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The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!’

Monday, July 25, 2016

Teachers, Learning styles, and the Lord's Prayer

This is the unabridged version. You can listen to the audio version here. The gospel and other texts are here.

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Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and from our lord and savior Jesus Christ.

There is so much to be said about today's gospel regarding the Lord's prayer. It is, after all, 
the greatest teaching of all time taught by the greatest Teacher of all time.
And we cannot take that lightly because there are so many great teachers in our world. 

I've been thinking a lot about teachers this week. Great teachers that I have had, great teachers my children have had. I would venture to guess that many of us have chosen careers based on the advice of some good teachers who inspired is in a particular way. 

I think about my children’s teachers to come, how in another month our sweet Thomas will enter kindergarten for the first time. Jacob is going into 3rd grade and will continue to grow and be molded by great teachers whose impact will last much longer than a school year. Great teachers sow seeds that take a lifetime to develop. Which is why teachers never stop teaching. Even now in the middle of summer teachers minds are preparing new curriculum, want to make the learning experience as accessible and fun as possible. 
And I think about Avery and I've already started praying for the teacher who has given her time to teach two-year-olds who have endless questions. 

In my prayer time regarding teachers, I think about their impossible task to And I think about all teachers who balance trying to support individual growth and achievement with managing a class with twenty or thirty students at a time.

I don’t view going back to school as something to dread. No complaints here. School is good for my kids and they love it.
Teachers work their tails off for us and for our children. 
Teachers come in all kinds, petagogys and styles.

And it seems to me that when I think of the teachers I have had, they tend to teach in two fundamental ways. 
There are some teachers who teach facts and systems. These teachers take the established methods of teaching and develop a syllabus to follow the best practices from over the years. These teachers tend to teach certain subjects that go easily with a straight-forward approach. Subjects so exact that the answers can be predicted and tested, and even published in the back of the book. They value order and rules of the trade and they have high expectations that others can work within the proven systems.

There there is another gaggle of teachers (what do you call a group of teachers? A flock? A hoard? I like gaggle!) who teach with a style full of creativity and critical thinking. Here, answers aren't given. What is expected is for the student to respond from their own self. These teachers a less inclined to apply established practices than they are to ask open-ended questions.   

So, what does this have to do with the gospel text about the Lord's prayer? I'm glad that you asked! 

The Lord's prayer is taught to us, as I said, by the greatest teacher of all time. In fact, Jesus is called Teacher more than he is called anything else in the gospels. Even after he has died and risen he appears first to Mary Magdeline who doesn't know who he is. 

But Jesus calls on her, his student, and says, "Mary" and she responds, "Rabboni" which means "Teacher" 
Like all the best teachers, Jesus inspired others to learn from him and follow him. 

So the Lord's prayer is taught to us in both Matthew and Luke, and both gospels teach it a bit differently.      


In for the sake of transparency, those who study with me already know that I have an affinity for Luke's teaching style. Luke has Jesus teaching around food, more informal learning setting, but nonetheless powerful. Luke tells more parables than the other gospels combined. Parables, that, by the way, aren’t driving at one particular point, but are spoken in order to open your mind, not to close it.

Matthew works within the established rules of Judaism and their practices, Jesus in Matthew talks a lot about Kosher laws and applying them to people- and there is a lot of talk about separating, which is a kosher law. Kosher is about keeping things separate. Milk and meat use separate containers. So Matthew talks about separating the wheat from the chaff and the sheep from the goats. It’s very rule based. For people who like rules and order, Matthew hits the nail on the head. Those rules are there for a reason. They have been refined over centuries and following the established best practices is the best way to a relationship with God.
If that sounds like you, listen to what Jesus has to say about the Lord’s prayer in Matthew. He introduces it this way in Matthew 6- "Don’t heap up empty phrases like the Gentiles, for they think they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your father knows what you need before you ask it.
When you pray, say, “Our father, who art in heaven.”
Matthew seems to tell us to stick to the script. Don't make up your own long prayers. Stick to the rules and facts.  
Matthew seems to suggest that the disciples already know how to pray. It suggests that prayer is already part of their daily life- that as good Jews, they understand that prayer is simply a best practice for their lives. He doesn’t have to offer commentary to the rule-followers because they know how to follow the rules. Giving them directions about praying would be preaching to the choir. He even has to tell them that when they pray to do so in quiet, not on the streets to show others how prayerful you are. The disciples in Matthew are like those of you who read Christ in our Home as Pastor Trexler referenced last week with the Children’s message. If that works for you, then you probably don’t need a reminder to pray in this sermon. Keep the path that you are on. Plan your work and work your plan.

