Friday, April 25, 2014

Lectionary Notes for Second Sunday of Easter, Year A

Readings for 2nd Easter, 4/27/14
Acts 2:14a, 22-32, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31

Acts 2:14a, 22-32:
  • This text gives Peter's speech to the crowds on the Day of Pentecost.
  • "the definite plan and foreknowledge of God." I like Peter's word, here, "foreknowledge." To me, it says that God can know what's going on, and still not make our choices for us. I'm not sure that's what Peter meant. But that's how I think of things, sometimes. I believe that God has a purpose for me, but I can't believe God won't let me make choices, otherwise my life has very little meaning.
  • Peter is interested in showing Jesus as in the line of David, carrying on the Davidic throne. Perhaps he felt this would be a good way to appeal to his audience, something that would make them believe in the power of this 'Jesus.'
Psalm 16:
  • "I have no good apart from you." No good apart from God. We might think we can have what is good outside God, but without God, what we have will lack in meaning, be found wanting, empty.
  • body and soul - this psalmist knows that both belong to God and are in God's hands.
  • "fullness of joy." Again, God can satisfy us, fill us, in a way other things can't.
1 Peter 1:3-9:
  • "inheritance." This is a funny word - when we think of inheriting, we can think of money left to us by relatives, or perhaps genes or traits that we get from our parents, grandparents. 1 Peter says that we inherit from Christ hope of resurrection, eternal life. I'm not sure that's how I would describe how we receive our hope.
  • "the genuineness of your faith" 1 Peter says our faith, tested by fire, is more precious than gold. Note, importantly, that 1 Peter does not claim God tests our faith, but simply that "various trials" can test our faith. When and how has your faith been tested?
  • "although you have not seen him, you love him." Ah, that's faith.
  • "the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." Hm. An interesting statement - in line with sola fide theology I guess. But I think it is important to know if by "salvation" 1 Peter means eternity - later, or something that we can take part in right now, right here.
John 20:19-31:
  • Ah, doubting Thomas. Most of us are less excited than I am to think of ourselves as being like Judas, but doubting Thomas we can relate to all too well. Who wouldn't want to see for himself, when everyone else had the benefit of seeing the risen Christ up close and personal?
  • "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." Maybe today it is harder for us to take things on faith because we are so good at finding tangible - or at least scientific - proof for so many things. We can prove so much with our God-given minds - why not prove God? Prove Jesus? What do you believe without proof? Can you prove someone's love for you or yours for them? We try, but in the end, we just must trust.
  • John is obviously concerned with verifying the physical nature of Jesus' resurrection by having Thomas touch and feel Jesus, see the wounds. To me, as I mention in the Acts passage, I think the life of Jesus gets ignored in our obsession with his death and resurrection. Obviously, his death and resurrection are important to us - but would they be important if he had taught nothing in his life? If he had not been in such radical ministry for three years? So, John wants us to know Jesus' resurrection is the real deal. That's fine by me - but the statements about belief are more powerful in this passage, I think. More challenging. 

