Ayear0840gcMessage for Pentecost 14 on Matthew 16:21-28 on Sept. 3, 2023 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

Our theme continues to be Together in the Boat as we get ready to launch Life Groups in two weeks on Sept. 17. When Jesus and Peter briefly walked on water in the middle of big storm, the winds did not actually calm down until Jesus and Peter were back in the boat together with the other disciples. That’s how Jesus designed our life as people of faith—to do it together in the boat with him.

Today our life following Jesus gets more challenging as he starts talking with his disciples about his impending death. Peter—who just got gold stars for confessing Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, now gets called Satan for being totally wrong about what being the Messiah means. Peter was hoping for a Messiah set on overthrowing the oppression of Rome—he wanted Jesus to go for power instead compassion, authority instead of authenticity, a crown instead of the cross.

But political power and worldly authority are not Jesus’ way to usher in God’s kingdom. Maybe Peter hoped the ends would justify the means—if Jesus got the power, he could use it for good. But, for Jesus, the ends don’t justify the means—the kingdom is found in the means themselves— If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Jesus is talking about a way of life to bring about the kingdom—not just how we order our individual lives, but how we live as his community of followers—the church! When Jesus answers Peter rebuke, he turns to face all the disciples and he is talking to them as a whole—he’s talking in the plural! The kingdom of God is both realized and lived out in relationship—that is, together in the boat with Jesus.

Too often we interpret this passage as though Jesus is just talking to us individually—but we cannot usher in the kingdom by acting alone. When we hear this passage directed at only individuals to take up their cross, it has incorrectly become a platform to justify victimization, abuse, and personal suffering as if these are someone’s “cross to bear.” This passage does not mean remaining in an abusive relationship or situation. It does not mean becoming a doormat, being a victim, lacking in self-care, or people-pleasing to your own detriment.

Nor does self-denial and cross-bearing mean refusing life’s joys and blessings. Suffering with illness or aging with grace and a positive attitude is very good, however this is also not your cross to bear.

So then, what way of life and what kind of kingdom is realized in the community of disciples by denying themselves and taking up their cross?

First let’s tackle Deny yourself—this means to “disown yourself” and remember that you belong to God. St. Luke’s and every person here and every person you meet is created in love and bought with a price—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Because we belong to God, God’s interests, hopes, and dreams become our interests, hopes and dreams. God’s interests are above our interests.

Jesus continually spent time alone with God to put God’s interests above his own. This was how he resisted the temptations of the devil in the wilderness. He dis-owned himself—he remembered he belonged to God, and put God’s interests and plans above his own. This is why Jesus called Peter Satan—because he tempted Jesus put his own interests above God’s.
God’s interests and dreams for St. Luke’s and our life together are bigger and better and more important than me and you and our personal likes or dislikes.

Social media and a consumer culture has taught us bad spiritual habits- Like it, don’t like it, love it, don’t love it, as if our opinion is the be all and end all of life. Come to the church of Burger King where you can have it your way—but Jesus calls us to follow him to the cross and not the crown!
It’s hard to turn off these habits when we gather together—but Jesus wants us to build relationships with each other around what God’s interests and dreams are for this church and the world.

Jesus asks our priorities to go in this order when planning our mission: Is what we are doing good
• First, for the kingdom of God,
• Second for the mission of St. Luke’s as a whole – which is another way of saying does it reach beyond our doors to the community in mission?
• Then groups and individuals in the church
This is what it means for us to live out the Lord’s Prayer together—Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. But this is tough stuff—we cannot do this kind of hard spiritual work alone—which is why we are forming—you guessed it—Life Groups! So we can grow together in listening together for God’s interests and dreams. The kingdom of God is both realized and lived out in these relationships—that is, together in the boat with Jesus.

Take up your cross and follow me. Let’s talk a little bit more about what it means to take up your cross.

Again, we take a communal view because Jesus is talking to the disciples together. Taking up our cross—as the church—means identifying where we take a stand, where we are willing to suffer for the sake of those who are the least, or the lost or the last.
Taking up our cross is suffering we willingly choose for the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of someone who is in need, for the sake of sharing the Gospel. The question for St. Luke’s is, what are we willing to do as a congregation, to take a stand, who are willing to be in solidarity with, to love with compassion, and to serve who are in need that might cause us suffering?

We already have some answers. For example, we have willingly chosen to stand with, support and welcome people who are LGBTQIA. This is one ministry in Texas, where we are in the minority as a church, standing in solidarity with people who have been openly shunned and rejected.
The day after our first Pride Sunday in June, there was an anonymous letter and card addressed to me tapped to the side entrance of the church. Inside were pictures of Sodom and Gomorrah burning and information which I am sure you can imagine.

But given that LGBTQIA people live with this kind of fear and harassment in their daily life, work, school, and medical care, this is a crucial way for us as people of faith, together in the boat, to take up our cross and follow Jesus beside LGBTQIA people with love, compassion, support and solidarity.

We have an opportunity to do this again at the North Texas Pride event on September 30th—you can sign up in the Gathering Area or talk with Kristin Atchison. Remember that you do not have to understand everything to love and welcome everyone.

The same is true with hungry neighbors at our free breakfast. Two weeks ago, we had a woman who had been laid off from her job. She has six children, everyone was hungry and she wasn’t sure how she was going to feed them, when she saw our signs for a free breakfast. They came, and got their fill of burritos, snack bags for later, and a box of food to help get them through the week. They also got the ice cream from the Honda Helpers free ice cream truck! She came back yesterday to thank us for the help; she was working again and so grateful, so she made a donation! You never know who God is going to send when are taking up our cross together and giving our time and resources to be available with free hot food, conversation, and prayer. The kingdom of God is both realized and lived out in these relationships—together in the boat with Jesus.

What does it mean for you to participate in denying yourself, taking up your cross and following Jesus as part of this wonderful St. Luke’s community? Life Groups, which start in 2 weeks on Sept. 17 -- help us build this kind of kingdom community where hear God’s interests and dreams through each other, where we gain the courage to stand in solidarity with those who are marginalized and suffering, where we experience the kingdom of God in the relationships that we build, and where our own needs for prayer and companionship are met in addition to Sunday morning.
When I was a young child, I remember Saturday nights we would get ready for church the next day. We all had baths before dinner, dad would polish our shoes, we got to eat pancakes for supper and watch the Lawrence Welk Show—it was the only night we could watch TV during dinner. Then we went to bed early so we could be on time for Sunday School before church. This ritual taught me the importance of church, of prayer, of being part of that community.

My sister Pam and I always shared a bedroom, and during this early stage of life, we developed our own ritual to remind each other to say the Lord’s Prayer before we went to sleep. After we said our prayer, we would say, “beep, beep” to remind each to pray. Maybe we got that from the Road Runner cartoon.
I like to think of the Life Groups and our “beep beep” community—the one that’s there for you and reminds you what’s important, that you’re a person of prayer and connected to this larger community that’s following Jesus together.

So sign up for a Life Group that will start the week of Sept. 17th, as we seek God’s dreams for the kingdom, as we stand in solidarity with those in need, and our spirits come alive.

Today we celebrate being this community as share Communion together this morning at the railing. This Communion railing and many Lutheran chancel areas are shaped like a boat—wider in the middle and narrower at the ends. Come and be fed—where Jesus nourishes us for this life that we together—never alone, but always together in the boat with Jesus.
Beep Beep!

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