Sermons

Love, Loss, and the Promise of Life.
9/3/2017

When my son Joel, my first born, was only weeks old, I developed a little song to sing when he was fussy:
“Everything gonna be alright, everything gonna be OK
everything gonna be alright, so don’t cry Joely don’t cry.”

I sang it to him for the next five years every time he had a tummy ache, any time he got a boo-boo, any time he was scared or upset.  I would hold him close and sing him the song, and soon, he would quiet down.  Everything would be alright.

Life gets more complicated, though, and mommy’s song and kisses don’t make the boos-boos go away.  As Joel when through pre-school and his first years of elem. school, we began to notice some unusual traits.  When he met another kid on the playground, he would roar like a dinosaur rather than saying, Wanna play?  At school he was off in his own world, unconnected to his peers.  While the other kids were running on the playground or swinging on the monkey bars with friends,  Joel sat by himself and dug rocks in the dirt.

In fourth grade, Joel began working with a speech therapist on what is known in the field as “social thinking.”  It is the kind of social intelligence that directs conversation, verbal and non-verbal cues, and The ability to take the perspective of another person.  One day about halfway through the year, Joel refused to get out of the car for his weekly appointment.  Through his tears, he told me what had happened that day.  How he had wanted to talk with a group of boys at the lunch table, but how he couldn’t do it.  He just didn’t know how to banter like a typical kid.  It was the first time he was aware of how lonely he was, how much he wanted to connect with others.  It broke my heart.

The truth is that when you love someone, whether it is a dear friend or child, a parent or a life partner,  You would do most anything to spare them suffering.

I think that is where Peter is coming from in our Gospel lesson today.  Jesus tells his disciples for the first time what the end game is going to be:  That he will suffer at the hands of the religious authorities, and that he will die and be raised.  Peter immediately takes Jesus aside and says, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you!”  I used to think of Peter as a bit misguided in this passage.
Moments before he was the prize pupil getting the right answer to Jesus’ question, Who do you say that I am?  Peter knows the right answer that Jesus is the Messiah, but he is unprepared for what that means.
Getting in trouble with the religious leaders? Suffering? Death? No way!  So he redirects Jesus into safer territory.  Out of love, Peter tries to protect Jesus from the hurt.  Like the song that kisses away the boo boos, Peter tries to push the suffering away.

I think we can all identify with this desire to protect those we love, to avoid suffering.
And so Jesus’ answer may seem harsh:
“Get behind me Satan!” Jesus says to Peter. “You are setting your mind on human things not on divine.”
Jesus realized that playing it safe and steering clear of pain would be a stumbling block to God’s plan.
Not only that, Jesus knew that love includes not only joy but also the pain of loss.
Jesus knew that you could not have one without the other.

The heart of this passage for me is Peter needed to be encouraged to embrace the process of loving and losing.  No one goes eagerly into the painful process of letting go—
that’s why Jesus was telling his disciples ahead of time what would happen.
He wanted to prepare them to let him go through with his mission which would ultimately take him
Away from them—but also give him back to them in a new way.

August, last month, was the one year anniversary of Pastor Carter’s departure as senior pastor.
While he announced his retirement nine months before and prepared the congregation well,
While there was excellent lay leadership and Pastor Hille’s capable pastoring,  it was still hard to say goodbye.
Over three decades of successful, caring ministry—
Multiple generations of family baptized, confirmed, and married by Pastor Carter
Sometimes those same people even were buried by Pastor Carter.
Pastor Carter provided the environment in which people connected to God through worship
He cared for you when times were toughest.

So it seems important to recognize that it has only been one year since he has retired.
Like all losses, this one has meant change
Changes in style and personnel
Changes in tone and emphasis
Changes in how things are done and when they are done.
And while there are wonderful things about new ideas and new energy,
Change can be an awful lot to absorb.

Perhaps this is obvious, but I want to acknowledge this loss.
Some in our community are eager and ready in this new beginning
But others are missing Pastor Carter, his special gifts, and the familiar comfort of his leadership.
Many are a combination of the two.
Just like Jesus and his disciples, we are experiencing that part of loving Pastor Carter is also letting him go.

I am the new pastor, and as in my parenting, I don’t have a song to sing to make the hurt go away.
But I think that is OK.
Like Jesus and his disciples, we don’t need to minimize or ignore our feelings of loss.
Instead we can acknowledge them and lift them up to Jesus.
Because Jesus’ end game was not only about letting go, it was about new life.

“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering… be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
On the third day be raised… Peter just blips over that part.
And as such he missed that the suffering and loss was a part of a much larger plan,
God’s plan not only to raise Jesus, but also the world that God loves.
Resurrection is God’s plan to give new life to all our dead places:
our pains, our losses, our failures.
When we lift up our sadness and discomfort when all seems strange,
we give it to God for a greater healing that we could have invented ourselves.
We open ourselves to what God is doing in and through us, in and through our circumstances.

Jesus said, “Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Jesus is promising his disciples that through following him, even when it means loss, they will find life.
It is clear that Jesus is present in this congregation;
In your care for one another, in your generous welcome of me,
in your enthusiastic outreach to the community
Jesus is here.
He is faithful to his promise of new life to you.

And if you can permit me a moment more with the parenting analogy,
My role is to be like a midwife, supporting you as a congregation and as individuals
As God brings to birth something new in your midst.
Sometimes it’s messy, sometimes its painful, but it is about life.
I don’t know exactly what it will be, but I know that we will find out together.