Follow, Carry the Cross

“Follow, Carry the Cross”

Mark 8-34 take up your cross, print

Mark 8:31-38 (8:34) – February 25, 2018

When you imagine children at play, what do you think of? Children in a schoolyard, out at recess or out at lunch break? I am not sure what children play now, but when I was in school, school children played all kinds of games. Besides hopscotch and jumping rope, there were games of Red Rover Red Rover, Mother May I?, Duck Duck Goose, and Simon Says. And, Follow the Leader in the playground among the play equipment.

When we compare children’s games today with the words of Jesus from Mark’s Gospel reading, we are looking at two very different things. When Jesus said, “Follow Me!” He was not talking about a fun thing like a children’s game. He spoke about something quite serious.

The background of these words is critically important for us to understand exactly what Jesus was getting at. What was the history, the backstory? Here we are at the center of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus had healed, taught, cast out demons, and performed other signs of power, but often in secret. And, people had questioned who this upstart Rabbi was, but with little answer.  Up until this time, Mark had only mentioned the term “the Christ” once, in the opening verse at the very beginning of the book, until here in today’s reading, in Chapter 8.

Just before this scripture reading today, the Rabbi Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do other people say I am?” Great question! We are familiar with the responses. Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah or another prophet, but you and I know better. We know different. We know the end of the story. The thing is, these disciples do not.

Jesus has been asking the disciples to follow Him ever since the first chapter of Mark. When He called James and John, Simon and Andrew, Levi and all the rest, Jesus said simply, “Follow Me!” And, they did! They left everything, in fact. Commentator Matt Skinner said “Jesus isn’t so much about gathering pupils or making sure everyone understands him. He calls followers. Want to see who he really is? Join him.” [1] Which is exactly what many people did.

Today, we are following Jesus step by step on His journey to Jerusalem and the Cross during the next weeks, throughout Lent. Similar to these early followers of the Rabbi Jesus, we are taking this following thing one step at a time. We focus on one facet of the journey each Sunday. This Sunday we look at what Jesus said about taking up the cross when we follow Him. What on earth does that mean?

Here we can see that Jesus knew where He was going, and what He was going to do. Others probably did not, and even would call Jesus crazy or somehow deluded. “What do You mean, Jesus? How can You say that?”

Didn’t Peter just say that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the chosen One of God? I suspect the disciples were thinking, what kind of mixed messages are coming from Jesus now?

Jesus not only mentioned that the disciples ought to follow Him, but He also wanted them to take up their cross. Jesus even made some mention of a person being willing to give up their life. The only comparison I can figure is that of police officers and firefighters. They “make the decision to put themselves in danger, risking their lives to save another person.  They measure their lives not by length, but by depth and quality.” [2] That sounds very similar to the sort of thing Jesus said in our reading today.

There is a problem. I can hear some people today saying, “Wait a minute, Jesus! I didn’t know that following You meant the possibility of giving up my life! I didn’t know that there was such danger and risk involved in being a Christian.”

Except, giving up one’s life was what the apostle Paul talked about over and over again in his letters to the churches in the New Testament. And, that’s what Jesus starts telling His disciples quite plainly, starting in today’s Gospel reading. Listen to Jesus: “If any of you want to come with Me,” He told them, “you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow Me. 35 For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for Me and for the gospel, you will save it. 36 Do you gain anything if you win the whole world but lose your life? Of course not!”

What is more, Jesus rebuked Peter for telling Him He—Jesus—was wrong, and for trying to keep Jesus from walking the journey to Jerusalem and the Cross. Preventing Jesus from facing the Passion and sure death. At this point, Peter did not understand the full meaning of Jesus being the Messiah, the Christ. Plus, I suspect Peter and the other disciples were not clear on what taking up their own cross and following Jesus meant, either. But, they would find out, in the months and years to come.

Yes, sometimes it is difficult to follow Jesus. And, who in their right mind would want to shoulder the difficult burden of carrying a cross?

When we consider police officers or firefighters and what challenges they face on a regular basis, sometimes we call them heroes. Yet, Jesus calls all of His followers to face any number of difficulties and challenges, too. Except, not quite like running into a burning building or running down perpetrators, but still just as challenging.

Imagine someone you know, or someone you’re related to, bearing different crosses during their life. Crosses can be burdens we carry, difficulties we face. Some crosses involve physical pain and suffering. Other crosses can be financial, relational, or mental. What are the problems you or your family are dealing with today? Last month? Next year?

