- Church of the Ascension
- September 12, 2021
The Rev. Robert P. Travis Pentecost 16th Sunday Sermon – 5:00pm and 10:00am Church of the Ascension, Wakefield RI readings from Revised Common Lectionary Proper 19 Year B 9/12/2021
Scripture Text: Proverbs 1:20-33, Psalm 19, James 3:1-12, Mark 8:27-38
Recently I was talking to a girl,
Probably about 7 or 8 years old,
And she asked me about my cross,
That I usually wear around when I’m dressed for work.
She said, “what does that mean?”
And it was clear from her expression,
That she really did not know the meaning of the cross.
So I started to tell her, that I am a Christian
And this is a symbol of Jesus,
Whom I worship.
And this is a symbol of Jesus because
He died on a cross. . .
As soon as I said that, before I could say anything else.
This girl interrupted me, with a scared expression on her face.
She said, “don’t say any more,
I don’t like hearing scary things, I may have bad dreams.”
That is somewhat like what happened to Peter,
In today’s Gospel.
He starts off with that great recognition,
Of who Jesus really is,
When Jesus asks “Who do you say that I am?”
But when confronted by Jesus,
With what it means to be the messiah,
That the messiah must suffer,
And be killed before rising again after three days.
Peter rebukes Jesus,
As if to say, “don’t say any more,
I don’t like hearing scary things like that.”
Peter is just expressing his love for Jesus,
But, of course, in doing that he is setting his own desires,
Ahead of what must be done,
For God’s greater purpose for the world
to be accomplished.
Nobody wants to hear the difficult things,
The sacrifices that must be made,
And some, like children,
Think that if they just close their ears to them,
That somehow the difficult things won’t exist.
But Jesus does not allow his followers to do that.
If we are to follow Jesus,
We have to acknowledge and accept
The difficult, as well as the wonderful.
That is what makes real Christian preaching,
Different from the prosperity gospel
That you hear on TV from people like Joel Osteen.
Mr. Osteen’s book a while back
Was called, “Your Best Life Now.”
And who wouldn’t want to read and follow that?
But Jesus’ message today, and since the last 2,000 years,
Is “Give up your life, in order to find true life.”
Was Jesus trying to lose followers?
It just seems crazy.
We like to think that the world is orderly,
That hard work will bring prosperity,
That the young die after the old,
And that if we just do everything right,
And are nice to people around us,
We will live long, happy lives.
And so the notion that we will find life,
by willingly giving up our lives for Christ and his Gospel
seems crazy in relation to what the world teaches us.
As Fredrich Buechner put it:
“If the world is sane, then Jesus is
mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is
the Mad Tea Party.
The world says,
Mind your own business,
and Jesus says,
There is no such thing as your own business.
The world says,
Follow the wisest course and be a success,
and Jesus says,
Follow me and be crucified.
The world says,
Drive carefully—the life you save may be your own—
and Jesus says,
Whoever would save his life will lose it
and whoever loses his life for my sake
will find it.
The world says, Law and order,
and Jesus says, Love.
The world says, Get
and Jesus says, Give.
In terms of the world’s sanity,
Jesus is crazy as a coot,
and anybody who thinks he can
follow him without being a little crazy
too is laboring less under a cross
than under a delusion.”
[Frederick Buechner in Listening to
Your Life (N. Y.: HarperOne, 1992)]
In our passage from Proverbs, we heard Wisdom,
Another way of describing Jesus,
Calling people out for not following her.
Reproving people for loving ignorance rather than knowledge,
And missing all of her guidance for a better life.
In relation to what the world considers success,
Godly wisdom looks like foolishness.
And worldly wisdom is foolishness to God.
In relation to the world,
And most of the people who strive for success in it,
Followers of Jesus are crazy,
And it’s better that we just acknowledge that now.
Our Presiding Bishop
Michael Curry invites us to do that,
As he even wrote a book about being crazy-Christians.
But what’s crazy about being a Christian
Is not having extreme beliefs,
But being willing to give up those things
We know are good,
For the sake of something far better.
Which is why the first questions that Jesus poses,
are so valuable.
“Who do other people say that I am?”
And “who do you say that I am?”
In response to the first question,
His disciples said some were likening Jesus to
John the Baptist, his contemporary,
Who was calling people to repent from their wrongs,
And lead a good life,
While others were likening him to Elijah,
That great prophet
Who healed people, raised the dead,
And ascended to heaven in chariots of fire.
If Jesus asked us in today’s terms,
We could say that people say
That Jesus was a great religious teacher,
Just like the Buddha, Mohammed, Moses
Lao Tzu and others.
And in that case,
We should listen to his teachings,
Learn how those teachings relate to the others,
And choose which teachings
Are the ones we feel good about following,
While we go about our lives just like everyone else,
Striving mostly to get ahead,
and maybe if we can manage it
leave the world a better place
Than when we found it.
We could say that others find that he was a good example,
A humble man who healed many while he was alive,
And brought hope to the poor,
In which case we should strive to be humble,
Work towards healing in whatever way we can,
And help the poor to achieve prosperity.
But if he asks us
“Who do you say that I am?”
And we are able to say,
You are the LORD,
The God who created everything
And who gives us the very life that we live,
Then, you see,
He can ask of us anything,
Even to give up what we think is life,
For his sake,
And we know that would not be too much to ask.
For Jesus is not a Lord who requires of us without reward.
He promises us true life,
if we just give up the life we think we have.
So if Jesus is LORD,
And we are told that taking up our cross for his sake,
Means starting by giving 10% of our income,
Every year to his church,
Towards the spreading of his gospel around the world.
Even if the world thinks that’s crazy,
In reality it’s not that much to ask.
What Jesus is asking is much more than that.
If Christians are followers of the one,
who willingly accepted crucifixion
For the sake of us people,
That we might be reconciled to God,
And one another,
Then even if he said,
The very best you have,
The best of your talents,
The best of your time,
The most of your money,
That’s what I want you to give.
Those who believe that he is true Messiah, Savior and Lord,
Would cheerfully do it.
Sounds crazy doesn’t it?
Or does it?
C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that
“There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”
In other words, if we’re just giving Jesus what is left, after we’ve taken care of all the things we want to do,
That is not what Christian love is about.
Christian love is about giving what’s right, not what’s left.
It depends on where you stand in relation to Jesus.
Who do you say that he is?
The person who thinks Jesus is just one among many teachers, and they’d like to learn from him as well as others would think that giving 10% to his church
is completely crazy.
But the person who believes that Jesus is Lord of their Life,
The only Messiah who gave his life to save them
and the whole world,
Will look at their giving much differently.
I am asking you to start thinking
About the way you are stewards of the gifts
That God has offered to you for your life in this world.
The paradox of the gospel,
Is that if you hold those things loosely,
And give generously, even to the point
Of giving up your entire life.
Then you will discover more life awaits.
It is like the experience that I had, with my kids’ mother
When Evan, was just a few months old,
And we found out she was pregnant with Simon.
At first we thought,
How can we give love to another child?
All the love we have,
We are giving to this child,
And there just isn’t any more.
But shortly after our new baby arrived,
We found that the amount of love we had
Those who willingly lose their lives,
For Jesus sake,
Whether that is in money,
Find that more is provided.