Monday, March 30, 2015

A colt tied near a door

Mark 11: 1-11, NT page 47 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. Sermon It matters sometimes who is watching. Take prayer for example. Some people pray before meals, which is good to do, but when the preacher comes over to eat – everyone prays – so a friend of mine, a preacher, was invited over to dinner. The father sat down at the table like he does every night, picked up his knife and fork ready to dig in, but the mother gave him a particular kind of look that made him freeze in his tracks, so he asked his five year old daughter if she’d like to say the blessing. “Let’s bow our heads,” she said, “I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America…” The difference between this being hilarious and this being embarrassing is in the “who’s watching.” There are plenty of things that seem OK, but whether or not you want to do them depends on who will be watching, and that’s really true when it comes to prayer. I know plenty of good Christians who pray, but don’t want to be caught in prayer. They’d hate for you to walk into their office while they’re in prayer, would hate even for their children to walk into their bedroom while they’re in prayer, because prayer is good to do, but you might not be comfortable doing it if there’s a chance you might have to explain what it is that you’re doing. The same is true for me when it comes to exercising. I’ve been exercising a lot lately. My cholesterol is higher than Dr. Power’s wants it to be, so I go running and sometimes I get tired of running so I walk, which is fine. Its fine to walk, but walking is something I’ll only do on the side roads – because I’d hate to get caught walking when there’s a chance someone I know might drive by. There are a lot of things that seem good to do, but you might feel uncomfortable doing them depending on whether or not there’s a chance you’ll get caught at it. So a fourteen year old girl invites a fourteen year old boy she likes over to her house to watch a movie, which is good to do. He likes her as well, so while they’re watching the movie in the living room he scoots right up next to her on the couch. After a few minutes pass he pretends that he’s yawning and puts his arm around her, which is a fine and good thing to do – only now he’s not watching the movie anymore. He’s watching the door, which opens to the kitchen and he’s ready to move that arm the second her mother walks back into the living room. Jesus told his disciples to go get him a colt. You can tell they didn’t feel entirely comfortable with the request, because rather than just obediently charge off to get it he has to explain to them what they should do if someone asks them what they’re doing. “If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately,’” which probably sounded good enough while they were standing there, but as they walked farther on these two must have wondered who would ever accept such an explanation. “I’m just going to borrow this colt” – now who would buy that? If Jews can be executed under Roman rule for speaking out against the Emperor, what will happen to a horse thief? Despite their anxiety they go on – and “found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street.” If I were them I would have preferred the colt to be out in a deserted field, or one among a herd of a hundred so that its absence wouldn’t be noticed immediately, but this colt is tied up right next to a door which is significant, because isn’t it one thing to obey the Lord’s command when you know no one is watching and quite another to obey the Lord’s command right near a door that could open at any minute? In high school I was member of a religious group called the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which was fine. We met early on Friday mornings in the gym. No one saw us go in, no one noticed us go out, but every once in a while the speaker would inspire us to do something during the school day. There was the “true love waits campaign”, which was a good idea – but it’s one thing to talk about something in the safety of a gym before school even starts and it’s another thing to walk around the cafeteria talking to people about that same thing when you know are going to talk about you as soon as you turn to walk away. Jesus sends these two disciples to fetch him a colt, and it just so happens that the colt is tied up next to a door that could open any minute – which leads me to reflect on the idea that we don’t truly understand what it means to follow Jesus until we’re compelled to do or say something that pushes us beyond what’s comfortable. As they approach Jerusalem, these disciples who have already left behind mothers and fathers, family businesses and traditional expectations, surely they had already known that this path they chose disappointed some and concerned the respectable, but is not this the call of all Christians? To step beyond what feels comfortable and towards what feels true? Every step that Christ takes towards that temple brings him closer to the Cross. This parade of palms and cloaks, every step that the borrowed colt takes leads him closer to the very heart of the establishment which his way of life challenges, and his way is no different now. If we follow where he leads, we will join our brothers and sisters in worship tomorrow at 12:05 for a Holy Week service at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. No doubt many of you will be there, but if I were you, working at a bank or a high school, I can tell you exactly how it would be for me. At about a quarter till I’d slip out without telling anyone where I was going. If there was a group going to O’Charly’s I’d simply decline by telling them that I had an appointment that I had to get to – why? Because we Presbyterians were born and bred to keep our faith a private matter. But the classic joke goes like this – what do you get when you mix a Jehovah’s Witness with a Presbyterian? Someone