Yet I am sure that there are others who often don’t find comfort in a conversation or sermon about prayer. Some of you don’t sit down to balance your checkbook, let alone open the devotional book and sit down. 
In Luke, the disciples start the conversation after watching their teacher pray. So they ask, "Lord, teach us to pray" And Jesus does. Then Jesus goes into a parable about a man who needs help and doesn't get it until he is persistent. Luke loves to tell parables because their meaning is more of the open-ended type of teaching style. Jesus tells more parables in Luke than the other gospels combined. By attaching a parable to the teaching of the Lord's prayer, followed by Ask, seek, knock, Jesus suggests that we pray with our hearts, not merely from a script. 

So, some people look at Jesus and see a teacher of rules and facts and others see tolerance and ideals.

And this is a good reminder to us that all people learn differently, and therefore we pray differently. And the Lord's prayer is perfectly suited for those who like the structure of an organized prayer- the greatest teaching of all time- and it also opens the mind to a bevy of deeper conversation and meditation for God's work through us, his children. 

No matter which gospel you read, Jesus is a masterful teacher who seeks to inspire in his students a passion that is unparalleled. 

Soren Kierkegaard wrote a lot about God and was a student of theology. He agonized over whether or not God existed at all until he came to this conclusion.
Part of the confusion, he says, is that there are two kinds of teachers, Socrates and Jesus.
Kierkegaard says Socrates wanted his students to focus on truths in the world. Which is to say, you were to focus on the teachings not the teacher.   And when you study with Socrates you are meant to learn the subject being taught- whether it’s philosophy or math or 18th-century British lit- the goal of the teaching is the subject.
But then there are teachers like Jesus where the subject cannot be learned apart from the teacher. When you study Jesus, the ultimate goal is not to know some new truth, such a new commandment to love one another or "Blessed are the poor" or 'The Good Samaritan" or The Prodigal Son', or 'Forgive them father for they know not what they do', the goal is to know Christ.
To study Jesus is to be known by Jesus.
Jesus is the kind of teacher whose words tell the story of who he is and to follow him we do not just recite his words, we live as he lives. 

There have been countless others who have tried to paint Jesus as a great thinker like Socrates, whose sayings can be used as inspiration alongside Gandi or Mya Angelou. 

There are those like Thomas Jefferson, who is known for his Jeffersonian Bible, which was little more than the collection of things Jesus taught. 

But to study Jesus without following him is to miss Kierkegaard's point. Because Jesus didn't just teach us to help- he taught us to pray. 

So Matthew is right that we are not to pray empty words- we are supposed to mean them. Jesus teaches us how to pray using these holy and glorious words that our lips may guide our hearts to be like the teacher, not just learn his subject.

And let's admit it- at times, prayer is difficult.
Even for pastors, we get asked to pray for everything and sometimes the words just don’t come.
About a month ago I was having lunch with Bishop Smith and when I offered to pray before the meal he said, “O thank goodness, I love to listen to a prayer someone else gives once in a while”

Prayer takes time and concentration which are two things that our society isn’t too fond of. We run around pushing our bodies and minds and souls to their limit, and for all of that busyness, we rarely concentrate on anything.

One of the things I like about yoga is that I don’t have to sit still, but I can still meditate, that's my 21st adaptation to prayerful meditation. 

