Giving Birth to a new Life of Service

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

13th  Sunday after Pentecost Sermon – 10:00am Church of the Ascension

Proper 17 RCL Year A 9/3/2017

 

Scripture Text:

Jeremiah 15:15-21

Psalm 26:1-8

Romans 12:9-21

Matthew 16:21-28

 

Sermon Text:

Last week we heard Jesus

Naming Peter, and likening him to the rock,

On which he will build his church.

Just a few moments later in the gospel,

We have this week’s passage.

And it seems Peter has already come into

The fullness of what makes a church die rather than live.

When he hears Jesus foretelling what must happen,

And he says “God forbid it, Lord!”

You can almost hear a foretelling of

A committee member saying “but we’ve never done it that way before,”

Or “this is the way we always do it.”

In churches, when we try to preserve things,

Just for the sake of our comfort,

To keep things consistent so that we don’t have to deal

With the uncertainty of change,

We tend to take the life out of them.

You see,

Jesus statement “for those who want to save their life

Will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake

Will find it.” Works on the level of the church.

 

But of course first it works on the level of the individual.

Jesus isn’t stating these things as a threat,

But more as a matter of fact.

This is the way things are,

Paradoxical though it may be.

In order to truly live,

We have to give up our hold on life.

 

Peter wanted to hold onto things with Jesus

As they were.

Things were just starting to get good,

With this Lord Peter was following.

They certainly couldn’t end,

And definitely not with suffering and death!

This desire to keep things the same,

Changes Peter from the rock,

On which the church was founded,

To a stumbling block who was as

Adversarial to Jesus as Satan.

It’s kind of funny that a rock

Can also be a stumbling block.

Well of course they can,

And our own lives seem that opposed to living

sometimes too.

 

A young couple enjoying married life together

Certainly experience the goodness of life.

But when they decide to have a child,

They lose that life entirely,

That they enjoyed before the child came.

But in losing that previous life,

I think most parents would argue,

Their life was never better,

Never more full than when they

Had children.
If they rejected the idea of having children,

In the interest of preserving their precious life together,

If they decided,

Maybe we should focus on building up a nice beautiful home instead,

Maybe we should take more trips together,

Maybe we could just get a dog together,

So we don’t have to give up this experience of

Just you and me.

If they rejected the call to have a child,

For the sake of preserving what they have,

They would never come to know the fullness of life

They could experience.

Ultimately, the fullness of the life they had,

they would lose that life entirely.

It is only by taking the step of faith,

And being willing to lose everything,

That the new parents find a new and fuller life

Of service and support, of love for their children.

I know all the parents here today know what I am saying.

 

Jesus says, “those who lose their life for my sake

Will find it.”

That is as true as the parents who find new life

In giving up their lives for their kids.

When one fully commits to following Jesus,

It involves giving up one’s life.

One can’t give ten percent of their income

To the church, without feeling the sacrifice,

Of their life in some other place.

One can’t give their precious time

to a ministry of the church,

Without feeling that they’re giving something up

In their life in another place.

One can’t use their skills for the sake of building up

The church, or serving others in Jesus name,

Without feeling that they could be using those skills

To improve their own lives instead.

 

And those who think,

That they don’t really have to give it all,

But can get away with a small contribution

To the life of Jesus,

Are kind of like those potential parents

Who think they could just get a dog,

And that would be like having a child.

I love my dog,

And I had one before I had children.

Being a dog owner is nothing like

Being a parent of a child.

 

It is only when we go “all-in”

Putting ourselves completely into the service of the Lord,

That we find and experience the new life

That goes with being a follower of Jesus, the Lord of life.

Following Jesus can’t just be about going

To church on Sunday,

Following Jesus is about living a life

That expresses devotion to Jesus in every part of it.

 

This happens on the church level too.

We have a beautiful sanctuary,

And lovely grounds.

We have people who care about each other,

And who enjoy seeing each other each week.

But if that is all we focus on,

We are not taking up our cross and following Jesus.

If all we focus on is preserving

This place as it has been for a long time,

We become a stumbling block to Jesus,

rather than rock he will build his church up.

 

When we as a church are willing to lose

Our life for the sake of serving others,

For raising children in the faith,

And when our mission of outreach to the community

In Jesus name becomes the central focus

Of our work together,

Then we will find new life in Jesus.

It can’t just be a few of us,

But most or all of us,

Who must be willing to devote

The life of the church to the service of others,

Much as a parent would devote their life

To the child.

 

We need to reach out and bring more children

Into the life of Jesus in the church,

Inviting more children and their families

As our Sunday School is about to start again.

We need to make some significant renovations

To our parish hall, Sunday School, and organ.

We need to find groups who can make

Use of our hall during the week,

So we’re better stewards of our space.

We need to have more people work

With our Mission: Outreach committee

To find and develop the mission of service

We can pour our common life into.

These are all ways that we can take up

Our cross in a self-sacrificing way

To follow Jesus.

 

I read this week a bible study which said

That the self-denial that Jesus is calling us to,

Is simply the denial of those natural things

We are drawn to that are not of God,

Like bitterness, envy, greed.

The focus seemed to be on individual sanctity,

And that may be important in the beginning

Of the way of the cross for a person.

But most of us are beyond that point.

We are a group of loving,

Caring, prayerful people,

Who want to serve the Lord.

Our self-denial that will lead to life,

Looks more like service, giving,

And reaching out beyond our walls

For the benefit of others.

 

If we are willing to walk that way of the cross

Together, we will find new life together

Here at Church of the Ascension.

We are called to give birth to this new

Child of service and commitment to the community.

Like new parents, it is only in being willing

To take path to total commitment to our child

That we will find the new life

That is fuller than what we know now.

It is only by losing our life that we will find it.

 

Amen

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob goes by Father so that he remembers his duty to the people of God whom he serves. He’s been ordained since 2006, serving in Florida and Tennessee and before that served as a youth minister in Long Island, NY. More details