The Gospel: Mark 8:27-38
Jesus 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?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then 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. 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.”
A Collect for Guidance: Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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
The Message: We have been looking at some of the difficult passages of Scriptures over the past few weeks. The first story in the Gospel from Mark this morning is one of the most challenging in the Canon of Scripture. Jesus is in foreign territory and is challenged by a foreign woman. His response initially is stunning to us coming from the cultural circumstances that we do here in the United States in the 21st Century.
There is a range of interpretations of this incident. The one that is currently the most popular in some theological circles is that this woman challenges Jesus and is able to change his opinion and his behavior. Somehow this woman speaks to Jesus and is able to shame him into a different attitude.
I have to admit that I find this interpretation difficult. It truly messes with my understanding of Jesus and his gracious nature. It also is difficult for me to accept that a human being could alter Jesus' understanding of his role and responsibility. And yet I cannot offer you an alternative interpretation that is credible given the story as it is presented to us. Other commentators extrapolate that Jesus was actually testing the woman or seeking for the woman to provide him with a justification for a change in his behavior.
Whatever we choose to accept or understand about this passage it certainly is right up there with the difficult moments in scripture. But let's not get caught up in that part of the story.
Let us focus on the fact that the woman's daughter was healed and that story leads into the story of the healing of the deaf man with a speech impediment. This woman was no longer outside the blessings of God through Jesus. She was no longer seeking to just pick up the crumbs under the table. She was now a full participant in the family of God. She could experience all the good things that were available to the people of God.
Jesus' mission of healing to those with both spiritual and physical challenges is clearly underway. People's lives are changed by his presence. Then no matter how much he tries to stop them they begin to tell others what they have seen and heard.
The stories of Jesus are spread by those who see and hear what he is doing and saying among them. Jesus cannot contain the people, he cannot stop them, no matter how much he pleads with them not to do it, from spreading what they have experienced.
That raised a question for this week. What about us? What about me? What do I know of the things that Jesus has done and what Jesus is saying?
This all came together for me as I read one of the Brothers of Saint John the Evangelist meditations this week. Suddenly the reflecting I had been doing on Mark's Gospel, the events of my own life, and the events of the life here at Christ Church came together and I was reminded of the two questions we spent time on a couple of years ago: "What is it you are doing Lord and what is my part in it?"
Here is what I was challenged by from the SSJE meditation: "In order to have something to testify about, we need first-hand experience. And we can only get first-hand experience if we accept the invitation to “come and see.” It’s only when we follow after him and accept his invitation to spend some time in his company, listening to him and learning from him, that we will be able to become authentic witnesses. That’s what these two disciples of John did. They followed after him, responded to his invitation to “Come and see,” stayed with him, and came to believe. So profoundly were their lives impacted that they went and brought others to him. They began to brag to others about him. They became witnesses to the gospel, proclaimers of the “good news.”
God’s word for us today is one of invitation and command. “Come and see,” Jesus tells us, and then go into all the world, testifying to what you have seen and heard concerning the word of life. Go to the poor and tell them the good news. Go to the blind and help them see. Go to the oppressed and set them free. Proclaim God’s favor to everyone you meet. “You are my witnesses.” Br. David Vryhof
Powerful words that challenge me to once again clarify my focus. And what better time to do that than on this particular Sunday.
Today we begin our Focus on Stewardship here at Christ Church. I have to say that of all the things that churches or Priest and Pastors talk about this one ranks right up there among the things that people like to hear the least about.
I am very grateful that there is a very generous spirit in this place. That generosity has meant that we have been able to accomplish some wonderful things in the past couple of years in the life of this community.
I love the theme for this year's Stewardship Focus: " Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father." James 1:17
I asked the Stewardship Committee a couple of years ago if we could change the name of our stewardship efforts. I wanted us to take a specific period of time and focus on Stewardship. To turn our eyes, hearts and minds to the specific task and role that stewardship plays in all our lives.
For many years the church used the title Stewardship Campaign. I don't want to dwell on that for too long but, for me, the word campaign had developed some negative connotations. It was as though the financial needs of the Parish had taken on an adversarial status. It was something that we had to band together to defeat. As though the financial needs and opportunities for the Parish had become the enemy and we had to make a determined effort to overcome those terrible, awful debts that were trying to defeat us.
Several years ago a church I was part of began to use "blessed to be a blessing" as their church slogan. The leadership promoted the idea that we, as the church, the people of God in this place, were deeply blessed and we needed to take every opportunity that came our way to bless others.
Our theme for our Stewardship Focus this year reminds us that we need to acknowledge the goodness of God in our lives. "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father."
This takes me back to the Gospel of Mark and to the SSJE Mediation which I mentioned earlier. When we know the stories of Jesus. When we know our own story of the Lord's provision and care for us then we have something that we want to share. We will want to participate in the life of the community in reaching others with the good news of Jesus. There is a very real difference in how we go about stewardship - the use of our time, talent, and our treasure - when we have experienced the blessing of God in our lives. So this week I want to encourage us all to consider the generosity of God towards us. Can I encourage you to look at your life and to recall the times, the moments when you experienced God's grace and love?
When you have the opportunity to talk to your friends and neighbors what do you talk to them about? Do you share those times when someone said to you "come and see?" Do you share with them the times when you experienced God's peace and presence - God's grace - in a trying and difficult situation?
Do you remind yourself that " Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father?" I pray that we all can jog our memories and enliven our spirits by focusing on the generosity of God towards us. Then we will certainly have stories to tell about when God came close to us and we experienced his redeeming love.