Sept. 12, 2021

Prayer of the Day

O God, through suffering and rejection you bring forth our salvation, and by the glory of the cross you transform our lives. Grant that for the sake of the gospel we may turn from the lure of evil, take up our cross, and follow your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.Amen.

Psalm 19

1The heavens declare the glo- | ry of God,
  and the sky proclaims its | maker’s handiwork.
2One day tells its tale | to another,
  and one night imparts knowledge | to another.
3Although they have no | words or language,
  and their voices | are not heard,
4their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends | of the world,
  where God has pitched a tent | for the sun.
5It comes forth like a bridegroom out | of his chamber;
  it rejoices like a champion to | run its course.
6It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens and runs about to the end of | it again;
  nothing is hidden from its | burning heat. 
7The teaching of the Lord is perfect and re- | vives the soul;
  the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to | the simple.
8The statutes of the Lord are just and re- | joice the heart;
  the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light | to the eyes.
9The fear of the Lord is clean and en- | dures forever;
  the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous | altogether.
10More to be desired are they than gold, more than | much fine gold,
  sweeter far than honey, than honey | in the comb. 
11By them also is your ser- | vant enlightened,
  and in keeping them there is | great reward.
12Who can detect one’s | own offenses?
  Cleanse me from my | secret faults.
13Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion | over me;
  then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a | great offense.
14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable | in your sight,
  O Lord, my strength and | my redeemer. 

James 3:1-12

1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. 
  How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

Mark 8:27-38

27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

  31Then he 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. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
  34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan! – James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, NY

Sermon – Pr Meggan Manlove

I’m not sure exactly how many times in the four Gospels Jesus tells other people to follow him, but it is more than 20. The whole question of “Who is willing to follow Jesus Christ and how does one do it?” are the defining questions of Christianity.

Jesus talks about “losing yourself for his sake” and “denying yourself.” If we take those words seriously, what will our lives look like? How will we spend our money? How will we use our money? How will we vote? What are we like on the school playground, in the classroom, in the workplace? 

What does it mean to follow Jesus in your life, and in these times? These questions come to a head in today’s reading from Mark. Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” The disciple Peter gets all excited to profess that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.  

Peter soon learns that this also means Jesus must undergo great suffering, deep rejection, and ultimately death. The instant Peter learns this, he backs away. He critiques Jesus. He rebukes Jesus. The glamour of following Jesus is suddenly gone for Peter. It no longer seems like a life that he is sure he wants to undertake.  

But there is so much more to this interaction between Jesus and Peter. Jewish thinking had never before entertained the idea that the Messiah must suffer and die. Absolutely no one thought a Messiah would be crucified. This was ludicrous, they believed. If anything, the Messiah was supposed to inflict suffering, not live with it as a personal reality. And what good would a dead Messiah be anyway?

If Peter was nervous about his life in Jesus Christ imposing a certain degree of suffering and self-denial upon him, he was not alone. Most of us would choose a religion and come to believe important things deeply because we feel they are good for us. Suffering does not sound good! If you were to offer me a scathed life versus an unscathed life, I would go for the unscathed variety. 

Who would welcome the idea of suffering if there were other options available? But this is where we must suddenly get very honest about the Christian life. Christianity is not about solving problems and making life easier. If anything, following Jesus is going to complicate your life.

The late Quaker philosopher Elton Trueblood understood this complicating nature of the Christian way.  “In many areas,” he wrote, “the gospel, instead of taking away peoples’ burdens, actually adds to them.”  On a number of occasions, Trueblood told the story of John Woolman, a successful Quaker merchant in the 18th century who lived a wonderfully nice life until God convicted him one day of the offense of holding slaves.  

After that, John Woolman gave up his prosperous business.  He used his money to try and free slaves and even started wearing undyed suits to avoid relying on dye that slave labor produced.  Elton Trueblood said, “Occasionally we talk of our Christianity as something that solves problems, and there is a sense in which it does.  Long before it does so, however, it increases both the number and the intensity of problems.”

Accepting this assessment of Christianity is one of the hardest things in the world. Maybe this is why Jesus had to repeat these words, these words we hear in today’s reading: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and the Gospel, will save it.”  This is an idea that is just hard to believe. It runs counter to what we want to believe. So, Jesus is left to repeat it, hoping to get it inside of our thick heads and our pleasure-minded hearts.

