did not want anyone to know it”. Travelling incognito, unknown, quietly, without fanfare or recognition.

On the way he is teaching his disciples that he will be betrayed, killed, and will rise again. And this is the second time he’s told them this.

They get to the house in Capernaum, and the whole journey Jesus is trying not to call attention to himself, to lay low, helping them understand the role of suffering and even dying—tremendously humble and meek topics.

The disciples, meanwhile, too frightened to ask him about all this, had been arguing about which one of them is the greatest.

Humble, suffering Jesus. Frightened, boasting disciples.

Jesus deflecting attention from himself to God’s will in the world. Disciples who want recognition, deserved or not (and it’s definitely not).

Jesus: it’s all about others. Disciples: it’s all about us.

What the disciples never seem to get in Mark’s gospel is how differently God works in the world than we usually do. Jesus is continually trying to teach and show his disciples what God’s kingdom is actually like. It is so opposite of what they experience that they just can’t seem to understand it. Today’s verses shine a light on that misunderstanding.

In God’s kingdom, Jesus says, the greatest are the servants. The least in our world should be treated like Christ himself. The one who serves others has their life given to them. The one who is ignored is the one in the center.

If God had God’s way, this would be the normal way of the world. The disciples never seem to catch onto that.

When Jesus goes on about how different God’s way is, it just doesn’t click with the disciples. All this “serve others, love enemies, forgive everyone, last are first, weak is strong” business Jesus tells them may as well be “up is down, red is green, and squares are round.” It doesn’t connect with them.

As I suspect it still doesn’t with us. God’s way is soooooo different from how the world actually operates that we usually find it easier to just kind of ignore it.

Think about if everyone took Jesus seriously when he says that the greatest of all is the servant of all. That would mean that the night janitor at McDonald’s has more status than any of our current presidential candidates . . . (OK, maybe a bad example). It would mean that everyone would accept that the homeless alcoholic man with a cardboard sign at the traffic light is just as valuable in the world as the person in the Mercedes who gives him money and food. Or the totally nerdiest kid in school is elected student body president over the most popular kid.

If everyone took Jesus seriously, can you imagine how badly it would turn out if we actually did love our enemies? Makes it kind of hard to fight a war, don’t you think? Capitalism kind of falls apart.

How about Jesus taking a child, the most powerless and most vulnerable person in his society, and telling us to welcome these as if they were Christ himself? If everyone actually welcomed and embraced the most vulnerable, most powerless people in our culture, imagine the changes in immigration and how we’d deal with the Syrian refugee crisis?

Then there’s the whole suffering and dying thing Jesus talks about. Can you imagine if everyone trusted so fully in God that they would go to that extreme for the sake of others?

Hard to even imagine that, isn’t it? God’s ways are just too different. The world would turn upside down if everyone took all that stuff seriously. And let’s be honest, not everyone even wants God’s ways, much less be willing to live them.

No, not everyone will. Hardly anyone. Maybe no one.

This is where the church comes in. Jesus calls his followers to do it. We are the ones Jesus sends into the world to be last of all and servant of all. How about if we, as Lutheran Church of the Master, were willing to suffer as a congregation because showing God’s mercy and compassion for others was more important to us than our own comfort or even survival?

God is so committed to this that God keeps removing the barriers that get in the way of following Jesus. So God keeps forgiving us, coming among us, giving us gifts, equipping us, and loving us so that we can love others.

Do you think we’ll do this perfectly? Nope, not gonna happen. But we can serve someone today. Then stand up for someone else tomorrow. Then show love to an undeserving person the next day. Sometimes it will cost us. Sometimes it will be hard. Sometimes we won’t benefit ourselves at all. But God is seen. Jesus is lifted up. God’s kingdom is exposed. Maybe without fanfare or recognition. Usually with humility and meekness. Not everyone wants it. May we be among those who do.

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Posted by on September 21, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Better With You Than Without You (Matthew 16:13-20)

