13th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who does things the divine way. Amen
How we look at things influences what we see.
The view from the top of a mountain
and the view from the bottom are very different,
even though we’re looking at the same mountain.
How I see the world without my glasses
is certainly a lot fuzzier
than when I put in my contacts
and the world springs back into focus.
On a sunny day I change how I see the world
by putting on sunglasses
and the dark lenses allow me to focus
on more than just how bright it is outside.
These are all physical examples of perspective
but perspective also comes into play
in how we understand the world
and like putting on sunglasses
or climbing a mountain
we can influence to a certain degree
how we understand and interpret the world around us.
Now some things,
our past experiences, our beliefs,
our place in society
all impact our perspective
whether we are aware of it or not
and the things that are most deeply ingrained
are the ones we turn to in times of stress,
the ones we go to without thinking about
and that can get us into trouble.
That’s what happens to Peter
in our gospel for today
Jesus tells the disciples that “he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’”
when faced with a threat to his teacher and Lord
responds from the human perspective.
The perspective that holds tightly onto life at all costs,
the perspective that says pain is to be avoided,
the perspective that is more concerned with ourselves and our loved ones
than the whole world.
And Jesus scolds him.
He puts him in his place,
‘get behind me’, Jesus says,
‘I am the teacher, you are the disciple,
you’re getting ahead of yourself,
you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
And while it is true that Peter is human,
we know that he is capable of seeing from the divine perspective.
Just last week in our gospel
at a retreat in Caesarea Philippi
Peter proclaimed the truth about Jesus,
that he is the Messiah, the Son of the living God
and Jesus praised him
for trusting the revelations of God.
There Peter had his mind set on divine things.
But it only lasts a moment,
and in seemingly the next breath
Peter is back to human things.
Jesus puts Peter in his place
and turns to the disciples
and spells it out for 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 will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?”
To be a disciple of Jesus
means looking at the world from the divine perspective,
a way of looking at things
that at times seems to be exactly the opposite
of what our instincts tell us we should do
what the world had taught us makes the most sense.
The worldly perspective teaches us to put our lives
and those of our family
ahead of anyone else,
the divine perspective teaches
that a life well lived
is one that is lived in service to others,
even if that means sacrificing our own lives.
It’s what Jesus did,
he lived everything he taught
he lived the divine way,
the way that fed people because they were hungry
and healed people because they were sick
and forgave people because they were sinners.
His living the divine way in the world
so upset those in power
(those who were supposed to be living and teaching the divine things)
that they got together
to serve out the ultimate punishment of the world,
the thing there’s no coming back from,
but Jesus did
rising on the third day,
and he promises that joined to him
death is not the end
his followers are free to live in service of others
following the divine way.
But Jesus realizes
that living the divine way
does not come naturally,
that like Peter when we hear something that frightens us
our instinct will be to go back to the way of the world,
that we will need to be put in our places
and reminded again and again
that God will take care of judgment
and that we are to view the world from the divine perspective.
And while this is difficult,
Peter shows us that it is possible,
again and again Peter jumps at the chance to follow Jesus,
and again and again he falls back on the human way of doing things,
and yet each time
Jesus puts him in his place,
reminds him of the divine way,
and gives him another chance.
This is what Jesus does for us,
as we seek to follow him
he calls us to set our mind on divine things
rather than human things
it flies in the face of worldly wisdom.
As Paul reminds the Romans “Let love be genuine...bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep...Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
It takes practice to live in the world
with our minds set on divine things,
we will mess up,
and when we do,
Jesus will put us in our place,
remind us of the divine way
and give us another chance,
and the more we practice
the easier it becomes
to look at the world from God’s point of view
but always Jesus calls us
to set our mind on divine things
because he knows that when we are frightened or disrupted
we will see the world from the human perspective once again
and once again we will need to be reminded to set our minds on divine things.
right now as individuals and as a society
we are frightened and disrupted
and we are falling back on the human mindset,
the mindset that draws those with whom we agree closer
and villainizes those who are different from us,
whether the difference comes in the form of politics,
nationality, the color of our skin,
or even how we think we should live together.
To get through this we must set our mind on divine things,
before we react,
pause and look at the world through the eyes of Jesus,
to see how we might live in service to others
even though it may mean making sacrifices in our lives
so that others may live.
