Monday, February 26, 2018

Talk about the Suffering

Mark 8:31-38
Lent 2
February 25, 2018

So you all know about the Messianic Secret right?
It’s how, whenever Jesus true identity as the Messiah
is revealed, he tells them not to tell anyone.
It happens a bit in other gospels,
but it’s very prevalent in the gospel of Mark.

When Jesus heals a leper, Jesus tells him
not to tell anyone, but go right to the priest
In several places, Jesus tells the unclean spirits
not to make his identity known to anyone.

After Jesus heals Jairus daughter, it says
The Fifth Station 
Isabel & Edith Piczek
he ”strictly ordered” that no one should know about this.
When he heals the man who is deaf,
he orders the people there not to say anything.
When he heals a blind man, he tells him to go straight home
and not to talk to anyone.

Later on in chapter 9, 
Jesus goes up to the mountain
he’s transfigured and he appears with Elijah and Moses,
he tells the three disciples that are there, not to tell anyone -
presumably not even the other disciples -
until after he had risen from the dead.

There are a lot of theories about it,
But there are still debates about what it means.
The Messianic Secret.

In today’s reading we have another instance.
Jesus asks the disciples “Who do you say that I am.”
And the disciples share their belief.
One of the few times they get anything right in the scriptures.
They say, “You are the Messiah.”
But again, “Jesus warns them sternly not to tell anyone about it.”

So that great news is supposed to remain a secret,
but then we get to the rest of the story.
Jesus tells everyone about how he will be rejected
by the religious leaders and suffer and die
(and then rise again, but no one paid attention to that)
and  the gospel makes the point to say,
“All this he said quite openly.”

So the miracles, healings, casting out demons,
the sky opening up, the glory of the transfiguration,
all that is a secret that we can’t tell anyone.

But the rejection by the powers that be,
the suffering and the death,
all that is shouted out to everyone.
That we can talk about.

Jesus is a PR disaster.
No wonder Peter rebukes him.
What are you doing, Jesus?
It’s like a commercial that gives a drug’s side effects,
but never tells about  the benefit of the drug.
Jesus is all secretive about the good stuff,
and the bad part he shares openly.
It’s the opposite of what you’d expect,

And I think it’s very important.

And what I think what Mark’s gospel is showing us
is that we will not understand the glory of Jesus
without first understanding the suffering of Jesus.
And the best way to understand Jesus suffering
is to experience it for ourselves.
Take up your cross and follow.

Jesus knew that people would naturally gravitate
towards someone who could perform miracles,
who was special, divine.
And he did get crowds of people
who were impressed with him gathered around him
as long as he was doing these special things.

But that’s not what Jesus wanted,
Jesus didn’t just want people who would admire him,
Jesus wanted people who would follow him
And Jesus always wanted the great and glorious things about him
to be put in the context of the cross.

Peter thought that the glory would be found in
getting more power, in impressing people,
or in forcibly taking power for themselves.
Christians have made that mistake repeatedly.
Christians try to use politics to get more power
for our religion and members.
We try to impress with flashy worship performances.
We promise people wealth, health, and safety.

But Jesus glory  is not in his ability to do miracles.
Jesus glory was not in taking power and giving it to his friends.
Jesus glory is found in him giving his life away.
Suffering for the sake of others
and this is where we find God’s glory too.

This is the way of Jesus.
Death to life.
Self-sacrifice to resurrection.
But  it’s not just  Jesus story,
Jesus means to take us with him too:
“Those who want to become my followers,
should deny themselves and take up their cross.”

We are called to suffer with other people,
to have compassion, to feel their pain and suffer with them,
We share our lives with our spouses and make compromises
that we would rather not make.
We give up things that we want or need
in order to provide for our children.
These are just the beginning.
We give our lives and time to serve people who can’t repay us.
Our hearts break with compassion for people we don’t know.

As Christians,
We purposely go to places of poverty,
of loss, of sadness, grief and illness.
We pray for people halfway around the world
We spend time in hospitals and hospices,
we go to El Salvador, Haiti, Syria,
we help other people we’ve never met.
Some people run away from it, but we  seek it out.

We do this because whenever we give ourselves to another
whenever we forget about what we want
and seek what the world needs,
Whenever we open ourselves up to others
around us and act with compassion and love, we feel  God. 
We are uplifted, we experience the divine.
Take up your cross and follow.

So when you talk about Jesus,
keep the glory and the miracles a secret, at least for a while.
Talk about the cross.
Talk about how you helped another person
Talk about how Jesus led you to a place you would have never gone.
Talk about how you found your life by giving it away.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Wilderness

Mark 1:9-15
February 18, 2018
Lent 1

Jesus was coming out of the water and he saw the
heavens torn apart and the spirit came down
and a voice said, “you are my son the beloved”.
And immediately the Sprit drove him out into the wilderness.

