Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sermon; 16 Pentecost/Proper 19B; Mark 8:27-38

16 Pentecost/Proper 19B
Mark 8:27-38

Jesus is making the move to Jerusalem.  We are still a few chapters away from Holy Week, but he has begun moving in that direction.  And it is in this reading where we get the first of his three Passion predictions.  The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be rejected, killed and raised after three days.

Following this first Passion prediction, Jesus instructs the crowd on the meaning of the cross.  It is in the emptying of ourselves that we are filled.  It is in losing our lives for Christ that we gain life.

While this is always a good sermon topic, and while it is always good to meditate on the meaning of the cross and how we might empty ourselves, losing our life for Christ, especially with Holy Cross Day being tomorrow, that is not the focus of today's sermon.  Not only is it not the focus of the sermon, but it's not even what we need to be focused on here at St. Luke's today.

What we need to be focused on today are the first three verses of today's gospel passage:  Who do people say that I am?  John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets.  But who do you say that I am?

Jesus really isn't interested in what other people say about him – he's interested in what the disciples say about him.  But who do you say that I am?

He's interest in their opinion of him because it is these twelve men – well, okay, eleven plus Matthias – who will begin to spread the word about Jesus.  They are the ones who will first proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.  As such, they need to know who he is.  They need to be able to articulate who he is.  Because if they don't know who he is, if they don't know whom they are following, how will they be able to spread the Good News of the kingdom of God?  How can they articulate what they don't know?

That's a pretty basic statement:  We can't articulate what we don't know.  Likewise, the more we know about something, the better we can explain what we know.  For instance, the few times I have golfed, I hit the ball really far . . . to the left.  I know nothing about swings, so I simply adjust my stance 45 degrees to the right and . . . problem solved.  I can't tell you why that works, it just does.  A swing coach would be better able to articulate what's going on there and probably come up with a better solution.

Jesus wanted to know what the disciples themselves thought about him.  Who did they think he was, and could they articulate that?

Today we are standing with the disciples.  Today we are being asked a version of the same question; but instead of, “Who do people say that I am?” the question is, “Who do people say that St. Luke's is?”

And instead of, “Who do you say that I am?” the question is, “Who do you say that St. Luke's is?”

Who are we as a parish?  Do you know?  When inviting people to church, can you articulate either why you attend St. Luke's or what we are about?

Who do you say St. Luke's is?

Well, we are about to find out.

Last spring, John, Sharon and I attended a congregational vitality seminar at Trinity, Ashland.  There were a variety of components to the overall session, and the three of us decided that the component addressing the Culture of Anglicanism was the best fit for St. Luke's.

This was followed up a few months later when we invited Sarah Fischer to come work with the Vestry.  Her time with us resulted in those pieces of newsprint hanging in the parish hall.  Sarah has since moved to Seattle, so we have invited Susan Ladue to be with us today.  Susan has been to the full College of Congregational Development program sponsored by the Diocese of Olympia, and she has led other congregations in this process, so she knows her stuff.

In today's gospel we hear the first of three Passion predictions.  Passion comes from a Greek word which means “to suffer.”  The Passion of Christ begins with Jesus' emotional prayers in Gethsemane and ends with his death on the cross.

That word, Passion, has taken on a different meaning over time.  Suffering has been replaced with a powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, or a strong fondness or enthusiasm for something.  There are other definitions attached to it, but those two will do for now.  But even with that change, there is still a connection between the Passion of Christ and our passion.

As we move through this process of learning about the Culture of Anglicanism, keep this question in mind:  Who do you say that St. Luke's is?  Because it is this question that we hope to answer so that we might more fully articulate who we are as Christians, Episcopalians and St. Lukans.  And as we move through this process, I hope we see what we are good at, what moves us – in other words, what our passion is – and how we might articulate that to the wider community.

Jesus gave his first Passion prediction in today's gospel.  This is where his mission on earth will end and our mission begins.  Today we will be looking at where we might be going and, I hope, it will allow us to find the passion of this parish.  And it will be in finding that passion that will allow us to fully and competently answer the question:  Who do you say that St. Luke's is?



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