We must overcome evil with good.
we will make mistakes along the way,
and Jesus will put us in our places,
and then he will forgive us,
offering us his broken body and blood poured out,
with bread and wine join us once again to him,
setting our mind on divine things
then sending us out to try again.
This is the divine way. Amen
12th Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one whose salvation is forever. Amen
Have you ever had a song pop into your head
and act kind of like a soundtrack for your life?
Maybe you’re getting psyched up to do something
and all of a sudden you hear in your head
the opening chords of Eye of the Tiger,
bum, bum bum bum, bum bum, bummmmmmmm.
Do, do de de do do do, de de dum dum dummmmmmmm
and it really seems to fit.
Or perhaps those of you who associated with young children a few years ago
when Frozen was at its height of popularity
find yourself at times channeling your inner ice queen
when faced with something out of your control
and all of a sudden Elsa is in your head singing “Let it go, Let it gooo” anyone?
Well for me sometimes this happens with hymns,
I read a piece of scripture
and all of a sudden there’s a hymn running through my head,
many hymns are adaptations of scripture
or reference scripture
so that’s usually the connection
and this is what happened
when I read the gospel for this week,
Jesus asks the disciples who they say he is
and when Peter responds “You are the messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus praises him and says
“and I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church”
upon reading this I heard the opening phrases of the hymn
“Built on a Rock” (of course accompanied by a big pipe organ)
“Built on a rock the church shall stand, even when steeples are falling”
and these two phrases became the soundtrack to my week,
I’ve been walking around humming and singing in my head
“built on a rock the church shall stand, even when staples are falling”
Now sometimes earworms just get stuck in our heads
but with this the words were more persistent,
and when I thought about it, it made sense to me
why this hymn connected with this gospel
kept following me,
they both have to do with identity,
and the question of who and what defines us
in the midst of turmoil.
Right now this is something that we are all struggling with,
many of the things we have used to identify ourselves
both as individuals and as communities
have disappeared or changed over night,
which leaves us wondering who are we now?
If I can’t work who am I now?
If there is no Husker football who are we as Nebraskans?
Or at least what will we do on Saturdays in the fall?
if we can’t gather in the same way for worship and fellowship
who are we as a congregation?
All these steeples,
the things that have pointed to our identity
have seemingly fallen
and we’re left wondering who we are
and where we are to turn for answers.
But here’s the thing,
while steeples are the most visible points of church buildings,
they are a sign that even from far away proclaims ‘here is a church’
they are not the most important part of the architecture,
that honor falls to the foundation
the base upon which everything else is constructed
and so when those things that point us toward our identity fall
we must return to the foundation.
Isaiah points this out in our first reading
“Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you;”
the prophet is speaking to those in exile
who have been removed from their homeland,
who are wondering how can we be the people of Israel
if we are separated from Israel?
the prophet exhorts them to go deeper
when searching for identity,
back to Abraham and Sarah
who never saw the promised land
but who first received the promise of God
to create from them a great nation.
The prophet is reminding the people
that even when it seems like everything normal is gone
there is a deeper identity and promise,
the promise from God that
“my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.”
This is the foundation Jesus is building for his disciples
as he sits them down in Caesarea Philippi,
he knows that he will soon be heading to Jerusalem, and his death
at which time
all the disciples’ points of reference for their identity
will crumble around them
so he starts to put who he is in perspective,
first he asks “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
and the responses he gets are the equivalent of spires,
people who point to God but who are not God,
“Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets”
the people on the outside
focus on the most visible parts of Jesus,
but then he turns to the disciples,
the ones who have gotten to know him intimately,
who have heard him teach without the great crowds around
and he presses them “But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered, ‘you are the messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.’”
Peter gives the right answer as to who Jesus is,
but note that Jesus is quick to point out
that Peter didn’t come up with it on his own,
the truth was revealed to Peter by God the Father
and the faith given to Peter by the father
allowed him to speak the truth.
This faith is what Jesus is going to use
as the foundation of the community that gathers in his name,
faith that comes as a gift from God.
As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”
God gives faith,
and Peter trusted God
with a trust that Jesus could build on,
trust that accepted the truth
even when it didn’t make sense.
a gift from God,
is the foundation
And our soundtrack hymn notes this,
while it begins “built on a rock the church shall stand, even when steeples are falling;”
“crumbled have spires in ev’ry land, bells still are chiming and calling calling the young and old to rest, calling the souls of those distressed, longing for life everlasting.”
