Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pentecost 16

A sermon preached at Faith Lutheran Church, Cleveland, GA

TEXTS: Jeremiah 11:18-20, Psalm 54, James 3:13-4:3; 7-8a, Mark 9:30-37

I am a big fan of church signs. Traveling as much as I do, I see a lot of them.

Across from Tennessee State University there is a congregation that has the longest name I've ever seen on a church sign:

The House of the Lord,
Which is the Church of the Living God,
The Pillar and Ground of the Truth,
Without controversy, Incorporated.

Without controversy. Whoever heard of a church without controversy?

In light of religion's history of infighting, instead of the Nashville church's claim to be "without controversy," perhaps a church sign I saw in Decatur Georgia is more to the point. This church said it was:


When I saw that sign I burst out laughing. I imagined 60-ish deacons in their Sunday suits engaged in an ecclesiastical version of a bar riot, a baseball fracas, a hockey fight; throwing down their Bibles and wrestling each other to the floor in front of the altar.

The truth of the matter is, the people of God have always been and probably always will be a contentious lot, given to fussing with each other about all sorts of things, some of which matter and most of which don't.

In today's Gospel lesson, Jesus catches his disciples arguing about one of those things that don't matter, not in the family of God, the body of Christ anyway.

They have been fussing and fighting over which one is the greatest.

It is particularly ironic and disappointing that they are arguing about this right after Jesus has told them that as the Messiah he will have to suffer and die for the world, and that as his followers they will need to deny self and take up a cross as well.

He presents them with a model of complete helplessness and weakness and they respond by contending for positions of power and influence. In other words, they don't get it.

In his commentary on Mark, N.T. Wright, NT Scholar and Anglican Bishop, points out that not all Jews of the time believed that God would send a Messiah and among those who did believe a messiah was coming; no one believed that the Messiah would have to suffer, much less to die.

Most believed that THE ONE would come in power and might and strength. They believed the Messiah would come as a military leader, smiting the Romans and their evil, pagan allies, conquering the world in the name of Truth, Justice and YHWH.

So Jesus disciples just didn't get it when Jesus said in verse 31,

The son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.

If they heard his words, they certainly didn't get his meaning. They had figured out he was the Messiah, so they were trying to sort out their positions of importance in the new administration.

Jesus overhears their arguing and calls them on it, asking them "what were you talking about?" And the text says they were silent. They couldn't answer him.

Could it be that in trying to formulate an answer to that question, it began to dawn on them how wrong they were; how far they had strayed from the path Jesus had called them to follow?

I imagine Jesus taking a deep breath, sighing and with a somewhat forced smile, saying, "Come here ya'll, sit down, let's talk. Let me see if I can find a better way to explain this to you."

He then says, "whoever wants to be first, must be last.

If you've read your Bible, you've seen this before, it's a pattern that flows throughout Jesus' teaching and preaching:

Elsewhere he says:

The first shall be last

If you want to save your life, you must lose it

The least of these my brethren

Brother, come up higher

Go out into the hedges and byways and compel them to come in

The rich man's offering and the widow's mite

The rich Pharisee's prayer and the poor man's lament

Lazarus and the rich man in the bosom of Abraham and the fires of Hell

It's called "the great reversal." Throughout his ministry Jesus turned the world's expectations and standards upside down and inside out. He proclaimed that a new and different set of standards would operate in the Kingdom he had been sent to proclaim.

Then, Jesus did a monumentally important thing for the history of the church,
There, on the spot, he invented the children's sermon, complete with an actual child as the object in the object lesson.

Jesus and the disciples were in the ground floor room of a house, it had open windows and doorways, and a crowd had gathered to listen to him teach his disciples. Jesus reached into the crowd and pulled a child, probably a toddler, into the room. Then he said,

Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.

With these words, Jesus proclaims his ultimate grand reversal. To us, a small child is primarily a symbol of innocence. We value children and protect children and care for them and are horrified by stories like the one about the man and wife in California who kidnapped that young girl years ago and kept her hidden in the back yard.

But in the ancient world, children were symbols of powerlessness. Outside of normal parental affection, children were, almost literally, nothing. Lutheran pastor Peter Marty, in the Lectionary Commentary says that "in the Greco-Roman world a father could punish, sell, pawn off or even kill his own child."

It is interesting to note that the Greek words for child and servant have the same root and that Jesus used both of these images; child and servant, as symbols of who the Messiah is and who we, the followers of Jesus, are called to be in the world. Children and servants, powerless and defenseless ones, that's us.

Our modern world, gives highest honor and respect to those with power and authority and importance.

People in our world seek positions of strength from which they can control and manage others.

And the call of the Gospel to us today is the same as it was to those to whom Jesus spoke personally:

It may be that way in the world, but it must not be that way among you my followers.

It is not possible for the church to be the church and also be, as the sign said, "without controversy."

On the other hand, just because we have controversy, it is not necessary that we be a "free for all" either.

