September 16, 2018

17th Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 8:27-38 + Pentecost 17 + September 16, 2018 + Gloria Dei Lutheran Church + Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

Let’s imagine what we’re NOT going to hear in the huddle today during the Vikings-Packers game.  This could be the best part of the sermon because I’m going to be the quarterback.

“OK, I want you to go long.  I’m going to pretend to throw it to you, and when that huge guy is coming for me, I want you to look like you’re going to block him, then step aside and let him through.  When he hits me, before I hit the ground, I’m going to hand him the ball. When he has the ball, the rest of you part like the Red Sea.  OK, team we’re going to lose this game!  Break.”

We laugh because it’s ridiculous.

The messiah must undergo suffering, be rejected by the elders, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Peter thought this was just as ridiculous.

Certainly, he understood risking your life for something important. He probably understood suffering and rejection. But, ultimately, the goal of the Messiah had to be about winning, right? Who makes a strategic plan to lose? You don’t set out on a journey to fail or get lost.  You try to avoid it.  Sure, sure, it could happen.  Everyone knows that some plans fail.  But the point is to win, to be successful, to survive.

In many ways, this is our evolutionary impulse.  To avoid pain.  To protect ourselves, our livelihoods, our countries, our families and communities. It’s no surprise that Peter pulls Jesus aside to huddle with him.  “If you’re going to be the Messiah, the quintessential human being, the one who show us what human beings are meant to be, then you have to survive.  You have to protect not just yourself, but your mission, your legacy.  You have to protect us. We need you to head away from Jerusalem, not toward it. Okay, buddy, got it?”

Jesus rebukes him.  “For those who want to save their life must lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Footnote:  Think of salvation here, not only as going to heaven, but becoming what God intends us to be:  whole, healed, one with God, with others, with the earth.  We have been made to love and be loved.  We are in God, part of God, saved by God–all of us–whether we know it, or understand it, or even believe it.  The issue isn’t about being saved but about discovering that we are.

Only in dying to ourselves, dying to our ego, our most important self—letting go of what we tightly hold—giving away what’s dear—do we find true life.

Bruce Epperly, a congregational pastor in Massachusetts, says that it matters how we sort this out because our ideas of the divine things shape human things.  What we believe about who God is will shape who we are.

For example, theologian Bernard Loomer says that there are two kinds of power:  unilateral and relational.  Unilateral power builds walls, silences opposition, decides without consultation, and separates the world into us and them.  It is willing to destroy the whole world to save a small group of adoring fans. Bullying and bloviation characterize unilateral power.

In contrast, relational power leads by empathy, inclusion, listening, and receptivity.  It transforms the world by a dynamic process of call and response, of adjusting—as good friends do, and parents—to the expectations of others.  God saves the world by love and not by coercion, by embrace and not alienation.[1]

Jesus is inspired by this vision of a relational God.  He sees it in the words of the suffering servant written about in the prophet Isaiah, the first lesson.  For Jesus, to be “messiah,” and, therefore, to follow him means embodying this sacrificial, relational Spirit.

To pick up the cross is to choose love instead of fear. To be open, instead of defended. If there are two great impulses within each of us, one divine and one human, fear and love. The way of Jesus is love.

When Jesus asks, “Who do YOU say that I am?” it isn’t an academic question to think about it.  It’s a question about what will shape us.  Maybe it’s the question that Jesus is asking each of us today:  Who do you think Jesus is?  How you answer that question will shape who you become.

I’m supposed to talk about bulbs today.  At the time of the offering, you’ll receive a daffodil bulb.  You’ll go home and plant it in your yard.  This spring it will bloom. It’s the symbol for fall pledge campaign.  We plant our gifts in the soil of the church, and life and beauty grow.  What you give allows the church to bloom.  This church becomes beautiful because of you.

At first, it felt forced (pardon the pun) to include an announcement about bulbs.  But then I heard Jesus’ words in John about this paschal mystery of dying and rising: Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Maybe these bulbs represent more than our money given away—a countercultural act in and of itself, to be honest—but of all that we need to bury; all we need to let go of; what must be left behind if we are to follow on the path of Jesus toward Jerusalem.  We plant ourselves in the soil of God’s abundant grace.  We put our lives, and all that we have, to the service of a sacrificial and relational God.

Here’s the final huddle: If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. Break.

[1]Bruce Epperly, Living the Word, The Christian Century, August 29, 2018, p. 18.