• power is not the point

    by  • September 18, 2018 • grief, love, sermon • 2 Comments

    I preached at North Madison Congregational Church again last Sunday. The text was Mark 8:27-38, a passage that offers new things any time I read it. Here is my sermon.

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    When the gospel writers began to put the stories down on parchment, many years after Jesus had ascended, they seem to have organized them so that one thing sort of leads to another—or at least that is how it appears as I read. We know the stories are not told in the exact order in which Jesus and his followers lived them because they are not in the same order from book to book. How we remember what happened matters as much as what actually happened, so there is something for us to learn from the context of our story this morning, even as we seek to learn from the account itself.

    In the verses before Jesus started asking questions of his followers, Mark records this interaction:

    They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”

    Mark says Jesus and the disciples hit the road after the encounter and headed for Caesarea Philippi. The talk as they walked along the road is a rollercoaster of emotion. Jesus asks his disciples who people think he is. “They think you’re a prophet,” they said. That was pretty good news, I guess. It meant that folks were getting at least part of the message.

    Then Jesus asked a more daring question: “Who do you think I am?”

    Mark says that Peter was the one who answered. “You are the Christ. The Messiah.”

    Jesus’ heart must have leapt just a little. Yes. Good answer. A+. We have a winner. High fives all around. Since they seemed to finally be getting the picture, Jesus decided he could go deeper. He began to tell them what it meant that he was the Messiah. He was going to suffer. He was a dangerous man to those in power and they were out to get him. They would get him. They would kill him. But that would not be the end of the story. That Jesus knew how to bring down a room.

    Peter wasn’t having any of it. Mark says he “rebuked” Jesus. He reprimanded him. He was the Messiah—the Captain of the Winning Team. Things were about to change. Being the People of God meant they got to come out on top, right?

    But Jesus turned and rebuked him right back. Peter might have been able to see he was the Christ, but he didn’t understand what that meant—much like the blind man Jesus had healed before they left town. So Jesus kept talking, working to help them see what it meant to follow him. The point of being the Messiah wasn’t to rise to power or to get revenge or to take control. God wasn’t trying to get things in order. The point of the Incarnation was to show the world what love looked like. Jesus came to love people and show them how to love one another. The point was to learn how to see a world where people take care of one another. Then he said, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

    We hear those words and the metaphor seems clear: Jesus died on the Cross—we are called to live sacrificially, to offer our lives to God. But though his disciples knew about crosses, they did not know that was how Jesus was going to die. So what did the metaphor mean to them? And what did Jesus mean by his statement? It had to be more than, “When the Bible finally comes out, this verse will preach!”

    What does it mean to take up our crosses and follow Jesus?

    I will lean into the words of two friends for answers to that question. One lives in North Carolina and has spent his life working to help those who are homeless find housing. His name is Terry. He says he thinks our cross is the deepest pain in our lives. To take up our cross is to respond to that pain in the lives of those around us—to see it more clearly, if you will—rather than trying to get away from it.

    This past September 13 marked what would have been my father’s ninetieth birthday. He died five years ago, a month short of eighty-five. After he died, I wanted to call all my friends whose fathers had died before mine and say, “I’m sorry. I meant well, but I had no idea how this felt.” The pain of my grief invited me to a resonance I had not known before.

    Eric is a Methodist minister in Texas. He says when we talk about following our passion in life we miss our true calling and purpose. God calls us to follow our broken hearts. “Lose your life,” Jesus says, “and you will find it.” To follow our broken hearts is to live with compassion, voluntarily carrying each other’s pain, seeing all of those around us as those we are called to love.

    I suppose the Apostle Paul might have heard the story about Jesus healing the blind man in stages, and the man thinking that people were trees. I hear echoes of it in Paul’s words at the end of 1 Corinthians 13—the Love Chapter. when he says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” But even through a cloudy mirror, Paul could see

    Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

    Love never ends. Then again, neither does the need for it. Perhaps part of taking up our crosses is realizing the call to love those around in us is relentless, whether we are talking about the world at large or the pain and struggle that is a part of the lives in this room. It is easier to let ourselves see others as trees walking around rather than embracing them as one of us. To love one another—to share who we are and what we have—means to lose a lot. It means we have to give up our stuff, our privilege, our comfort, or our position so someone else can see a new life. Jesus was not being hyperbolic when he said love would cost us. If love never ends, neither does our calling to love those around us. To see people around us as they really are will break our hearts and help us truly see our place in this world. Power is not the point. We are called to love the world.

    I closed my sermon by singing “In This Very Room, which you can hear here.

    In this very room
    There’s quite enough love
    For one like me
    And in this very room
    There’s quite enough joy
    For one like me
    And there’s quite enough hope
    And quite enough power
    To chase away any gloom
    For Jesus Lord Jesus
    Is in this very room

    In this very room
    There’s quite enough love
    For all of us
    And in this very room
    There’s quite enough joy
    For all of us
    And there’s quite enough hope
    And quite enough power
    To chase away any gloom
    For Jesus Lord Jesus
    Is in this very room

    In this very room
    There’s quite enough love
    For all the world
    And in this very room
    There’s quite enough joy
    For all the world
    And there’s quite enough hope
    And quite enough power
    To chase away any gloom
    For Jesus Lord Jesus
    Is in this very room

    Amen.

    Peace,
    Milton

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    2 Responses to power is not the point

    1. Phyllis Burns
      September 18, 2018 at 1:17 pm

      Would loved to have heard you sing In This Very Room, Milton

    2. Marty Morris
      September 19, 2018 at 10:28 am

      Thank you. I loved hearing you sing again, but mostly I love your heart for God and people and for sharing it and teaching it.

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