Category Archives: covid-19

You did not choose me but I chose you

John 15:9-17
…You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

As we push into this back half of the Easter season, we continue to be prepared by the risen Christ to be an Easter community. Now that we have lived through the Three Days, come to empty tomb, and been met by the risen Christ, God shaping and transforming us into a new creation, into a new family of faith, a community tasked with being Christ’s Body given for the the sake of the world. 

We continue hearing Jesus speak to his disciples from the moment of the last supper, words that began with the image of the vine and the branches last week. Today, Jesus is giving final instructions. Preparations for leaving. Jesus is giving his disciples and friends some last words to live by as a community. 

As the disciples eat their last meal with Jesus, and as he leaves this commandment to love one other, their whole world was changing. 

3 years prior, they had been called to this ministry by the wandering teacher and rabbi. They had followed him around Galilee as he preached, performed miracles, exercised demons and met with the crowds. But lately Jesus was clashing more and more with the religious authorities, he was talking about dying, he was describing a new future for his community of followers… one where they took on more responsibility. 

And now, now in Jerusalem, Jesus has come riding in like a king. He had been met by the cheering crowds but tensions were high. And the sentiment of the city was changing. The authorities seemed to be planing something.

This was a world of danger. This was a world of risk. And this community of Jesus’ followers was under threat. Their little community was in danger of crumbling. It would be easy to just abandon ship. It would be easy to run and hide. It would be easy to just look for themselves and run. 

This frightened and scared group of followers was who Jesus was talking to. All the talk of a command to love, the reminder that they were his friends, that they were chosen by God. Jesus was worried that his followers might crumble and fall apart under the tense pressure of Holy Week. And he was right. Judas betrayed him. The rest fell asleep in the garden, Peter denied him in the courtyard and the rest fled.

Certainly, we know what it is to live in a world surrounded by threats and danger. We know what it is to run the risk fo crumbling. 

With our communities trying to do what is best for our community and for our neighbours, we have been running the risk of crumbling. We have been in danger by forces outside of us and beyond our control. The reality of our own fragility,  the possibility that our gathering might cause sickness and death has been held up to us nearly daily for year. 

Still, long before the pandemic, churches have been facing the threat of decline, the loss of social pressures that helped folks just show up at our doors and become members. 

And we haven’t been very good at dealing with this squeeze and this pressure. We have often taken the same routes the disciples have. We have hidden ourselves away at times, we have pulled back from community when things were hard, we have even denied knowing Jesus when it become uncomfortable to admit that we did. 

And like Jesus’ disciples, we have started to crumble and fall apart. The church in our time has not always been a shining example of love for each other and the world that Jesus describes today. 

So with his disciples frightened and afraid, with the church of 2021 frightened and afraid, Jesus reminds all of his disciples what this community is about and what it means to belong to one another and to belong to God. 

As Jesus leaves these final instructions with the disciples, he isn’t scolding them for their fears and struggles of the present. Jesus is speaking about what is to come. Jesus is preparing them for a new future and a new reality. Abide in me as I have abided in you. Love each other as I have loved you. Bear good fruit, just as I have born fruit in you. Treat one another as friends, just as you are now my friends. 

And then Jesus speaks one brief and short sentence. Perhaps the most important of all the instructions:

You did not choose me, but I chose you.

Hear the words of Jesus again:

You did not choose me, but I chose you.  

Jesus reminds the disciples of this key and important truth of God’s mission in the world. God is the one doing the choosing. All along the way, as Peter tries to choose a different less dangerous path for Jesus. And Judas tries to get Jesus to show his true power by having Jesus arrested, hoping the Messiah will fight back and topple the Roman rule. As the temple authorities, Romans and the crowds try to gain power and control by putting Jesus, and therefore God, to death on the cross. Jesus chooses a different path. God chooses to face sin and death head on. And God chooses life. God chooses now. 

Just like the disciples, we are tempted to crumble apart in the face of adversity. We are temped  look out only for ourselves, to pull back from our sibling in Christ to protect ourselves.

Yet, in the midst of the dangers around us, in the midst of the struggles we face, the uncertainty we face, Jesus is calling us to remember who are. To remember who God has named us to be. 

