DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.
May the Spirit Speak to you!
A sermon for 1 March 2015 – Second Sunday During the Season of Lent
Click here to read scripture first: http://www.biblestudytools.com/nrsa/mark/passage/?q=mark+8:31-38
It’s Lent, so I guess public confession is good. Here goes. Someone really hurt my feelings last week. Don’t worry – it wasn’t anyone connected to the church! It was something someone else I know said to me, about me, last week. And it hurt. My ego got bumped. I got mad. . . . Am I the only one this ever happens to? . . . For at least the first two days, I wanted to call up my best friends and trash talk. Tell them all about it. Point fingers at the person who said what they said. Get them on my side about it all just so I would be justified. . . . Seriously: am I the only one stuff like this ever happens to? I don’t think so, though I realize some of us are further along on the continuum regarding such things.
Recently I heard a beloved, deep-on-the-journey spiritual leader talk about it on national television. The interviewer asked him something about him living each day in the flow or absolute love of God. And he confessed that though he writes and talks eloquently about the absolute love of God – the Ground of our very being, sometimes he’s there. But not always. And some weeks not even every day. This is someone who has devoted his life to daily silence, scripture reading, study, communal living, and prayer. He’s sought after worldwide for in-person lectures. His printed works sell millions and his visual and audio recordings are bringing life to Christians all across the globe. And still, after nearly fifty years of the practice, he claims his own ego still gets bumped. People say things or do things that rub him wrong and before he knows it, he feels that pain. Now, thanks to his daily, life-long practices, he admits such annoyances come and go fairly quickly for him now – even things like getting cut off in traffic. Anyone get all worked up about that? But he doesn’t have that urge to call up BFFs to tell them all about it. And he doesn’t stew either –as the less verbal among us tend to do, right? Just soaking in our juices. Fuming about what so and so did or said that really got our goat.
It’s the first thing that comes to mind from Jesus’ words of the gospel of Mark. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). It would be easy to keep such words way back then in history. Thinking about Peter, James, and John literally having to give up the regular ways of their lives to follow Jesus around Galilee before finally heading to Jerusalem. But the message isn’t just for those long ago. It’s for every last one of us. Today. In the real stuff of our lives.
If you were at Wednesday night to see it, or watched the link of the video we email blasted (click here to watch it: https://vimeo.com/116071300) that was by the Barna Group about their findings regarding the unchurched, then you might remember that one of the major hurdles to Christianity today is that the unchurched, or church-less as they were calling them, cannot see any distinctive difference between how they are living their lives and how most of us church people are living ours. Ouch! The research showed that other than us being in worship sometimes on Sundays, for the most part, the daily lives and choices of most American Christians do not look all that different from the daily lives and choices of the church-less. Chilling, isn’t it? Because the One we claim to follow was pretty clear that we are not to be living the same as everyone else. In a world of rampant consumerism, self-absorbed self-interest, and escalating violence; we should stand out. It should be seen that we give of at least a portion of our time, talents, and money not for our own pleasure but for the benefit of others. It should be seen that we curb our appetites for more, more, more. It should be seen that, if nowhere else in this world, at least among us Christians forgiveness is genuinely practiced – love for all no matter what is the norm. All those good fruits of the Spirit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). It should be seen that we’re not about us and them but about one, beloved human family. One, united creation actually, that all is sacred unto God. . . . As an example to demonstrate his point, the Barna researcher spoke of an ancient practice of God’s people that can be incredibly relevant for today: keeping Sabbath. True rest as a creature in our amazing Creator without all our techno-gadgets. The point being that if others see us able to use, but not be addicted to our screens, like actually NOT all being on our smartphones as we sit at a meal in a restaurant. You’ve seen that, right? Dad taking a work call. Mom searching the web for something, and little Christian children playing whatever app they’re playing when the server comes to take their order. Sabbath just one day a week – or one hour if the consideration of one full day causes you an immediate sense of panic. Stopping from life like that, to rest in the natural beauty of this world. Truly connecting with one another face-to-face and even with our God; well, that would be one way to be an authentic witness today of denying ourselves to follow after the principles of another.
Our crosses might not look like the bloody devices of torture used by Rome to put to death anyone seeking to incite the people against their ways. Our crosses might look like practicing daily meditation so that we’re not as attached to the bumps and bruises of our egos. Steeping ourselves in the words and actions of Christ that the ways we interact with others blare with mercy and kindness and grace. The sacrifice of our own hidden agendas are seen by our colleagues out there in the world and even in here in the church. Not being doormats for everyone else to walk all over. Being our best selves in God by losing how we always want it to be for the sake of God’s grander vision to grow.
You know, the one who says to follow didn’t have to show up here in this world and live the kind of life he did. Jesus could have gone about his little carpenter life – eking out a living for the benefit of his own family. Keeping his unique worldview and talents to himself. He could have had year after year of his life used up just by getting by each day – trying merely to make it from sunup to sundown accomplishing the duties laid upon him by his business and family and friends. Or by making and taking more for himself, even at the expense of others. But he didn’t, did he? Which is why we know anything about him at all – this man who was truly one of us and yet truly of God as well. He turned to the Spirit. He gave space enough for God’s truth to grow in him. He enjoyed others – cherishing them, not trying to figure out how they could benefit himself. He quieted his own wants – probably by the times he daily stole off to be alone in prayer with God – until his only want was summed up in that amazing prayer in the garden: “Thy will be done, O God. Thy will.” That’s the way he was God with us. Showing us how to be Godlike in the world today. . . . With all the clamor and concern about how to live well these days, why do we look anywhere else but to the life of Jesus, the Christ?
“Those who want to save their own life,” he said, “will lose it.” But those who lose their life – giving up their own selves each day, like him? Those already know real Life! The point of it all.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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