Gospel: Mark 8:31-38
Jesus began to teach his disciples 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. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But 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.”
He 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. For 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those 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.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
Last week I spoke about God's desire to come into a Covenant relationship with us - his people. I also talked about how Baptism is the ritual we use to symbolize passing through the waters and coming into that Covenant relationship.
I had several people comment through the week that they found my message, last week, particularly inspiring and challenging. Some even said that they went to their Book of Common Prayer and reviewed the promises that are expressed there. Both the ones we make and the ones that are stated as promises from the Lord.
I am going to look at this morning's readings with last week's message in mind. God wants to come into a Covenant relationship with us. Now it is important to know he wants a relationship with us. To quote a movie title from several years ago: "The Good, the bad, and the ugly" of us. We all have things about us that we are proud of and happy for everyone to know. We also have things that we know about ourselves that we hope will never become public.
I am trusting that we all know and understand that the readings through Lent are intended to make us stop and pause, to spend some time in self-reflection. This is sometimes called self-evaluation.
Now I have to say that my experience is that self-evaluation is a challenging thing for most of us. It is not something that the majority of us have been taught or trained in.
Now, there are exceptions. I know that as soon as I make one of those broad-brush statements somebody is going to want to say "I have been taught or trained in self-evaluation, and I do it regularly." If you believe you are a trained self-evaluator maybe you can take this Sunday off.
I would suggest that most of us go along doing the best we can, with what we have, and hope that it is good enough.
We know we have done some good stuff in our lives, and our hope is, that the good stuff is what will be remembered. We hope that we will keep doing good stuff as we continue along the journey that life presents to us.
At the same time, we also know that we have been less than stellar in some areas of our lives. We have let other people down, we have let ourselves down and we have not always aspired to the best or the most positive attitudes.
Unfortunately, most of us are pretty sure that we will do those things again in the future. In fact, what we are really hoping for is that the good that we do will eventually outweigh the bad and that we will get along. Our attitude to spiritual growth and commitment to our personal spiritual development is "I hope it will be OK, I hope I can slide by."
Can I be a little bold here and suggest that, for most of us, this is one of the major roadblocks in the development of our personal, effective, spiritual growth.
I want to encourage us to rethink that position or that attitude. I want to encourage us to take the time this Lent to engage and commit to something that will kick our spiritual commitment or our spiritual growth up a notch. I want to encourage us all to endeavor to see ourselves the way that the Lord sees us.
Now, this may sound silly or impractical, but what I really want us to do is sit ourselves down and have a good talking to ourselves. To tell ourselves that being good enough is not good enough anymore.
The Scriptures this morning are great resources for this conversation. We get insights into three different people this morning in our readings.
Abraham, Sarah, and Peter.
We all know the story of Abraham right? He is the one that God spoke to about being the father of a nation. That he, along with his wife Sarah, would have children as numerous as the stars. Time passes and it doesn't happen the way that they expected it would. Sarah, in her disappointment and feeling that she isn't good enough, encourages Abraham to fulfill God's promise to them by having a child with another woman. That is another story for another time. But this is the classic example of people trying to help God out with his plans and purpose for their lives because they don't feel adequate to the task. In Sarah's thinking, she is not good enough and she looks for a way to make things happen despite her.
Eventually, in God's time and at the right time, God again speaks to Abraham, and the promise is fulfilled through Sarah This promise is not about "not being good enough" it is about being what the Lord has ordained. One of the commentators I listened to in preparation for this morning said it was important that God made the Covenant with both Abraham and Sarah. That this story is not just about what Abraham did, but it was about God fulfilling promises made to Sarah as well. That God affirmed Sarah's role in this Covenant. Despite her doubting and uncertainty, God saw Sarah as important in this promise.
Now let's not let Abraham off the hook here either. Abraham goes along with Sarah's suggestion. Abraham can see the logic and the good sense in what Sarah is suggesting. Abraham has his doubts and uncertainty.
I am sure you noticed that this story is retold in the reading in Romans that we heard this morning. Now it is a generous retelling. Abraham shines pretty well in the retelling: "No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised." Romans 4: 20 -21I have to admit I love that phrase: "he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised." There are times when I would be more than happy to have that be my epilogue: "he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised."
I wonder if we could somehow have some time with Abraham and have a chat if he would recall the story the way it is told in Romans. Or perhaps he would give you the longer version of what went on.
Then we come to our other contestant in this morning's chronicling of people who shine in the Bible, but maybe, just maybe weren't quite so sharp in the events of their everyday lives. Peter, you remember this is the same Peter who a few verses earlier, was commended by Jesus for his insight and spiritual awareness when he answered Jesus' question about who people were saying he was. In response to the question, Peter says "you are the Messiah." He declares with clarity and truth who Jesus is. Firm in his understanding and insight.
Then, the next thing we know, Jesus begins talking about what the Messiah will experience in Jerusalem and Peter steps forward and denounces this possibility.
We are all like that, aren't we? We have all had our moments of clarity and insight which could easily be overshadowed by what comes out of our mouths next. As I said earlier this is sometimes the very thing that stops us from being all that we could for the Lord. We know ourselves, we know our frailty, we know the doubts we harbor, we know how often we have been uncertain.
We often hear the words from Jesus later in our reading in Mark as harsh and condemning: "Those 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."
Can I encourage us all to be willing to engage and participate in a process of self-evaluation this Lent. But to do it with a full understanding that God already knows us. If he could work with frail, stumbling Sarah, if he could retell the story of Abraham as he does in Romans and if he can take the brash, impulsive Peter and work with them to bring about the Kingdom then he certainly can work with us.
When we hear the words of Scripture: "The light shines in the darkness and reveals the truth." We can sometimes mumble to ourselves: "what if it does shine in my life what might the light reveal that I would rather keep hidden?"
Can we come to the Lord this Lent and be hopeful of his understanding and grace towards us? Can we engage in the life giving process of our personal, effective, spiritual growth?