Sermon for Easter Sunday, "Resurrection Story," John 20:1-18

Sermon 4/20/2014
John 20:1-18
Resurrection Stories – Easter

            Have any of you tried watching the new ABC series called Resurrection? As a pastor, I felt like it was my duty to at least check the show out – how could I not watch, at least once, a show called Resurrection? I don’t want to spoil it for you, if you plan on watching eventually, but the basic concept of the series is this. Starting with a little boy who drowned over thirty years ago, people who died start returning to a small town, very much alive. For everyone else, years have passed, but for the people who died, they return having not aged a day. It’s like someone pressed “pause” on their lives, and then suddenly hit “play” again.
            You would think, wouldn’t you, that these people, returned from the dead, would be a cause of joy, right? But it turns out that their return causes a lot of trouble. People have moved on, grown older, remarried. People have grieved already, and find themselves grieving again when their loved one returns because it isn’t exactly the same. They’ve moved on, in some ways, and although the return of one they thought lost brings joy, there’s not a place for that person anymore. It doesn’t quite fit, doesn’t quite work.
            I noticed, too, that they never really use the word resurrected in the show. They call the people who have come back from the dead “The Returned.” Now, I don’t think the show is trying to make a theological statement, but I find it so interesting that even the tv show character seem to know that what they’re experiencing isn’t truly resurrection. Yes, folks have returned from the dead, and that’s turning the characters’ world upside down.
            And I think it’s because as much as we struggle with death, we know it is a part of the order of things. Sure, sometimes we might describe a death as unnatural, when a young person dies; when someone suffers a great deal; when a parent outlives their children or older siblings outlive younger siblings. But although these deaths are tragic, and although we always grieve when loved ones die, deaths are a part of life. We expect it, really. Death, grieving, suffering, sorrow. Sometimes death happens more suddenly then others. But we all die. That reality is even how we began the season of Lent – with Ash Wednesday – a sign of our mortality right on our foreheads. As much as a love my grandparents – my grandmother died about a year ago, and my grandfather died about fifteen year ago – and I still grieve their loss – can still be brought to tears when a memory or wistfulness catches me off guard – I know it wouldn’t be right, wouldn’t make sense for them to be back in this place, this world, this lifetime.
            So it challenges us – Easter – if we let ourselves really think about it. There is such a huge difference between being returned and being resurrected. We’re here today not because of a return, a resuscitation. Not because Jesus has appeared again to just go about business as usual. Like he was away for a few days and has now returned and he’ll just start preaching and teaching and healing again. No, we’re here because we’re celebrating a resurrection. Jesus was dead and he is alive. Not just reanimated, but resurrected. He’s not just alive again or alive still after all. He’s been resurrected. It means literally a “rising up.” He’s not just alive but living and new. Resurrected. I wonder if we can understand what it means to have resurrection.
In John’s gospel, we read that Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb, and sees that the stone in front of Jesus’ tomb has been removed. Upset, she runs to get Peter and another disciple. They come to the tomb and see that Jesus is not there, and they return home. They don’t seem to react, at least not that we’re told. But Mary stays, and she encounters Jesus, although she doesn’t recognize him at first. But when he speaks her name, Mary realizes that it is Jesus. He sends her to tell the others, and she does, saying, “I have seen the Lord.”
I keep coming back to a strange verse tucked in this Easter story. Jesus tells Mary, “Don’t hold on to me.” Don’t cling to me. Don’t keep me here. The phrase in Latin for these words is Noli Me Tangere, and this moment is often depicted in artwork titled with the same phrase. Don’t hold on to me. It seems like a strange thing for Jesus to say. How could Mary help but want to cling to him? But it is as if he is saying: “I’m not the same. I’m different. And I can’t be bound anymore.” You can’t “keep” me. Something that’s been resurrected can’t be kept. Something with so much new life that it concurs even death is meant to be on the move, living, rising up.
            This morning, at our sunrise service, I shared a reflection from Mary Magdalene’s point of view, based on Luke’s account of the resurrection. In Luke’s account, God’s messengers tell Mary and other women who have come to the tomb, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” In my reflection, Mary challenges us to consider exactly that. “Stop looking for Jesus among the dead. He is with the living. He is along the road as you travel from place to place. Look for him. He is there. He is at table with you, when you break bread. Look for him. He is there. He is in your home, at your workplace, at the marketplace, and everywhere you are. Look for him, He is there.”
            This Easter, I want us make sure what we’re seeking after in our own lives is resurrection, not resuscitation or reviving or returning. That’s not new life. That’s just continuing on. See, I think we get ourselves caught. First, we aren’t ready to die. But you can’t have resurrection without death. No resurrection without the crucifixion. And so we need to seek out the parts of our lives that need to die, so that Christ can live in us, draw new life from us. We’re afraid to let go of the life we know, and if we can’t do that, the best we’ll ever get is a resuscitation, a return, not a resurrection. What in you needs to die so that you can live? And second, when we do let God resurrect us, make us new, we need to look around, and make sure that we’re seeking Jesus among the living. We can’t just stay where we’ve been, surrounded by death. We can’t just hold on to what we’ve known. We can’t be bound. We serve a living God, a God who is always on the move. Seek out Christ among the living. After all, who looks for the living among the dead? It seems almost foolish, doesn’t it? So if we’re living, made new in Christ Jesus, claiming the promise of resurrection, let’s get going.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