Few of us sitting here will have John Woolman’s story. This being the kick-off to the programmatic year, it seems fitting to lift up some of the ways we are trying, emphasis trying, to follow Jesus. In a culture that often answers pain and grief with empty platitudes or telling us to move one, we are going to tell the truth about how hard this year has been and the weariness that so many are feeling. This will begin with our Remember and Grieve Together event September 29. 

We will continue reckoning collectively with racism–a reckoning still needed in this country and in the larger church. We are going to keep relationships center–relationships with God, with our own souls, and with the marginalized. We will continue to partner with Trinity New Hope affordable housing, finding ways to tell our story to everyone plagued with “Not in My Backyard” whenever new affordable housing developments are proposed. Our leadership does not know where this will lead, and we will keep reviewing, listening, and discerning. People might join us, and that will be great. But let’s be clear, Jesus never said, “grow the church.” Jesus said, “follow me.”

Following Jesus asks for a life that in one way or another has the cross deeply embedded in it. There is sacrifice expected. We give up our lives.  Playing it safe is no longer acceptable. Death stops being a reality to be feared. The first half of Mark’s Gospel account is about “how to live.” Jesus gives instructions of one kind or another on how we might best fashion our lives. And then, at this pivotal point right in the center of the story, Jesus makes a shift. He begins to show us “how do die.” Now that we have been given life, he demonstrates how to give it up or how to give it away. 

We can try to safe-deposit-box our lives all we want.  We can try and be very very cautious about whom we even let into our lives.  But this is not commendable living.  According to Jesus, this is dangerous living.  We will lose our soul if we’re not careful. Living a life that really matters in the name of Jesus will not allow for clutching or hoarding or playing it safe. It asks instead for a less possessive way—a way that treats life more like a precious gift to be shared than a commodity to be stored up.

When Jesus asked his disciples that day, “Who do people say that I am?” they had no trouble answering that question. It was a nice question to which they could give objective answers. But then Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Suddenly, their confidence and investment in him, and all that he was, was being tested. This was a much more difficult question to answer.  They had to answer it with their lives not just with their brains.

“Who do you say that I am?” The minute we hear this question rattling around in our heads, we have a choice. We can hold back and talk about this Jesus person whose sayings and deeds are written down in a precious ancient book. Or we can decide to open up the fullness of our lives by using the language of love.  

 In what ways do we pretend that Jesus did not really mean to follow him fully? In what ways do we try to be our own messiahs and save ourselves? On what do we stake our lives? In what do we ultimately place our trust? Our bank accounts? Achievements? Prestige? Politicians? Jesus locks every one of these escape hatches. One scholar noted that “doctrinal confusion is not the Christian’s fundamental problem. Instead, it is disobedience: our refusal to accept Christ’s authority over our lives.”

We are privileged to know everyday folks who have so internalized this quality of discipleship. We know people who in the critical moment, they know what to do, they know how to follow Jesus. Most of us may never master such integral calculus of charity. But failure in that does not need to be the enemy of our aspiration. We know the way to follow Jesus. Thanks be to God that other disciples, gathered here, walk it with us. Jesus remains in the lead.

Prayers of Intercession

Made children and heirs of God’s promise, we pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.Revealing God, you have made yourself known through bread and wine, water and word. Continue to nurture your church, that it is a place where your presence is experienced and shared. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Creating God, you brought life into being and called it good. Bring new creation to lands devastated by tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, fires, and other disasters (recent destructive events may be named here). Restore forests and curb overflowing waters. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Protecting God, you desire all people to live in peace and safety. Provide for all who are in danger. Strengthen first responders to help meet to the complex needs of others. Provide care and compassion as they face trauma themselves. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Transforming God, you announce release to the captives and freedom to the oppressed. Break chains of discrimination and injustice. Amplify voices that go unheard and inspire us to advocate for the those who are overlooked. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Forming God, you gather this community together. Shape our communal life, that in our prayer, praise, and worship, we honor you and encourage one another. Keep our disagreements civil and increase our joy in working together. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Most merciful God, as we remember 9/11, bring comfort to those who mourn, relief to those who witness devastation, healing to those still suffering physical pain or emotional trauma, and reconciliation to a world in need of peace. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Redeeming God, you accompany your people through every stage of life. We give you thanks for the saints who now rest in your embrace (especially). Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Receive these prayers, O God, and those in our hearts known only to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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