This morning we have an abbreviated service, as we are leaving to join the ELCA throughout the country in a day of service. So this sermon is shorter than usual. Back to regular next week.
16th Sunday after Pentecost
September 13, 2015
Mark 8:27-38 You can click on this link to open the text in Oremus Bible Browser
In the Summer of 2014 I trained as a hospital chaplain at Portland Providence Medical Center. I was filled with zeal to be helpful as families were going through health crises with their loved ones. But I failed to be helpful with the families that I wanted to help the most. What I learned through much coaching and experience is that your own vulnerability to the situation the family is experiencing and your own emptiness in the face of their need is what leaves the space for God to be present to them, and that your presence is only a witness to God’s presence there. God’s humanity in Jesus connects to our own humanity when we are at our most vulnerable.
So I have a few questions for you: What gives you the greatest joy in life? What creates the deepest sense of purpose for you? When do you feel most alive, most true to the person God created you to be?
In this morning’s story, we are the very center of Mark’s Gospel, and Jesus asks the crucial question: who do you say that I am? Peter seems to have the right answer, “you are the Messiah.” But when Jesus says that it means he will be rejected by the Church and put to death and then rise again, Peter is horrified. That’s not what the Messiah is all about! But indeed, it is. God chose the path of complete vulnerability to overcome all that can hurt us. God chose solidarity with those who suffer innocently to show us that we are not alone. God chose the path of death and rebirth to show us that evil cannot win over the power of God’s love. When all our hopes and dreams unravel, we don’t get the God we want – the one who zaps everything back into the way we want it. We get the God we need, the one who understands how much it hurts. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that when we confront evil in the form of pain and crushing loss, only a suffering God can help.
So if you want to see where God is at work in the world, you won’t find it where people are comfortable and secure, or where they are pointing out other’s failures. You will find God among the hopeless, the helpless, the ones who depend on God’s strength because they have nothing else.
Back to the questions: My guess is that the answer to all of them is to be found in relationships, not in things. Love, life, joy, aren’t earned; they are given, and Jesus says that the more you are willing to give, the more you get. He tells us that the only things you can hold onto are the things you give away. Self-denial is not the ‘cross-bearing’ that he is talking about, but looking instead for the real and abundant life that is only found in coming empty to God’s love, and leaving filled with enough to share everywhere.
Pray with me:
Jesus, I come empty to your love. I have turned to you because all the stuff I have in the world has not brought me the peace I crave. Bless me with your own humility that I may be a blessing to others you love. Amen.