A Sung Communion Liturgy for Maundy Thursday/The Season of Lent

A Sung Communion Liturgy for Maundy Thursday/The Season of Lent

Lift your hearts to God your maker.
Lift your hearts unto the Lord!
Let us thank God! Let us praise God:
God of mercy, love and power!

Let us gather at the table
Hearts uplifted, hands outstretched
This, the table of thanksgiving
Cup of blessing, bread of life

From the dust we were created
God gave us the breath of life
But we wandered from God’s Presence
Bound for pain and grief and strife

Let us gather at the table
Hearts uplifted, hands outstretched
This, the table of thanksgiving
Cup of blessing, bread of life

God sought us through law and prophet
Called to us throughout the years
We rejected, lost in wilderness
God called us but we would not hear.

Holy, Holy, God Almighty,
Holy God we sing your praise!
All creation’s filled with glory!  
Glory in the highest!

In good time God sent a Savior
God’s own son, a gift for all.
For our sake he bore our burdens
Listen, sinner, to the call!

Let us gather at the table
Hearts repentant, sins confessed
This, the table of forgiveness
Cup of blessing, bread of life

On this night we recall the supper
Jesus shared with dearest friends
Knowing they’d deny, betray him
Still, he gave this holy gift
We remember bread that’s broken
We remember cup outpoured
Christ has died but Christ is risen
Christ will come to us again!

On these gifts, pour out Your Spirit
Make these gifts become for us
Body, blood of Christ who loves us
By his life, we are redeemed.

By Your Spirit we’re united,
In this meal we are made one
God, we thank You! God, we praise You!
Cup of blessing, bread of life

Come, now, sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus gives his life to save you,
Full of pity, love, and power.

We will arise and go to Jesus;
He will embrace us in his arms
At the table of our Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms!

God we thank you for the mystery
As you give yourself to us!
We are blessed and we are strengthened
In the name of Jesus Christ.

We will arise and go to serve you
Blessed by what we’ve shared tonight
At the table of our Savior
God, you’ve given us new life!

Text: Rev. Beth Quick, 2014.
Adapted text in vs. 7-8 based on text by Joseph Heart,
“Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy”
Permission is given for free use of this hymn text with author attribution.

 Creative Commons License
A Sung Communion Liturgy for Maundy Thursday/The Season of Lent by Rev. Beth Quick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. 

Lectionary Notes for Palm/Passion Sunday, Year A

Readings for Palm/Passion Sunday, 4/13/14:
Matthew 21:1-11 (Palms), Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 (Palms), Isaiah 50:4-9a (Passion), Psalm 31:9-16 (Passion), Philippians 2:5-11 (Passion), Matthew 26:14-27:66 (Passion)

** A Special Note: Some churches choose to focus on one or other set of texts on this Sunday that begins Holy Week: either Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday texts. Personally, I combine both passages into one service: Palm/Passion Sunday. My homiletics professor at Drew, Charles Rice, suggested reading the Palm Sunday gospel text very early in the service, and placing the (brief) sermon very early as well. Then, toward the very end of the service, the Passion gospel is read, without comment/preaching, dramatically or otherwise. I have found this very moving and effective. **

