Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
February 25, 2018 – Second Sunday in Lent
Ron DeYoung was an MSU student from Kalispell when I was there. He had a double major in Animal Science and Philosophy, which is about as rare a combination as a lawyer and a preacher. He liked to joke that he was preparing for a career of writing fables.
Aesop created fiction that was truer than nonfiction. The fanciful stories invited us in with their sense of wonder and imagination. They spoke of ordinary things but they ended with the profound application of a brief and simple narrative…the moral of the story.
The truth is ever before us, waiting for us to awaken and see our world for what it is and our lives for what they could be. And so it was with the Fable of the Oak and the Reeds.
A Giant Oak stood near a brook in which grew some slender Reeds. When the wind blew, the great Oak stood proudly upright with its hundred arms uplifted to the sky. But the Reeds bowed low in the wind and sang a sad and mournful song.
"You have reason to complain," said the Oak. "The slightest breeze that ruffles the surface of the water makes you bow your heads, while I, the mighty Oak, stand upright and firm before the howling tempest."
"Do not worry about us," replied the Reeds. "The winds do not harm us. We bow before them and so we do not break. You, in all your pride and strength, have so far resisted their blows. But the end is coming."
As the Reeds spoke a great hurricane rushed out of the north. The Oak stood proudly and fought against the storm, while the yielding Reeds bowed low. The wind redoubled in fury, and all at once the great tree fell, torn up by the roots, and lay among the pitying Reeds.
Today, Christ tells Peter and the disciples…and us…that it is folly to give up what you could become… the gift God sent you into the world with to share…just so you can have fleeting physical power…temporal power…over other mortal beings.
One is passing. The other is for all time. One is gone even as we see it and the other will remain with us… and with the world…forever.
As we enter the story of the Christ today, Jesus has asked his followers who people say he is. He has healed the daughter of a Gentile woman, simply saying that she was healed. He has given sight and speech to someone who was blind and unable to speak.
He has fed 4,000 people with barely enough food to feed one person. The crowds have followed him and grown larger and larger because of this succession of miracles that he seems able to conjure up without any effort.
“So who do people say that I am?” he asks them. Some say John the Baptist …the Billy Graham of that day. Others say the great prophet Elijah, the Lincoln of Israel.
“And who do you say I am?” he then asks, and Peter says, “You are the Messiah!” God’s gift to God’s people in the world…bowed down by hundreds of years of oppression, waiting to be freed by the One God had promised to send to make Israel great again.
That’s when Jesus tells them not to breathe a word of it to anyone… and then…he says that it means… because he is the Messiah…all-great…that he must die.
Being great and being dead are different things to us and to Peter and so Peter begins to scold him to stop talking like that. Jesus cuts him off. “Get behind me, Satan!”
You want me to do one more act of worldly power, but worldly power is not what I am here for. I am here for something much greater than that. I want to change lives by giving people something greater than personal ambition…more than the dominance of one nation over all other nations in the world.
I want to give you a drink that will quench your thirst for mortal ambition forever…and bread that will end your hunger for mortal recognition for all time. We think we are hemmed in by others, but we are only hemmed in by the limitations we put on ourselves.
Let me free you from that. Let me offer you something you don’t have to earn but only realize you already have it. Let me show you how you can act…and show others to act…in this world so that the world itself is changed…by God through you…by the gift God has created you to be… for all time.
Jesus did not change the life of a blind, speechless man. He changed the world. He did not change the life of 4,000 people who had come to hear him speak. He changed the world.
He didn’t say, “Hold your hand like this” or “Say these secret words.” He said, Be still…look…and see things in a new way.
Albert Einstein said that reality is only an illusion, albeit a persistent one. He, too, was inviting us…urging us…to look at things in a new way.
Lincoln did not go to Gettysburg to swagger over the graves of 9,500 dead Confederate soldiers or to consecrate 8500 Union soldiers who had vanished in the battle.
He came to remind everyone that the war was about whether a nation dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal could be sustained when push came to shove …whether the concept of government of the people, by the people and for the people would perish from the earth.
I don’t know what might have been going on in the mind of a young man who entered Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School a week ago last Friday and killed 17 people in a few minutes.
I can’t imagine how he could then melt into the crowd and walk with other students as they left the building. I wonder at what he must have felt when a girl walking next to him recognized him and said, “I can’t believe you aren’t the one who did this.”
But I think I can hear in it all, someone saying, "The winds do not harm us. We bow before them and so we do not break. You, in all your pride and strength, have so far resisted their blows. But the end is coming."