I love the Lord's prayer so much that I teach it more than any other subject. 
For the past four years, I have taught it to my 7th-grade confirmation classes. when I teach confirmation. Each of my students hears me say that more than learning the words of the Lord’s prayer, the world needs them to live the words of the Lord’s prayer. The world needs them to submit to God’s kingdom, pray that it come to earth, the world needs them to forgive as they are forgiven, and to actively avoid temptation. The world needs them to pray the prayer that Jesus taught them to pray.
My brother is an education who always reminds me that the best learning happens at home. Which is why every when we tuck the kids into bed we pray the Lord’s prayer, because greatest prayer ever written. We said it to Jacob every night until his little lips adopted the phrasing and cadence. Thomas learned it right after we moved to Winston-Salem, and as I laid with him on his bed in our old house I remember him starting the prayer, “other father, who art in heaven.” I have never corrected him because it's just too perfect. He is praying to his "other father" 
Now Avery is learning it. She can say nearly the whole thing. She doesn’t know her whole name, but she knows who she is in the Lord’s prayer.
So for you, sisters and brothers. Some of you know how to pray and what works for you and I say keep up the good work. Others of you don’t make time to sit down and pray because you never sit down for anything. If that’s you, then let me say I understand.

Kierkegaard is right- Jesus cannot be separated from his teachings, so to pray as he teaches is to pray like he prays, and in it we are connected to Jesus the great teacher because by praying like him, we become like him.
And because of him we no long address the prayer to some diety in the sky. When we pray like Jesus we say, “Our Father.” Abba. Our daddy.
To learn to speak like Jesus it to learn the ease at which we call his dad our dad. Or as Thomas says, “other Father”
And I know that the greatest modeling I can do is to teach my son about his "other father" in heaven.
And watching your children say and live those words, is about all a dad can ask for. Amen. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"Our Dancing Has Turned to Mourning"

All I can think about is this quote from Lamentations. 




Hundreds of men were dancing on Saturday, June 11th, 2016, when terror struck. One witness said at first he thought the sound of gunshots was part of the dance track. But then there were just too many shots. Now Joy is gone from their hearts. Now their dancing has turned into mourning. 

I don't have a bold new position on this issue. Others have already parsed out issues related to identity, tribalism, weapons, and religion. 

Others have rebuffed the prayers of religious communities as shallow talk. And maybe it is. 

So I look for another way to say that I am affected by you, that something connects us.  

Today, on behalf of my brothers and sisters whose dancing has turned to mourning, I took time to read Lamentations: 


Streams of tears flow from my eyes

    because my people are destroyed.

My eyes will flow unceasingly,

    without relief,
 
until the Lord looks down
    from heaven and sees.
 
What I see brings grief to my soul


Sadness and rage stir within these words, waiting for the Lord to look down to see us crying. Starting from a place of anger and outrage toward God, other people, and other people's problems seems as normal as anything can following a tragedy. Anger is a stage of grief. What I see brings grief to my soul. 

Three days after the attack at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando last Saturday, I do not feel anger, just sadness. As details surfaced, I began to see a hurting person who hurt people. The men inside were part of a group. The person who opened fire on people dancing was part of another. In my belief system, all were created by God. 

Jew or Christian, Muslim or Mormon: our God is a God of creation. We all can agree on that

And being created by God is a big deal. It means that we have a sameness and a common ancestry.

Created in the image of God means that each other is sacred. 

We often defend our tribe and our scripture by giving them human qualities. We say our scripture is "divinely inspired," "From the mouth of God" and "God-breathed". Shouldn't we use those words to discuss each other, rather than words on a page? Isn't DNA God-breathed? And isn't our existence divinely inspired? Shouldn't our lives be focused on our commonality in God? 

Whether or not I have opinions on the issues, it is perhaps more true that I'm lamenting the loss of sacred lives.