Matthew 21:1-11:
  • Matthew, ever trying to show Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy, has Jesus riding in both on a donkey and on a colt, since that's what the text says. Never mind Matthew understanding that the poetry was written in that repetitive way in the Hebrew Scriptures - can you just picture Jesus riding both a colt and a donkey? That visual right there should have let Matthew know he was on the wrong track here!
  • again - notice that these words "blessed is the one who comes in the name of the lord" - go straight from scripture to our communion liturgy.
  • notice that here the crowds identify Jesus as a prophet. That label has some pretty specific connotations for that society.
  • Can you think of current figures who have received such overwhelming support, only to quickly fall from grace shortly after?
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29:
  • Gate/entry imagery - This is good Palm Sunday imagery - entering in to give thanks to God.
  • "The stone that the builders reject has become the chief cornerstone." Such a powerful verse, used to describe Christ by the prophets. But good for us too: when others reject us, God accepts us. In God, we can become the cornerstone, not a rejected scrap. Hope!
  • "This is the Lord's doing." Giving credit where credit is due. We're not so good at that many times.
  • "This is the day that the Lord has made." This is such a popular opening to worship. Why do we like this verse so much? I think it does a good job of truly reminding us of the fact that each day is God's precious gift to us.
Isaiah 50:4-9a:
  • "The tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word." Sustaining the weary with a word. That's a gift; that's power. Who can accomplish this feat? Isaiah, apparently! :) But seriously - perhaps this is the gift we're called to live into as preachers. With God's Word, we can sustain the weary.
  • "I gave my back . . . and my cheeks . . . I did not hide the face." Let us not think that there is nothing of Jesus' 'turn the other cheek' teaching in the Old Testament, that the OT only speaks of 'an eye for an eye' - this passage show us its just not so!
  • "I have set my face like flint." Nice image.
Psalm 31:9-16:
  • "My eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing." This verse has jumped out to me personally in the past, at times when my congregations have been particularly grieving over the loss of multiple parishioners. The congregation as a whole seemed to be 'wasting away from grief' in body and soul. I think grief often comes in groups like that, so much all it once that it seems difficult to bear. I have to notice, though, that this psalmist is speaking about very individual grief that comes not from loss of others, but from a seeming rejection by others. This reads almost like a school kid who is being picked on by everyone. I don't mean to make it less important because it is such a personal pleading. God knows we all have personal pleading. But an observation...
  • This psalm comes in all three years of the Passion Sunday readings. How come?
  • "I have become like a broken vessel." Nice imagery, given all the biblical language about potter/clay/jars/vessels. Empty vessels and full vessels. Refilled vessels and pouring out our vessels. And cracked vessels. What shape is your vessel in right now?
  • "My times are in your hand." Giving God our times. That simply, that completely.
Philippians 2:5-11:
  • "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus."
  • "did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited" I find this such a unique statement. Imagine if Christ had used his equality to exploit? What would that look like? Perhaps this is what the devil was tempting Christ to do - to exploit his equality.
  • "emptied himself" Emptying ourselves.
  • "every knee should bend . . . every tongue should confess." Hm. This is one of those passages often used by people who are seeking to convert non-Christians and those of other faith traditions as proof or encouragement about the task at hand. Frankly, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. If the idea is that people will ultimately be moved to worship Jesus even against their will, I'm not sure I'd want to see that display...
Matthew 26:14-27:66:
  • I guess you have to ask: why this huge, all encompassing text, when much of this material will be included later in Holy Week? The answer, on the practical side, is that the sad fact is many in our congregations won't be back again until Easter Sunday - won't be at Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. They need to know how we get from Palm Sunday to Easter Morning. But on a deeper level, for me at least, nothing beats the contrast of starting a sermon with the joy of the Palms and ending with the reality of the cross.
  • This text as a whole is almost too huge to comment on, hence my note at the top of this page on my practice of just reading/hearing the text. It is the story. How can we elaborate? I guess I'm not going to try!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Lectionary Notes for Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A