Jesus is reminding us that God has chosen us, we did not choose God. God has chosen us to be an Easter people. People claimed and gathered from the foot of the cross and taken to the empty tomb. People who might want to hide away, but to whom Jesus has appeared and given us peace. 

Jesus has chosen us even in locked away homes, even when we cannot see one another face to face, Jesus has binds us together even with online worship, zoom gatherings, text messages and phone calls. Jesus makes us one body, though scattered through the shared word of Good News that we hear together week after week. 

It might feel like it is all we can do but crumble in face of a third wave, more lockdowns and a promises end of the pandemic that just doesn’t seem to be getting closer. But Jesus’ disciples have been here before, they have faced all but certain ends to their community….

And the risen Christ has carried them through. The risen Christ has called them from their hiding places, locked doors and graves. This God of New Life that knows and claims us, binds back together in love. Not a commandment to follow, but a naming of the thing that holds us together. God’s love for us, and our love for each other. 

Today, God reminds us again, when we most need to hear it: You did not choose me, but I chose you.

Abiding in the Branches

GOSPEL: John 15:1-8
Jesus said: 1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

Abide in me as I abide in you.

Here we are into month 14 of this global and pandemic, while it feels like we are in much the same place that we found ourselves one year ago, so much has taken place during this past year. 

This Easter season has again been a journey begun in Lent, Lent 2020 that is. And when we gathered at the foot of cross on Good Friday and then again the empty tomb on Easter morning with the women who were afraid, our journey barely paused for moment. 

These 14 months have dragged us through much, through world changing times, even as so much of it has been about staying in place and keeping to ourselves. 

In this back half of our second pandemic Easter, Jesus lays out this metaphor of the vine and branches for us. And today, we need as much as ever to hear Jesus’ promise again… the invitation to Abide. 

To stop, to gather ourselves, to lay aside our fretting and worrying, to take a breathe and simply abide.

Abide in me as I abide in you.

This 1st century metaphor of a grape vine may be an image mostly lost on our 21st century ears. While there are certainly many green thumbs out there, grape vines are fairly uncommon in wintery Manitoba. I know because I remember them being uncommon in wintery Edmonton where I grew up. I know because many summers growing up, the back walls of my parent’s house bore the unusual sight of heavy, leafy, green vines growing up makeshift trellises, tended to by my father. Dutifully grown, and pruned each spring and summer. Harvested and picked clean each fall. Carefully wrapped and buried each winter only to be resurrected each spring. 

So unusual were the grapes, that my kindergarten class took a walking field trip to our house to see them. So did other gardeners come from time to time, interested in seeing these uncommon grape vines. 

Now the thing that almost all the first century folks listening to Jesus would have known about grape vines is that they are complicated plant systems. The vines twist and tangle up around grape trellises to find sunlight and air. The branches grow big leaves which protect the fruit from the sun and the rain. Other branches grow to make structure and support space for the fruit to the grow in sheltered areas between vines and branches. The grapes grow in luscious bunches when they find the combination of supported vine, protected shade and space. 

The vine, the support systems, the branches, the leaves all work together in symbiotic harmony to produce fruit. Unlike apples or some other fruit bearing trees and bushes that just seem to grow something no matter the conditions, grape vines need attention and care, they need all the parts of the plant working together towards the common purpose of growing fruit. 

And the branches that don’t work in the system need to be pruned back, even sometimes the branches that do work need to be cut back in order to keep the fruit growing. 

And it is this image of the complicated, fragile plant system that Jesus choose to describe the community of the church. If Jesus were Canadian he would describe a well coached hockey team, with all team members working toward the common goal… the players who weren’t getting cut from the team or traded away. 

The branch who does not abide withers away. 

Abide in me as I abide in you.

Whether it is a withering branch, a hockey player cut from a team, or a church members feeling disconnected from church community… it can feel a little rough to consider being cast out from a community from which we think we should belong. 

A branch withering on its own maybe hits a little too close to home these days. We get what it means to feel like we are withering way having cut pruned from the other branches and vine that we thought we belonged to. 

And on the other hand, we also know of the branches who will not abide. Those who insist on striking out on their own, those who will not abide working in harmony with the community, those who would rather be cut off than be beholden to system working together for the common good. 

