Lectionary Sermons, Year A

Scroll down to find the lectionary week you need.  They are listed in ascending order, so Advent 1A is at the bottom of the page.  

Surprise Witness

Matthew 25:31-46

Christ the King, Year A

             A little boy wanted to meet God.  He figured it might be a long trip, so he got out his little overnight bag and filled it with two of his favorite foods, Twinkies and root beer.  He set off down the street.  After a few blocks he noticed and older woman sitting on a park bench, watching the pigeons.  He thought she looked lonely, so he decided to sit down next to her.  He pulled out a wrapped Twinkie and gave it to her.

She smiled and accepted it gratefully.  Her smile made him feel so good that he wanted to see it again, so he also gave her a can of root beer.  Sure enough, she smiled again, and he was thrilled.  The two of them sat together all afternoon, eating Twinkies and drinking root beer.  They watched the pigeons and never spoke.

As dusk fell, the boy realized he should go home, so he got up and started to walk away.  But he soon turned around and ran back to his new friend and gave her a big hug.  There was that big smile again.

When he got home, the boy’s mother wondered why he seemed so happy, so she asked him what he had done all day.  He said, “I had lunch with God.  And you know what?  She has the most beautiful smile that I’ve ever seen.”

The old woman went home too.  Her son that she looked happier than usual, so he asked her about it.  She replied, “I sat in the park and ate Twinkies with God.  You know, he’s much younger than I expected.”[i]

I wonder what you think of stories like that.  It’s heartwarming, but maybe you are like me, a little unsure of the theology of it.  God as an old woman?  As a little boy?  Really?

In the parable of the sheep and the goats that we read this morning, the sense I get is that Jesus identifies so closely with the hungry, the stranger, the prisoner, that when one of them is served, he virtually says, “It might as well have been me.”

Either way, it is a strange way for a king to talk about himself.  This last Sunday of the church year is called Christ the King Sunday.  The gospels depict Jesus not as a royal figure, but as an iconoclast—a person who challenges the status quo.  He says that religion is about the condition of your heart, not the establishment of rules.  That forgiveness matters more than good health.  That God has a special fondness for the poor, not for the powerful.

The setting of the parable is the end of times, when Jesus returns.  The last judgment, it is called.  He pictures a throne room, where he will be seated before us.  It will be a great sorting process, but everybody will be puzzled by the groupings.  Why do these get to receive the riches of God’s kingdom, but those others don’t?

Here is where the twist comes.  Jesus is not only the sorter or judge, he is also the surprise witness, for both the prosecution and the defense, if you will.  “I was hungry and you gave me food…I was naked and you clothed me…I was sick and you took care of me,” he said to the blessed ones.  But “I was hungry and you gave me no food” to the ones he condemned.

How?  When…?  “As much as you have done it unto the least of these who are members of my family, you have done it to me.”

What is it about the “least of these” that Jesus identifies with?  Each one is lacking something: food, water, friendship, clothing, well-being, compassion.  If you think about it, these are what Jesus offered to people.  He seemed to have special radar for people’s needs, and he cared for them.

But to Jesus, serving is more than an act of kindness.  He calls the ones broken down by life his own family.  Did you catch that?  It is not simply “the least of these.”  No, he says, “As much as you have done it unto the least of these who are members of my family, you have done it to me.”

That changes the message.  You see, Jesus came to us not just to demonstrate and teach us how to be better people.  He came to call us to a higher life, to welcome us into God’s family, to invite us to experience God’s reign from the inside, as brothers and sisters of the King.  And he calls us family whether we are on the receiving side of compassion—the “least of these”—or on the giving side.  He says that those who didn’t know they were acting like his family are his family too.  They will receive the inheritance prepared for them by his Father.

Jesus has a big family.

Family members resemble one another.  I am one of six siblings, and we share several traits and abilities.  We are all blue-eyed and fair-haired, from our Dutch and German ancestors.  We all love words, writing, doing crosswords, playing Scrabble.  We share a knack for foreign languages and music.  We are not particularly good at sports.  Diabetes runs in the family.

We are in Jesus’ family, and we share his DNA, having received his Spirit at our baptism and eating at his table as we will do again tonight.  We share his inner radar for people in need, his heart to reach out and respond, his hands that help and hold, and yes, suffer.

The surprise witness at the last day will say that these are all my family.  There are those who prefer to remain on the outside, so they will get their wish.

The judgment will be as much a natural sorting as anything, just following through on the reality that already appears in our life here.  The ones who follow Jesus, see with his eyes, heartbeat in tune with his, will be ushered into a similar place where all are loved, and all receive what they need, no questions asked.

Several years ago we had a very heavy snow on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  My aunt was in the hospital in Sioux Falls, in her last days.  I was the only close relative who spent time with her, since her only son is disabled and lives in Georgia, and she had become too feeble to go and see him any more.  I desperately wanted to go and see her, but it was impossible.

