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Sermon for 2nd Sunday in Lent

First Reading: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

 1When 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, 2that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 3Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7And 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.”

15And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”


Psalm 22: 22-30

 22Praise the Lord, you that fear him; stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel; all you of Jacob’s line, give glory. 23For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty; neither does he hide his face from them; but when they cry to him he hears them. 24My praise is of him in the great assembly; I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him. 25The poor shall eat and be satisfied, and those who seek the Lord shall praise him: “May your heart live forever!” 26All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall bow before him. 27For kingship belongs to the Lord; he rules over the nations. 28To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship; all who go down to the dust fall before him. 29My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him; they shall be known as the Lord’s forever. 30They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that he has done.


Second Reading: Romans 5:1-11

 1Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — 8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.


Gospel: Mark 8:27-38

 27Jesus 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?” 28And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. 31And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 34And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”



Deny Yourself, Walk Blamelessly

A good many of us remember a show that was on years ago titled, Kids say the darndest things.  Of course, enjoying the keen insights of children isn’t limited to TV.  With the explosive effects of social media and the internet, we also get stories and quotes from children frequently via Facebook and in our email inboxes.  Because of the raw honesty of our young ones, it’s always interesting to discover a child’s perspective on things.  The following thoughts are notes pastors received, from their young parishioners.

The first is from a 10-year-old in New Haven, Connecticut.  Dear Pastor, I’m sorry I can’t leave more money in the plate, but my father didn’t give me a raise in my allowance.  Could you have a sermon about a raise in my allowance?  Signed; Love, Patty.  This one had a good idea on improving attendance.  Dear Pastor, I think a lot more people would come to your church if you moved it to Disneyland.  Loreen; (age 9, Tacoma).

Apparently this one from Phoenix, Arizona has some behavioral concerns.  Dear Pastor, please say in your sermon that Peter Peterson has been a good boy all week.  I am Peter Peterson.  Sincerely, Pete.  This one comes from 10-year-old Alexander over in Raleigh who has community concerns.  Dear Pastor, please say a prayer for our Little League team.  We need God’s help, or a new pitcher.  Thank you, Alexander.

Here’s one with educational concerns.  Dear Pastor, my father says I should learn the Ten Commandments.  But I don’t think I want to because we have enough rules already in my house.  Joshua (age 10, South Pasadena).  I think Luther would agree with the father on this one.  And finally, one that no pastor wants to hear; Dear Pastor, I liked your sermon on Sunday.  Especially when it was finished.  Ralph (age 11, Akron).

There’s an often-told story of a Sunday school teacher who held up a portrait of Jesus.  The instructor gently explained that it isn’t an actual picture of Jesus, rather it’s an artist’s conception of what He looks like.  After a brief pause, one little girl responded, “Yea, but, you’ve got to admit it looks a lot like him.”  To a child, the mental picture they have of our Lord is clear.  If he has European features—such as brown hair and blue eyes—rather than a Middle Eastern appearance, no problem.

There are some who have this same perception about our Old Testament and Gospel readings; in their mind, God’s command to walk blamelessly before Him and Jesus’ words to deny oneself here seem clear.  So long as I obey these commands on my terms, so long as I decide what I want and need to give up, then I see no problem with what God is asking.  They refuse to acknowledge the difficulty here.  They forget how much difficulty the disciple had with Jesus’ teachings.  His followers weren’t ignorant men; yet they were constantly asking Jesus to explain Himself.  When He wasn’t talking in parables, He seemed to talk in paradox.  And what may have seemed simple to some, perplexed those close to Him.  Consider Peter words and actions here in Mark’s gospel.

When Jesus asks who the disciples say He is, it was Peter who spoke up and declared that Jesus is the promised Messiah.  Then moments later, Peter pulls Jesus aside to rebuke Him for revealing the future to them.  What was going through Peter’s mind to think he should chastise the Son of God?  Yet when we stop and think about it, aren’t we guilty of making the same mistake ourselves?  How often do we tell God how it is, like He doesn’t already know?  On the one hand, we declare openly that God is all knowing, and the next minute we’re lecturing God on whatever happens to be troubling us.  This is why God sent the Holy Spirit, to teach us all truth.

This is why careful, and prayerful, study of God’s word is important.  It’s only upon thorough reflection, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that we can discern the wisdom of our readings for today.  Our gospel reading for this morning contains one of those paradoxes that can cause even the mature Christian to pause.  Starting in verse 34 we read; “Then [Jesus] called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me, and for the sake of the gospel will save it.”  For a number of us, this statement sounds like a contradiction, “whoever loses his life . . . will save it.”

