So, it’s week two of our sermon series called that we’re calling, “This Changes Everything. It’s a bold claim, but I don’t think it’s hyperbole. I believe God is capable of backing it up. It’s a promise that was revealed in its totality in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. But we’re still waiting on the fullness of that promise to be revealed. It’s a promise that can be elusive.
At times it is tough to see, feel, or hold on to the notion that in Jesus, God has fundamentally altered the trajectory of history toward good. I get that. Sometimes it’s hard to even believe and trust that there’s good out there, let alone a God who cares, a God who is remaking this world for the better.
Yet still, there are glimpses, moments, thin places, God sightings, call them whatever you want where we see change, where we see hope, where we see God.
Yes, most of the time these transcendent moments are all too fleeting, but I still have to believe that God is at work in this world, creating newness and beauty and life even though our ability to see that is sometimes occluded by all the suffering and pain we experience and encounter.
Over the course of the last few months, Mary and I have been doing a lot of listening. Last spring we hosted conversations over at Harriet’s Inn on Wednesday nights. We had no agenda, believe it or not, we just listened. Each of us has been having a number of fascinating 1-1 meetings, you all are incredible people, do you know that? Seriously. Your passion and skill set are impressive.
This summer we held seven what’s next conversations. During these gatherings, we shared some of the threads that we see as being critical to our work together over the coming year.
We are going to be sharing some of those threads with you during this sermon series and then building on them over the course of the subsequent weeks and months. Last week Mary and I preached together, which was fun – at least it was for us, about our simultaneous need and fear of being known.
There are all kinds of reasons to seek anonymity, but Jesus is God’s great move to know the fullness of our humanity. To know all of what it means to be you and me, to share our life and our death, our joy and our sorrow. In Jesus God even knows what it means to experience God’s absence.
At the end of Mark’s gospel Jesus cries out to God, my God, my God why have you forsaken me. Even Jesus knows what it feels like to be abandoned by God. In Jesus, we are known, completely and totally by God. And so we’re invited to share that, to do that, to be known to one another just as we have been known.
So we’re committed to finding ways for you to be known here and help you to come to know others.
The second commitment we’re making to you in the coming year is that you can expect to be challenged. Not just you personally, but all of us. Right now, the world we live in is governed by so much certainty. I don’t just mean the president. I don’t just mean the democrats or republicans. I don’t just mean politics. I think we as human beings strive to be right, we strive to build a world in which things make sense, we want things to be orderly and fit into little boxes of our own construction and they don’t.
Not one of us has the monopoly on what is right. Of course, not one of us actually believes that we do, but we live like we do. By and large, we listen only to those voices we already agree with. We read and share articles that confirm our own view of things. I don’t know about you, but I take no small amount of pleasure in being right. Being right, or having my way of thinking confirmed, makes the pleasure centers in my brain go crazy. Being “right” starts sending all those happy chemicals all over the place.
But too often our quest to be right too often prevents us from seeing what is true, what is good, and what is holy.
This week we once again encounter a feisty Jesus in Mark’s gospel. He’s walking along with his disciples and Jesus invites them to reflect on what they are hearing about him. “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asks. The disciples answered Jesus saying, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets. And Jesus says to them, who do you say that I am. And here’s where things get interesting.
Peter, ever the impetuous one, says, “You are the Messiah!” And Jesus says, shhhhh, you’re right, don’t tell anyone. Peter nails it. He’s right. Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, God’s anointed one. Jesus is the one for whom they’ve been waiting for, he’s God’s long-promised savior. Peter can see it. It’s exactly what he’s been expecting. That is until Jesus starts to explain what’s going to happen next.
Jesus starts to tell the disciples that he’s going undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
And Peter pulls Jesus aside and he’s like, whoa there skippy. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go down. You don’t die. You don’t suffer. The Messiah doesn’t do those things. The Messiah rides into Jerusalem triumphantly. The Messiah restores Israel’s fortunes. The Messiah saves us by kicking out the Romans and sitting on the throne. That’s how this works.
And Jesus calls him on it. Jesus looks at Peter and with a bit of drama says, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
There’s the challenge. Peter’s so convinced that he knows what he knows that he’s unable to hear that Jesus is doing something bigger. Yes Jesus will challenge the political structures of the day, yes he will subvert the power of the ruling empire, yes he will claim King David’s ancestral throne, but it’s not going to look exactly like Peter imagined. God’s power and victory will be revealed in suffering and death. God’s rule will be inaugurated through humility and solidarity with the poor and the downtrodden. God wins by losing it all, for us.
But to see that we have to be a little less certain. We have to be a little less right. Like Peter our picture of what all of this means, of how this is going to work needs to be broken open so that we might begin to see anew. You and I, this congregation, this world, need to encounter the self-giving, life-altering Word of God and have our preconceptions about God, this world and our neighbor shattered so that we might begin to glimpse, even just little more clearly, how God has changed everything.
A number of weeks ago, a group of members from this congregation got together. None of the pastors or staff were there. It wasn’t a large group 20 or 30 people, they gathered upstairs to be in conversation with one another. On face value, there was nothing particularly remarkable about the fact that they were gathered on a weeknight, except the fact that they were there to talk about politics at church. Half of the group were self-identified liberals or blues, half of the group were self-identified conservatives or reds. Over the course of a number of hours, they listened to each other, to those they agreed with and to those they disagreed with. By all accounts, it was challenging. It was hard work. These folks hung in there, they talked with one another, not at one another. It was messy but beautiful.
Brothers and sisters this church needs to be a place where we can be challenged. A place where we can rest in the promise that we are known and loved by God and one another without condition, but that we can still speak hard words to one another in hopes of not discovering which one of us is right, but so that together we can discern what is true and what God is calling us to do.
It’s not going to be easy. At times it’s going to be a little uncomfortable. But God is calling us to something bigger than we can imagine on our own.
Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
To follow Jesus is to enter into uncertainty, confident that he goes with us, now and forever. Amen.