I called the hospital and asked to speak to her nurse.  I wondered if I might be able to sing to my aunt over the phone.  The nurse said it was probably not going to work, because she was not responsive any more.  I sighed and wondered what to say next.

But the nurse beat me to it.  “What did you want to sing to her?” she asked.

“’It is Well with My Soul,’” I replied.

“Oh, I know that song.  I’ll sing it to her.”

Another member of the family.  I was so grateful.

They are everywhere, you see.  Brothers and sisters who know what to do because they have been following Jesus for a long time.  It just comes naturally.

The kind of king we have is a compassionate one.  He shows up in our stories, in our acts of love for one another.  In the smile of an old woman.  In the innocent pleasure of a little boy.  In a nurse 100 miles away.  In you, and in me.

Thanks be to God.

[i]

Julie A. Manhan, “An Afternoon in the Park,” in A Third Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, 1995.  (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications), p. 67-68.

Caretakers, Risk Takers, and Thanks-givers

Matthew 25:13-40

Proper 28A…Stewardship Sunday

           “525,600 minutes.”  How do you measure the moments in a year?  That’s what one song asks.[i]  And it is the same number for every one of us.

The steady passage of time might be the only equal measure we are given in our lives.  Otherwise each of us is a combination experiences and talents, ideas and yearnings that make us different from everyone else.

The man who left his servants in charge of different sums of money knew that each servant had different skills, and he doled it out accordingly, but he expected all three of them to do something with it.  In the parable Jesus told in Matthew 25, the master gave to each one “according to his ability.”

On this Stewardship Sunday, we consider this equation.  God gives each of us X amount of time, abilities, possessions, and we are responsible for the other side of the equation, the return on God’s investment in us.  Kind of a crude way to talk about it, but Jesus himself put it in those terms more or less.

He made us stewards of everything we have, and everything we are.  Stewards are caretakers, not owners.  Much as we might like to claim our houses, our land, our families as our own, that is not how we see it in the reign of God.  We see them as entrusted to us for a period of time, to put to good use.

How then do we as “caretakers” take care, really care for what God has entrusted to us?  We might not give it a second thought most days.  But then we read Psalm 90, and Moses talks about numbering our days: “teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”  Step back for a moment and realize that your life is finite.  You don’t want to reach the end of it and wish you had used it with more joy, done something more meaningful with your time.

Parables always seem to have a surprise or a twist in them.  Have you noticed that?  Last Sunday the young maidens who had to run off and buy oil were shut out of the wedding feast.  A shepherd searches for one stubborn sheep while risking the other 99.  A woman throws a party just for finding a lost coin.

These happen in Jesus’ stories because he has to help us understand how God’s reign works.  It is different from our way of thinking.

In this case, the servants are commended for taking risks by investing the money.   It was the one who wouldn’t take any risk at all who got thrown into “the outer darkness.”  For burying money in the ground!

Risk is one of those concepts that mean different things to different people.  Some people invest in the stock market directly, while others buy mutual funds, and still others wouldn’t do either one.  I like to travel overseas, but I know people who think flying that long over water is just too risky.

The master expected each servant to risk as much as he was given.  To risk it all, it seems.  So whether they have five, two, or one talent, they were expected to put it to work.  It’s kind of silly, but every time I read this parable, I think of Dolly Levi, the lead character in “Hello, Dolly,” who quotes her late husband: “Money is like manure; you have to spread it around, encouraging young things to grow.”  (Turns out he was quoting Thornton Wilder in The Matchmaker.)

I imagine that the return on investments that God expects from us is measured not in dollars but in the good they do.  We cannot quantify it, but we can expect God to use it in some way.  It never goes to waste.

We might be tempted to see it that way, that there had better be results we can see; otherwise we won’t take the risk of giving.  But faith means giving what God asks of us.  How much does God ask?  God asks for everything.  Jesus said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me,” he says.

We admire Jesus’ commitment, but then we turn away and tell ourselves to be more realistic.  We look for ways to soften this command of his.  We think faith is about feeling secure about life and about the hereafter.  To us faith is no more risky than believing a few things about God and Jesus.  It’s about “getting our theology right and then living a good life and avoiding bad things.”[ii]

But Jesus invites us to discipleship, which means investing our lives, risking them, stepping into what is uncomfortable for the sake of love.  “It is to be bold and brave, to reach high and care deeply.”[iii]  What we discover is that God meets us there with more life and faith and opportunity than we ever expected.

In some ways, faith is like the human body.  To be healthy, the body requires exercise.  A sedentary lifestyle will leave you diseased, can even hasten your death.  You need to “move it or lose it.”

Faith is exercised by accepting God’s invitation to do with God what we could never do on our own, whether it is giving more than you thought you could in the offering plate or finding out that the limits of your strength are greater than you thought.  It is to give out of love because that is just what God’s beloved people do.  God proves faithful in this process, making sure we always have enough left over for ourselves.