Readings for 5th Sunday in Lent, 4/6/14:
Psalm 130, Ezekiel 37:1-14, Romans 8:6-11, John 11:1-45

Ezekiel 37:1-14:
  • The Valley of the Bones. This passage is so rich with possible meanings for us. "Mortal, can these bones live?" Even what seems beyond life can be made alive by God's holy breath. We are reminded again that, as Ezekiel says, it is God, not us, who knows the extent of the grace that God can extend to us.
  • "our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost." Do you ever feel like this? Dried up? Without hope? How has God acted to breath new life into you?
Psalm 130:
  • A favorite Psalm. My favorite musical setting of this Psalm is the John Rutter Requiem, which I think gives a real sense of the Psalm - performed occasionally by my childhood-church.
  • Out of the depths - what are the depths from which you call to God? Do you remember to call to God from your lowest low?
  • This psalm shows a great faith and hope in God's grace and forgiving mercy, unlike some psalms that are more bent on vengeance: "If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord , who could stand?" It is a nice change.
  • wait, wait, wait the psalmist says. I've read statistics before about how many years of our life we spending waiting in line for things. How much of your life do you spend waiting on God? Are you more patient about waiting in line for concert tickets than you are about waiting for God? 
Romans 8:6-11:
  • typical Paul - flesh/body spirit/soul dualism. I wish Paul had explained what he meant in a different way, or that he meant a different thing, even. It is too easy to say that everything earthly should be rejected in favor of the spirit world. The thing is, we've got a lot to do still in this earthly world - a lot of good stuff to enjoy and a lot of not-so-good stuff to which to turn our attention.
  • Compare this passage to the Ezekiel passage - God giving life through spirit to mortal bodies.
John 11:1-45:
  • "Lazarus, come out." Out of what caves do you need to be called?
  • Notice that Jesus speaks of himself as the resurrection, before he is crucified and raised in the scriptural accounts. Rather than predicting a future event in his life, I believe that he is speaking to the fact that he is currently at that time the resurrection. He is already raising people out of death, to new life. He is already transforming people, so that their lives become like nothing they could recognize before. That is resurrection, isn't it?
  • "Jesus wept." The shortest verse in the Bible, and one of the most powerful - "see how he loved him," responded the crowds.
  • "I believe . . . that you are the one coming into the world." This is one of my favorite verses in this passage - it is an active word, a continuing, not a one time event. Jesus doesn't just come into the world - he is coming into it, continually. Always entering into our lives.
  • God, if you'd intervened, this bad thing wouldn't have happened to me! How many times to we offer this type of complaint up to God, blaming God for what goes wrong in our lives? 

Sermon, "24 Hours that Changed the World: Jesus, Barabbas, and Pilate," Mark 15:1-15