Either way the effect is much the same, being cut off from community is life draining. Both for the branch who cannot abide or will not abide, but also for the system as it must heal and regrow to compensate for the loss. 

Abide in me as I abide in you.

And so it feels almost harsh that Jesus seems to suggest that not abiding is cause to get cut off by the vinegrower. Yet, Jesus is not being prescriptive, Jesus is not suggesting condemnation for those who aren’t getting along. 

Jesus is describing what happens to the branch that leaves the plant system. The branch will not abide, so the branch withers and then the branch is thrown into the fire and burned. Immediately our minds turn to the medieval visions of hellfire and brimstone. 

And yet to Jesus’ ancient hearers, hell would not be the place that they would be thinking of. 

Instead, they would imagine the cleansing fire pit of agricultural land. The place where the pruned branches, the branches who will not abide are reclaimed. Reclaimed, found again,  and brought back into the fold, into the plant system. 

These burned up branches are reclaimed and turned into new life, sprinkled as fertilizer onto gardens and vineyards, or added to compost as key sources of nutrients. 

Even the branches who will not abide, the branches that are burned up are still found and reclaimed by the vinegrower and put the purposes of new life. 

The withered branches are not left or abandoned or punished by the vinegrower, but instead are brought back into new life. 

And this complicated system of vines, of branches for leaves, branches for support and branches for fruit, are joined by branches for fertilizer ash. In the vines and branches, the community of the church there is room for all, for all kinds of gifts and skills to join in the work of producing fruit for the sake of the world, for all kinds of people who work in the midst of community and those who have trouble abiding. God vine grower pursues them all and finds a places for in the community that produces life. 

This is good news for us who are withering away these days. Those who of us who are having trouble abiding alone. Those of us who have forgotten how to live in systems and communities tasked with working for new life, for life for the sake of the world. 

That even when life feels as though it is draining from our bodies, God is the One seeking us out, finding and reclaiming us for the sake of the kingdom, putting back into the business of growing into new life. 

As we enter into yet another withering lockdown, as we contemplate our ever shifting and uncertain future, as we imagine what comes next in this topsy, turvey world, as the life feels as though it slowly draining away from us… God is busy at work, pruning, watering, tending and finding a place for us to grow into new life. 

God is making us ready to grow into new life when the time comes, making us ready for life in community, for being part of a system of vines, branches, leaves and fruit… and fertilizer once again. God is preparing us for life in together in the church, for being part of a worshipping, baptizing, word proclaiming, meal gathering, learning, growing, music making, praying, serving, community of faith once again… soon. 

But today, as we wait and wonder for God’s future… Jesus says:

Abide in me as I abide in you.

Behind-the-Scenes-Philip and the Greeks who Want to See Jesus

John 12:20-33
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit…

Lent has been long and hard on us this year. Lent has been a long and hard year. Usually, this 5 week season of preparation for Holy Week is about opening us up to Jesus’ work in the world, helping us to see just where God is doing important work in our world. Instead of that, this year has felt like stumbling through the wilderness, learning to trust that God is leading us somewhere, even if we cannot see the way. 

We began Lent as Jesus showed us that wilderness is not the scary place we imagine, but where God meets God’s people. We continued as Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about death, and we were shown how our fears get in the way of seeing God’s work. We then watched as Jesus overturned tables in the temple, accusing people of selling God and we were shown that our own tables have been turned right side up. 

And last week, Jesus reminded us that the familiar verse of John 3:16 is not exactly the verse we hope to use to convert those around us, but instead comes in the context of a reminder of how we are condemned already… and it is in our dark world that God shines a light, even if that light stings a little. 

As Lent concludes this week, the disciple Philip is milling about the busy religious marketplace of Jerusalem. This scene actually comes after the triumphant entry, where Jesus rides into town on a Donkey. 

Unlike Peter, James and John, Philip is not a leader among the disciples. He is more of a background kind of guy. Peter is the one who speaks up as the leader of the group, even if he is putting his foot in his mouth half of the time. James and John are vying to be Jesus’ second in command. The three got to go up the mountain with Jesus. But Philip is behind the scenes. While Jesus is teaching the masses, Philip is finding the boy with 5 small loves and 2 fish to feed the 5000. Today, Philip is away from the action, from the crowds surrounding Jesus. 