                                  Arise, cry out in the night,

    as the watches of the night begin;

pour out your heart like water
    in the presence of the Lord.
Lift up your hands to him

    for the lives of your children   

Somebody first wrote these words in a time of great sadness. Their sanctuary was taken from them. Their people were destroyed. Their feelings of safety were forever gone. 

These words continue to help me express sadness and outrage. Not toward God, or one person or a group of people, but for the human condition. We pour out our hearts like water. We cry out in the night. We lift up our hands to God for the lives of our children. 

Children of the same God.  




Monday, January 4, 2016

...yet the world did not know Him.

The audio for this sermon can be found here.

Jesus Christ came into the world- and the world did not know him.
Grace and Peace to you from God of father and our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ.


And let’s begin the new year with a moment of honesty- the world still does not know Christ.


You see, each of the gospels ends the same- with Jesus rising from the dead- but each starts differently, which means that the framework for the gospel has changed.
If the resurrection is the answer- then each gospel writer has to invent the question.


Take Matthew for instance starts with the lineage because the main question to be answered is how will God continue his promises to the long-suffering Jewish people.
But John begins in the beginning- reminding of of Genesis, and claiming that the word- the being we know as Jesus Christ, was there in the beginning, and came into the world because the world did not know him.
And the world still does not know Christ.
Let me explain.
I has been said that Dante has had more of an impact of American Christianity that Jesus Christ has. Dante, famous for writing the divine comedy which includes the Inferno, whereby the author travels to the seven circles of hell, and torments and disgusts his readers with the torture, irony, and horrible conditions of hell- invented by Dante.


And today we live in a culture preoccupied with the saving of souls, which Jesus never talks about. Jesus talks about loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus talks about how to give to the poor, visit the sick and imprisoned, Jesus talks about dealing in honesty and integrity, about how the last shall be first and how the lowly will be lifted up and the mighty will be brought down. Jesus talk about eternal life that starts today eternal life is understanding that God created you out of love and that should change the way you live and move and have your being. Jesus talks about transformation.


Luther’s life was transformed by the gospel, it changed his trajectory and he devoted his life to it.
Luther thought too that the issue was that people hadn’t yet heard the gospel and was convinced that if non-christians heard the words of Jesus of Nazareth and understood the gospel that they would want to convert. And he became angry and bitter when others didn’t come running to church when faced with what he thought were obvious truths about creation and new creation that If we seek Christ, we seek transformation, not inspiration.


This has been in my prayer time this week. I’m praying in the new year that things that are so obviously good for us might be realized. That Christ can be made known to us and it transforms us.
Jeff Thiemann is a pastor I knew out in Northern California who now is the director of Portico, which is the ELCA’s health insurance and retirement fund.
Every late December tries to rally the troops -all of us doey overweight pastors to take better care of ourselves in the new year. He trots out facts and figures, explains how time spent in meditation and exercise is actually beneficial for our congregations. He threatens that healthcare will become so expensive that our churches will buckle under the pressure.  
He said that the leading prescriptions for our pastors are medicine for hypertension, followed by depression and anxiety, followed by cholesterol medicine.
And I wonder: will this year be any better?


Will the very people who preach transformation be transformed? John says that Jesus came so that we may have life, and life abundantly.  
So I pray for our pastors that they/we may come to know Christ and follow him.
Like Luther I am perhaps naïve to think that if sermons were well enough preached, or if good-natured Christians made enough push that we could get people to see that they are displaying destructive behavior, and if they knew that, they would change.
But most leaders of business don’t consider their negative impacts on other or the world and therefore don’t give a flying fig about anything much more than the bottom line.
Ashley and I were sitting down to do our budget for 2016 and I looked at the books about budgeting, and nearly all of them start from the place of not spending more money that you can afford, more than you bring in.
Not, how much should someone in your circumstance live on, but how much comes in and goes out.
And it leads me to a much concern for our culture: how can we get deeper answers if we continue to ask shallow questions?