Sermon 3/30/14
Mark 15:1-15

24 Hours that Changed the World: Jesus, Barabbas, and Pilate

I’ve always found Pontius Pilate to be a fascinating biblical figure. It’s strange, isn’t it, that while the twelve disciples spent three years of their lives with Jesus, we know so very little about them. Sure, we know a lot about Peter. But what about Bartholomew or Thaddeus? The Bible says almost nothing about them. Meanwhile, Pontius Pilate spent just a short time with Jesus on one day, and yet we hear more from Pilate than we do half the disciples. We don’t know a lot about Pilate’s background – there are some conflicting stories over where he was born and what family he was part of – and we don’t know much about his life before he appears in the gospels. He’s mentioned in only a couple other historical sources from the time, and just briefly. But we know that he was a prefect in Judea, and that prefects had certain duties – mostly military oversight and collecting taxes, but also judicial responsibility in some local affairs. During big religious festivals like the Passover, Pilate would be expected to be in Jerusalem, to make sure things were kept under control. And we know that he served as prefect in Judea from 26-36 AD, recalled to Rome perhaps just a year or two after Jesus’ trial. It seems that Pilate frequently found himself in conflict with the people he governed, and his superiors were not happy with his performance. (1)
In the gospels, Pontius Pilate appears only in the trial of Jesus and surrounding events. His name is occasionally mentioned in Acts and in the writings of Paul, but only in reference to Jesus being tried before him. And in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial, we get the same general story – we see a Pilate who seems to be struggling between a feeling that Jesus is innocent of the crimes he’s accused of, and a Pilate who is concerned about the crowds and potential mob rule, wanting to please the people to keep them under control. Jesus has been arrested, and already been interviewed by the chief priests. But Pilate had authority over certain matters – in fact, even the high priest was named by the Roman government (1) – and the religious leaders wanted Pilate to condemn Jesus. In Mark’s account, on which we focus today, Pilate questions Jesus, asking him if he is the King of the Jews, a claim with political overtones that would threaten both the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman authorities. But Jesus, keeps silent, despite the questioning. When questioned by the Sanhedrin, Jesus identified as the Messiah. But before Pilate, the one who actually has power to sentence him to death, Jesus says nothing.
Pilate then offers to release a prisoner – Barabbas. The gospel of Matthew tells us that Barabbas was called “Jesus Barabbas.” Mark tells us that Barabbas was a man who was in prison with other rebels, convicted of murder and insurrection. In other words, he had been part of a violent attempt to overthrow the government. This Jesus – Jesus Barabbas – seems to have been part of exactly the kind of revolutionary overthrow of Rome that some were hoping Jesus of Nazareth would lead. Mark tells us, too, that Pilate thinks Jesus has been handed over to him because the religious leaders are jealous of Jesus' authority and popularity with the people. Pilate seems to want to find a way to set Jesus free without having to actually come out and make the decision. The crowds shout, spurred on by the chief priests, for the release of Barabbas and begin to chant for Jesus’ death – “Crucify him!” “Why?” Pilate seems perplexed. “What evil has he done?” “Crucify him!” they insist. Pilate, we read, “wishing to satisfy the crowd,” finally gives in. In Matthew, we read that Pilate was afraid that if he didn’t concede, the people would have rioted, so he takes some water and washes his hands before the crowd, saying, perhaps hoping it would be true, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Pilate releases Barabbas, as the people requested, has Jesus flogged – we’re not even sure why – and hands him over to be crucified.
What do we make of Pilate and his actions? Did he just get caught up in something that was out of his control? Is it true what he thought? If he hadn’t allowed Jesus to be put to death, would there really have been a riot that the Roman soldiers could not control? Would Jesus have just been put to death another way by the angry crowds? Can you just decide to wash your hands of a situation and really be free from responsibility? Can Pilate simply declare himself innocent? Did Pilate believe Jesus should have gone free? Who, ultimately, is responsible for Jesus’ death? Could Pilate have taken a stronger stand? Wasn’t he in charge?
Just before Lent began, we read from Mark about Jesus asking people, “Who do you say I am?” I find myself wondering, reading about Jesus’ trial before Pilate: Who does Pilate say that Jesus is? Surely, we don’t have a lot to go on. But we start to gather a sense even from this scene in the gospels that Pilate catches a glimpse of who Jesus is. He has a feeling that Jesus is something different. He can see that the religious leaders are jealous of Jesus. He sees that Jesus is unwilling to argue with him over accusations and frantically defend himself. He seems baffled by the vitriol directed at Jesus. He is reluctant to condemn Jesus, and anxious not to be held responsible for what will happen to Jesus. When we take all these pieces, these clues, and put them together, it seems that Pilate, if not ready to call Jesus the Messiah exactly, knew that there was something about Jesus . . .