who knocks at your door but doesn’t know what to say. Now there are some who were raised in the Baptist Church here this morning who might not get the joke because they were raised to talk about their faith, but I assure you of this, the decline in the mainline denominations has more to do with Presbyterians like me who refuse to step out beyond our comfort zones than anything else. We’ve forgotten that following Jesus demands something of us – it demands that we take one step beyond caution to live our faith out in the open. Maybe we pray – but are we more concerned with making a mistake, being caught in the act, or being faithful? We hear discrimination and bullying – but are we brave enough to speak out against it? There is a truth within us – but do we speak it or do we keep silent? The colt is tied there, and Christ has asked you to go and get it, but the colt is tied near a door. Find the courage to get it anyway. Amen.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Now I will be glorified

John 12: 20-33, NT pages 106-107 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Phillip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. Sermon I have a confession to make. Bill Haslam he has been named the grand marshal of the Mule Day parade, and I am consumed with jealousy. You may or may not be feeling the same way, but I can tell you that as for me, ever since my first Mule Day parade I’ve looked at the grand marshal with a sinful degree of envy. That first Mule Day I was standing next to Nick Reed, who was then serving our church as interim associate pastor, and Nick pointed up to the grand marshal as he rode by – that year it was Guy Penrod of the Gaither Brothers – and Nick jokingly elbowed me, “that could be you one day Joe.” I laughed along with him, while secretly thinking, “That could be me one day.” We can all dream, and I imagine that all of you have your own aspirations – dreams yet to be fulfilled to compliment the goal’s you’ve achieved already. When you look back on life there are certain milestones that make getting older easier, as a friend once told me that birthdays are celebrations so long as you’ve achieved what you wanted to achieve. Turning 30 is only hard if by the age of 30 you’d made it a goal to be a college graduate, but on your 30th birthday you still have yet to take the first class. Turning 40 hurts only if you thought you might have climbed the corporate ladder higher than you have. 50 – How are the children and can you pay for their education? If they’re fine you’ll celebrate. If they aren’t you’ll mourn. 60 – Will you be ready to retire? 70, 80, 90 – all birthdays don’t have to be hard, but they often are because each one takes us farther away from our youth and the days when everything was possible and closer to our death when we’ve run out of time. What will the obituary say? When a civilization approaches her death, the obituary’s not called an obituary but a history book, and the history of the Greeks was being written even in the time of Jesus. Greek military power had faded as the Roman legions took control of the once dominate nation, but still the Greeks were admired for all for their advances in mathematics, medicine, philosophy, government, architecture, and literature. I began seminary by learning to read Greek, not just so I could read Homer’s Iliad, but because even our New Testament was written in Greek – the global language of the ancient world. I remember our professor beginning the course by telling us that learning to read Greek would not only enable us to read the words of Jesus in the original language they were written in, but reading Greek would enable us to read the greatest works of literature ever written, for in her opinion, even after more than 2,000 years, human civilization had yet to beat the Ancient Greeks. Tourists still travel to the Acropolis, the highest point in Athens where the ruins of the Parthenon stand. It took the Greeks 9 years to complete the structure. It took the people of Nashville between 6 and 10 years to compete theirs, but the difference is that we had the advantages of cement and cranes while the Greeks built theirs of stone lifted by humans. We are still amazed by the Ancient Greeks, so a question worth asking is – what did they want with Jesus? “Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”” But why? They had religion, more gods than could be counted on two hands. They didn’t need him to heal them from blindness or leprosy – Greek doctors following the traditions of Hypocrites could have treated them for either. And they might have been curious about Jesus’ reputation as a teacher – but what self-respecting Greek would have gone to Galilee when the students of Socrates and Plato were so close? Why did they want to see Jesus? Possibly for the same reason that we all do, when finally we reach the conclusion that even our best efforts, our greatest accomplishments, our finest achievements, are susceptible to the same decay that afflicts our frail human bodies. The funeral liturgy says it well: “All flesh is as grass; and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades.” Even the Parthenon crumbles to ruin. And knowing this – knowing the frailty, even though our greatest civilizations have all worked hard to deny the truth that all human accomplishments will fade from reality and into history to eventually be forgotten – Jesus gives the Greeks something that only he could give. He offers them eternity: “Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” There are some who embody this teaching better than others. I’ve confessed to you already, of my aspiration to one day be grand marshal of the Mule Day Parade, but I’m thankful for the example of heroes of the faith who have made greater strides to concur vain human glory. Not long ago the great preacher, Dr. Fred Craddock died. He preached here, and so many of you remember his sermons well, despite the fact that he preached those