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Sermon for 1 March 2015

FIRST READING Genesis 17:1–7, 15–16

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”


PSALM Psalm 22:23–31

23 You who fear the LORD, give praise! All you of Jacob’s line, give glory. Stand in awe of the LORD, all you offspring of Israel. 24 For the LORD does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty; neither is the LORD’s face hidden from them; but when they cry out, the LORD hears them. 25 From you comes my praise in the great assembly; I will perform my vows in the sight of those who fear the LORD. 26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied, Let those who seek the LORD give praise! May your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; all the families of nations shall bow before God. 28 For dominion belongs to the LORD, who rules over the nations. 29 Indeed, all who sleep in the earth shall bow down in worship; all who go down to the dust, though they be dead, shall kneel before the LORD. 30 Their descendants shall serve the LORD, whom they shall proclaim to generations to come. 31 They shall proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying to them, “The LORD has acted!”


SECOND READING Romans 5:1–11

1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.


GOSPEL Mark 8:27–38

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”



How do you react when you anticipate that something negative is going to happen? Do you get nervous, do your palms get sweaty, do you have trouble falling asleep, or perhaps lose your appetite? Do you feel like your whole world is being turned upside down or inside out? Reactions differ and to a great extent, it depends on how negative the event is that’s being anticipated. One young woman in here in the South tells about her teen years. She grew up with an extremely strict father who was very loving, but was also one who believed in corporal punishment.
One day her Dad told her to get home by 4:00 p.m. and promised her that if she didn’t, she would get a whuppin’. Unfortunately, she got held up for some reason or other and it was clear that she wouldn’t make it by 4:00. This was before cell phones and text messaging, so she started thinking about the punishment that was waiting for her at home. The anticipation overwhelmed her and she started crying on the bus before she even got home and felt as if her heart was going to drop out of her chest. When she got home, she was relieved to discover that the whuppin’ wasn’t nearly as awful as the anticipation that it was going to happen. Somehow I think we can relate to that? Maybe not to the whuppin’, but to the terrible dread when you anticipate that something really awful is going to happen.
In today’s gospel lesson from Mark, Jesus breaks the news to His disciples that He will soon suffer and be put to death. We read, beginning with verse 31, “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him . . .”
I know we’ve talked about this before but it still amazes me; Peter trying to rebuke Jesus. Yet at the same time, it isn’t that hard to place ourselves in that scene is it? I don’t think it’s really all that hard for us to understand. This announcement by Jesus wasn’t news that Peter wanted to consider. We’ve all received news that we didn’t want to accept. It’s not hard to imagine someone you love coming up to you and saying, “Son,” or even worse, “Mom, I’ve just gotten a report from my doctor. I’ve got maybe six weeks to live.”
I know from personal experience what my response was, “Change doctors! Get a second opinion. Try a new treatment or even an experimental treatment. Surely there’s a way to beat this.” None of us wants to lose someone we love. We want to hold on to every moment. This was especially true of Simon Peter. He loved Jesus. He believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. He believed that Jesus was the one who had been sent to deliver Israel. How could the Messiah be put to death by ordinary humans? It simply didn’t compute. He didn’t want to argue with his Master, but surely there was an error somewhere. Surely there was a way to beat this thing. So, not knowing what else to do, Peter pulls Him aside and began to rebuke Him.
Of course Jesus understood where Peter was coming from but still needed to set him straight. And to get His point across He called him satan. Perhaps this was a way for Jesus to get Peter and the other disciples’ attention or maybe, He was remembering the temptations He dealt with when He began His ministry. Either way, we can understand Peter’s frustration. And this is the reason we must confront the same question each year during Lent, why did Jesus have to die?