Sometimes, in darker moments, hearing the way business deals are done, the way the government makes logjams for itself, the way poor people are referred to as numbers, the way churches are known for bigotry and small-mindedness, it feels as if Jesus never came.
Or that he did come, and the world still does not know him.
I have friends who move away from religion because they deny Hell fire and hatred room in their lives. But their days are still filled with struggle, their souls still longing for peace, their houses still filled with laughter joy and love, their culture still riddled with selfishness. They just enjoy life without a church family. They just suffer affliction without pastors and hard times without community. Sure they have friends, but if you’ve ever felt the support of a religious community in your time of struggle you know we offer than friendship. We offer to those in grief and pain compassion and integrity, caring and service. We rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. We believe that Christ is transformational- not just for those in the pews, but for the whole world.
There’s this book in the bible called James, and James says that faith without action is dead. Now he is where I really start to get worked up.
Luther hated the book of James because it sounded like if you do good works you can get into heaven, even though that’s not what James was saying. James says that transformation in Christ leads to good works, but Luther couldn’t preach that because people were buying indulgences to avoid hell because the catholic church told them they had to. The Catholic church was preoccupied with heaven hell and purgatory- despite the fact that Jesus never talked about salvation in those terms, but because Dante did. Dante, and Italian, whose family had close roots with the papacy, it is Dante who practically invented the modern notions of heaven hell and purgatory.
So Luther wanted the book of James thrown out of the bible, not because the book was inherently wrong, but because people weren’t capable of appreciating that faith leads to works- not for salvation but because we have already been saved.
Today Luther’s worst fears are realized because the notion that we earn our way to heaven or out of hell is exactly what American Christianity predominantly believes.
To follow Christ is to die and rise each day. To follow Christ means to risk your life for his sake. To follow christ is to risk transformation.
I have read recently something that helps put this in perspective. That as humans we have evolved over the past 200,000 years.The lifespan of our species is fairly young. In fact, scientists estimate that our species is now entering adolescence.

Our race is on the cusp of adulthood and we see this playing out right now. Candidates for leadership are often like 9th graders running for student council- but with larger budgets. The prevailing thought is that whoever spends more money in American politics will win the day. Not the one with better ideas, but the one who buys more ads on television, the vast majority of which are negative for the sake of being negative.  
We have lots of other problems- women on TV are 85% women age 18-45, childbearing years, despite representing only 19% of the female population.
Our military spends $577 billion every year, or more than the next 16 countries combined, many of whom are allies.
We have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the planet many times over, this planet- you know, the one we need to survive
The US wasted 131 billion LBS of food last year, which doesn’t include the food we all ate above and beyond our recommended dietary needs of which 7 out of 10 adults are overweight or obese., despite the fact that 15% of households in America are Food Insecure.
Millions will trot out diets and exercise routines and turn to scripture for some inspiration.
That’s it, isn’t it. Too often we seek inspiration because we don’t want transformation. We know what we need for better lives, so we try to squeeze goodness into a life of overindulgence. We begin with ourselves and look for inspiration, rather than begin with creation and seek transformation.
If we want to be a christian nation, we sure don’t act like it. And it’s kind of comical to think that we could get to heaven with our good works.


Today we rejoice because we have the gospel that is given to us.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
Like John’s gospel proclaims, the biggest problem facing us today is that the world does not know Christ.
Now it’s your turn in 2016 to tell your gospel. Will you chose transformation or inspiration? If your gospel ends with Christ’s resurrection, how does it begin? If Christ is the answer, what’s your question?
Amen.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Sermon for our People

Sermon for Our People
At Augsburg Lutheran Church, Winston-Salem NC                                   by Rev. Daniel Pugh




The following sermon was given on the day that Augsburg Lutheran Church voted in favor of allowing same-sex marriages 236 to 150. The audio can be found here.