sermons more than 10 years ago. He served a church here in Columbia, where the Center for Autism is located now, and when he did several members of our church worshiped with him, our own Bronston Boone serving as the equivalent of Clerk of Session during Dr. Craddock’s pastorate. The Boones remained friends of the Craddock’s, and in my first or second year here, Bronston offered to drive me all the way to Ellijay, Georgia, to Dr. Craddock’s home, to have lunch. Now this was the most incredible honor for me. Dr. Craddock was already one of my heroes, and the chance to speak with him was a gesture of kindness that I’ll never forget. We drove the three or four hours down there – ate a lunch of curried chicken salad – and as Bronston got caught up with Mrs. Craddock, Dr. Craddock took me aside, giving me the chance to ask him any questions I wanted to. Now the unfortunate thing is that I was too nervous to think very clearly, and I’ve since thought of a million questions that I’ll now never have the chance to ask – but one quote that has stayed in my mind, and may well stay in my mind forever, is that Dr. Craddock told me, “there was a time when all I wanted to do was become a preacher. Then once I became a preacher I aspired to become a great preacher. Only now I’ve changed again, for there is no greater goal than to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.” Oh how I’d love to be the grand marshal of the Mule Day Parade. How I’d love to be a great preacher. But all accolades, all our greatest accomplishments – none of them offers us greater glory than the gift that Christ brings in his death. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Certainly there will still be some who will go to the Lord with a list of people they’ve known, awards they’ve received, carrying trophies in a wheelbarrow for entry into the gates of heaven – but I pray that none of us will be so foolish, for even the Greeks approached Jesus in need. Even the Greeks were but beggars at his feet. It reminds me of a story I’ve only just now heard about a former pastor here of 22 years – Dr. Bill Williamson. Bill was a preacher, so was his brother, as was his uncle or maybe it was his father or both – but the example of faithfulness as the story goes was Bill’s grandmother who was once pulled over for speeding. She went to court for the first time in her life, where the judge asked if she’d had any prior convictions. “Indeed I do,” she said, “It is my conviction that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.” So often it seems that the goal of life is to be great. To do great things and to achieve great goals. Instead this day, come to a greater understanding of who he is, what he has done, and what his death has done for you. Through his death, his life was lifted up, to draw all people to himself. Therefore it is not what you have done that matters. Come to terms instead with what he has done for you. Amen.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Son of Man must be lifted up

John 3: 14-21, NT 94 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. Sermon I love to eat out at restaurants. It really is one of my favorite things to do in the world, and I can remember clearly enough the first time my parents took me out to eat. They had taken me to McDonald’s before, but the first time they took me to a real restaurant it was different and I knew it. There was a white table cloth on the table. A waitress came to the table to take our drink order and my mother insisted that I have milk, which the waitress poured from a little milk carton into a real glass. To eat I ordered fried fish from the kid’s menu, and it was presented in the shape of a rectangle complimented by Cole slaw and French fries, but the most incredible thing in the world to me at the time was the sprig of parsley that adorned my plate. I didn’t know what it was or why it was there. It looked too bright and green nestled up next to my fried fish, and for some reason I asked my mom whether or not I should eat it, “it looks like it might be poisonous,” I remember telling her. “Poisonous?” she asked. “Well, it might be. Why don’t you try it and find out.” So, that first time I ever ate at a restaurant, I didn’t just eat, I risked my life, and it felt like an adventure. But ever since then, not only have I noticed the food on the plate, I pay particular attention to what compliments the food on the plate. The way carrots and cucumbers would be cut into shapes at the Chinese restaurant. The pats of butter shaped like Mikey Mouse at Disney World. My sister and I would fight over that little white table they used to put in the middle of your delivery pizza to keep the lid of the box from getting stuck in the melted cheese, but the best is the contrast that something like fresh parsley makes when it sits right next to greasy fried fish, the way something so different as black eyed peas cooked all day in pork fat and Ms. Sue Dunnebacke’s sweet relish go perfectly together because the salty of the peas tastes even better when complimented by the sweet of the relish. Food often works this way. To really taste something sometimes you pair it with what is totally different, and in a similar way, the Gospel of John, again and again speaks of light and darkness because the only way to know one is to know the other. The Gospel begins, “The light shines in the darkness,” and seeing the light requires the backdrop of shadow. In the same way we come to the most familiar verse in the Gospel of John, the most famous verse in the entire Bible, “For God so loved the world,” and to truly grasp the depth of this love you must understand “the world” that such love is paired with. Fried fish and parsley. Black eyed peas and relish. Light and darkness. The love of God and the world. They might not be exact opposites, but certainly the world as our God has known it has not returned the love she has received. This juxtaposition is ancient, so our second Scripture