Next comes Jesus’ bone jarring words: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

The only way for us to be a true follower of Jesus is to focus our lives on Jesus.  He was clear when He said, “no one can serve two masters.  Either you will hate the one and love the other, or they will be loyal to one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).  If you want to save your life you must lose it—these words seem like a paradox to many.

Albert Einstein once said that the closer you get to truth, the more it appears to be a paradox.  I’m not sure which paradox Einstein had in mind, but it couldn’t be greater than this one, “whoever loses his life for Me and for the gospel will save it.”  Yet as puzzling as this paradox might be, it’s critical to our understanding of the abundant life that Christ promised.  Maybe the best way to understand our gospel reading, is to look at it in three pieces, or possibly as three separate paradoxes.

The first seeming contradiction is, anything you save will be lost.  Since one of the principles that Christians believe is that the Bible interprets the Bible, this first paradox may best be clarified by looking at two of Jesus’ parables recorded in the book of Luke.  First is the one of Lazarus and the rich man and the second is simply known as the rich fool.  These are stories we’ve heard many times over the years since they’re not only part of the lectionary, but they’re also included in much of our Sunday school materials.

The first is about Lazarus, not the brother of Mary and Martha whom Jesus raised from the dead, but the poor man with leprosy, who used to sit at the gate of a rich man and beg for food.   The rich man in the parable was clothed with the most expensive hand-tailored suits available and wore the finest Italian leather footwear.  He would feast on excellent wines and enjoyed the finest of foods.  Both these men died, leaving all they had behind.  One went to eternal comfort and one to eternal torment.  The second parable is about a rich man with foolish notions.

In the story of the rich fool, Jesus tells of a man who was prosperous and could only think of gaining more.  So he thought to himself, “I’ll tear down my storage houses and built larger ones.  Then I can say to my soul, soul you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink and be merry”.  To many in the crowd that day, this seemed reasonable.  But Jesus finished this story by saying, “you fool, don’t you know that tonight your life will be required of you?”  Both these stories tell of people who spent their time and lives gathering things for this life without any thought of eternity.  They failed to realize that the things we accumulate in this life are temporal, for this life alone.

Unfortunately, these are the narratives of far too many people today.  They focus on the things of this life and lose sight of the teachings and commands of Jesus.  They forget the popular adage, “you can’t take it with you.”  As I’ve said many times, I’m in no way condemning the acquisition of possessions or of good financial planning.  God grants each of us blessings and it’s up to us to be good stewards of those gifts.  However, in light of the 1st Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” how often do we violate this command by allowing these things to supplant God in our lives?  Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.”  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”  In a culture that forwards that the person who dies with the most toys wins, this is a rather blunt and offensive statement.

But Jesus was just as direct in Matthew 6:19 when He said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.  We must come to terms with the reality that we cannot take it with us when we die, therefore, anything that is saved in this world will be lost.  This is one of the lessons taught in these two parables.   Interestingly, this same principle is also true regarding relationships.

This brings me to the second paradox:  anything that we share, we will regain.   Some of the saddest words that can be spoken at a funeral are: “I wish I had done more for them” or, “I wish I would have told them I love them while there was still time.”  Love, affection, friendship, and trust are all things we must give away in order to receive it in return.  This is also true when it comes to our relationship with God.

In the stories of Jesus feeding the multitudes, it was someone in the crowd who cared and trusted Jesus enough that they gave up their lunch, just a few small cakes of bread and some fish.  Yet in the hands of our Lord, over 5000 on one occasion, and 4000 on another occasion, all were fed, and several baskets of leftovers were collected.  When it comes to our relationship with God and others, we must be willing to give away our love, affection, trust, and friendship.  This is why we were created, to be in relationship with, and for sharing our lives with God and others.  Oftentimes we find that happiness is found when we look outside ourselves to others.  Anything that we share, we regain.

Wouldn’t it be sad to have beautiful hand-made furniture in your house, and never be able to show it to someone else?  Works of art need to be shared; we find pleasure in saying to our neighbors, “Come see what I have or made!”  We want the visitors to our home to admire beautiful objects.  This brings us to our final paradox which is closely related to the first two; anything you surrender to God, will be blessed beyond our expectation.  Jesus Himself was the ultimate example for us.