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.
Many of you have been relaying your vote to me over the last several weeks, wondering where I will stand today. Of course I’m talking about if I preach from the pulpit or the center, what were you thinking about? And I’ve politely told many of you that you don’t get to decide where a pastor should stand. Why are you laughing? I’m sorry, that’s how I feel. Here I stand.
I’ve been immersing myself in Luther’s writings  I’ve been trying to get into his mind, to find something that would help today.
And here’s the God’s honest truth- if Luther were 500 years younger, if he were 32 years old today, would he be for same-sex marriage? I genuinely don’t know. None of us do.
I bet he’d be against it in 1515, given his late-medieval setting and their understanding of anthropology.
But I cannot say that Luther would be for or against same-sex marriage if he were born in 1983 instead of 1483, because cultures evolve. But I can tell you that he was a pioneer of marriage equality in his day, insisting that Priests be afforded the right to marry.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7 that it is better to stay unmarried unless you are burning with Passion.
 The catholic church was basing their tradition to not allow Priests to marry on Paul’s example to stay chaste and thus, no one should get married.
Luther points out that Paul here admits this opinion that it is better not to get married comes from him, not God, and that marriage should be seen as a “concession” not a “command”.
Paul separates his opinion on the subject from God’s command. How many of us can?
Luther easily makes the claim that forcing priests to remain unmarried, against their will, even when they are burning with passion, is a bad idea.
I read this to Pastor Rinn because it’s classic Luther.
Luther says that a priest can have 100 mistresses, and remain a priest. [1]But marriage- Luther says sarcastically-in-cheek- is “The greater sin”
Luther, obviously, did marry, and he encouraged others who were burning with desire to marry.
Many priests were already in committed relationships, many priests had children.
But because their marriages weren’t accepted by the church, the priest’s lover and children were forced to live a life a life quietly and in the shadows.
Here I am immensely grateful for Luther standing up for marriage reform, as I can’t imagine leaving my wife and kids in the shadows, and we know my kids don’t stay quiet very well.
Today’s debate is quite different from the one Luther dealt with 500 years ago, but a compelling discussion is where Luther would stand, if he were born 500 years later.
Some of you are convinced that Luther 500 years ago or 500 years from now would stand by solo scriptura, even despite the amount of biblical scholarship that have moved beyond inerrancy since Luther’s time. 
And based on that reading of the authority of the bible, you would be convinced that Luther would remain against same-sex marriage in any age, including in 2015.
Others of you view Luther as a mover and a shaker, and can easily see how marriage reform in his day builds a bridge for us to permit marriage to all who “burn with desire” in our day.
But the truth is- we will never know how a modern-day Luther would feel about this topic.
We will always live in that mystery.
But if Luther were here, preaching to you, I’m most confident that he’d sink his teeth into this gospel lesson about who is the greatest,[2] and deliver a rousing sermon about what happens when we think of ourselves too highly.
Luther- not me- would rebuke you all for poor behavior over the last weeks. He’d call you to repent from slander, for your abuse of community, repent from name-calling, grand-standing, anger and hostility on both sides.
We all fall short of the glory of God, Luther would say. He’d rebuke the pastors too, I’d think, for allowing such dissension to emanate.
And he’d quote scripture extensively to make the point,
Maybe 1 Corinthians 1:10 “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”[3]
Or use Romans 12 “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”[4] 
If Luther would here, his sermon would start with something like that.
Pastor Rinn and I have prayed over you all, for this congregation, and for the Holy Spirit to give us a sense of its peace.
And last Sunday night, we both received that peace with the same realization- this whole matter is in God’s hands.
Pope John Paul was famous for saying after a long day- something like, “God this is your church, not mine. And I’m going to sleep.”[5]
This is God’s church. Not ours. If God wants to bless same-sex marriages, he will. If he doesn’t, he won’t.
So we can relax from thinking we are in charge. If Augsburg’s pastors cannot perform same-sex marriages, then someone else will. Our vote will likely have zero effect on the number of same-sex marriages performed, nor on the number of same-sex marriages that God blesses.
Moreover, I know lots of people who were married by a judge, and not in a church, and I think God can find a way to bless those, if he so chooses, whether officiated by a justice of the peace, a sea captain, a friend who got ordained for $20 online, or even a guy who kind of looks like Elvis. If God wants to bless something, or not to bless something, there is really nothing we can do about it. We simply voted on whether or not most of us want to bless these unions, and we will never have unanimity, but the church doesn’t thrive on unanimity nearly as much as it thrives on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.[6]
The disciples are seemingly never unanimous about anything other than being in fear. They bicker behind Jesus’ back because they are afraid of Jesus and what he will say next. The last person to speak up was Peter, and Jesus snapped back with the greatest rebuke ever uttered, “Get behind me Satan.” 
Jesus had said that the road ahead is long, and it involves submission, subjugation, and even crucifixion.
That can’t be the way- Peter says. And Jesus tells him to shut-up and fall in line.   
And since that rebuke at Peter, none of them dare speak up to Jesus. Their fear is palpable.
And here’s what I’ve brought back from my study and meditation on this text.
Fear is the opposite of faith.
It’s true- the opposite of faith isn’t doubt- faith and doubt are dance partners- the opposite of faith is fear.
Faith is an action to act like Christ. Fear is the self-made state of emergency that leaves us paralyzed.
This happens over and over again- in the calming of the storm, Jesus asks the disciples: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
And to Jarius who’s daughter has died he says, “ “Do not fear; just have faith” “
Faith is to act like Christ. Fear is the self-made state of emergency that leaves us paralyzed.