At our monthly clergy gathering this past Tuesday, Dawn Skerritt, our pastor at Columbia Falls, interrupted our stream of consciousness as we pondered the event and said, “There’s a grief narrative in this, too.”
Isolated by autism, recently orphaned, just having broken up with his girlfriend…or she had just broken up with him…he was looking for some way to express his feelings at all the losses in his life.
Three things can heal us, as the Rowdy Bunch is reading in our book about Mary Magdalene these days: 1. Pray to God each day. 2. Worship with others. 3. Find a small group to be a part of. I call this ‘church.’
I hear Aesop in this, saying, “Better to yield when it is folly to resist, than to resist stubbornly and be destroyed.”
But this sad young man didn’t have a church, didn’t pray to God and had never been taught to worship anything greater than his sorrow.
He had role models that America had given to him over the last several years and several months and several weeks…and he did what they did. He bought guns. Then he used them.
But I don’t think that, wherever he is sitting today, he believes his life any more bearable or the world any more sympathetic to him because of the choices he made. It is as if he has now lost the last friend he had in the world…himself.
Dawn Skerritt is also the Disaster Relief Coordinator for the Yellowstone Conference and she also brought us the news that things were dire on the Blackfeet Reservation with closed roads and heating fuel running out that they were delivering food and supplies to people on sleds pulled by snowmobiles.
She told us they were finding people without food or fuel and they were putting them on the sleds and bringing them back to Browning where they have turned the church annex into an emergency shelter.
I thought of Duey Snow asking us a couple of weeks ago to pray for people on the Fort Belknap Reservation where two people have frozen to death in their houses this winter and I got over the hardships we suffered at having to cancel worship last Sunday pretty quickly, right, then and there at Perkins.
She had been late to the meeting because she was in a conference call to respond to Calvin Hill’s plea for six semi truck loads of firewood …and we all cheered when she reported that The United Methodist Church had found the connections to deliver it to them…and the United Methodist Committee on Relief…UMCOR…was going to pay for it.
The Blackfeet were cut off and the weather was promising to get worse again later in the week…but they had a community and they reached out in their loneliness and their suffering and the world reached back to help them.
If we ask for help, sometimes we get it and sometimes we don’t. If we don’t ask for help, the answer is always No.
Karen Sykes called from a meeting she was at last Friday discussing the same crisis and they were looking for more resources to alleviate the situation further. She called back later to ask for our nonprofit Tax ID number so Wal-Mart could process a $5,000 grant for the effort.
That is how we can rescue the perishing and care for the dying… and I am reminded again that in the midst of life we are in death, just as Jesus was when he tried once again to get his closest friends to look at the world with new eyes…with the eyes of Christ…to see as God sees.
And all this is happening just as we are about to launch our Thursday night community suppers aimed most intentionally at junior high and high school students who are hungry and angry and lonely and tired of the hardships they have to face every day.
I have not spoken to a single person who has not been excited about this initiative. I just wish there were more hours in the day to get things done, and just about everyone I have spoken to…from the VFW to Rotary to school counselors…have asked how they can help. The Veterans of Foreign Wars were downright grateful and felt privileged that they had been asked.
The world is begging for a chance to help and churches all around our community and across the world are the hands and feet of Christ that can get the world to look with new eyes on the problems that so far have only deepened anger and spread frustration.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said you can’t overcome darkness with darkness…you overcome it with light. And you can’t overcome hate with hate…only love can do that.
Jesus confronts us once again this morning, asking us what good would it do if we were to get everything we want and rule the whole the world…if in the process we lost our soul?
It would be as if the gift God had sent into the world with our name on it had never reached earth…we might even get to thinking it have been better if we had never been sent.
But if we can find a way to lose our lives for Christ’s sake…if we can truly work toward that uniquely American understanding that all people are created equal…and we are all in it together…then maybe we can even make it come true from time to time here and now…
Then we will not only find less stress in the world…we might even find less sorrow in our own lives. We could even find more joy in our day and more peace in our world and more hope for our children.
Let us get on with the great work that is set before us…may we find new and deeper devotion to the vision of overcoming darkness with light and hate with love.
We will begin soon with a simple common meal…breaking bread together… spending time together…growing together…finding life together. In the loaf of Oneness, I believe, is where we can all find joy and peace and share it.
Let us stop obsessing on how do stop anger with anger and bullets with more bullets. If the problem is too many guns, the solution is not more guns.
If the problem is not enough love, then the solution is more love, not less. Not guilt…but atonement. Let us lose our lives for Christ’s sake and save them. Let us seek to find what good goodness itself can do. Amen.