There is no time for even a short baptism party for Jesus here.
No time for punch and sheet cake today.
Christ in the Wilderness
Briton Riviere, 1898
The nice holy Spirit who
just descended on Jesus
like a sweet dove,
and brought him and everyone
the news that he was God’s beloved,
takes him and throws him
into the wilderness.
Immediately, before he’s even had a chance to dry himself off,

Now some of us may think that
a little time in the wilderness would
not be such a bad thing.
Relaxing, communing with nature,
cooking over an open fire.
Some people even call the wilderness “God’s country”
because they can more easily feel God’s presence there.

But that’s not the way the wilderness was seen in the bible.
In the bible, the wilderness is not a place of peace and relaxation,
it’s a place of danger and unpredictability.
There were wild animals and wild people,
and no food and no water.

It’s not God’s country, it’s the opposite of God’s country,
actually, as we find in this scripture, it’s Satan’s country.
It’s the place where people were most susceptible to temptation.
Not many of us have been to that kind of wilderness
by ourselves, without food, or supplies, or protection.
But many of us have experienced the wilderness in our lives.
In our hearts, and minds ,and spirits.
Times that are dark, where we feel, unsafe and desolate,
and alone, like God was not there at all.      

Those places where we face the loss of loved ones
Where we lose our hearts, where our dreams are crushed.
Where we experience depression, anxiety
Where we face our own sins and shortcomings.
Where we don’t think we can keep going.
Most of us know exactly how that wilderness feels.
It’s dark and scary and unpleasant.

We live in a world and a time where the name of the game is to
avoid that wilderness at all costs.
We try to avoid suffering of any kind.
We fill our lives and our kids lives with distractions,
we try to change any kind of uncomfortable situation.
we turn to entertainment, possessions, and addictions
in order to stave off the wilderness that comes in every life.

Ironically Even Christianity has sometimes
become a way for people to ignore their wilderness.
We reason that we shouldn’t feel any pain or doubt
if we just have faith. We say things like,
“God’s in control, God never gives you more than you can handle.”

But that’s not the story of Jesus.
One of the main things we learn from Jesus 
is that the way to life is through death.
The path of Jesus takes us from the joy
and promise of baptism and drives us
right into the wilderness.

Jesus temptation,
is to skip the wilderness and to go right on
to the good stuff: food, wealth, security.

And our biggest temptation
may be trying to avoiding the wilderness too.
To avoid the pain and reflection and just get back to the good stuff.
The place where we feel in control.
But that is not the way to life.
We can’t skip Good Friday and go right to Easter.

This week we had another mass shooting in our country,
I can’t even remember how many times
I’ve stood up in this spot and said those
same words to you in the past 7 years.
This time it was in a school and 17 people died.
Adults and children.

Now we’ve been through this enough
that we know how everyone reacts to them.
The politicians say it’s not time to talk
about politics, even though that’s the only
reason we’d ever want to hear from them.
People get outraged and demand gun laws.
Other people get defensive and claim
that the problem is not guns at all
And the only solution is to arm everyone.
We blame people with mental illness.
And everyone throws out “thoughts and prayers”
as if that wipes the slate clean for the next time.
We are tempted to find the simple solution
To just move on and forget about it, to blame it on others.
But I think we are too far beyond one simple
solution in this country. I don’t think we
will come out the other side of this before
we enter that wilderness.
Until we, as a country, really examine how we got to this place.

Until we look at ourselves in the mirror and see how,
from the foundation of our country
we made violence and domination a way of life
and how we’ve benefitted from that.
How we allowed corporations and money
to have more weight in our country than human lives.
How we’ve let so many people become
so disenfranchised and angry that they don’t value life.
We are the only country that this happens in. Why?

It’s not just one simple answer.
We need to go into that wilderness
and really examine ourselves to find that answer.
I think it’s started to happen.
I think we are more honest about ourselves as a country.
than we were even 10 years ago and that’s something.
We can’t just drive around it and make it all go away
with one law or one program or simple solution.
We need to go through that dark and scary wilderness
Where examine ourselves, take responsibility,
Confess, repent, change, find a new way.
Die to ourselves so we can rise again.
So The wilderness in scripture is a lonely, dangerous place.
full of doubt and darkness and desolation.
But there’s also another way that scripture looks at the wilderness.
The wilderness is also a place of new beginnings:

  • Moses led his flock of sheep beyond the wilderness of Sinai
    where he found a strange burning bush that talked to him
  • The Israelites passed through the wilderness for forty years
    and after they got out, they started a nation.
  • David waited in the wilderness for the time to come
    to take his place on the throne of Israel.
  • Jacob wrestled an angel in the wilderness and stopped running.
  • Isaiah and John cried out in the wilderness “Prepare the way of the Lord”
  • Jesus 40 days in the wilderness was the beginning of his ministry.

