Readings: Mark 8 v 27-38
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Who do you say I am?
We’ve already had opportunity to consider that this morning.
I hope in all your sharing you got to know the folks around you on a Sunday morning just that little bit better.
What about the rest of our gospel this morning?
I like to think of the second bit of this passage as the “coming back to earth with a bump” bit.
Jesus, just named as Lord, starts to tell his followers about denying themselves and taking up their cross.
And Peter, having just uttered those wonderful words: “You are Lord” is being called Satan.
How do things turn on their head so quickly?
Isn’t that so like the life we know and live?
A roller coaster ride of highs and lows.
So let’s look at this tension that seems to always exist in life.
The highs and the lows.
One never far from the other.
As Kahlil Gibran puts it:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
That philosophy seems to fit well with Jesus teaching.
Serving God demands sacrifice and brings reward.
There will be days of triumph and nights of despair.
That is the journey of the church, the journey of life.
Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For 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.
In this passage today, we can hear words of life or words of death.
We can choose to hear only the words deny and cross and losing life.
Or we can hear the call to follow Jesus into life – a life that is full and affirming.
And that call of Jesus – into life – comes to us at every age and stage of life.
It’s not a once for all.
It’s an ongoing challenge.
There are stages of our journey through life when we will be like the enthusiastic Peter who proclaimed Jesus as Lord.
And there are other times when we will be the Peter who wanted to hold things back, put obstacles in the way of the mission.
There are times when we will hear Jesus affirming us, telling us that we are on the right track.
And other times when Jesus tells us – get behind me Satan – because we are letting our own short sightedness get in the way of God’s mission.
You’ll know by now that, in many ways, I’m an optimist.
I like to think of the glass half full rather than half empty.
And, even with the challenge of working in the Church of Scotland, I haven’t quite managed to lose my grip on looking on the bright side. J
So, today, when we hear again those words of Jesus “ whoever wants to follow me must deny self, take up a cross and follow me”
I’d like us to hear those words not as words that burden us and grind us down and put us in our place.
I’d like us to hear those words as words that affirm life, that call us to something much more life giving than the lives we live.
Not words that call us into misery.
But words that call us into joy.
The joy of service.
Full lives instead of empty lives.
Let me check out your optimism barometer this morning.
Are you filled with hope for the challenge that faces the church today?
Are you enthusiastic for the change that must come in order for Christ’s mission to be fulfilled?
Or is your head – and your heart saying – Not again.
Been there, seen it, worn the T shirt.
It will never work. Let’s not bother trying again.
Here’s a simple test of our optimism scale today:
We can look around this sanctuary this morning, a sanctuary without young people today, and we can see only white hair and wrinkles and folk who need sticks to help them walk.
We can see folk who are tired from years of service.
We can look around and see smiling faces and kind eyes and the wisdom of years.
We can see folk who know the goodness of God and who have witnessed the amazing things that God can do.
We can see folk who worshipped in a barn and raised funds for a hall.
Who then needed more space and bought bricks to build this beautiful sanctuary.
We can see folk who have joined that journey at various points along the way.
And who have contributed to the life of faith and witness in this place.
Today, more than ever, we need our optimism barometers to be jumping off the scale.
Because we have lots of challenges ahead.
We have the challenges of property – leaking roofs and bell towers.
Challenges that have always been met and will continue to be met by the faithful giving of God’s people in this place.
But we also have the challenge of an ever growing community surrounding us, a community that in all its ages and stages needs more than ever to know the love of God.
A community that needs that love to continue to be extended by the people of God in this place.
And yes, we need to keep our buildings up to scratch.
But we also need to reach out beyond our buildings to the community we have been called to serve.
Who could have known almost 60 years ago when the Auld Kirk decided to plant a church in this place to serve the small community growing up around here that that community would expand beyond imagining and that the people here would, in 2009, be called to serve the biggest parish in the whole of Ayr?
You don’t need me to tell you that the challenges facing the church are greater than ever.
Challenges facing families are greater than ever.
And the challenges facing God’s people in this place grow every day.
How will we respond?
Will we be like Peter and declare: Jesus is Lord?
Will we see that the denial and cross bearing to which Jesus calls us leads us into abundant life?
Or will we put our heads down and refuse to do any more.
Refuse to see the bigger picture in which Jesus calls and equips us to be as effective today as we were in those far off days.
Maybe we won’t see again the double decker buses carting young folks off on Sunday School picnics.
Maybe we won’t see again the hallways lined with prams as young mums got together in fellowship.
But there are other signs of God’s people sharing in God’s mission here and beyond these walls.
Let me challenge you this week to have a look around.
See where the people here serve God during the week.
The folk who call in on neighbours.
The folk who run our youth organizations.
The folk who get together for fellowship, here and in other places.
The folk who make a difference in the community.
Lots of signs of mission.
Outwith these walls, important and significant as they may be.
We are building something that cannot be contained.
And all around us there are gifts and experience and enthusiasm.
Lots on which to build so that others can experience the life and love that only God can give.
You HAVE been here before.
You HAVE in many ways seen it all.
And, in each crisis of challenge, you have stepped up to the mark and made a difference.
So why stop now?
Why allow today’s challenges to defeat you when that’s never been a feature of the past?
What is it that’s changed?
Where is that spirit that saw hope and promise, that spirit that wasn’t daunted by the enormity of the task ahead?
Autumn seems to bring out some kind of primal instinct in me.
I love to gather brambles and make jelly.
Since, we moved here, I’ve loved the fruit of the apple trees in the garden – and just have to make them into pies and chutney.
This year, we’ve been blessed by folk sharing their abundance of tomatoes and plums – those too have been used and preserved in all sorts of ways.
It feels like this is the time of year to prepare and store before days get shorter.
It’s time to stock up on the nurturing for long days ahead.
And that is being mirrored in my take on church life.
It’s time for us to look ahead.
To see the challenges looming.
Not with a sense of trepidation .
But with the anticipation of preparing well.
Knowing that, together we have fruits and gifts in abundance.
More than enough to share.
Knowing that the nurturing that has taken place here over the years is sufficient to see us through much more.
That the God who feeds us, who gifts us, who nurtures and encourages us is still able to lead us through.
And that that God still gives energy and vision and leadership.
That God encourages us and rebukes us when necessary.
Because that God loves us.
That’s the thing about Peter.
Though crushed, he could accept those words of Jesus because he knew himself loved.
Perhaps we too can learn to accept harsh words as signs of love.
Signs of love to which we do not react defensively.
Signs of love to which we respond by being energized and renewed to serve.
Signs of love that remind us that our service is not over, that we can never give up because always, the needs of this community for this day confront us and cry out for us to respond.
Our God is a real God who knows only too well the challenges with which we are faced today.
Our God is a God who calls us into living abundantly.
Denying ourselves, taking up our cross, so that we may know a fullness in life.
Our God is a God who praises and rebukes us in love.
Our God is a God who can be trusted for all the small things in life and for all the large.
Let’s not limit God by our small understanding.
Let’s not limit God’s mission by our small faith.
Let’s trust the God of all life who is able to give more than we could ever imagine, the God who has seen us this far and who will surely see us much further.
The God who wants us not to be careful but to be carefree in service.
The God who’s vision is so much bigger than ours and who beckons us to catch a glimpse and then throw in our lot and follow.
So, which Peter are you today?
The one who proclaims: Jesus is Lord?
Or the one who is a stumbling block on the path we’re being called to follow?
He is Lord so let us not hold back the divine from occurring here in this place.
With courage and with faith let’s throw caution to the wind and know that God leads us on.
And let us follow gladly for the glory of God.