But for Pilate, ultimately, who he is is much more important to him than who Jesus is. Pilate is a prefect of the Roman Empire. What Pilate wants most is to escape blame, from Rome, from the Jews, no matter who Jesus turns out to be. He wants to have no responsibility for the situation before him, which is ironic for someone who wants desperately to keep their role of responsibility and authority. Pilate wants to show himself an effective leader – and he chooses to do that by seeking to satisfy the crowds. That might be strategic, but discarding justice for the sake of appeasing an angry mob isn’t leadership so much as cowardice. Pilate might believe there’s something more to Jesus – but ultimately, it doesn’t make a difference to him, because who he is, what he wants – his power, his control, his position – all of that is more important to him.
As always, what we learn here, what we learn about Pilate is only meaningful if we can see ourselves in his place. So, I have to ask – are there things that you believe, but your believing doesn’t make a difference to you, make a difference in how you live your life? Let me give you some examples of what I mean. Last week and this week we’ve been raising funds for Vera House’s white ribbon campaign, which particularly focuses on Men Leading the Way to eliminate violence and abuse against women and children. The campaign particularly emphasizes that staying silent when you are aware of abuse is not an option. It makes you part of the problem, in fact. Many professionals, like teachers, medical personnel, doctors, and in many places, clergy, are mandated reporters, who are required, legally, to report suspected child abuse. The law mandates that with knowledge comes a responsibility to act. But beyond the requirements of the law, our beliefs, as people of faith, as human beings who care for one another – our beliefs should impact our actions, right? Abuse is unacceptable, and we will not stay silent about it.
Or think of election cycles. One question I think voters often have is: Do what candidates say and what they actually have done or will do in office match up? A common accusation is that candidates flip-flop on positions. A candidate tries to appeal to liberal or conservative voters during primaries, but then during a general election, they’re criticized for distancing themselves from previous actions and statements when they’re trying to appeal to a broader base of people. Voters want to know: Is this what the candidate really believes? Or is the person just saying what he or she thinks I want to hear?
What about our faith journeys? What about discipleship? What I want to know is this: What do you believe about Jesus? Who do you think that he is? And what difference has that made in the way that you live? Or, like Pontius Pilate, are there too many things about who we are and what we want for ourselves for us to actually let what we believe about Jesus change our lives? “Wishing to satisfy the crowd” – how often could that description be applied to our actions? Who is it we want our actions to please?
One of my colleagues posed a question on his blog: “What is the most destructive force in a congregation?” He listed multiple-choice responses, including unresolved conflict, which had the most votes, followed by power struggles, narrow-mindedness, gossip, and keeping secrets. But I selected the ‘other’ option and added in my own response: apathy. The church is at risk when we don’t translate what we believe into how we live as individuals and as a congregation. To me, what is most destructive to churches is just this dilemma that we see in Pontius Pilate. We believe something, but what we believe doesn’t necessarily change anything. Consider what we believe as a congregation: I trust that generally, we believe in God, believe in Jesus, believe that Jesus set an example for us, believe that we’re meant to be disciples, believe that God loves us, and so on. We might come down differently on exactly what those beliefs mean in detail, but at the core, I think we’re on the same page. Where we need to ask ourselves the hard questions, where we need to do some soul-searching is when we ask ourselves: what difference does what we believe make?

In our discipleship, in our faith journey, we get into trouble when the cost of following Jesus is always more than we are willing to pay, and when what it costs us is always a bigger concern than acting on what we believe. When we believe, but still fail to act, that’s apathy. When we believe, but still fail to act, that’s of more concern than those who don’t know what they believe yet. For Pontius Pilate, the cost to himself was his primary concern. He knew Jesus shouldn’t be condemned to death. But the cost Pilate would bear was too much. What he was willing to risk, willing to ‘spend’ on what he believed was nothing. What are you willing to spend? What is that task to which God is calling you that nags at the back of your mind, the corners of your heart? What do you believe about God? And so what? How will your answer change your life? Amen.

Sermon, "In Denial," Mark 8:31-37

Sermon 2/20/24 Mark 8:31-37 In Denial My sermon title is both a reflection of our gospel text for today, and a reflection of how I felt abou...