The wildness is a place of struggle.
but it’s also a place of change, of opportunity of new beginnings.

That’s true of our lives too. 
It’s the wilderness, the hard times, the deserts,
in loss and struggle, doubt is where we find new beginnings,
change, opportunity, and new life.
I think it can be true of a nation too.

We don’t have to look for the wilderness.
When we need to go, the Spirit will drive us there.
But don’t give into the temptation to avoid it
and do not be afraid of it.
Although we might feel alone, God is there with us.

Monday, February 12, 2018


Mark 9:2-9
February 11, 2018

Today is the birthday of this congregation.
Well, it’s tomorrow, but today is close enough.
From our little beginnings in the Mackenson’s basement
at 55 west Lincoln, we’ve come through 70 years
of buildings, organs, worships, friendships, disagreements,
meetings, and pot lucks to where we are today:
a church with an interesting past and a promising future.

And as I was looking through some of the notes,
council minutes, and letters that the founders
of this church kept 70 years ago, one thing is very obvious:
these people did not know what they were doing.

Now I don’t mean that in a bad way
Or like they were worse than any number of people
who have done it before or after them.
I mean just in the way that none of them 
had any experience in it.
These were business people and homemakers.
The church that they all came from had
already been around for 60 years,
The pastor they got was fresh out of seminary,
and even with all the experience in the world,
starting a new church is never a sure thing.

It’s obvious from the notes that they were feeling
their way around in the dark in a lot of ways,
basing their decisions on what had come before,
imitating what other people had done and
making their best guesses 
on what should come next.
They started this church by
trusting their instincts, their reason, 
their corporate wisdom,
and embracing their desire to see it through,
which in the language of the church means trusting the Holy Spirit,

And we thank them all for facing that unknown future
for us and getting us to where we are today.
Gathering people together to worship God and work together
was an unpredictable proposition 70 years ago,
and these days, things have been changing more than they have
in the last few hundred years. The landscape is changing almost
every day, most of all, the human landscape is changing:
People don’t behave the same way, people don’t value the same things,
and people don’t see or feel things
the same way as our parents or grandparents did. 
And a lot of those changes are really good,
but we as the church need to find a different way
a way of being the church, one that we’ve never done it before.

So, the truth is, we don’t know what we’re doing either.
But what they had 70 years ago, and what we have now is a vision.
Not a vision statement, although those are good,
not even a vision as in a clear  picture of where we want
to go although that could be helpful sometimes
but all of us share the same vision:
Christ was crucified, and Christ rose again.

Today is Transfiguration.
The day that we remember when Jesus and
the disciples go  up on the mountaintop and suddenly,
Jesus is changed, transfigured, his clothes are pure white,
he’s glowing with light. And he is talking
with two great figures of the faith, Elijah and Moses.
Some people call this a little vision of Easter
right in the middle of the gospels.

It is a testament and a promise to the three
lead disciples he brought with him up the mountain,
it told them that the glory of God was with them
in Jesus and that it would not be taken away.
After this point on the mountain top,
the disciples would go through a lot of things.
A lot of pain, anguish, mourning, sadness, and doubt.
And all through it, they would keep this vision with them,
it would tell them that what they were doing was not folly,
that they were following the way of the one true God
incarnate, God in the flesh.

We, the church, are the body of Christ,
When a group of random people gather together
and become a community following Christ’s ways
we too can be transfigured, changed into something more
than the sum of our parts,
With the love and power of God, the church can become --
like Jesus on that mountaintop – dazzling,
the visible bearers of the light of Christ to the world.

We have seen how through its 70 years,
this congregation we are a part of
has been a visible bearer of Christ’s light and brilliance.
How this church was transfigured from a small group of
nine people who basically didn’t want to drive downtown any more,
into a group of people who have cared, loved, worshipped,
forgiven, served, stood up for justice, and revealed God’s love.
It has happened, we’ve seen it.
And that vision and reassurance will keep us going too.

And now, in the years to come, Gethsemane
will surely see hard times, we will face difficult decisions,
pain, sadness, loss, conflict, and a lack of direction.
It will be painfully obvious at times
that we do not know what we are doing.
It happens to every church and organization.

But Christ has died and Christ is risen.
And that vision of a scattered people
transfigured into Christ’s body on earth,
shining brightly and bringing Christ light to the world,
will keep us going for the next 70 years.