Growing in God's Love as an Open, Caring Community

Sermon-Last Sunday After Epiphany by The Rev. Peggy Day

                                   Morning Prayer-Luke 9:18-27

This passage from Luke, follows the feeding of the five thousand.  Jesus, once again, was engaged in prayer alone, something he frequently did when facing a difficult decision, event, or interaction with others. His disciples were gathered with him.  He turned from praying to ask a question, “Who do people say that I am?” They responded with “John the Baptist, Eli’jah, and one of the prophets that has risen”. 

But then he asked a question that we are all invited to answer as a follower of Jesus.  “Who do YOU say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ of God”. Jesus then said something that, at first seems curious.  He firmly instructed the disciples not to say anything to anyone.  Matthew, Mark and Luke all record this commandment from Jesus. Matthew states in chapter 16 verse 20,  “ Then he strictly charged them to tell no one that he was the Christ”. Mark’s Gospel says, “And he charged them to tell no one about him”.  Jesus did not want to have his mission revealed to the world just yet.

So, what is the purpose of this command? Jesus was predicting his Passion to his inner circle of twelve alone. It was not time for the world to know his mission.  That is why he demanded this from his disciples.

Although the command to the twelve is for them alone, Jesus’ call to take up one’s cross is for all who are willing to live life as Jesus’ follower, not as the world would have us be, and walk the journey with Jesus.  Jesus explained just what such a journey would be like.  A key word in his explanation is daily.  Did you notice?  “And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross DAILY and follow me.” Chapter 9 Vs23.  Daily…not yearly, weekly, or when I have time or feel like it.  He said daily. We need to answer that question about who Jesus is… daily.  From Corinthians we heard, “Now, the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”.    The veil that covered the splendor of the Lord, spoken of in 2 Corinthians would then be removed for all to see and believe.  Hope was restored with Christ’s resurrection.

Jesus told his disciples that he would suffer many things, be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers.  He predicted his death for the first time.  His mission was to let the world know that he was God’s Messiah and that the way to eternal life was through him.  This is perfect freedom.  He invited his followers to take up their crosses, dedicate their lives to him, and be obedient to the will of God.  If we want to follow Christ, we need the daily reminder that we are not in charge, God is.

This next week, on Wednesday, when we might also be celebrating Valentine’s Day, we will begin the 40 day journey of Lent.  This is my favorite season because it gives us an opportunity to be intentional about journeying with Jesus.  Many have said that they don’t like this time of the year, especially Holy week because it can be depressing. It can also be a reminder that following Jesus can, and does, lead us into uncomfortable places, places that we would rather not go.  I would rather not encounter hunger when I enter a home of a child I am to help and the mom tells me that she is running out of food.  I would rather not think about the fact that I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is going to come from.  For, my refrigerator and my pantry are fairly well stocked.  I have enough money to not have to make a choice between filling my oil tank, purchasing medicine or buying food.  But, I don’t like the uncomfortable feeling of guilt that I don’t have to worry about that.   I don’t like to have to consider how my choices may impact the choices others have to make on a daily basis. It is hard to consider policies that benefit some and hurt others and to work toward changing those policies. 

We need to hear again the words that Jesus said to those gathered with him…”Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. “You’re not in the driver’s seat.  I am.  Don’t run from suffering; embrace it.  Follow me and I will show you how”.  It is not an easy road.  We would rather not go sometimes.  Suffering is hard to embrace.  It is hard to just sit with a person and allow them to tell their story, without interjecting my thoughts or feelings, that are usually said in an attempt to try to take away not only the pain or suffering the other person might be feeling, but perhaps even more, to take away the pain or discomfort that I am feeling.  It is very hard to let Jesus lead me, just as I am sure you find it hard to allow Jesus to lead you.  Really, don’t we know better than He does?

 How do you respond when you encounter the suffering of another?   Do you try to intercede and try to offer that person a solution?  I try to remember a piece of wisdom that I received when going through hotline training at Spruce Run (now Partners For Peace) many years ago.  That pear of wisdom was, “You can’t know how someone is really feeling because you don’t live in their head or walk the same journey they do”.  That is a great reminder that I am not in the driver’s seat, someone else is…Jesus. Jesus is the one in charge.  We are the sounding board, a person who can receive the story, who can help the person look at it.  We aren’t necessarily to give advice.  We can ask clarification questions to help make the path a little clearer for the person, maybe. We can be a friend, a companion along the way for the other to open up to.  Then, the other might be able to see the path more clearly and you both just might find Jesus in that moment.  You might experience joy in the journey. 

As most of you know, I make my living as a therapist. The best sessions happen when I get out of the way and don’t say much except an occasional uh-huh or ask a clarifying question.  I have heard people say that they don’t have any place or anyone that they can just talk to. We can be that person.  We can bring the Christ in us to be with the Christ in the other.

Embracing suffering is hard work.  It doesn’t mean that we have to like suffering.   That is not at all what Jesus is saying.  Jesus means for us not to turn away from suffering; but rather to search for the cause of that suffering and work to try to end it.  A good example of can be found with the organization that is located right here in Brewer and that many community churches and organizations are involved in.  That organization is Food and Medicine. Many in this congregation are involved in Faith Linking in Action, a subsidiary of Food and Medicine.  I remember the first time that I went to a meeting of this group.  People talked about the story/idea they use.   The story goes something like this. People are downstream and notice a man floating in the river.  They pull him out.  Then before long, they notice another, then later another.  Soon, they begin to question what is causing so many people to go into the river in the first place.  So they go up river to look. 

That is what we are called to do.  That’s what embracing suffering means.  It means that we sit, listen to the person’s story and work with the person, not for or to the other, to help alleviate the suffering.  We work to bring hope, to remove the veil that covers the joy, the hope.  And we do it daily, through prayer, as Jesus did, when he became tired, when there were crowds making a lot of demands on his time.   We depend upon Jesus to lead us.  We don’t get hung up on our own thoughts and feelings.  We let go of all that.  No, it is not an easy journey, but there is great joy in the end.  I invite you to come join me in the journey.  If you don’t usually come to the services, I invite you to try them this year. Come walk join me and others in our walk with Jesus through the forty days, and Holy week to the joy of Easter.

AMEN