This might be the cross Jesus calls for us to bear, whether dealing with a devastating disease, accident, handicap, or disability. (Seen or unseen.) On the positive side, taking up our cross might assist us as we journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem. Lutheran pastor Edward Markquart reminds us:

-To take up our cross daily means to be open and flexible to God’s plan.

-To take up our cross daily means to focus on God daily.

-To take up our cross daily means that we can fail. That is, we do not do it.

-To take up our cross daily means to try to be loving every day.

-To take up our cross daily means to go the extra mile to do our jobs in life well.

-To take up our cross daily means to work on my relationship with my relatives and with people I do not like. [3]

Like I told the children earlier, we need to live like Jesus. We have to love God every day and love the people around us even when it gets hard. Yes, Jesus tells us clearly what it is like to follow Him. It is simple, yes. But easy, not necessarily so. May we pray for the grace, strength and perseverance to continue to follow Jesus, and to take up our own crosses.

And at the end of our lives, when we stand before Christ, what does the apostle Paul say? In Romans 8, “If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 Certainly not God, who did not even keep back his own Son, but offered him for us all! He gave us his Son—will he not also freely give us all things?” Praise God, we are indeed accepted by the Messiah Jesus. We are loved by our Beloved, Jesus Christ. Amen, and amen!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1383  Matt Skinner

[2] https://sacredstory.org/2012/02/29/jesus-faces-death-taking-up-the-cross/

“Jesus Faces Death: Taking Up the Cross,” Mother Anne Emry, Sacred Story, 2012.

[3] http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_a_peter_the_stumbling_blockGA.htm

“Peter: The Stumbling Block and the Way of the Cross,” Gospel Analysis, Sermons from Seattle, Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

The Lord Calls

“The Lord Calls”

1 Sam 3 speak-Lord-your-servant-is-listening

1 Samuel 3:1-20 (3:10) – January 14, 2018

When I was a young child growing up on the northwest side of Chicago, every once in a while I would hear my mother and my aunts talk about my great-aunt Bertha, my grandmother’s older sister. Sister Bertha. She was an actual “Sister.” She was a Catholic nun, from a local area convent in the Chicago suburbs.

Sister Bertha had taught school for all the years of her active service to God. She must have been a particularly stern teacher. I only remember seeing her one time, at the convent retirement home where she was living, on the occasion of her 90th birthday. She certainly had a commanding presence. I was about eight or nine years old, and I could definitely sense that sternness about her.

My great-aunt Bertha and the other nuns—and Catholic and Orthodox priests, and other Protestant ministers, for that matter—had a calling. They have been “called” by God. I know that I have been “called” by God, too. But, what exactly does that mean?

In both Scripture readings today, we hear about the call of God. From the Hebrew Scriptures in 1 Samuel, the young Samuel is called. In the Gospel of John, several disciples are called. Again, what is this “call” we are talking about?
We turn to our reading from 1 Samuel 3, starting with the first verse. “The boy Samuel was serving God under Eli’s direction. This was at a time when the revelation of God was rarely heard or seen.” There was little written down from God—only some laws handed down from Moses. You can’t just go home and pick up your personal copy of the Old Testament or Psalms and Proverbs to read. And God rarely—if ever—spoke to people at that time. God-sent visions were extremely rare, too. I love the Hebrew word for “rare.” It means “precious.”

“In biblical Hebrew, the descriptor of “rare/precious” is typically reserved for an item like jewelry, the idea of something extremely valuable due to pure lack of supply.” [1]

Do we begin to have some sort of idea how valuable—how rare and precious it was for anyone to hear from God, the Lord Almighty, who made heaven and earth? If we are abandoned to total silence from God, that must be a very sad time, indeed. And, what does this reading say about the boy Samuel? “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”

Ah, now young Samuel enters the scene.  He works in the special tent where God’s special presence is located, where the special wooden Ark of the Covenant with the Ten Commandments inside. Samuel is the High Priest’s assistant, serving in the Tabernacle.

Reading more from this passage: “and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

Samuel still doesn’t know who is calling him—by name. Similarly, when God’s voice comes to us today, can we make it out through the roar? “There are many voices competing for our attention and how many of us can say that we really know God well enough to recognize a word as being from God or someone else?” [2] Can we recognize the voice of God calling us?

Let’s return to my initial question, the question I started this sermon with. What is a “calling?” We will turn to the dictionary. One definition is “a vocation, profession, or trade.” My husband is an editor. I have a friend who is a photo-journalist. Other people are nurses, or mechanics, or accountants, for example. That is their calling, their daily work in life.