So, caretakers are risk takers in God’s reign, it’s a simple as that.

But there is one more thing about that one-talent servant that should not go unnoticed today.  This man had the nerve to blame his caution on the master himself, even accusing him of greed.  “I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”

I wonder if I have done that, actually blamed God for my disobedience, for not trusting God when I am asked to give.  I’m sure I have.  “God, you would want me to be responsible with this money, wouldn’t you?  You don’t want me to give it to somebody who might not deserve it.”  Does that sound familiar?

Or how about this: “If I get involved, people might think I actually approve of those people’s lifestyle.  You want me to have a good reputation, don’t you?  I think I’ll stay away.”  Or: “I know you’ve been asking me to stop spending so much on myself, but I’m supporting the local economy.”

We find ways to rationalize, when what is operative is fear.  Fear that we might not have enough, or look bad, or be uncomfortable.  So we end up hoarding what God has trusted us to put into circulation for the sake of the world God loves.  The servant had the ability to multiply the master’s money, but he was afraid of making a misstep, and he let that fear paralyze him.

We can tie ourselves in knots with the questions about how much to give, when to invest our time, whether to say yes or no to another request for volunteers.  Let me propose a solution to the anxiety.  It is found in a word I never noticed in the parable of the talents before: joy.

When the master commends two of the servants for increasing his funds, he gave them more to do and said it would be a joy to partner with them: “you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

We find joy also in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians that we read today: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  So, if you aren’t sure what to do, seek joy, pray, and give thanks.

Gratitude is a way of life that will enliven and expand your faith.  It is one of the ways we rejoice.  Instead of agonizing about what to do with what you have, give God thanks for it.  Look around you and start identifying things you appreciate.  They are gifts from God.  Focus on the beauty of your surroundings and give thanks.  Look for goodness in a person you struggle to like, and give thanks.  Pause before you eat, or sleep, or wash your face, and give thanks for your food, your bed, clean water.

Make gratitude a daily, intentional practice, and see how it deepens your faith.   Notice what happens inside you when you give some of yourself away.  Your questions about stewardship will work themselves out.

God’s people are thanks-givers, not just this week on a holiday, but all the time.  It reminds us who is in charge (not us).  Doesn’t that take the pressure off your decision-making?  God is the source of all that you have and are and will be.  You can relax, because everything comes from God and belongs to God.  We are simply caretakers who take risks because we a partnering with a powerful and creative and compassionate God.

What a wonderful reason to give thanks.

[i] From “Seasons of Love” in “Rent” by Jonathan Larson.

[ii] Buchanan, John M. in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4, 2011.  (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press), p. 312.

[iii] Ibid.

Joy in the Big Picture

Matthew 25:1-13…Proper 27A

Be prepared.  Ho-hum.  Is that all we can get from the gospel today?  Make sure you have enough fuel for the party, for the trip, for the day?

At first glance, you might think that’s all Jesus was trying to say with the parable of the ten maidens, five of whom he called wise for having enough oil, and five he called foolish, for grabbing their lamps but not their refill flasks.  But you can learn that lesson in Boy Scouts; you don’t need the Bible for it.

The lamps and the oil aren’t the point of a celebration.  Right?  People fuss over all kinds of things when they want to throw a party, like decorations, and guest lists, and who sits next to whom.  Lots of practical details to iron out if you want to throw a really good shindig.  But then they need to cut loose and enjoy the party itself; otherwise there is no point to all that work.

Back in Jesus’ day, the bridegroom built a room or two onto his family’s house, and when everything was ready, they would make a big deal of his trip to the bride’s house to fetch her and take her to her new home.  (This is what Jesus was referring to in John 14:2-3 when he said, “I am going to prepare a place for you…I will come to fetch you to come and live with me.”)  Her bridesmaids didn’t dress up in frocks they would never wear again and carry flowers down a church aisle as they do today.  Instead they hung around outside her door so they could announce the arrival of the groom and the servants could start pouring the wine.  They needed to have lamps ready to light the way for the procession.  It was just a practical matter to have lamps and oil ready.

So when some of the bridesmaids were too hasty, too focused on themselves or the party or who-knows-what to remember their extra oil, nobody had the patience to make up for their carelessness.  The party was underway, after all.

I don’t like weddings in the gospel of Matthew, where people get left out in the cold for wearing the wrong garment or coming too late.  Better to read John’s version, where Jesus turns water into really good wine.

Leave it to Matthew to keep us in touch with reality.  You do lose out when you are careless, or focused on the wrong things.  Matthew’s warnings might seem harsh, but it is a kindness to make sure we don’t miss out on the great celebration God is preparing for us.