One of the most obvious answers is that it was necessary to fulfill prophecy. We read in Isaiah 53 that it was predicted by the prophet some 500 years before Jesus’ arrival on earth, what would happen to Him. In verses 5-6 we read, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Substitutionary atonement was a huge debate in Seminary and some had a difficult time with traditional theories of the atonement that Christ had to die in order to fulfill an ancient prophecy or that Christ had to die in order to ransom us from satan. The idea that Christ was a sacrificial lamb slain in our place is a very disturbing thought. It flies in the face of the ideas that we carry about ourselves. We like to think that we’re capable of anything, that we can go it alone, even in paying the cost for our sin. But this isn’t the case. The very first thing Jesus taught, in verse 31, is that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected . . . and that he must be killed.” Jesus didn’t mince words, He was clear, He was the One who must die. It was part of His mission. And even though we know the answer, we still ask why? Couldn’t there have been another way? But there’s another reason for us to consider, one we rarely, if at all, think about.
Consider this reason for a moment: One compelling explanation for Jesus having to die is that He knew many of His followers would give their lives as martyrs. He couldn’t ask His followers to do anything that He wasn’t willing to do Himself. He knew that many of His followers would pay a terrible price for their faith. In light of that, how could He do otherwise? Notice what He says in the verses that follow His rebuke to Peter: “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” In this passage He leaves us with no ambiguity. His message is clear; being a Christian is serious business.
There was a story in a national magazine a few years back about a chef in one of Manhattan’s trendiest restaurants, the Spotted Pig. The chef’s name is April Bloomfield. April claims that when she first interviewed for the chef’s position at the Spotted Pig, the owners never asked her to cook for them. Instead, co-owner Mario Batali, a famous chef in his own right, hired Bloomfield the minute he saw her scars.
Like many committed chefs, Bloomfield’s arms are crisscrossed with scars, healed burns that she received while reaching into an oven, or stirring a pot, or re-arranging things on a stove. Chefs who bear no scars, says one author, are not passionate about their craft. Those scars represent a person so focused on the food and so committed to excellence that they’re willing to suffer for their work. How many scars on our arms, at least spiritually? Can we say that we’re so committed to something that it’s caused us to suffer? Some of you might say your work. Others may say your family. But can we say that our commitment to Christ has caused us any serious inconvenience?
The truth is that people have suffered in every generation for following Jesus. As we saw in the news this past week, ISIS has yet again taken Christians as prisoners. On Monday some 100 Kurdish Christians were rounded up and taken away. People living today in several Moslem countries live in constant fear because they seek to follow Jesus. In many remote areas in the world, there are very real challenges to identifying yourself as a follower of Christ.
In 1989 George Atley, a missionary with the Central African Mission was killed. There were no witnesses. But the evidence indicates that Atley was confronted by a band of hostile tribesmen. He was carrying a fully loaded, Winchester rifle and he had to choose, either to shoot his attackers and run the risk of negating his work as a Christian missionary, or to not defend himself and possibly be killed. When his body was later found in a stream, it was evident that he had chosen the latter. Nearby lay his rifle, still fully loaded. He had made the supreme sacrifice, motivated by his unswerving devotion to Christ. What if we were placed in that position? Some might say that that’s a pretty radical thing to do, but do we truly understand that the call to follow Jesus is a call to a very different lifestyle?
Dr. Mickey Anders gives us a humorous example of the extremes that people will go to for less serious causes. He tells about a question that appeared sometime back on a website called “The Remy Report.” The question was asked, “If the ‘god of all things, baseball,’ said to you, ‘I will let the Red Sox win the World Series this year depending on what you’re willing to do in return,’ how far would you be willing to go to bring the World Series to Boston?” There were thousands of responses. Each week only the top five were posted.
Here are some of the responses: Doug said, “In return for the Red Sox winning the World Series this year, I would be willing to use the same dental floss for three weeks straight.” Suzanne said, “I would be willing to hand wash all the team’s dirty socks for the rest of my life.” Sami said, “I would be willing to listen to ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ on loop until my ears bleed.” Joseph said, “I would be willing to give up my wife of 19 years . . .” I hope his wife doesn’t find out he said that. Arthur said, “I would be willing to trade my mother-in-law.” Stephen said, “I would be willing to tell my wife where I’ve hidden her credit cards.” Josh said, “I would be willing to give away all my worldly possessions and live my life as a bum in New York.” And Chris said, “I would be willing to do anything. I’d sell my soul if I had too.”