And this is where some Greek Jews come to him. They are from far away. They have come to the Holy city for passover… perhaps this will be their only chance in a lifetime to be in Jerusalem for the festival. As foreigners, they are unfamiliar with the city, but they have probably heard about this rabbi and teacher who rode into town like a King.”Sir, we wish to see Jesus” they ask. 

Philip, uncertain, goes to Andrew. Together, they leave the Greeks behind to go and talk to Jesus, who gives them a long speech.

If Philip were a church member today, he would be an usher or greeter. He would be one of those volunteers who likes behind-the-scenes work. Peter, James and John might be up front preaching, reading the lessons, conducting the choir, or on church council. Philip would be in early to make coffee, he would probably have picked up some doughnuts for a snack after church. While others are up front leading or taking charge, Philip was the disciple looking for a place to eat or sleep, he is the one making sure that people are looked after and that everyone has what they need. 

But when the Greeks come looking for Jesus, when that visitor walks in the door of the church, he knows how to pass out a bulletin or a cup of coffee… but he isn’t so sure about taking people to meet Jesus. 

If I had to guess, it would seem that many church members are Philips. Faithful people diligently working behind the scenes, caring for each other.

And up until a year ago, we knew how to care for each other. We had tools and habits that we could rely on to maintain community. The chit chat with a sibling in Christ while setting up communion or washing coffee dishes. The conversations in the narthex following worship, or before choir practice, or in the parking lot after a committee meeting. 

And like Philip, the faithful and diligent behind-the-scenes disciple, we find ourselves out of our normal context. Our usual habits and tools for building and caring for community have been ripped away from us. Instead we have been forced to build and maintain community in the comments section of a Facebook video, and over sometimes awkward zoom calls “Gladys, I can’t hear you, you are on mute!”

And we have had to learn to be intentional about reaching out with phone calls and emails and check-ins. We have had to find new ways to be together and collaborate as community. Finding that nice spot in a house to film yourself doing a reading, singing hymns into your iPhone hoping that it can all be mixed together for Sunday, delivering sermon packages and hymnals, teaching an elder relative in faith how to zoom, sharing the peace with text messages and praying over the phone. 

And even as we have been worshipping from home, we have also been revealed to the world in perhaps uncomfortable ways with our worship being on social media, viewable by people across the world. 

Just when our old familiar tools and habits for being church have been ripped away, we have been joined by folks coming to us, wishing to see Jesus in our midst. 

Like Philip, every instinct tells us to go to Andrew instead. In the before time, we might have pointed a visitor asking for Jesus to the bathrooms, showed them how to use a hymnal, waved the pastor over hoping to make quick exit. These days, being out in the open and in the public space of social media might make us uncomfortable or uncertain about what to do when people we don’t know “show up” for worship. 

Before this past year it was easy for us to forget why people walk through church doors in the first place. To forget why we keep coming back again and again. To forget that the volunteer roles we sign up for, the jobs we agree to do, the relationships that become so important to us, the community we form and become a part of are not the things that make us the church.

But this past year has revealed to us a truth more important than ever. That even with all those things that seemed to make a community, those relationships and connections, those habits and tools, those jobs and behind the scenes things that bonded us together… even with all of those things mostly taken away, here we still are still gathering together, still a community of faith.

This past year has revealed the thing that binds us together… the One who binds us together, the One at the centre of the shared faith we confess… the one who has been dragging us through this long season of wilderness. The one that those Greek Jews asked Philip to see. 

When the always helpful Philip goes to Andrew, and the two go to Jesus not sure what to do with these foreigners… 

The Greeks are looking for the King who rode into Jerusalem. 

Yet, Jesus takes their question and steers it in a new direction. 

Jesus says, “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

God is busy drawing all people. All nations. All kinds, young and old, new and familiar, those leading up front and those behind the scenes… God is drawing all of us to the Christ who is lifted up on the cross. God is the ultimate reason that we are all here regular or visitor, seeking and searching or committed and devoted. 

God is gathering us together, and God who is we are ultimately looking for when we show up at church. God is who makes the church the church. God is who finds us, even as we are uncertain at times with what to do with that question, “We wish to see Jesus”

Today, Philip, even though he is not sure how to answer the Greeks, is still trying to be a faithful disciple and follower of Jesus. 