But we do.  We miss out on the fun far too often.  We neglect the practical parts of our faith, practices like simply showing up to be with God, bringing our cares and failures, letting God deal with our brokenness.  We ignore the needs of the poor, elevating our own preferences to the status of necessity, and then wonder why we can’t drum up compassion in ourselves.  We’re out of practice.  The lord of the party has to tell us, “I don’t know you,” because we have stayed away too long.

Or maybe we are not that careless, but we still miss out on the joy.  Our focus is trained on the cares of life that need our attention, but then we forget to look up.  We haven’t stepped back to look at the bigger picture for a while.  Maybe you can’t remember the last time you noticed God’s part in the scheme of things, and joy slipped away when you weren’t looking.

It is remarkable how many times Jesus talks about rejoicing, and joy.  He said his whole purpose was for us to enjoy an abundant life (John 10:10).  He came to free us from the burden of our sin, to forgive us and offer us the life in God’s reign that is all about trust, and love, and compassion.  We are not meant to trudge through life, worn down by our cares.

But it doesn’t work to tell you to be joyful, does it?  You can’t command joy.  Joy has a source, and it isn’t bought or learned or obtained in any way from someone or something else.  It is conceived within, whether it is within your own soul or within the community of God’s beloved.  It is organic, mysterious, alive.

The funny thing is that there are practical things you can do to have joy, as practical as making sure your wick is trimmed and you have enough oil.  Such simple things.

The first is to attend to your soul.  You are doing that this morning.  Do it every day, connecting with God in whatever fashion works for you.  Read the Scriptures, alone and in the company of others.  Listen to music, religious or otherwise.  Dust off that book of poetry you so loved as a college student.  Take a walk.  Watch a child at play.  You will be giving joy a chance to take shape within.

Second, help other people without expecting anything in return.  The prophet Amos voiced God’s disgust with worship that is not accompanied by efforts to do justice, to right the wrongs around us.  “Faith without works is dead,” is how James puts it. (James 2:17)

Last week Jane told me that the van had to be jumped in order to move it in the parking lot.  It hadn’t been used for months, so the battery went dead.  She left it running for a couple of hours to charge the battery.  We need to keep our compassion and servant muscles exercising so they will keep running smoothly.  Joy bubbles up when you give of yourself for the sake of someone in need.

Third, take the time to step back often, to see the big picture.  Get your nose out of your own business and see what is happening in your community, in the world.  Ask yourself where God is in the picture.  Talk to other people about how they see God at work, in your church and in the world.

I make a habit of naming these “God sightings” for the church council every month.  I see God at work among you in big and small ways, all the time!  From your faithfulness in worship and your friendly greetings before and after church, to the renewal of ministries with kids and teens, and a spanking new kitchen.  God is doing things here!  And God is busy in the world everywhere.  Pay real attention to the world around you, and see how God’s fingerprints begin to appear before your eyes, everywhere.  Joy will bubble up in the process.

We don’t have to wait to be joyful for Jesus’ coming someday.  Jesus comes to us every day, in innumerable ways.  He comes to us in the worship, in the Word, in the sacrament, in our mutual care.  He also appears in the reality of our world, in scientific queries and discoveries, in hospital rooms and board rooms, in the cries of the poor and the exuberance of an Irish jig.  His presence permeates everything, and brings us joy when we are aware of him.

In his Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis writes about a group of trolls who are given every opportunity to see the beauty and spaciousness of Narnia, the metaphor for God’s kingdom.  Even when the panorama is put before them, all they can see is ugliness.  When all the characters who follow the great lion Aslan are on their way to the beautiful, eternal Narnia to be with him forever, the trolls are gathered in their tight circle on the ground by the path, muttering and grumbling, unwilling to accept the invitation to a glorious life.  Their reality is confined to a small area a few yards wide, colorless and joyless.  They choose that reality.

I wonder if one of the reasons people are staying away from churches these days is because they aren’t detecting joy among us.  Are we too preoccupied with surviving?  With disagreements over morality or worship or money?  With sustaining programs that have had their day?  I pray that we can find a way to focus on God’s goodness and sharing it generously, joyous in our worship and work and play.  Doesn’t that sound like abundant life that Jesus promised?

If we as God’s people stay awake to the wonder of God’s goodness to us, the beauty of nature, and the big picture of belonging to God’s beloved community, will not joy burst forth and characterize our life together?  Even if it doesn’t have that much force at first, will it not change our own lives for the better?

Every person here is a walking work of art, a marvel of anatomy and memories and ideas and talent.  Each of us is an heir to the kingdom of God, a citizen of a vast universe, witness to the miracles of birth and the wisdom of old age, partakers the holiness of God.  Stay awake!  Let the seed of God’s joy take root and bear its goodness in your life, for the body of Christ, for the world.

When Less is More

Matthew 5:1-12

All Saints Sunday 2017

          Leonard was a wealthy man.  I remember talking with him about that in the last days of his life.  His children would not be inheriting great sums of money or land.  His children were his wealth.  Leonard and Elsie barely scraped by on their small farm all of their lives, but theirs was a happy home.  Their children were devoted to them, and they still spend as much time together as possible.  Leonard was truly wealthy in love and joy, despite what he lacked otherwise.