Jesus was willing to walk the road to Calvary and give His life so that we can share in His inheritance.  And while Jesus had to walk the path to the cross alone, we’re blessed to share our Christian walk with others.  The cross of Christ isn’t something we bare alone; one of the reasons Jesus established the church, is for us to share in the work that God sets before us.

The story is told about a giant bridge that was being built across a portion of New York’s Harbor.  Engineers were searching for a place where they could rest the mighty buttresses for the bridge.  But they discovered a daunting obstacle in their way.  Deep in the mud lay an old sunken barge full of bricks and stones.  There was no way around it; the old barge had to be moved.  They used every device and tool at their disposal to no avail, the submerged ship remained firmly embedded in the mud.  At last, one of the engineers came up with an idea.  He gathered other barges around the sunken vessel and chained them to the submerged barge, while the tide was low.  Then everyone simply waited.  As expected, the tide came in and all the barges rose in the water, including the old boat mired in the mud of the harbor.  This principle also applies to you and to me.

When we link ourselves together by the love of Christ, and are lifted by the power of God, we experience the blessings of our Christian faith, simply because we share it together!   Alone, thinking only of our self interests, there can be no lifting power.   Selfishness, the desire to be in control, wanting to be our own god are the things that keep us from walking blamelessly before God and denying ourselves and being a disciple of Christ.  If these three things (selfishness, a desire to be in control, and self-elevation) sound familiar, think of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.  These are the traps the devil sets to keep us from doing the work of God.  Anything we save we will lose–anything we share or give away, we regain.  When you stop and think about what Jesus is telling us, it really boils down to our attitude and how we see ourselves.  Is it all about me?  Or, is it all about God?  Which master do you serve?

When we realize that everything we have and own, including our very lives, belongs to God, then our gospel reading becomes much easier to understand.  This same principle has to do with God’s command in our Genesis reading to Abraham, “walk before me and be blameless.”  Again, most people want to read this on their terms, or as an impossibility.  How can we walk before God and be blameless as sinful creatures?  First and foremost, we need to remember God didn’t say walk before me and be perfect, He said blameless. There is a difference, and that difference has to do with our attitude.

To walk blamelessly before God is to do everything as if you were doing it for the glory of God.  As I was considering this passage, I recalled a young SSgt who worked for me near the end of my Air Force career.  I was placed in charge of the Avionic flight and the Automatic Instruments repair section received some new equipment.  Several of the technicians tried to get the new equipment to work, but each declared that it wasn’t working properly.

The young SSgt I’m thinking about wasn’t my best technician, but his desire was to do his very best for the good of the repair shop and the Fighter wing.  He worked on the night shift so very few even knew his name.  I asked him one day to see if he could get the new equipment working.  He said he’d do his best.  After several weeks of mind-numbing work, he ended up getting the equipment running like it was designed.  Did he make some mistakes along the way, yes.  Did he break some parts while figuring things out, yes.  The reason he succeeded was his attitude.  He didn’t do the work for recognition or rewards; he wanted what was best for the repair shop and the mission of the Fighter wing.  The same is true for us.

To walk blameless before the Lord is to want what God wants, to do what God asks.  To love like God loves.  To work for God’s kingdom not expecting anything in return, but because that’s what’s been asked of us.  You see, the two go hand in hand.  To walk blameless before God is to deny oneself and take up your cross and follow Jesus.  Will this be easy, no.  Will we make mistakes along the way, sure.  But if our attitude and desire is to glorify God in all things, then, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we’ll be able to deny ourselves and walk blamelessly before God.

Is all this going to come naturally, no.  Even the disciples were quoted as saying, “This teaching is difficult who can accept it.”  Jesus chose to express the kingdom of God at times as a paradox.  And the message He gives us today is no exception.  To save our lives, we must lose it; a seemingly harsh statement, yet it’s also a message of love.  It’s a teaching Jesus was willing to demonstrate for you and me.  Yet the things we struggle to give up, the things we must deny ourselves, are the very things that will be returned to us many times over.  This isn’t a message of prosperity that teaches you can’t out give God, i.e., the more you give the more you will receive.  It’s a statement that when followed, comes with the promise of eternal life.

Jesus promised that if we’re bold in our living for God and in our proclamation of Him and the gospel, when we put away selfishness, our desire to be in control, and self-elevation and follow the commands and examples Jesus set before us, we can be assured that when He comes in the glory of the Father, He will unashamedly declare, before the angels in heaven, that we are His disciples and are children of the Father.


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