Through his teaching about the great reversal, the call to child-like-ness, to servant-hood, to powerlessness and humility, most of all though his own humiliation and death on the cross, Jesus has shown us the way forward though our disagreements and controversies.

Rather than aspiring to power and influence and control within the world and within the community of the faithful; our calling is seek to be servants of one another, actively loving each other in the name of the one who first loved us.

And this is love as a verb of action, not a verb of feeling.

To love one another as servants of one another is to make efforts to be kind and generous and open-minded and long-suffering not only when we like each other a lot; but perhaps most especially when we are at odds with one another, when we don't like each other much at all.

In a continuation of the "great reversal" theme, Paul points out in Romans 5,

. . .Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed rarely will anyone die for a righteous person -- though for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. . . .for if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to god through the death of his Son. . "

Jesus told us the way forward, then Jesus showed us the way forward by surrendering all his power and going to the cross. Our call is to follow him in that way in our lives.. In our lives in our families, in our lives in the world, and in our lives in the church. It's that simple. And that difficult.

Remember Calvin and Hobbes, the little boy and his talking stuffed tiger?

One day Calvin said, "I feel bad that I called Susie names and hurt her feelings. I'm sorry I did it."

Hobbes replies, "Maybe you should apologize to her."

Calvin shrugs and ducks his head, "I keep hoping there's a less obvious solution."

We Christians seem to keep hoping that there is a less obvious solution to our problems and disagreements than Jesus' command that we should, well, act like Christians to one another.

Being humble and kind and forgiving and generous and all those things we learned in Sunday School and all too often forget when we grow up.

There is no other way for Christians. There is only the way of the Cross.

Our calling today is to lose our lives into the life of Christ,
To lose our wills into the will of God,
To give ourselves up totally and completely to the one who gave himself for us upon the cross.

Amen and amen.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

September 6

I'm not preaching in a congregation this weekend. I'm the "Spiritual Director" for a "Lutheran Happening" weekend in Nashville. Me and 100 teen-agers. Oh boy! Anyway, i'm giving talks, etc, but not preaching. Here are a few ideas about food from a sermon by my friend Warren Casiday, a UCC pastor in Kannaplois NC.

H. Warren Casiday
September 6, 2009

According to Andy Rooney, the 2 best selling books are: Cookbooks & Diet Books
Cookbooks tell you how to prepare the food.
Diet Books tell you how not to eat any of it.

An old man went to the same diner every day for lunch.
He always ordered the soup du jour.

One day the manager asked him how he liked his meal.
The old man said: It was good, but you could give a little more bread.
Two slices of bread really isn’t enough.”

The next day the manager asked the waitress to give him four slices of bread.
Manager: “How was your meal, sir?”
“It was good, but you could give a little more bread.”

The next day the manager had the waitress to give him eight slices of bread.
Manager: “How was your meal today, sir?”
He said: “It was good, but you could give a little more bread.”

The next day the manager had the waitress to give him a whole loaf – 16 slices
Manager: “How was your meal, sir?”
Man: “It was good, but you still could give just a little more bread.”

Frustrated, the manager went to the bakery, and ordered a 6’ long loaf of bread.

When the old man came in the next day, the manager & waitress cut the loaf in half, buttered it and put it next to his bowl of soup.

The old man sat down, ate his soup, and both halves of the 6’ long loaf of bread
“Now he will be satisfied,” thought the manager.

Manager: “How was your meal TODAY, sir?”
The old man replied: “It was good as usual.
But I see you are back to serving only two slices of bread!”

One of my favorite comic strips was Kudzu – written by late Doug Marlette

In one strip, Rev. Will B. Dunn, the pastor, is reading the Lord’s Prayer in worship
“Give us this day our daily ... low-fat, low-cholesterol, salt-free bread ...”

In the last frame, he is muttering to himself: “I hate these modern translations.”

It is very likely you will go to the store this week to buy bread.
And there will be a large variety of Breads for you to choose from.

This past week, I counted over 50 types & brands of Bread in a smaller grocery store

That didn’t include the Breads in the coolers that don’t have preservatives in them
or the ones you have to bake yourself.

In case you haven’t guessed, my topic this morning is food – Specifically Bread

We rarely think about Bread.
We jump into cars – drive to store – buy our Bread – go home – eat it

The only time we think about Bread is when the store doesn’t have our brand and
we are forced to choose another brand

Br is so easy for us to get Bread

Yet in some countries, Bread can be difficult to get
And whether they get Bread or not can mean the difference between Life and Death.

One reason we laughed at the opening joke is that we love our food so much
we are obsessed with it.

We eat when we are hungry,are feeling down, are feeling happy, the clock says noon.

We eat to, Be sociable, Forget certain events, Feel Comforted.

Ever notice how many snacks and desserts are called Comfort Food

And of course, we eat to survive.

I really do believe that in some ways, we are obsessed with food.