I have known many people who embody the Beatitudes we read today, including Leonard.  Poor in spirit, meek, merciful.  Blessed are they, Jesus said.

In Jesus’ time, blessing was understood to be material wealth.  Way back in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses was told that those who obeyed God would be blessed.  Their lives would reflect God’s favor.  Somehow that got turned around to mean that if someone was wealthy, they sure look like they were blessed, so they must be pleasing God.  So wealth equaled blessing, and blessing was the same as wealth among the people Jesus encountered every day.

Jesus had a habit of challenging the ideas that people took for granted.  He said that blessing had nothing to do with wealth.  In fact, it was more about what people lacked than what they possessed.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  Is it to lack confidence, or to be discouraged?  Are they actually poor, lacking material goods?  Either way, these blessed ones don’t have what they need to thrive.  They know what it is to ask for help, and to turn around and help others in the same way.  They understand why the kingdom of heaven—God’s ideal—is about everyone having enough.  Do you know anybody who is poor?

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  I guess that covers everyone, because we all suffer from loss.  Those who mourn feel empty, deserted, adrift, having lost someone they love.  They are able to receive comfort because their sadness is real.  They can walk alongside others who are mourning, sharing the burden together.  Know anyone who is mourning?  Are you grieving right now?

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”  Blessed are those who lack arrogance.  Because they are humble, they are able to embrace God’s values.  They are not busy putting themselves ahead of everyone else.  Sound like someone you know?

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  They hunger for God’s ways, letting go of their own self-righteousness, their own ideas of what God wants.  Living in God’s reign means freedom to love and grow and bless the world.  When you get a taste of it, you are hungry for more.  When you live into the life God created you for, you will be filled with joy and peace.  Are any of your friends longing for a life free of drama and striving, aching to love and be loved?

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”  The merciful let go of resentment and revenge.  They refuse to hold a grudge.  They understand that we are all broken, all in need of forgiveness.  Their hands are empty, open to love and not clenched to fight back.  Because they offer mercy so freely, they are apt to receive it in return.  I know a few people like that.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  The psalmist said it centuries before Jesus did:

“Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?

And who shall stand in his holy place?

Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,

who do not lift up their souls to what is false,

and do not swear deceitfully.”  (Psalm 24:3-4)

These pure hearted folks do not cultivate sinful habits like cheating or lying.  Their hearts are not filled with hatred.  They are not preoccupied with covering their tracks or being suspicious.  Instead, when they look around, they can see God shining through nature and people and experiences.  I just had lunch with someone like that last week.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  They lack cynicism, because they live in hope. Peacemakers choose to trust that the goodness of God has been wired into every person.  They look exactly like they were meant to look, like children of the God who loves all people.  Got anybody like that in your family?

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  These do not let fear run their lives.  They know that there are those who may be able to harm their bodies, but their souls are safe in the love and promise of God.  I never knew someone like that personally until the last ten years of my life.  These friends inspire me.

It is always tempting to read the Beatitudes like a checklist, to see them as a kind of Lenten discipline to humble ourselves so we can be considered good Christians.  I suppose you can use them that way.

But I don’t think they were meant to be used.  They are observations that Jesus makes of the people around him.  Remember that the people with power in his time were mostly either Roman soldiers or temple authorities.  Jesus was talking to common people who struggled for survival, for dignity, for joy in the midst of their suffering.  They worked hard, with their hands.  They were meek, poor in spirit, mourning.  They longed for peace, for God’s righteousness to prevail over their oppressors.

So what Jesus was doing was honoring people who never got to be honored otherwise.  You are God’s beloved, Jesus told them.  God sees you, and blesses you.  You are the most able to glimpse and grasp the kingdom of God even if you wish for a better life.  You are God’s people right now, while you struggle.  While you think you lack so much, your lack leaves you open to God’s grace.

Isn’t that what we all need to hear?  That we don’t have to strive so hard to be worthy, to keep up, to be respected?  Perhaps we are too busy filling up what we think we lack.  We think our lives need more activity, more possessions, more status.  Maybe we need to slow down and read the Beatitudes again, to realize that our emptiness is exactly what God needs in order to fill us with divine love and goodness.

What do we usually think about God’s blessing?  Somehow we get it all tangled up with whether or not you are going to heaven after you die, which is a narrow definition of what it means to be saved.  In the New Testament, salvation is not about going to heaven when you die, even though there is talk of that in a few places.  Salvation is about being made whole, being called a child of God.