However, in this sermon, the definition that is most important to us today is the second one: a call or summons, especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence. We turn to our Gospel lesson for today, from John, chapter 1.

“The next day John was back at his post with two disciples, who were watching. He looked up, saw Jesus walking nearby, and said, “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb.” 37-38 The two disciples heard him and went after Jesus. Jesus looked over his shoulder and said to them, “What are you after?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 39 He replied, “Come along and see for yourself.” They came, saw where he was living, and ended up staying with him for the day. It was late afternoon when this happened.”

John, his brother James, and their friend Andrew all followed Jesus, and they all acknowledged Him as Messiah. What do we have here? A call or summons, especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence. That is how the disciples started to follow Jesus! They received the call, the invitation. The summons.

That is how nuns, priests, ministers, and every other person follows Jesus, as well—especially when accompanied by repeated conviction of divine influence. They receive a call.

I’d like everyone to turn to the back page of today’s bulletin. See the listing of all the people who take part in ministry here at our church? What leads the listing? Who are the ministers at our church? All St. Luke’s members, that’s who. All of us are ministers of God. The Lord has called each one of us into God’s service.

Let us see what happens to Samuel. We see that the high priest Eli finally gets the message. It is the Lord calling in the night, not Eli himself. Wisely, Eli tells Samuel what to do and how to answer when the call comes again. And, the call does indeed come again. The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Samuel’s response to God? “Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” We can all take comfort in the fact that God didn’t give up on Samuel.  The Lord called, called, and called again.  How many times has the Lord needed to call to us? God called until Samuel learned how to listen. How long has God been calling your name, and mine?

God doesn’t just call us to gather us in heavenly arms of comfort. Well, yes, we are God’s beloved children. The Lord greatly desires all to come, to follow. But, that is not all! God also calls us—we are offered the opportunity and experience to work for God. Not to get on the Lord’s “good side” or to gain “brownie points,” but we serve in gratitude and appreciation for all we have been given. Also important, we have the opportunity to respond to the goodness and love of the Lord for each one of us.

Since the late 1990’s, millions of people across the United States “have celebrated Dr. King’s legacy by turning their community concerns into volunteer service and ongoing citizen action on King Day and beyond.” Martin Luther King Jr. gave us an encouraging example. “Life’s most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”

Global Citizen is “a non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting civic engagement, community volunteering, civic responsibility, and sustained active citizenship among diverse groups, particularly young people. Global Citizen promotes democracy building, voter education, and participation, locally and globally.” [3]

Houses of worship across the country have partnered with this organization in a day of service commemorating Dr. King—service where we reach out to others in need with a hand of assistance, support, and encouragement. What a marvelous way to reach out with the love of Christ. Have you heard God’s call? Yes, God’s call of love, and yes, God’s call to serve.

Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.

 

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2305

Commentary, 1 Samuel 3:1-10, Roger Nam, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

[2] Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]

http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1185  Callie Plunket-Brewton

[3] http://mlkdayofservice.org/about-the-greater-philadelphia-martin-luther-king-day-of-service/

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Fishers of People

Matthew 4:18-23 – January 22, 2017

matt-4-19-fishers

“Fishers of People”

Is everyone here familiar with regular, ordinary work? Some people might call it common or mundane. The ordinary, everyday kinds of things that ordinary, everyday people do on a regular basis. That is what countless numbers of people do, every day, at work and at home.

That is what Peter, Andrew, James and John were doing, as fishermen. As the Gospel lesson today mentions, these men and their co-workers worked on their boat, doing hard work. Doing what they were used to doing every day. Probably, for some among them, doing the same ordinary, everyday things they had done on their boats for decades.

I suspect this day started out for Peter, Andrew, James and John like so many others. But, this day turned out differently, because Jesus showed up. Let’s see what happened from Matthew’s account: “As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen.”

As one of the commentaries said, “Fishing was a popular trade on the Sea of Galilee. Fishing was the most common occupation for people residing in the small villages located on the lakeshore. Living on the shores of Lake Galilee with its abundant supply of fish, people understood fishing perhaps more than they did farming. Living on the shores of a fishing lake, the whole town was ‘into fishing.’” [1]

Typical for many people in the town of Capernaum, Peter and his brother Andrew were regular, ordinary working men, doing their regular, ordinary job, with others in their family’s boat. Casting their nets into the sea.

That troublemaking rabbi Jesus walks by the shore and calls out to them. He says, “19 Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” What on earth does Jesus mean by that?