I have never seen fear like I did as a chaplain for AIDS care alliance.  AIDS is a terrible disease. And the fear that people around AIDS victims made it all the worse.
A pastor friend of mine in California during the AIDS epidemic, was leading communion using a common cup, and saw people refusing the wine out of fear of getting the disease. So the next week the pastor gave everyone communion first, and she would be communed last. She’d drink after everyone else to show that you can’t get AIDS from communion. The last will be first, and the first will be last.
…So I began to work with people with AIDS who were broke from the expensive medication- out of work from the side effects- and shunned by society who feared what they didn’t understand.
I was assigned to Mr. Lewis because I was the white chaplain, and Mr. Lewis was popular in the African American community. And his church didn’t know he had aids. If they found out, he’d be banned from attending there.
I spent the summer making visits to Mr. Lewis as the last part of my week, on Friday afternoons. I’d help him in the house, and we’d laugh about how young I was and how white people look funny singing gospel music.
Mr. Lewis’ son was 18 and had just graduated from high school. He came home one day and while he was coming to through the door, Mr. Lewis told me- “he doesn’t know.” If he asks, you’re with the hospital.
I said a prayer with Mr Lewis and his son, who then went upstairs to his room.
Daniel, I’m dying. It’s aids that’s killing me, but my son thinks it’s my lungs. My son doesn’t know because he don’t need to know about my “lifestyle.”
I spent the summer watching him die slowly without the help of his family and faith community, from whom he had to hide his “lifestyle.”
Since his church couldn’t accept him, I was there to be his chaplain. To walk him to death. To lead him to grace. To show him that death doesn’t have the final word.
And I was mad- people shouldn’t have just any pastor at their bedside- they should have THEIR pastor.
And I vowed to insure that there was a place for everyone in God’s church, as equally sinners in search for God’s grace. 
Watching someone lying there at the end of life, you realize how frail we are, and with such a short span of life.
By Mr. Lewis’ bedside, I found myself letting go of my disappointment in his church for not accepting him.
Life is too short for anger. I’ve seen the end, and I’m here to tell you, fear and anger in life leads to fear, anger, and regret at the end of life. If you don’t want to spend your last days that way, don’t spend any days that way.
It’s going to be OK. God is good. All the time. All the time, God is good. 
Jesus is making the slow walk to his death. And the disciples are scared to talk to him. They fear that Jesus is the kind of guy who punishes those who aren’t worthy, that Jesus does not suffer fools. The disciples fear that Jesus comes to bring condemnation and anger and vengeance.
They don’t know that Like all fears, these are unfounded.
They don’t know that Jesus’ life is too short for anger.
They don’t know that the Cross is not the end.
They don’t know that Jesus stands for love. For perfect, unconditional love.
What they don’t know can fill a warehouse. But God’s love can fill the world.
God’s love always wins.
I had the second reading changed for the first time in 3 years. Because we need to hear these words from Paul about boasting.
Paul writes, on my own behalf I will not boast, except in my weakness.
“So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”[7]
Our greatest strength is in our self-emptying. When we feel half empty, that is when God can fill us up.
As the children sing, they are weak and He is strong.
And perhaps the greatest view of the cross is from on our knees.
If Luther were here, after asking for our sins to be confessed and forgiven, he’d make sure to preach about grace.
In his Heidelberg Disputation, on theology, Luther writes, “the person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him add sin to sin and he becomes doubly guilty. He seeks himself in everything.”[8]
He continues