Jesus proclaimed people saved when there was no such thing as an Apostles Creed, no theories about his death and resurrection, no confirmation classes.  Christ-ordained baptism like ours today didn’t happen until the early church got going.  But Jesus told people they were God’s own, God’s blessed, regardless of what they believed or did to appear worthy as we would measure it.  He looked at the beggars, the lepers, tax collectors, widows forced into prostitution as the only way to make a living, and called them blessed!  That is what our Lord Jesus clearly stated, and we need to pay attention.

Today we celebrate All Saints, when we proclaim our hope in Jesus Christ.  We trust that our loved ones who have died are fully experiencing God’s presence.  They are the saints!

But we are also saints.  Simultaneously sinners and saints, we say, habitually straying from God’s commands but nevertheless redeemed through the cross of Jesus Christ.  “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us,” Paul writes (Romans 5.8).   He calls us beloved, God’s children, blessed, forgiven, able to do even greater things than the works that he did himself.

His beatitudes are for us too.  Blessed are you when you feel downhearted, Jesus tells you.  You are ready for the comfort that is real and true, the promise of my presence and love.  Blessed are you when you miss your spouse or your child who has died.  You understand what love is; you are experiencing the deepest dimensions of the love I gave you when you were together.

We are just ordinary people.  My friend Leonard was an ordinary man.  He loved his family.  He was a pilot of a small plane he used to take his family on trips.  He was disabled, and he had friends all over the world through his ham radio hobby.  He took videos of historic events in his community.  He ate his wife’s delicious cooking, food grown on their own farm.

Jesus looks at our ordinariness and calls it blessed.  He invites us into the circle of the divine with the Father and the Spirit.  He calls us family.

What makes us saints?  Jesus does.  Thanks be to God.

The Power of the Word

John 8:31-36

Reformation, Confirmation 2017

Beloved community of our Lord Jesus Christ,

It has been 500 years this week since Martin Luther nailed his propositions to a door for all to read.  His words were a spark, lighting a tinder of unrest and revolution that he never anticipated or even desired.  He wanted to coax the church back to its center, to remind the church authorities that God’s grace is not found in traditions or transactions but rather in the cross of Jesus Christ and the resurrection he shares with us.

But words have power, perhaps more power than even Luther expected.  His own words sprang from his personal experience with God’s grace.  He wanted everyone to be able to read about it in a Bible of their own language.

Words have power.

On this momentous weekend of both a church anniversary and students undergoing their Affirmation of Baptism, I want to say just a few words about words.

First, the Word of God.  I once stood in the room where Luther was said to have translated the Bible into German, the language of his people.  It was an ordinary room in Wartburg Castle.  That room reflects what God does for us, distilling the wisdom and beauty of God’s intentions for us into one book, in language that we can understand.  Ordinary words like “house” and “sky” and “life” and “shepherd.”  Yet in those simple words, we learn of a God who loves us deeply and eternally.

I am reminded of these words from the book of Deuteronomy, a message to God’s people right before they were to enter the promised land, not unlike the threshold our confirmands face this weekend:

“For ask now about former ages, long before your own, ever since the day that God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of heaven to the other: has anything so great as this ever happened or has its like ever been heard of? Has any people ever heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have heard, and lived? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by terrifying displays of power, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? To you it was shown so that you would acknowledge that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him.  (Deut 4.32-35)

We have these stories that we will know there is no other God. There is no other book in the world that will tell you of such a mysterious and loving God who reaches across eternity, into your mind and soul to draw you into the great story of purpose and meaning and beauty.

In July of 2004, the people of Ranonga, a small, remote island in the Solomon Islands, read the words of Christ for the first time in Lungga, their own language  This followed more than 20 years of fundraising efforts by the local people.  When the finished copies were finally made available and the people held before them the written words of Christ, a local pastor declared: “Today God has arrived in Ranonga.  He has arrived in our own culture and is speaking to us in our own language.”[i]

“Into a world of souls, some listening, others preoccupied, Jesus speaks in words common to all: ‘Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in’ (Rev 3.20). To recognize a voice speaking in a language we understand is so much more than acknowledging a string of inanimate, recognizable words.  We recognize a person beyond the sounds, meaning within the language, an invitation in the face that somehow looks to ours even now.  How much more so this is true of the voice that first spoke into the silence and called the world forth by name.”[ii]

See, we not only have words about God and even words from God, teachings and dialogue from Jesus; we have The Word who is Jesus himself.  The apostle John said Jesus is the Word come to us from God:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being…And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (Jn 1.1-3, 14)

Even if you have trouble understanding the Scriptures, you can still know the Word of God when you know Jesus himself.  He said, “if you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  I don’t think he was only talking about his teachings.  He walked among us and taught and ate and laughed and suffered and died and rose again so we could see God up close.  He was and is the living message of God for us.

Make it your business to know Jesus in the gospels, and you will understand the rest of Scripture much better.  He is the Word that interprets the rest of God’s Word for us.

So, there is the Bible that we call God’s Word, and there is Jesus, also known as the Word.  Then there are our words.