lesson with a reference to the book of Numbers: “just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” when the Israelites spoke against God and against Moses saying, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Here is the story of humanity. Saved by the love of God, but unable to respond with anything more than ingratitude. How many mothers can understand? After working a full day, rushing home to put food on the table, only to be met with ingratitude and complaint, how many would love to do as God did in the book of Numbers and release poisonous serpents among the family at the dinner table? Not only had the Lord freed them from Egyptian slavery with a mighty hand, led them through the waters of the sea on dry land like a flock while the clouds poured out water and the skies thundered, turned biter water sweet, and provided manna for a hungry and desperate people, but the Lord even made them his own, promising blessing if only they would trust and follow. For centuries this one small request has proved too much to ask. For generations disobedience has been our reaction to the love of God. So who is this world that God so loved? To understand one we must understand the other, and to understand the world there was a time when we needed the likes of Flannery O’Connor to tell us about the world that we were too proud to see, but today, thanks to phones and video cameras capturing our every move, we know the truth about college football players and politicians, we know the difference between what celebrities say and how they live, we don’t need to wonder about the validity of rumors, because so much has been recorded live on video. Ours is not the world that Norman Rockwell painted and we know it, but we know it, not just because we’ve been told, not because we’ve seen it on the news, also because we are a part of it. Who is this world that God so loved? It’s as disobedient, as broken, as flawed and duplicitous as any of us who inhabit it - so how can it be that God loves us still we ask – but I tell you – think of such depravity and be struck by abundant love. God’s love is wondrous, because the recipient of this love is the world in which we live, and the one who is loved is not the person who you pretend to be, the ego that you put out to the world, the version of yourself on the days when you hold your head up high and live your life in a way that would make your mother proud – no – the recipient of the love of God is the you who you truly are. In this passage from the Gospel of John we come to know ourselves as a child who refuses to eat the dinner that’s been prepared, who clenches his mouth closed in protest of the tooth brush, who pouts through a few stories, then refuses to sleep, declaring, “I’m not tired – and get out of my room” as he kicks the covers onto the floor – only we wake up in the morning warm, with a blanket tucked under our chin and pinched under our sides – why? Because God so loved the world. Just as the Lord provided Moses a bronze serpent in the wilderness to heal the Israelites who had rejected him, so God gave his own son to be lifted up on the cross. Crucified as the great sign that while the world might reject the love of God, God will love the world relentlessly. Therein lies the great challenge of Christianity. On the one hand is human depravity. On the other is the love of God. To understand one you must understand the other – but can you understand such love? Can you earn it? No. Can you deserve it? Surely not. But is it there nonetheless? Yes. It is there, if only you will accept it. Amen.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Setting your mind

Mark 8: 31-38, NT page 44 Then he 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 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.” Sermon The man who makes sure that our church is clean and ready for worship, who picks up the bulletins that some of you leave behind in the pews, restocks the paper towels in the bathroom, and changes the light bulbs way up there in the sanctuary ceiling – his name is James Marshall, and he probably greeted you as you walked in the door if you come into the church using the side entrance on High Street. He is usually here on Sunday mornings, but he has a church of his own in the Sandy Hook Community, and after joining that church some years ago, his brother Earl, who plays the drums, encouraged James to learn to play the guitar so that with a couple other church members, they might start a praise band who would lead the singing. James had always wanted to learn a musical instrument, so he bought a guitar and practiced at home, and he thought he was sounding pretty good, even though every time he took out the guitar his wife Tina would say that she needed to go to the grocery store. After grocery shopping for a while she’d call home and ask, “Are you finished practicing James?” “Not just yet,” James would answer. “Then I think I’ll go visit my mother for a little while,” Tina would respond. After weeks of practicing this way, always with Tina at the grocery store or her mother’s house, for some reason James was still pretty sure he was mastering the guitar, so he went to his church in Sandy Hook to play with his brother Earl and the rest of the band. The rehearsal started and James started playing, though he noticed that the bass player kept looking at him kind of funny. The Deacon in charge of the music, Deacon Armstrong, asked the band to stop and he called James aside: “Now James, what made you want to start playing the guitar?” James told him, “The Lord put it on my heart Deacon Armstrong.” “No he didn’t,” Deacon Armstrong responded. Now you need to remember this story. After James told it at our staff meeting last Monday I asked him if I could tell it to you because it illustrates an important point - no one, not even James Marshall, is allowed to be good at everything. But when you reach that limitation and you fall short, you can’t let the one