Thursday, March 29, 2012

Holy Week and Easter Schedule

All are welcome to attend our congregation’s celebration of Holy Week and Easter!

April 1…Palm Sunday Worship Service
               10:30am in Sanctuary
April 5…Maundy Thursday Salmon Dinner and Service of Word and Sacrament
               6:30pm in Battson Hall
April 6…Good Friday Tenebrae Service
               7:00pm in Learning Center
April 8…Easter Sunday Worship Service
               10:30am in Sanctuary

Monday, March 19, 2012

Our Newest Associate Pastor

Lauren Cannon is now officially and unanimously voted in as another Keystone Associate Pastor! Lauren, among other things, will be organizing and facilitating our new venture, the YASC (Young Adult Service Community). She will begin her ministry with us in April. Senior Pastor, Rich Gamble, reported that the applications from interested young people are coming in from all over the U.S. and beyond. That’s the news for the week, and it is Good News for the People of God!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

sermon: Two Messiahs

Lent 2 Year B

Mark 8:31-38

Two Messiahs

By Rich Gamble

Today’s reading is the second part of the story. In the first part Jesus asks his followers what others are calling him. The disciples offer up the diverse opinions they’ve heard. Then Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?”

This is chapter 8 in Mark’s Gospel. Mark’s Gospel has 16 chapters. That question, (who do you say I am?) sits right at the center of the Gospel.

Peter, who is depicted as a leader but not the sharpest pencil in the box, gets it absolutely right and absolutely wrong, when he answers Jesus’ question by saying “you are the messiah.”

It is Mark’s belief that Jesus was the Messiah or in Greek, Christ. He says so in the first sentence of his Gospel. But in Mark’s day and in ours the term carries a lot of undesirable freight. The words Messiah and Christ both translate to “anointed.” That implies being chosen by God to be a leader of God’s people. Kings were anointed. Kings were called the sons of God. Most of the people in Jesus’ day yearned for another King David to liberate them from the hands of their oppressors, the Roman Empire.

Peter in his revelation at the center of the Gospel of Mark, proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah. We know from the first line of the Gospel that Mark agrees that Jesus is the Messiah but not the Messiah that Peter hopes for, not the Messiah that the people wait for. Jesus is not our idea of a messiah. He is God’s idea of a messiah.

So when Peter gets it absolutely right here in the pivotal center of the Gospel, he is also completely wrong. And that is what leads to the argument between Peter and Jesus in our reading of the Gospel today which occurs after Peter has his breakthrough insight.

After Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus then goes on to say that he is going to suffer, be rejected and killed…and then rise again. Jesus even goes so far as to distance himself from the popular notion of Messiah that he avoids the title calling himself the “Human One” or in some translations “The Son of Man.” Imagine if one of the candidates for president said that in order to be president he must be arrested, tortured and murdered. That would put a damper on an election celebration. Who would elect a president who thought like that? No, Presidents take power and run the country and make their agendas happen. They don’t march towards a certain death. And a Messiah was much more powerful in the minds of Peter and the people of his day than our notion of a president. No, the Messiah doesn’t die, the Messiah becomes a king even more powerful than Caesar. That’s what Peter believes, that is what the people want. So Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him, a strong word, rebuke, it is the same word that describes what Jesus does to demons.

But then Jesus turns and rebukes Peter and tells him "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." Or as we say around here, Jesus told Peter that he was speaking the lie of the domination system and not the truth of God.

Satan, human things, the domination system are ways of talking about our common understanding of how things work. He who has the gold rules. Power comes from the top down it is enforced with violence and enhanced with greed. This is the way civilization has always worked and the way Peter expects even the Messiah to work. The Messiah will be the Jewish version of Caesar.

But Jesus sees the role of Messiah as being completely opposed to the worldly, system of domination. He sees power as self-giving love, coming, not from forcing people to do your will but by empowering people to themselves practice self-giving love.

That is why Jesus goes from his suffering to the hard truth that if we want to be his followers we too are called into this difficult and dangerous work of manifesting the power of love to bring about a revolution in power and principle.

He tells the disciples and the crowd "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.

When Jesus said this, when Mark wrote this, there was only one meaning for idea of taking up a cross. The cross was the means by which Rome executed its enemies. To be invited to take up the cross is to be invited into dangerous work of opposing the Roman Empire.

Jesus didn’t come to suffer and die so that his followers wouldn’t have to, Jesus came to show us that creating a world of true peace and justice requires us all to take on the costs of conflict with the Powers that Be. For if we seek to preserve our lives as defined by the domination system, if we seek to hang on to whatever status, whatever advantage, whatever security an unjust and violent system offers us, then we will preserve that system and prevent true life from happening for ourselves or others. But if we step away from the benefits of domination and risk our security for the sake of those we do not know and even for those we do know as enemies then true life, real hope can happen.

Jesus was the Messiah but not on the terms of popular thought, and he told his followers that he couldn’t do it for us, he was going to show us how it is done. It’s up to us.

What popular thought did in Jesus’ day to the idea of the messiah, so it has done to Jesus today. Most of our fellow Christians have integrated the message of Jesus with the values and practices of domination. In order to truly proclaim Jesus as messiah on his terms, we may well find ourselves in conflict not only with economic and political leaders maintaining domination but also with leaders of our own religion, just as Jesus did. And just as Jesus did, we are called to act to define the faith we proclaim.

We stand against torture whether it is practiced by an evil despot or a Christian soldier.

We stand against war whether it is to advance the tide of tyranny or proclaimed as a holy crusade against evil.

We stand against poverty and against the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few.

We stand against oppression, whether it is practiced by a powerful elite or a democratic majority.

We stand for the peace that comes from the presence of justice.

We stand for the love that breaks down barriers and borders.

We stand for a vision of a world where everyone has not only their basic needs met but also their higher needs to learn, create, and participate in the decisions that impact their world.

If we are not practicing love for stranger and enemy then we are not following Christ. If we are not using what little power and resources we have to stand up for the vulnerable we are not following Christ. No symbol hung around our necks or over our sanctuaries will do. No doctrine or dogma, no hymn sung or sermon endured will do. Christ is not a brand name we wear, Christ is path we walk. Christ is the community that walks with us down that path. If we walk the path of justice then the walk is our proclamation. If we don’t, the cross around our necks or over our sanctuaries means nothing. We must die to our learned preferences for domination. . . die to such things as racism, patriotism, greed, and homophobia. We must, in short, die to the Domination System in order to live authentically.

When Jesus said, “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,” he drew a line in the sand and asked if we would step across - step out of one entire world, where violence is always the ultimate solution, into another world, where the spiral of violence is finally broken by those willing to oppose it with justice and non-violence and when necessary absorb its impact with their own flesh.

In the first sentence Mark tells us that Jesus is the messiah. In the middle he asks us who do we think Jesus is? And then shows us that Jesus is not the messiah expected by a people schooled in domination. In the last chapter of Mark’s original Gospel the women go to Jesus’ tomb that first Easter and discover the Jesus is not in the tomb. There is no corpse to make into a shrine. There is no resurrected Jesus to vindicate his lessons. There is only an empty tomb, an open question, a question which can only be answered by our choice, to take up the challenge and be the resurrection of Jesus’ idea of a messiah or hide behind the blessings of bureaucracies, the crumbs of collusion and the hope of heaven.

Lent is the season in which this awareness sets in. The longed for savior did not save us with a past event or a promised future but with an example for how we are to live in the present. The meaning we long for is not a gift but a choice: the path of popular reality or the path of self-giving love. Only one offers true life. And that path of love, as difficult as it may seem, is good news.