If Luther lived in a time when written words were scarce and prized, we live in an age that is the opposite.  There is a barrage of words coming at us every day.  Language is thrown around carelessly, as if it has no power.  Yet we know that it does, especially when it is used to criticize, provoke, and insult each other.  How many people have died as a result of words flung at them, whether thoughtlessly or with intentional hatred?  How much has our government become ineffective because they can’t communicate with words of wisdom and compromise?

James writes about the power of our words.  He might as well be commenting on social media, or our public dialogue, or what you texted to one of your friends this weekend:

“…the tongue is a fire…no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.” (Jas 3:6a, 8-10)

You know the power of positive language, words of encouragement and of hope and of love.  Some of them you have heard in this room.  You have heard many of them from your parents and mentors and friends in this beloved community.

Confirmands, you are speaking words today that are like a doorway.  Words that are a beginning.  Language that contains far more than all you have been taught in confirmation classes, words whose meaning can’t even be fleshed out by the entire Bible, to tell the truth about it.

This is one of those life passages when you make promises whose meanings you do not yet know.  You are using words like “denounce,” and “Yes, with the help of God.”  But it takes a lifetime and then some to know what you are saying today.  Like all those through whom God spoke in the Scriptures through the ages, you are speaking about things that are too wonderful for you to understand.

Your parents did this at your baptism.  The sacrament that celebrates God’s grace in calling you and forgiving you is a mystery that no human being can fully grasp.  Yet it is a gift that we dare to claim because God invites us to do that.

A similar kind of speaking happens in a wedding ceremony.  Vows are uttered that have to be lived into.  It takes many years to know what is really meant by “for better or worse” and “till death do us part.”  The meaning of those words is learned through tears and heartache and celebration.  The value of those words is learned through trust and forgiveness.  The word “love” takes on dimensions you never dreamed of at the altar.

Today is Reformation Sunday.  We remember Martin Luther challenging the church’s notion that they could dole out words like forgiveness and hope as though they could be bought.  He knew that the good news was not something that should be hoarded or abused; it was free to everyone who had faith in Jesus Christ.  God invites everyone to explore the mysteries of God’s wonderful gifts.

And so, today, you dare to speak.  You can do it because your friends and family who have spoken these words before are here to encourage you that they are good words.  Their hearts are filled with hope that you will live into these words, that the doorway of your promises today is an opening to a life of faith that will not disappoint you.  We speak them again, with you, to live into them ourselves.  Together we confess our faith, and dare to speak, because the Word himself, Jesus Christ, has given us a voice to say a word, to say “yes” to him, with confidence and joy, even though we are only beginning to know what that means.  Thanks be to God.

[i] As quoted at http: http://www.biblesociety.org/index2.htm

[ii] “Slice of Infinity” by Jill Carrattini, Oct. 23, 2009.  Copyright Ravi Zacharias Ministries.

What Jesus Sees

Matthew 22:15-22

Proper 24A

Things are coming to a head in Matthew’s gospel.  We have actually moved from the time of Jesus’ general ministry to the final days before his crucifixion.  This is after his entry into Jerusalem for the Passover.  So much happens during that week, we can’t cover it all in Lent or Holy Week, and by that time, we are focusing on the cross.

Jesus has been explaining God’s intentions in every which way he can, that God invites us to an abundant life in which we are forgiven and cared for.  He is zeroing in on the temple leaders, holding them accountable for undermining God’s intention.  He has been exposing their ambition and greed that compel them to mislead and manipulate the people.  His detractors have had enough of his criticism, and they are looking for ways to silence him.  We know all too well that they will succeed, at least temporarily.

This time the Pharisees teamed up with the Herodians, a faction we don’t know much about, except to presume that they usually don’t occupy the same space as the temple leaders.  Together they come up with what they think is an airtight “gotcha” question.  “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

If Jesus says it is, then he will be considered a Roman sympathizer, and he will lose his popularity among the people.  If he says it isn’t lawful, he could be accused of treason or sedition.

Instead of walking into their trap, Jesus challenges their agenda: “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?”  In other words, what is the point?  You have no interest in the answer to that question.  Clearly you are out to get me.

Before they can lob another question in return, Jesus wants to take a look at the coin for the tax.  When they brought one, he asked what seemed to be an obvious question: “Whose head is this, and whose title?”

Now I want to stop right there.  For some reason, the image of Jesus and a Pharisee looking down at a coin in Jesus’ hand captures my imagination.  The Roman coin had the head of Tiberius on one side and his claim to divinity on the other side.  Think for a minute about Jesus peering down at that coin.  Hmm, this man Tiberius claims to be a god.  He demands loyalty, worship, and the payment of a poll tax.  His minions enforce these demands.  He claims to be…a god.

