Sunday at Scarboro – February 25, 2018

Worship Start Time:  10:30am
Preaching: Rev. Lee Spice
Theme: Lent II - Covenant of Promise

The coffee is hot at 10:00am, come in and get comfortable. Service begins at 10:30 and is followed by coffee and conversation in the Memorial Hall.

Come and explore the season of Lent, our theme is "Promises, Promises" and you can experience your Lenten journey on a labyrinth in the Memorial Hall.

Another Women's Talking Stick Healing Ceremony will take place at 1pm in the Social Room.

Promises, Promises: Lent II – Covenant of Promise
February 25, 2018
Rev. Lee Spice

“Get thee behind me, Satan!”

Now there are words for Lent.  Get thee behind me, chocolate!  Get thee behind me, coffee!  Get thee behind me, wine!  I’ve often heard these words when someone is being tempted…like Jesus may have been tempted by Peter.

The Gospel of Mark is looking back at Jesus’ life, and has Jesus saying that he is going to be abandoned and betrayed and murdered, and rise again.

Peter, the disciple I think is most like many of us, will have none of it – “Say it isn’t so, Jesus!”

And Jesus utters those famous words – “Get behind me, Satan,” or, in the King James Version, “Get thee behind me, Satan!”

Contrary to popular belief, Jesus is not really calling Peter “The Devil.”  Probably he was referring to the role that Peter was playing as God’s adversary, tempting Jesus away from his mission.  Peter was acting as a stumbling block.

But even this stumbling block cannot stop the unending march of time, and as the gospel writer looked back on it, the events were inevitable.  Jesus would die.  It would be inhumane and horrible.

Jesus’ words are hardly comforting.  Again, here are words that are made for Lent – “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, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Sacrifice, loss, pain, death… - sounds like it is inevitable.

For the sake of the gospel?  I thought that the word “gospel” meant, the “good news.”

I suppose, then, that the good news is NOT that following Jesus means that you will live without pain.

I suppose that the good news does not mean that you’ll have any kind of protection from disaster.

The earliest Christians would have known that, as they were rounded up and murdered for their faith.  So perhaps they took comfort in knowing that suffering was part and parcel of following Jesus.

But surely, not everybody is supposed to be willing to die for the cause...most Christians didn’t sign up so that they could be led like lambs to the slaughter.

A number of years ago, I heard a preacher talk about Jesus’ words to “take up your cross.”  It seems clear that the gospel writer meant to talk about sacrifice…that he meant that we are called to shoulder the cross along with Jesus and enter into his crucifixion, and, through Christ, God enters into our pain.  But this particular preacher examined that word, “cross,” as in, “take up your cross,” and found something interesting.

I was skeptical, so I looked it up myself – as it turns out, that word for “cross” in the Greek means “stake,” as in the kind of stake or peg that you would use to secure your tent to the ground.  While you could take that to mean that Jesus was referring to the part of the cross that is plunged into the ground, you could also argue that this might also be a kind of a play on words, and that another interpretation of “take up your cross” might also be “pull up stakes and follow me.”

“Pull up stakes,” just like God was asking Abram and Sarai – God instructed them to pull up the stakes of their tent and head off to a land that God would show them, and that they would be the parents of a whole nation.  At that, Abram fell on his face, laughing, as did Sarah, later…but they did it.  They pulled up stakes and headed out to….where?

Pull up stakes, and head into the unknown – perhaps into the wilderness.

This time of Lent is wilderness time.  It’s a time in our church year when we can affirm and confirm that life is not always sunshine and roses.  It’s a time when we can confirm that we don’t always know what lies ahead.  Wilderness time is not just a thing that’s in the bible.  It is real life.

Okay, you know how terrifying wilderness time can be.  You are probably intimately acquainted with it.  And even if you have your stakes set into something that is hurting you, it can be terrifying to pull up those stakes and set out into the unknown.

Wilderness time is that time after the last of the booze goes down the drain, and you pull up stakes from the substance that addicts you, and you turn your steps away, but you don’t know exactly where.

Wilderness time is that time right after the pink slip, and you have to pull up stakes and look for work, but the territory into which you are turning seems awfully hostile.

Wilderness time is weeping for dead teenagers and one thrown in the river; and weeping for the generations of children who wept for their parents in faraway schools.  And so you pull up stakes from the bitterness and make your way into the wilderness, with the promise that there might be healing and change and reconciliation, there.

Wilderness time is the time after the doctor’s appointment, when you hear the word “cancer,” and you are suddenly pulling up stakes from security and certainty. And however you saw the future.

Wilderness time is when you realize that a relationship is slowly killing you, so you pull up stakes from co-dependence and turn, and go.

Wilderness time is that time after someone dies, and you are walking in wild and unfamiliar land, and you look around and the rest of the world seems not to notice that the brambles are threatening to rise up and overwhelm you, and so you unstake yourself from the certainties of “before,” and try to figure out what comes “after.”

It is a moment of freefall. This is where the wilderness gets real.

Wilderness time in the church is where we find ourselves in a world with internet friendships that do nothing for real loneliness – a world with school shootings and so many people looking for meaning…the church’s wilderness time is that so many people are looking to nurture their spirit, and don’t see the church having anything to do with that.

And Jesus is saying, “pull up stakes and follow me.”

It is so tempting to turn back.

“Pull up stakes and follow me.”

“Follow me into the wilderness, because wilderness is a part of every life, and I will be with you.

“Follow me, and if you look very closely, you will see the blooms on the cactus and the tiny springs of fresh water and the little animals that scurry and the birds that hide until dusk.

“Follow me, and there are no guarantees for an easy life, but there will be new life.”

“Pull up your stakes and follow, for I will be with you.  I promise.”

And that’s the good news: As my colleague, Erin, so eloquently said last week, we are not alone.  Even when the wilderness looks wild and empty, God is there.  It’s not so much that God sends us into the wilderness – the wilderness is there, in everyone’s life.  The good news is that we never have to walk into it alone.  We have someone to follow – into the unknown, into the shadows, into the pain.

May I be honest with you?  I spent a long time working and reworking this sermon. I just couldn’t find the perfect finish.  I wasn’t able tie it all up with a pretty bow.  And then it occurred to me – this is precisely the point.

Lent is a time when we admit that sometimes, we don’t have answers.  It’s a time when we often don’t even know what lies ahead.

Lent is a time of opening to the uncertain and to the unknown – a time when we can’t tie it all up with a pretty bow.

Lent is a time of taking heart.  It is a time of courage. Courage, which means going forward, even if you are afraid.

And Jesus beckons.  “Follow me.”

Will you?


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