And Jesus recognizes that too. 

Jesus knows that even when our communities are thrown into turmoil and we have to learn completely new ways of being a community and gather using unfamiliar means and struggle with what to with when people come to us ask “We wish to see Jesus,”… Jesus knows that even with all that we are still trying to be faithful. 

And so God keeps gathering us. Gathering us around the word, proclaimed and shared in the most surprising of ways.  

God works with our faithfulness as it is. And from there, God draws us all to the cross. To the place where Christ will be crucified and will die.  

And yet also the place where death will drag us through the wilderness to the empty tomb. To the place where God’s faithfulness is fully revealed, to the reason that we continue to be and gather as community despite all odds.  To the place where God’s faithfulness is on full display when Jesus is lifted up, drawing us all to God’s love. 

Waiting for God’s Answers

John 3:14-21
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Each Lent  invariably leads us to and prepares us for Holy Week, for those most important 3 days of the church year: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. We do so by journeying with Jesus from Baptism to Wilderness and from Wilderness to Jerusalem. Along the way, we hear hints and signs of what is come. In other years, Lent is filled with stories about Jesus’ ministry. He meets the woman at the well and tells her of living water. He heals a blind man by spitting in the mud and putting the mud on the blind man’s eyes. Jesus feet are anointed by Mary and he is prepared for burial. Jesus calls Lazarus from the tomb as a sign of what is coming on Easter Sunday. 

But this Lent is more of a slog than usual. This liturgical year as we focus on the Gospel of Mark, we are dropped into the major themes of Mark’s gospel. No one ever knows who Jesus is the Gospel of Mark, and Jesus tries to keep his identity a secret. He constantly tells the people around him not to tell anyone of his miracles. 

For the last 3 weeks of Lent, have been faced with the fact that we still do not truly know or understand who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing in the world. Jesus began 3 weeks ago by going into the wilderness. Into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. But also into the wilderness to find us… into a wilderness that we have been wandering in for much longer than this season of Lent. Into Pandemic wilderness, into the wilderness of the decline of Christianity, and the wilderness of change. 

This year we went from wilderness  beginning Lent, to Peter’s rebuking of Jesus for talking about dying. But Jesus told him to “Get behind me, Satan”. Jesus was reminding Peter, and reminding us, that God has very different plans. God is going to save the world in a way that we cannot comprehend or imagine. 

Last week, Jesus overturned the market stalls in the temple. He told the animal vendors and money changers to get out. Jesus was furious that people were trying to sell a piece of God’s love. Jesus wouldn’t have it. Jesus reminded us that we cannot profit from God’s love, because God freely gives love and forgiveness away. 

This week, we hear some very familiar words from the Bible. “For God so loved the world…”. Christians of all stripes are encouraged to learn these words by heart. Luther called John 3:16 the Gospel in a nutshell. Yet, as we delve into the verses around 3:16, we discover that this verse is so much more than a simple explanation of the gospel taken out of context. 

This familiar verse is in fact Jesus’ answer to a question. A question posed to him by the Pharisee Nicodemus, who has come asking question. Nicodemus whose world has been rocked by Jesus’ coming onto the scene. Nicodemus thought he knew the path to salvation – follow of the law of Israel and you will be righteous. And yet he also sees that Jesus has been sent from God, and Jesus doesn’t seem to live by the same adage. Nicodemus wants to understand how all these things reconcile, he asks Jesus how one can be born again. He wants stability and certainty, he wants to move on from this disruption that Jesus has introduced. 

Each week of Lent so far has felt like it is taking us from one wilderness to another, one moment of uncertainty to the next. A reminder that God’s promises can sometimes feel so very far from us, that stumbling from one uncertainty to another doesn’t always feel like we are getting somewhere. That our desire for answers and certainty are not usually met neatly and straightforwardly by God. 

Nicodemus comes with his questions trying to figure out his own life, and Jesus gives an answer about God’s plan that include all humankind and all creation. Jesus answers from a perspective that Nicodemus… that we… might not be ready to hear an answer from. 

