Worship for Sunday, February 28, 2020

Genesis 17:1-7,15-16

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. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.’ Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 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. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 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.

God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 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.’

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 22:23-31

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.
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.
From you comes my praise in the great assembly;
I will perform my vows in the sight of those who fear the Lord.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
Let those who seek the Lord give praise! May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
all the families of nations shall bow before God.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
who rules over the nations.
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.
Their descendants shall serve the Lord,
whom they shall proclaim to generations to come.
They shall proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying to them, “The Lord has acted!”  Amen.

Galatians 6:7-10

[Saint Paul writes] – Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.  If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.  So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.  So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 8:31-38

[Jesus] 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. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 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.”

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.  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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?   Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 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.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In our Gospel reading for this week – Jesus declares to his disciples and to a crowd of curious seekers – “If any want to become my followers – let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me!”

Wow! That is such a very different recruitment strategy than most of us are used to encountering in our daily lives – isn’t it?  So often we try to get folks to join us or to participate in our groups by telling them we have incredibly low standards and expectations.   We tell people we won’t require much of them. We declare we will ask very little of them.

We say things like “why don’t you join our committee?   We don’t do much . . . We don’t have many meetings or activities. We only . . . (fill in the blank.)” And we make very sure whatever we say it doesn’t sound like a very big commitment.  We tell folks if they join us it will be easy because we just won’t ask much of them.

We act like low expectations are a good thing. We think low expectations will be a draw – that they will appeal to people.  But why? Why would low expectations ever be appealing?

Honestly – this drives me batty. This sends the wrong message to folks. When we ask people to join our group or committee and promptly tell them we don’t do anything important or worthwhile – we have just told them we want to waste their precious time and talents.

I also think it sounds like we believe others can’t handle high expectations. Like we think other people don’t have the capacity to rise to the occasion.

At my first church some of my brothers and sisters in Christ would try to recruit folks to church committees and to the church council by saying things like – “You won’t have to do anything . . . All you need to do is show up for a meeting once a month . . . ”

Talk about making my brain melt and ooze out my ears. How sad! Honestly who wants to hear – “I was looking for someone to join a committee that doesn’t do anything of any real importance – and I immediately thought of YOU! You are perfect for a committee that is pointless and does nothing for our Christian community or for our Lord . . .”

“Well golly-gee I am so very thrilled that you think so little of me . . .”

(Also – the pastor in me wondered why in heaven and on earth the committee wasn’t doing anything!)

This is such a painfully common recruitment tool. I hear it far too often. And I would guess you have heard it too.

But Jesus is the complete opposite. In our Gospel reading for this week – Jesus boldly declares he has incredibly high expectations for his followers. Jesus declares that his followers need to be ready to work hard and to make big sacrifices! Jesus says his followers are going to need to be “all in” and deeply committed.

Jesus believes his followers are capable of truly great things.   Jesus declares his followers can serve God is powerful – amazing ways!

Take up your cross and follow me. Honestly – I think we just don’t understand how completely and utterly shocking those words would have been to the people who first heard Jesus speak them. We see crosses so very differently.

Yes – we Christians have crosses in our churches and in our homes.   We have cross bumper stickers and beautiful cross jewelry. We wear crosses on our t-shirts and some of us even have cool cross tattoos. For many of us – crosses are a part of our daily lives.

To us crosses point to incredible blessings. Crosses remind us of freedom and deliverance. Crosses remind us of the resurrection from the dead – mercy – and forgiveness. Grace – love – reconciliation and healing. This is what the cross means to us! To us the cross is a powerful symbol of hope!

This is not what crosses meant to the people in the crowd that long ago day. Crosses meant something very different to them. Crosses meant separation – punishment – incredible pain – humiliation – suffering – loss – grief – and death. Crosses were about hardship – not freedom.

I had a seminary professor who would read this passage – “If any want to become my followers – let them deny themselves and take up their electric chair and follow me!”

Hmm . . . well – now that way of reading this passage makes you hear it in a whole new way doesn’t it? That is certainly a different perspective . . .

It becomes really uncomfortable when you hear it that way – doesn’t it?!? And that is what many/most/all of the people in the crowd hearing Jesus preach would have heard him say.

Crosses in Jesus’ time were ugly – hard – difficult things.   Crosses were not pretty or adorned with flowers or made of gold. Crosses meant sacrifice. A cross meant the journey ahead was not going to be easy or smooth sailing.

So when Jesus declared – “if any want to become my followers – let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” – Jesus was inviting people to join him in a life of deeply committed service to God.   And he was letting folks know that following his wasn’t going to be easy. It was going to take real commitment.

Jesus is telling us in our Gospel reading for this week that Christians are called to do hard things. Sometimes we are called to do really – really hard things. Jesus is telling us that being a Christian isn’t always easy or comfortable.

Jesus boldly declares that his followers will be called to make sacrifices and to put others first. We will be called to make sacrifices for the greater good and to serve others in God’s name.

But think of this – Jesus must think very highly of you if he believes you can do great things for God. Jesus must hold you in pretty high esteem.

And remember always that God promises you he is always with you.   God is always faithful. God will always be there for you to lean on and to look to for support. You are not in this alone and you can do great things for God! Truly this is Good News! Amen.


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