Yes the spires that point to identity may fall
but they are not everything,
as Paul Westermeyer remarks in the Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship:
“The church bells in stanzas 1 and 5 provide the frame and point to the center. The clue is in the bells the hymn references, both in a general and a specific sense. What church bells do generally lie behind the hymn, as, for example, in the inscription on the Danish church bell that was rung in West Denmark Lutheran Church, Luck, Wisconsin from 1937 until a fire in 1985. It tells what church bells are ‘chiming and calling’ about.
To the bath and the table,
To the prayers and the word,
I call every seeking soul.”(Hymnal Companion 501-502)
The font and table,
prayer and word,
these are the rock from which we were hewn,
and the quarry from which we were dug,
at the font God washes us,
promises that nothing will separate us from the love of God.
Giving us our primary identity as child of God
At the table God reminds us of that identity
forgives us for our shortcoming,
feeds us to strengthen us
and sends us out into the world.
In the word God speaks to us
reminding us of the promises of God,
the promise of salvation,
salvation that lasts despite exile, destruction, pandemics,
salvation that lasts forever.
Salvation, the gift to us from Christ,
The Rock on whom we stand.
1 Built on a rock the church shall stand,
even when steeples are falling;
crumbled have spires in ev'ry land,
bells still are chiming and calling--
calling the young and old to rest,
calling the souls of those distressed,
longing for life everlasting.
2 Surely, in temples made with hands
God the Most High is not dwelling--
high in the heav'ns his temple stands,
all earthly temples excelling.
Yet he who dwells in heav'n above
deigns to abide with us in love,
making our bodies his temple.
3 Christ builds a house of living stones:
we are his own habitation;
he fills our hearts, his humble thrones,
granting us life and salvation.
Where two or three will seek his face,
he in their midst will show his grace,
blessings upon them bestowing.
4 Yet in this house, an earthly frame,
Jesus the children is blessing;
hither we come to praise his name,
faith in our Savior confessing.
Jesus to us his Spirit sent,
making with us his covenant,
granting his children the kingdom.
5 Through all the passing years, O Lord,
grant that, when church bells are ringing,
many may come to hear your Word,
who here this promise is bringing:
"I know my own, my own know me;
you, not the world, my face shall see;
my peace I leave with you. Amen."
10th Sunday After Pentecost
1 Kings 19:9-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from
the one who comes to us in the midst of storms. Amen
Today we have the story of the miracle of Jesus walking on water,
and after spending time with this story this week
I actually think that part is the least interesting thing about it,
the walking on water was a means to an end,
rather what I’ve found exciting
is that in this short story is found the whole of a life of faith.
Now this story isn’t an isolated event
and much meaning comes from what happens in the life of Jesus
and the disciples
before we get to this point.
Jesus is baptized by John
starts his public ministry
and gains wide acclaim as a teacher and healer,
but then he goes home to Nazareth
the folks in his home town reject him
and he is unable to do many deeds of power among them,
right after this rejection
he hears of the death of John the Baptist,
beheaded in prison,
and he needs some time alone to grieve and pray,
so he gets in a boat
and sets sail across the sea
intending to go out to the wilderness alone.
But the people get wind of what he is up to
and they go by land
so that by the time Jesus reaches the other shore
he is met with a great crowd
who need healing and guidance,
and he has compassion for them
and so works among them,
at the end of the day the disciples point out
that the crowds need something to eat
and with five loaves of bread and two fish
the vast crowds eat until they are full.
And that’s where our story today picks up,
Jesus still needs that time alone with God
and so we are told that
“Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.”
Our English translation sounds like Jesus strongly suggested
the disciples get into the boat
but the Greek paints a stronger picture,
what we hear as “made”
can also be translated as “compel or necessitate, drive by force or threats”.
Jesus makes the disciples get into the boat
in the same way a parent makes a reluctant toddler go to bed
and once he’s gotten them into the boat
and on their way
he dismisses the crowds
and finally has time to pray.
Now while Jesus is off praying
the disciples are in the boat out on the water,
and a storm has come up,
the boat is being tossed about by the waves
and the wind is driving them farther and farther from Jesus
to a point far from the land,
so far that the separation now seems permanent.
The disciples are afraid.
