Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dying, We Live

Christ the King Lutheran Church, Moorhead, MN
September 16, 2012—Installation of Pr. Ingrid Skilbred
Mark 8:27-38

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

 “Christian’s the name—confessing’s the game.”

That’s a little too cute, I realize--but it does get right to the heart of this gospel text.  

To follow Jesus is to confess Jesus.   A church caught up in God’s mission is always going public with God’s astonishing mercy in Jesus Christ.

This morning, as we dive deeply into this story, we learn at least three things about what such confessing looks like:  

·      We learn how chances to confess often come on the margins of life, when we’re “in the thick of it.”

·      We learn that confessing is more than sharing information or passing on gossip.  

·      And most importantly, we learn how confessing with our lips inevitably moves us toward doing costly deeds of self-forgetful, self-emptying love.

1.     The first thing we learn here is that confessing Christ often happens on the margins, when we’re under stress or affliction.   Most of the time confessing Christ isn’t something we do while sipping tea in the parlor—it’s not  an armchair exercise for persons who dabble in religion. 

No.  Confessing Christ happens most often when you and I are in “the thick of it.”

Here in Mark 8, Jesus and his disciples are leaving the comfort of their own land and traveling into the non-Jewish villages of Caesarea Philippi.   Leaving the familiarity of home, they venture out into alien territory, a veritable religious marketplace.  Before they head off into this frontier region, Jesus schools his disciples in the art of confessing.
We live in a 21st century religious marketplace.  Long gone is the day when we could assume everyone’s a church member or a Christian.   Nowadays it’s easy to rub elbows with persons captive to other values, living out other scripts, following other “gods.”    What opinions they have of Jesus (if any) are probably all over the map.

We’re also living under unsettled economic conditions, enduring a contentious election season, in a society that’s increasingly polarized, and in a church body wrestling with all sorts of vexing questions.
Hot enough for you?

So, when the time comes, when someone pitches us a slow ball right over home plate!—what will we say?   When it’s time for us to speak up for Jesus and his way of life—what words fall out of our mouths?

Pastor Ingrid, God has called you here for such a time as this.   You “get it”—that pastoring in the 21st century is all about being ready whenever and wherever the opportunity arises to bring Jesus into the conversation and make Jesus real in fresh ways.   God has especially gifted you for making vital faith-connections with persons in the first third of life and with the families of those “first-thirders.”  We are glad that you are “in the thick of it” here at Christ the King!

2.   The second thing we learn in this story from Mark’s gospel is that confessing Christ is about so much more than sharing information or passing on gossip.
That’s how it seems to start out here in our text.  Jesus asks his disciples for the local skinny—“What are folks saying about me?”

It’s always easy to speculate on what others are thinking, right?   We hear their words, watch their body language, intuit their opinions.   
And who doesn’t enjoy passing on a little gossip—always, of course, juicing it up just a little bit in the process?

So when Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?”   The disciples are bursting with answers:   Some say you’re John the Baptist—back from the grave.  Others think you’re Elijah, who was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind.  Still others see you as the second coming of some other Old Testament prophet.
But that sort of talk isn’t “confessing.”   Imparting information, passing on gossip—that’s not “confessing.”  

We get to “confessing” only when we hear Jesus’ second question to his disciples:  “But who do YOU say that I am?”
At this point in the story an uncomfortable silence descends upon the otherwise-chatty disciples.    Because now they have to “speak for themselves”—now Jesus is getting personal, putting them on the spot, peering into their hearts, seeking their own response.

And they suddenly get tongue-tied…all of them, except for Peter.   Never adept at biting his tongue, Peter blurted out what he’d probably been thinking for quite a while:  “You are the Messiah.”  “Jesus, you are God’s ‘one and only’—you are the one we’ve been waiting for.”
And of course, Peter was exactly right!   Peter had Jesus’ identity down pat!

Pastor Ingrid, I believe God has brought you here, not only to help these good folks “get it right” about who Jesus really is.
But I believe you are here to help them with their own confessing of Christ beyond these four walls.   For this congregation doesn’t just need three great pastors…but rather Christ the King needs to form, nurture, shape and send out 2100 confessors of Christ as you continue to be one of the “growingest” congregations in our whole synod.  

And you, Pastor Ingrid, get to be right “in the thick of it”—helping these folks speak up when someone pitches a slow ball right over home plate to them, modeling for them ways to bring Jesus into their conversations.
Third, this beloved gospel story shows how confessing moves beyond bold words, to costly deeds of self-forgetful, self-emptying love.  Because speaking up for Jesus inevitably leads to acting up like Jesus, out in our world.

Confessing Christ aligns us with God and God’s ways…and therefore setting ourselves against everything that opposes God and God’s ways.   Confessing Christ puts our lives on the line.   Our feet follow our tongues, serving God’s mission to rescue and redeem a hostile, but hungry world. 
Peter the great confessor nailed it when it came to naming the identity of Jesus—but Peter “slipped on a banana peel” when it came to naming the way of Jesus—the way Jesus would act as our Messiah. 

I think that’s because Peter was smart enough to know that if Jesus truly was going to be a Messiah only by way of the Cross…the same life-script would beckon all who follow this Messiah, including Peter.
And that is how Jesus enacted the role of Messiah:  he opted to give it all up, to toss it all away, to let go of everything and open himself up to the very worst we sinners could dish out.    Peter couldn’t stomach that—couldn’t bear to think of the cost—the “blood, sweat and tears” price-tag of our redemption.

So Peter quickly offered a counter-confession to Jesus—“God forbid!”

…to which Jesus fired back just as strongly:  Get behind me, Satan.”  

“Stand aside, Adversary…..I’m doing things God’s way, not the same old, same old human way.”
So Pastor Ingrid, as you take up your calling here at Christ the King, you will want to avoid Peter’s path of least resistance.   You will, instead, help the people of this congregation learn how to die--to let go of all that we might cling to and to give ourselves away for God in the world.

This past week at a retreat for Christian leaders from across our state, I heard one of my ministry colleagues say something that has stuck in my craw..
“You know, it really helps, to have died a few times already,” my friend observed.

Listen to that again:  “It really helps, to have died a few times already.”
I don’t think my friend was talking about near-death experiences in hospital emergency rooms.

No, but rather this Christian leader was thinking back over long years of life and work that had included several reversals-of-fortune, times when she had to say goodbye to certain jobs or securities or ways of being in the world.    She referred to those experiences of loss as times when she had died a little—yet still lived to tell about it.
What Peter and the other disciples had to learn, and what we too are forever learning is that with Jesus, dying doesn’t mean that life is over.

Quite the contrary:  with Jesus, dying is when a better life begins.  Dying to whatever has its hooks in us marks the start of really living—no longer under our own power, but in the uncanny strength that comes from God alone.

Pastor Ingrid, God has brought you to this congregation to help these beloved ones learn how we are always being transformed by God, even through the “deaths” that come our way—all so that we might be ushered afresh into the new life that only Jesus the Risen One so graciously gives.

Help us, dear Jesus, with these three things:
To see you more clearly,
To love you more dearly, and
To follow you more nearly.

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