Obviously, some of these are tongue-in-cheek, other’s I’m not so sure about. But the season of Lent offers us a unique opportunity each year to ask how far we would be willing to go, how much we would be willing to give, what kind of sacrifice would we be willing to offer in our devotion to Christ? The call to follow Jesus isn’t a passive summons; it’s a call to a counter-cultural lifestyle.
Discipleship is a call to offer our lives as a living sacrifice. That means our values ought to reflect our faith, our budget ought to reflect our faith, how we raise our children ought to reflect our faith, how we relate to others ought to reflect our faith. Every area of life should reflect our faith. Of course, in a sense, it already does. For some of us it reflects a very weak faith. It’s like the person who checks the block on a survey form that they attend church regularly. But for them “regularly” could mean once a month or three times a year; Mother’s Day, Christmas and Easter. Who here will deny that their attendance reflects their faith? Attendance, or the lack thereof, can indicate a very weak, superficial faith. Chef April Bloomfield had scars on her arms; do we?
In the winter of 1966, a voter registration card arrived in the mail at the home of Vernon Dahmer. On the surface, something like this is no big deal, it happens every day. But this was different, for a number of reasons. It was different because Vernon Dahmer was a African-American in Mississippi, and this was the first year he could vote just like everyone else, without the encumbrance of oppressive poll taxes, or backhanded laws of discrimination. It was different because Vernon had worked hard to make his right to vote a reality. But what made it most different was that, tragically, Vernon Dahmer had died only weeks before.
Mr. Dahmer died on January 11, of horrible burns to his lungs. The night before his death, several members of the Klan carried out a plan to punish Dahmer for his efforts to bring equal voting rights to the black community. In the middle of the night, several Klan members began firing guns at his house, while others threw firebombs through the windows. Vernon grabbed a shotgun and ran to the front of the house to provide cover fire while the rest of his family escaped out a back window. They all lived. But Vernon Dahmer was overcome by smoke and flames. Hours later, he was dead.
Thanks be to God, you and I live such relatively easy lives compared to many people who try to live out their faith. The Lenten season is a perfect time to reflect on our lives and ask what we’re prepared to give for the things we believe. One of the reasons so many people hold the Armed Forces of our country in such high esteem is that we know that the men and women who volunteer for the service are willing to make the supreme sacrifice. Someone has said that a veteran is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America for an amount up to and including their life. What if the world knew that followers of Jesus had that same level of commitment?
Mark tells us Jesus called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” These are very tough words; words that call for commitment, sacrifice and a wiliness to set aside our desires to follow God’s will.
These are life-changing words to anyone who is serious about their devotion to Christ. I mentioned before that one compelling explanation of why Christ had to die is that He couldn’t ask His followers to do anything He wasn’t willing to do Himself. During the season of Lent we’re reminded of how far He did go in our behalf.
Christian author John White tells a rather uncomfortable story of his days as a medical student. For one of his classes, he missed a practicum about venereal disease and had to make it up at the university clinic. When he arrived at the clinic he had to stand in a line with a bunch of patients who had actually contracted a venereal disease. This was terribly embarrassing for him. White barged up to the front and told the head nurse, “I need to see the doctor.” “That’s what everybody says,” snorted the nurse, “now get in line.” “But I’m a medical student,” White said. “Big deal,” said the nurse, “You got it the same way as everybody else; now you can stand in line like everybody else.”
White writes: “In the end I managed to explain to her why I was there, but I can still feel the sense of shame that made me balk at standing in line with the . . . men who [actually] had a venereal disease. Yet Jesus shunned shame as he [went to the cross]. And the moral gulf that separated Him from us was far greater than that separating me from the men at the clinic … But He crossed the gulf, joining our ranks, embraced us and still remained pure. He identified with those He came to save. He became like us.”
This was Christ’s mission to live and die among men and women to suffer as we suffer and to celebrate as we celebrate. He came to show us we have nothing to fear in life and in death. Being a Christian is serious business, one that calls us to set our goals and desires aside for the kingdom of God. It is a demanding call and the cost could be very high. However, it’s also the greatest business in the world, and the reward for our commitment is eternal life.

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