And that’s when Jesus comes to them,
defying all logic and the laws of nature
to be with them in the midst of the storm,
but when they see him they are terrified,
they think he’s a ghost,
they cry out in fear
“But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘take heart, it is I; do not be afraid’”
Jesus speaks peace into the midst of their terror
and he uses the name of God,
or at least the name God gave Moses
all the way back at the burning bush.
Remember God appears to Moses
in a bush that is burning but not consumed by the fire,
and God tells Moses to go free the Israelites
from Egypt on God’s behalf
and Moses reluctantly agrees but says,
who shall I say sent me
and God replies “tell them I Am sent you”.
So anytime we hear Jesus say I Am,
he is revealing his divinity,
his intimacy with God.
This is what Jesus says to the terrified disciples
in the midst of the storm,
and these words produce great faith.
Peter hears these words and he says
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
Now here again is a nuance of translation,
we hear the ‘if’ as Peter testing Jesus
but the sense of it is more ‘because’,
Jesus’ word of revelation moves Peter to great faith
and so he cries out “Lord, because it is you,
command me to come to you on the water”
Because you are Lord
I believe that I can do the impossible.
And Jesus says “come”
and Peter gets out of the boat
and he walks on the water to Jesus,
That is until he loses focus,
he takes his eyes off Jesus
and he notices the wind and the waves
and he realizes that he can’t walk on water
and he becomes frightened
and begins to sink
and cries out “Lord, save me!”
“Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.”
and together they climb back into the boat
and at this point the storm stops,
and in the calm after the storm
the disciples worship Jesus saying ‘truly you are the Son of God.’
The disciples’ experience
is the life of faith in a nutshell.
Jesus has called them
and they have followed him,
seen him do great things,
even worked with him to do some great things
and then just when they’ve seen an amazing sight,
Jesus puts them in a boat and sends them away.
So there they are,
in a boat that they don’t want to be in,
and circumstances out of their control
are driving them away from the one they want to be with
to a point where the gap seems to great to bridge,
feeling alone, maybe a little abandoned,
and probably more than a little bit scared.
And when Jesus comes to them
in a seemingly impossible manner
they are terrified and don’t recognize him,
until he identifies himself and offers peace,
And then their faith is stronger than before,
so strong as to be able to do the impossible,
and they want to do the impossible
so they try and they’re doing it!
Until they look around
and notice all the reasons they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing
and they get scared and start to sink,
and they cry out to Jesus ‘save me’
and Jesus reaches out,
brings them to safety
and as the storm is calmed
and the disciples’ faith is strengthened once again
with the realization of the greatness of the one in their midst.
We’ve all had times like this,
where we’re following Jesus
who has called us,
and things seems to be going really well,
and then all of a sudden,
it seems like Jesus is sending us away,
Jesus is putting us in a place we don’t really want to be,
sending us somewhere we don’t really want to go
amid circumstances that seem to separate us from God.
Maybe it has been a time of learning and growth that challenges us,
or maybe it has been a time of sickness of body or relationship,
now to be clear
I don’t think Jesus ever causes illness
but it is are certainly a time
where we are in the midst of something we don’t want to be a part of
and circumstances seem to drive us far away from God.
So there we are out in our boat
And just as we’ve been battered about by the waves
and think that we have been permanently separated from God,
Jesus comes to us,
often we don’t recognize him at first
and we are afraid,
but then Jesus reveals himself
speaking peace into our fear
and our faith surges
and even though the storm is still raging
we get out of the boat
to go toward Jesus.
Have you ever seen someone going through a difficult time
and wondered just how they are able to handle it with grace and strength?
I’d say they are at this point in their life of faith,
where Jesus has spoken peace to them
giving them the strength to get out of the boat.
Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself,
the peace of Christ to move forward
through a seemingly impossible situation
and others around you are telling you
‘I don’t know how you do it’
but you are able to with the call of Jesus.
And then of course there are those times in our life of faith
where we look around at all that is going on
and we begin to sink,
where our faith is overwhelmed
by the pain and chaos of the world around us
and yet, when we cry out to Jesus,
he reaches out to catch us
and brings us to a place of calm.
The life of faith is a journey,
there are times that we experience great joy,
and times when we are terrified
and feel separate from God,
and no matter how terrified,
or far away we feel,
even when we lose focus,
Jesus comes to us,
Jesus catches us,
reveals himself to us
and brings us to a place of peace.
So wherever you are on your journey of faith,
and may the peace of Christ be with you. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.