Now you ask, “what then shall we do? Shall we go our way with indifference because we can do nothing but sin? By no means. Fall down and pray for grace and place your hope in Christ in whom is our salvation, life, and resurrection. Through the law comes knowledge of sin. Through knowledge of sin, comes humility, and through humility, grace is acquired.”
Amen brother Martin. Grace upon Grace.
I’m assuming that since there’s 1 service, that I get double the time to preach, is that right?
I’m almost done.
If the vote doesn’t go the way you voted, there are a few of you who are considering leaving this church.
If that is your context, and you want to find more like-minded people, be careful not to insulate yourself with others who don’t challenge you.
Promise me, promise yourself that you won’t leave because of a bad policy, and trade it for bad theology.
Promise me, promise yourself, that you’ll find a church that preaches law and gospel.
Promise yourself that you’ll find a church that preaches inclusion in the body of Christ, and that offers communion to all, as Jesus says, “this cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people, for the forgiveness of sin. Not just those who think like you.
Promise yourself not to be lead into the drowning waters of fear, instead of the baptismal waters of faith.  
Promise yourself that you’ll find a church that preaches sin and grace. And shows extra attention to say no matter your measure of sin, your measure of grace is greater.
Promise yourself that you’ll find a church that follows the creeds that tie us to the ancient church- 
Promise yourself that you’ll find a church that reads a diverse array of scriptures, and not just what sounds good or is comfortable.
Promise yourself that you’ll find a church that honors baptism and communion as the two sacraments that follow a life of Christ.
Promise yourself that you’ll find a church that challenges you to action, pushes you to serve others, and embodies the gospel in a broken world.
And most of all, promise yourself that you’ll find a church that boldly proclaims that we are united with Christ crucified, united in death, and united in resurrection with Christ who holds to Romans 8- “There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.”[9]
And if you can’t find that, just come back home. If Luther were here, that’s exactly what he’d do.  
Know you are always welcome back here with your pastors. The bond that brought us together in Christ is stronger than any policy.  
To borrow a line from the wedding liturgy, “What God has put together, let no one separate.”[10]
Amen.   https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gif



[1] Luther, Martin. "Commentary of 1 Corinthians 7." Luther's Works. Ed. Hilton C. Oswalkd. Vol. 28. Saint Louis: Concordia House, 1973. 24. Print.
[2] The Gospel for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B is Mark 9:30-37.
[3] NIV
[4] Romans 12:1-4NIV
[5] Faley, Roland J. Footprints on the Mountain: Preaching and Teaching the Sunday Readings. New York: Paulist, 1994. 423. Print.
[6] ‘Fruits of the Spirit’: see Galatians 5:22-23.
[7] 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, NRSV.
[8] Luther, Martin, and Timothy F. Lull. "Heidelberg Disputation." Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings. Second ed. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989. 54. Print.
[9] NRSV
[10] Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Pew ed. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006. 288. Print.