Matthew 16:13-20

One problem with a text like this one is that there’s so much going on in it. In just a few verses there’s all the speculation about who Jesus is, Simon Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah, Peter’s name change to Rock, the gates of Hades not prevailing, the binding and the loosing, the “don’t tell anyone I’m the Messiah.” Too much to cover in a 90-minute sermon . . . (just seeing if you’re paying attention).
The part that is intriguing to me right now is the second question Jesus asks his disciples, the one Peter answers correctly, “Who do you say that I am?”
Here’s why. It’s an identity question, right? In Jesus’ culture, people found their identity in the people they hung out with. They didn’t get psychological about individual development and self-actualization. They were part of a community, and the identity of the community was the identity of the people in it.
When Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” he’s asking a community question. He’s asking, “Why are you following me? Why are you hanging out with me? Why are you part of this community?” By answering the question of who they think Jesus is, they are answering the question of the purpose of the community of disciples. He’s asking the identity of the church–that community that gets its identity from him.
That’s a great question. Why are we part of the community of disciples? Why do we identify ourselves with the church? Or do we? What is it about bearing the name of Jesus that attracts us? Or does it? Why are we here?
Sometimes our answers to these questions are less than compelling. Sometimes they are deep and rich. But it’s worth struggling with, I think. Why are we here? What is it about a Jesus community that makes us want to be part of it?
The rap sheet on the church is far from spotless. As the church we often say one thing and do the opposite. Sometimes we expect the church to meet our own needs at the expense of everyone else’s. We make time to fight over whether or not we should stand during the Apostles’ Creed but don’t have time to feed the hungry. We buy a new car every year but can’t afford to increase our giving for Christ’s work through the church.
This is not new. Throughout history the church has cared for the institution of the church more than for the Lord whose name she bears. The church has been mean, manipulative, hypocritical, and not always very reflective of Jesus. And we still are. Some of the deepest evil and hatred has had its heart in the church. It would be easy to write off and disassociate from an organization that is so flawed.
But here we are. Why?
If I’m saying this is an important question, I suppose that obliges me to offer an answer. At least my answer. Why am I here? Why a I part of Christ’s Church? My answer is not simple. But it’s honest and it’s mine.
I am part of the church because there isn’t anything better. Nowhere else can people gather and talk openly about the deepest and most significant parts of our lives. No other community will walk with us from birth through death, celebrating and grieving together along the way.
I am part of the church because we offer hope where no one else can. We encourage love for those no one else loves. We consider mercy to be success rather than weakness.
I am part of the church, a community that bears the name of Jesus, because I love the things Jesus stands for. The fact that we don’t do it well all the time is frustrating, but we claim forgiveness not just for the world but for ourselves too. Again, something Jesus stands for.
I’m not part of the church because of the doctrine or the music or the tradition. I’m not part of the church because I think hanging out with you people gets me closer to heaven when I die. I am part of the church because it’s the one community where the values of Jesus are the bottom line. It’s the one community where we can talk freely about forgiveness, peace, making the world a better place, love, mercy, and compassion; in fact, the church is the one community where those things are expected.
I’m part of the church because I believe with all my heart that the ways, the values, the example of Jesus are worth showing to the world. I believe that as long as we’re holding Jesus as our standard, trusting in the forgiveness, mercy, love, compassion and peace that he brings, then the church offers hope to the world.
I’m part of the church because as long as we bear the name of Jesus together, we can hold each other accountable to his values.
I’m part of the church because I can live those values better with you than I can alone.
“Who do you say that I am?” is an important question that Jesus asks us. The answer reveals why we follow Jesus. It reveals why we’re here in this place. It reveals who we are and what we stand for. And when we know that, we can move forward together–in Jesus’ name.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Contrasting Views of Success (7 Pentecost B)

7th Sunday After Pentecost

Amos 7:7-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

What an interesting piece of scripture. Jesus isn’t even in it; neither are his disciples. It’s really about King Herod and John the Baptist—though John was killed way back in chapter 1. The story isn’t told until now. It’s placed here deliberately by Mark,.

John the Baptist was executed because he had confronted King Herod about his improper marriage to his younger brother’s wife, Herodias. Even though Herod liked to listen to John, and actually protected him, he has John locked up for being too outspoken about his marriage. But it was Herodias who was looking for a way to have John killed. She found it when Herod promised his step-daughter whatever she wanted as a reward for wowing dignitaries with her dancing at his royal party.

Why would John the Baptist open his big mouth to Herod over this issue? It was a political marriage meant only to increase this Herod’s power in the region. That was common practice. Why would John make such an issue of this—to the point of imprisonment and a pretty gory death? Yes, Herod married for the wrong reasons—so what? That’s Herod’s problem, isn’t it? Why is John so cranked up about it?

So I wonder, then, if the issue of improper marriage isn’t really the issue. I wonder if Mark is causing us to think about something else. His placement of this story here, right after the return of the apostles from their first missionary trip might indicate what this is really about. I think we are being invited to reconsider what it means to be successful. Mark does so by contrasting the worldly success of Herod with kingdom of God success in John and Jesus’ disciples.

Think about this: Herod has everything. He’s a powerful king with advisers to give him the best advice, an army to protect him, more money than he could spend in multiple lifetimes. He throws a dinner party for the most powerful people in Israel—others who are just as successful as he is. The CEOs, the Cherry Creek Country Club set, the people who wield power and authority, who are the movers and shakers. And they all come! Herod has what most of us work our entire lives to attain: he’s the poster child of success.

Especially when you compare him to John who sits alone and imprisoned and poor, helpless, unable even to save his own life.

Herod throws a party for the most powerful people in the country.

Jesus had just sent his disciples out with no bread, no bag, and no money.

If nothing else, this text causes us to step back and reconsider what success really is. Influence for our own sake or significance for the world’s sake.

Those of us who recognize Jesus as savior, or even those who merely follow his teachings, we are confronted with two views of success. And it seems that the measure of success is who benefits: the powerful or the poor, the movers-and-shakers or the helpless, ourselves or the world. Right now we at LCM give away 10% of our offerings to help those beyond the walls of this church. That’s good! How about we try for 15%? According to this text, that would be a better measure of success than simply how big our budget is.

Even as significant as it is to give away more money, that’s still a narrow view of this text. I think there’s good news for us when we’re feeling powerless. Success is still possible for us when we feel like we aren’t accomplishing anything or getting anywhere. When we feel like John, when we feel we’re helpless, alone, and imprisoned by things beyond our control, the good news is that that’s not the indicator of our worth or our significance.

John was armed with nothing more than truth. So he spoke it. Jesus sent his disciples out with nothing but his authority, and they made a significant difference to those they were sent to. When you’re feeling like you aren’t making a difference, Jesus indicates otherwise. Right now, think of one person you’ve touched with love or forgiveness or generosity. That’s the risen Jesus at work in you. That’s success.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2012 in Sermon

 

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