It’s Not About Me
Sep 12, 2021
ELCA Day of Service
16th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Mark 8:27-38
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
It’s good to be back with you after being away for two weeks. I’m grateful to Pastor Sandy Selby and Pastor Rick Gordon for leading worship while I was gone. Especially to Pastor Sandy for providing support to the Horvath and Mihelis families.
I am returning with some stories to share. They were told by a Quaker leader at a storytelling session at the Chautauqua Institution. The one I’ll tell today is about making sacrifices for the sake of the Gospel, although I’ll admit that may not seem to be the case initially. So, before we get to the story, let’s remind ourselves of a few details from today’s very familiar Gospel lesson, which is a perfect fit for this ELCA Day of Service.
It is right in the middle of Mark’s Gospel and is a major transition in his account. Jesus and his followers have been all over Galilee. They are now on the outskirts of Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asks two important questions: Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am? The first question is answered by various disciples with a list of Biblical figures. Only Peter responds to the second question. He offers his insight – an astounding statement spoken out loud for the first time – that Jesus is the Messiah (or, the Christ).
Given his bold statement, when Jesus then describes his impending suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection, Peter and the others are confused. Commentator Matt Skinner writes that by calling Jesus “the Christ” (Messiah) for the first time, Peter is declaring his belief that Jesus will purify his society, reestablish Israel’s supremacy among the nations, and usher in a new era of peace and holiness. In other words, Peter is expecting big things from Jesus.
It’s no wonder, then, that Peter “corrects” Jesus in verse 32. Suffering? Rejection? Death? That does not fit with being the Messiah! In fact, those things would disqualify him from being that person.
The problem is that Peter gets the title right, but the meaning wrong. He cannot, now, grasp that Jesus’ eventual death and resurrection will define who he is. Jesus is recasting who the Messiah is and what he will do. And, so, Jesus not only sternly chastises Peter but starts making public statements about what it means to be his disciple.
Doing so involves self-denial and cross-bearing. Which is not just about setting aside our desires and making sacrifices; it is about embracing a new identity, redefining how we live in the world. (1)
A more concrete way to consider this is to think about taking up the cross. In doing so, we set aside the logic that runs the world, writes commentator David Lose. That logic suggests that we find security in possessions or power and persuades us that only by satisfying all our wants can we be content. Instead, we take up inverse logic in which Jesus urges us to give of ourselves, put others first, and take up burdens on behalf of another. (2)
Humility is a good word for cross-bearing, which brings us to the story I mentioned earlier. This is a true story about a woman in her mid-80’s and the congregation she attends here in the United States, as told to the storyteller, who told it to me (and others).
It seems that this woman, a member of the Quaker faith, had been attending the same congregation since infancy. Not only was it the same congregation, but it was in the same building, and she had sat in the same pew since her parents brought her in their arms. In fact, for generations before her, back to the days when pews were officially designated to families, her family had sat in that particular place, in that particular building. It was their place of worship.
Now, just to clarify, this “brand” of Quakers is those whose worship services include hymns, scripture reading and sermons, much like that to which we are accustomed, but with more meditation time built in. Now we come to the crux of the story.
This elderly lady who had sat in the same pew all her life had a problem: several 11-year-old boys had claimed the pew behind her as the one in which they would sit. Their parents, who sat elsewhere, seemed to approve of the plan. They were not “bad kids,” but they were oh, so disruptive with their whispering, kicking, squirming, overly loud singing, and snickering. So, for the first time in her life, as she sat in her pew, in her place, this elder of the faith could not worship.
As the weeks passed, she became more and more agitated and more and more frustrated. Finally, she told the storyteller, made a decision. The storyteller held her breath, wondering what would come next, and asked, “What did you do?”
The woman responded: “I moved.”
That was the end of the story, but I spent some time reflecting on the simple, and yet not so simple, humble and sacrificial nature of that response. Consider her other options: She could have scolded the boys, thus souring them on church and angering their families. She could have complained to the pastor or the church leadership and expecting them to address the problem, thus creating turmoil. She could have sat with the boys, which might have been a positive move unless they were intimidated by her presence rather than feeling loved. And she could have left the church. All of those choices would have in some way impacted the larger community.
Instead, she changed. She redefined the way she lived in the world.
Now, we might be inclined to debate whether that was the best choice based on fairness or good child-raising practice, which may be logical. But inverse logic is at work here; this woman took up the cross, she sacrificed for the sake of the Gospel. She lived who she was – a follower of Jesus.
It’s a simple example; nothing like giving one’s lunch to a hungry person or not retaliating when someone hurts us. It does not involve the effort of mundane tasks like cleaning the stove and refrigerator in a newly renovated church kitchen because no one who used them has done so for years, or sacrificing a Saturday or Sunday to serve others, as many of you did yesterday or will do later this morning.
But at the heart of her action is the kernel of truth about being a follower of Jesus and redefining how we live in the world, which is: it is not about me. AMEN
(1) “Commentary on Mark 8:27-38” by Matt Skinner, www.workingpreacher.com
(2) “Preaching the Anti-King” by David Lose, September 9, 2012, www.workingpreacher.com