thing that you can’t seem to do keep you from seeing all the things that you can. Deacon Armstrong took James aside to talk about his calling as a guitar player, and Deacon Armstrong knows the rest of the story. I’m sure you do as well. He probably knows how many people James helps to their car on a Sunday morning, not because anyone asked him to, just because it seemed like the right thing to do. He probably knows how many Saturdays James spends up here at the church, and I bet he even knows the story of the car accident on West 7th Street, when a van flipped over with a mother and her child inside. James Marshall was the one who ran across the street to pull them both from the vehicle before the police or anyone else arrived, not hesitating, not even thinking, just reacting out of pure kindness and love for his fellow man. Deacon Armstrong probably does know all that, or if not all, at least most of it, which is important because the point here is, not being able to play the guitar is nothing, though sometimes it’s the one thing that we can’t do that prevents us from seeing all the things that we can – the failed expectations of ourselves and our neighbors too often preventing us from appreciating the people who we are - just as the teaching that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed; this aspect of who Christ is prevents Peter from understanding and appreciating the truth about his friend Jesus. When Peter realizes that Jesus is not the savior that he wanted or expected, he’s too disappointed to appreciate the kind of savior that he is. Our 2nd Scripture Lesson begins: “Then he 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.” And he rebuked him because he was disappointed. Do you know what it’s like when someone is disappointed in you? Not disappointed by what you’ve done, but disappointed in who you have turned out to be? A few years ago I was asked to lead a parenting class – the fact that I didn’t have any children and didn’t know anything about being a parent hardly mattered to the committee who asked me to lead the class. I was ill-equipped, and having no idea what to do, I researched curriculum and came up with an exercise featuring a sheet of paper with a simple figure of a child drawn on it. The exercise was for parents to write the qualities that their child had on the drawing, the qualities that they had hoped their child would have or might have some day outside the drawing. The point of the lesson was illustrated in the difference between the two lists – does your child embody any of the qualities that you value, and do you value the qualities that the child actually embodies? One father who ended up with two very different lists – his son didn’t embody any of the qualities that he valued – and upon realizing this he interrupted the lesson to make sure that I knew how ridiculous he thought it was that someone without any children would be leading a parenting class, which was a valid argument, but doesn’t take away the hard truth of what can happen when the people we love fail to meet our expectations. Peter is disappointed that Jesus is not the savior he had hoped for, and we get a taste of the problem that this kind of disappointment can cause whenever we fail to meet our expectations of ourselves or others. You know how hard it is to reconcile the difference between the people that we are and the people that others think we are supposed to be, but how much harder it is to reconcile the Jesus you thought you knew, the Jesus you’ve been imagining, with the reality of him. “He 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.” Now this kind of thing happens all the time of course. Teachers compare themselves to each other, and in recognizing the kind of teacher that they aren’t, they fail to appreciate the kind of teacher who they are. Choirs sing without recognizing the beauty of their voices – mindful only of the kind of choir that they used to be, straining towards being the kind of choir they think they are expected to be – failing to appreciate who they are naturally, without even trying. And there are many who are like Peter – who hear this news of Jesus and the suffering that he faces willingly – and cannot accept the savior as he is. We learn about a Jesus, who like a guardian angel shields us from disease or hardship, healing all infirmity, protecting from all inconvenience, and providing for every need. We expect him in the hospital when cancer knocks on the door and death creeps ever near, we expect him to cast the cancer out. They also say that Jesus is like a friend, a best friend even – but do his words not hurt at times, is his truth not a little too honest? We see him smile in the paintings, embrace the children, save the lost sheep – so who is this Lord who is unwilling to save himself? Walking to his death willingly. Submitting to a trial that could be avoided? Who is this – Peter asks – and if you are anything like me you want an answer to the same question. Remember this then – Jesus is not who you want him to be, but he is who you need him to be. You may want a savior who will save you from today’s hardship. Know instead that you have a Christ who faces such hardship beside you, only to triumph over it. Indeed he is a Savior far greater than any savior I had hoped he would be. But our minds are too often set only on what is human, so Father Abraham, 99 years old, stood before the Lord and the Lord promised him an everlasting covenant, promised his wife Sarah that her barrenness would give rise to nations; “kings of peoples shall come from her.” But Abraham fell on his face and laughed, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah who is ninety years old, bear a child?” I cannot imagine it. Be warned today as the faithful of every generation have been warned – do not set your mind on the God of your own imagination, but on the God who raised a nation out of the barrenness of Abraham and Sarah, a God who rises from the dead. Amen.