So what does all of this mean? What is God up to? Where is God taking us? We want answers, we want to reconcile this messy confusing world that we are living in. Like Nicodemus we want to move on from the disruption. For him the disruption that Jesus brought to the religious order. For us the immediate and intense disruption of pandemic, the larger and slower disruption of decline, and the even larger and more pervasive disruption of a rapidly changing world. 

Waiting for answers, waiting for things to make sense, waiting to be relieved of our inconvenience and discomfort… waiting for God to finally get us to the next thing… it can make us squirm with anxiety like waiting in a long line-up for the bathroom or for a rainy day to let up so that we can go outside or for a slow moving train to pass by us at a railway crossing when we are in a hurry. 

In the midst of our waiting and discomfort God is working on us and it sucks. God is forming and shaping us, making us ready for the thing that is coming next, opening our perspective beyond ourselves and our inconvenience. 

Today, on the 4th or 40th Sunday of our Lenten wilderness,  God is preparing us for cross and for empty tomb… and it is hard to endure. 

And God’s work on us can hurt at first. It can feel like that first ray of sun light that stings the eyes after being in dark building. It can feel like the pain of a deep tissue massage, working out the kinks and knots. It can feel like those first painful and sharp breaths that come into our lungs after being dunked under the waters of a cold lake. 

This Lenten season, as God makes us ready for the salvation that is on its way, it can be hard to endure without the glimpses of Easter that we get in other Lenten seasons. We will not listen in as Jesus forgives the woman at the well. We won’t see with new eyes with the blindman. We won’t watch as Lazarus walks out of the tomb. Instead, we are reminded of where we are going. Of where we are going with Jesus. 

Jesus is on his way to be lifted up. Jesus is on his way up a cross. And from that most terrible place of suffering and death, from that Roman cross meant to be the most humiliating way to die, God is using Jesus to save the whole world. 

This is the promise that is made to us today, in the midst of our Lenten waiting for answers. Jesus has not come into the world to condemn it, but the world is condemned already. We are condemned already. We are dead already. Right from Adam and Eve we have chosen ourselves first and we have chosen death. We have chosen to be our own God’s. We have chosen to align ourselves with anything and anyone but God. 

Yet we also hear that God so loves the world. God so loves the world that has chosen anything but God. The world that would rather die than let God be in charge. This is the world that God loves. Love is how God chooses to judge the world, rather than with what we justly deserve. Our discomfort with waiting, our desire for answers and certainty push us so often towards darkness and death that God should let us have, but instead God gives of Godself over to our death dealing ways. God in Christ is given over to be lifted up and then shows us something new. 

God shows us life. Life instead of death. Light instead of darkness. Healing instead of suffering. And yes, it hurts to wait for that promise to be realized. It hurts to have those wounds and scars covered over. It hurts to look into that light when our eyes were accustomed to darkness. It hurts for our hearts to start beating when they have stopped and for breath to be forced back into our lungs when they are empty. 

But this is the God of John chapter 3 verse 16. A God who so loves… so loves… the world that God gave the son. God’s only son to a world that wants to die, but that now, because of the cross and because of Christ, will find out that death is the path to life. God loves us so much that God will come and be wherever we are in order to save us. 

God is going to save a world simply cannot wait through anymore discomfort or uncertainty.  God is going to save the world by dying, no matter how much we protest with Peter. God is going to save the world freely no matter how many market stalls we set up in God’s house.. God is planning to save the world, even when we just cannot wait a moment more for salvation…   

Even we cannot look beyond ourselves and our problems of the moment… Today, we are reminded that God’s salvation plan is for more than we can imagine. God’s salvation is given freely for us and for all.  

The Anxiety of Lent

Mark 8:31-38
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Last week Jesus went into the wilderness as is always the case on the first Sunday in Lent, and there he met us where we have been lingering for what feels like a year. The liturgical season came around again to meet us where we have been this whole time. And with that, we entered lent as the church, remembering that we are ash, and our alleluias put away. 

Our Lenten journey continues this week with some contradictory statements from Jesus. Statements that speak to the way Lent challenges us to examine ourselves: If try to save your life, you lose it. If you want to follow Jesus, deny yourself. If you want to live, you must die first. 

These kinds of contradictions define the the way that Jesus encounters creation, encounters us.  And in the season of Lent we take the time to consider what these contradictions from Jesus mean. 