Some people consider their work to be simply that: work. But, a portion of workers think work is something more than just a way to earn a paycheck. They consider their work to be much more: something from which they receive significant satisfaction, purpose, and meaning.

One of the writers I consulted, Dr. David Lose, helped to formulate a survey describing “work,” “vocation,” and “calling.” The survey asked respondents various questions about their work, how they viewed it, and how important work was in their lives.

“Where do [these] people find the greatest sense of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose (terms to which these survey respondents resonated far more strongly than “vocation” or “calling,” by the way)? Relationships. Even those who identified their work as a source of meaning and fulfillment usually cited their relationships at work as the places of particular significance.” [2]

Peter and Andrew were interrupted in the middle of their regular, ordinary day by Jesus. When Jesus called out to Peter and Andrew and said He would make them fish for people, He called to them, to build relationship with Him, first and foremost. Then, to build relationships with others.  

These two guys in the boat? It’s their response that is really extraordinary. Our Gospel reading says: ” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” Immediately! They don’t pause and think about it. Immediately, they go!

So now we have the rabbi Jesus, and Peter, and Andrew, walking along the shore. What happens next? “21 As Jesus went from there, He saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and He called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.”

The same thing. These two are sitting in their father’s fishing boat, and the rabbi Jesus calls to them. They get up in the middle of things, leaving the nets half-mended, and they leave.

What on earth is going on here? This reading is difficult to believe. It’s really a stretch of the imagination to think of getting up and leaving everyone and everything these guys know to follow Jesus. I don’t know whether I could do it! Don’t most people figure the disciples were extraordinary, first-century super heroes of the faith? You know. People that we can admire from afar but certainly not identify with.

Dr. Lose refers to some biblical scholars who suggest that “Jesus had been living in Capernaum for a while and had known Peter, Andrew, James, and John for some time, and so this call was neither sudden nor abrupt but was the natural outcome of their friendship. Maybe that was the case (huge emphasis on “maybe”), but given that Matthew reports that when Jesus comes and calls they immediately follow, I think we are meant to take notice.” [3]

Whether Jesus knew these four guys for a long time or for just a little while, Matthew tells us—he stresses they followed Jesus immediately. They didn’t think about it, they didn’t dither, or pause, or tell Him to come back tomorrow. No! They immediately followed and entered into a relationship with Jesus.

And, Jesus? He didn’t call them to come and work for Him. He didn’t just want to be their supervisor or manager. No! He called them into a close, genuine relationship with Him: the best kind of relationship there is! Jesus continues to encourage His disciples, His friends, to bring others into a close, genuine relationship with Him, too. BFFs, best friends forever.

What were some things the New Testament tells us about this relationship with God? To bear each other’s burdens, care for each other (especially the vulnerable), and hold onto each other, through thick and thin. Striving to do this, we will always be upheld by God’s grace. [4]

Some people still don’t think they are worthwhile, or good enough to be real disciples. After all, I suspect we don’t have any super duper saints here in this church. No super heroes of the faith! Can God use me? Can God use you?  I know I am imperfect. I’m just a regular, ordinary person, going about my business, doing regular, ordinary things. I suspect that describes everyone here.

I have good news for us all, however. Jesus is still looking for people to come, to answer His call. He is calling to regular, ordinary people in regular, ordinary situations to rise up and become extraordinary.

Jesus is calling to you and to me, holding out His hand to each of us. Jesus wants us to be in a close, genuine relationship with Him, too. Jesus wants us to go the next step and have concern and love for others: to be in a close, genuine relationship with them, too. Not in a mission, or a ministry, or a movement, but in genuine love and caring for one another.

Here’s an action step for you: find one person with whom you are in significant relationship. Perhaps it’s a relationship that brings you particular joy, or sorrow, or frustration, or hope. It doesn’t really matter, just so long as it’s significant. Once you have that person in mind, please take a moment to pray for that person every day for a week … and to believe that God is using you to make a difference in the life of the person for whom you are praying. [5]

Come back next week and let me know what happened. Did you feel closer to God? Did anything change for that person? We all can rejoice, for all of us strive to be faithful. Alleluia! Amen!

 

(A great big thanks to Dr. David Lose for his excellent words and thoughts on Matthew 4 and his bible study “Fishers of People.”)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

[1] http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_fishing_for_christGA.htm “Fishing for Christ,” Gospel Analysis, Sermons from Seattle, Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3018  “Fishers of People,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2014.

[3] Ibid. (emphasis mine)

[4] https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3018  “Fishers of People,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2014.

[5] Ibid.