Jesus begins by teaching his disciples that the son of man must be suffer, be rejected and die before rising again after three days. And Peter doesn’t like it, and he lets Jesus know. But like an old fashioned school teacher Jesus sends Peter to the corner of the room with the dunce cap. Jesus does not take kindly to Peter’s rebuke. Jesus has no interest in Peter’s fears. Jesus is not worried about dying, Jesus is talking about life. 

Peter is busy worrying, while Jesus is telling him, and the disciples and crowds, about God. And yet usually we are still with Peter, and these days more than ever we know about worrying about drying. Our lives are full of worry and fear and other myriads of concerns, so much so it is hard to live. Our fears and our anxiety seemingly control us and the world around us. And rightly so… we continue to live in an extraordinary time. Peter gets it, what is Jesus missing?

It is hard to not to have our fear and anxieties fed by the world daily. Turn on the news for a couple minutes and there is no escaping worry. Pickup a newspaper and try to find story without the word pandemic or COVID-19. Check social media or the internet and find people angered by government actions, whether they think pandemic measures are too much or too little. 

Fear makes us feel powerless and week, unable to see any hope. Anxiety has a hold over our economy, over our politics, over our communities, over our churches… over our very bodies. Like Peter, our fears cause us to do things that don’t make sense, like scolding our teachers or speaking before we think. Our fears hold us back, keep us from acting, keep us from risking, keep us from experiencing the world around us because we cannot imagine things turning out well for us. Like Peter, our fear and our anxiety prevents us from seeing God in our midst. 

This confrontation of our fears and anxiety is one of the inevitable meetings of Lent. Our fear makes it hard, impossible even, to see what God is up to in the world, what is God is doing in our very lives, despite our fear and anxiety. 

Peter’s fear is keeping him from hearing what Jesus is doing. And if Peter could get past his fear of Jesus’ death, he might take a moment to think a little longer about the rest of Jesus’ statement. Peter is planted too deep in his anxiety… he cannot hear the part that he should be asking about. “After three days rising again?”

But even when Peter misses the point, Jesus continues to make it. Jesus is not above contradiction. In fact, Jesus knows that it is in seeming contradiction that God’s work is done. Die and after three days rise again Jesus says. Lose your life to save it Jesus says. Take up your cross, follow and you will live, Jesus says. 

Peter is so busy being afraid and anxious, that he cannot hear that with God, death will lead to something new. 

So often, Peter’s fear is our fear. So often, we just can’t shake our fear to see God’s work around us. But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t doing the work. It just means, like Peter, we are going to be really surprised when we peer into that empty tomb on Easter morning. 

It is easy for us to look at Peter and wonder why he didn’t get it, but God’s work among us is just as shocking and just as hard to imagine. Jesus tells Peter that crucifixion is coming, and Jesus tells us that there is drying is happening all around us. Of course there is the tragedy of human death, but there is also all kinds of other deaths. Death and change. Changing communities and neighbourhoods, dying relationships, dying habits and ways of being, dying and changing institutions and structures. Our past is and so much of what was an old world is just slipping through our fingers, and there is a new world knocking on our doors. 

And all this makes us anxious. 

 Yet, Jesus isn’t giving us a warning, Jesus isn’t trying to get our hearts racing or making want to just pull the covers over our head and stay in bed each morning. 

Jesus is pointing us to the places where God is at work. 

Jesus is telling us what God’s work looks like. God’s activities in the world simply do not ease our fears or quell our anxieties. God’s work does not ease us into the future, or protect us from the unknown. Instead, God is doing something much more amazing than fitting into a box that our anxiety can handle. God is turning death into life. God is transforming us into disciples and evangelists. God is reconciling a broken world. God is showing us what it means to gain life. 

God is showing that us letting go of all the things that we hold on to, all the things that we fear losing – a world that we spent so much time and energy holding on to, that seems so foreign now –  God is showing us that fearing these things is not living. But rather, God’s version of life means being open to future, open to the other, open to God doing something completely unexpected in our midst. 

Jesus will have none of Peter’s fears today, nor will Jesus have any of ours. Instead, Jesus calls us to let go. Let go and God’s activities in the world will completely surprise and shock us. And still, even if we don’t let go, like Peter cannot, there is going to be an empty tomb waiting for us when we least expect it.