The idea of looking closely make me think of what we read in Isaiah 45 just a minute ago.  It is a message from God to Cyrus, the Babylonian king—not even a king among God’s people.  The Israelites have been captive in his land for decades, and God decides to use this pagan king to allow them to go home and rebuild their temple in Jerusalem.  “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me, so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other.”  (Is 45.5-6)

One chapter before this one in Isaiah, humor is used to make the same point about God.  This is a scathing critique of idol worship, pointing to the wood that they were using for two purposes:

“No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, ‘Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals, I roasted meat and have eaten. Now shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?’” (Is 44.19)

It is as though God is saying, “Hold on.  Take a step back.  You used the same log to make a fire for your supper and a carved idol that you worship as if it is alive.  Do you see what is wrong with this picture?”

In case I do a bad job and you miss the point of this message otherwise, here it is:  How does the world look when we see it through Jesus’ eyes?  He was always seeing things differently than other people in the gospel stories.  Or maybe I should say, he noticed things.  He saw the children and was delighted by them, as opposed to the disciples, who could only see distractions.  When he looked at Zacchaeus the tax collector, he saw disillusionment and yearning, whereas everyone else could only see a cheat, in collusion with the Roman authorities.

To be honest, this isn’t usually considered the main point of this gospel story.  But I couldn’t shake the idea seeing what Jesus sees.

When you put on Christ, as we are called to do in our baptism as a daily practice, how do you see the world differently?  What does Jesus see when he looks at the things we value—our coins, our commerce, our government?  If we pause and take a good look at how we order our world, what we value, to whom or what we give allegiance, what will we see?

Just the idea of Jesus peering closely at anything with me makes me think twice.  I have an image in my mind of myself and Jesus side by side, peering closely at something in my hand.  I can think of a lot of things I value that make me wince if I picture Jesus examining them.

When you follow Jesus, you gradually see the world differently than before.  It can be very annoying!  It makes you realize how much your priorities need to change.

Ten years ago I made my first trip to Mali.  I prayed that God would help me to be open to whatever I was meant to see and learn.  While we were in a remote village, we visited the chief and his family.  Because they are allowed to have several wives, they often do, especially in the rural areas.  You can imagine, that means there are a lot of children.

This photo is not the best quality, but it comes from that visit with the chief and his family.  I noticed someone in that picture.  She is a beautiful little girl.  If she is still living now, ten years later, I suppose she is a striking young woman.  But that day I felt God pointing her out to me.  So, I prayed for her, off and on, for a few years.  I never spoke to her, but I named her “Jolie” in my mind, French for “pretty.”  I prayed that she might somehow know that God loves her.  I prayed that she would not be subsumed into a system that dishonors girls and women, and that she would experience the joy of learning and becoming all that God has made her to be.

I have hosted friends from Mali in my home.  I have shopped with my friend Bibi at Walmart both in Spencer and in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Imagining how she views it is mind blowing.  Shopping in Mali consists of going to the street market or stopping at a stall or a small mud hut by the side of the highway.  There are comparatively few transactions that take place inside a modern building there.

Just walking down the toothpaste aisle along with my friend made me feel embarrassed.  How many brands and flavors and whiteners and tartar controllers and cavity preventers do we need, and in eight different sizes?  It is painful to walk beside her, because I have seen the poverty in her neighborhood, heard her prayers when they don’t have enough milk for the children in her orphanage.

Maybe that is a bad example for you.  I know there are reasonable arguments for why I don’t have to be embarrassed about a trip to Walmart with a friend from Africa.  But what matters isn’t what Bibi thinks about Walmart.  What matters is what Jesus thinks about it.

I wonder.

I can’t claim to know what Jesus thinks about Walmart or Sam’s Club or a lot of things.  I have ideas about it, but I can’t tell you anything beyond what Jesus says.  “Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” he said.  We can leave it at that.

Getting back to Jesus, and that coin.  The Jews believe that everything belongs to God.  That coin might have had a human face on it, but the metal it was made of was created by God.  So was Tiberius, and every other person.

In fact, the Scriptures tell us that God’s image is stamped onto every human being.  “Let us make humankind in our image,” is how it goes in Genesis 1.

That calls up a different idea in my mind.  If the idea of leaning over a coin with Jesus is compelling, it is that much more captivating to regard each person’s face with Jesus at my side.

I know people who pray like that.  One friend said that for a long time, she could not pray for anyone unless she could picture them in her mind.

The trouble is that we layer over those portraits in our minds.  Right?  I know some things about you, so your face might be obscured in my mind by the labels and the resentments, maybe some good things—it’s not all bad.

What gets blotted out is the designation, the purest identity of each person, that somehow they bear the image of God.  It is hard to see in some people.  I’ve just been reading The Warmth of Other Suns about the migration of African Americans from the South to the North.  Some of the atrocities committed against innocent people are beyond comprehension.  Where is the image of God in people who do such wicked things?
God’s image in you is the original identity that you can either embrace and embody, or deny and reject.  We cannot erase the fact that it is God’s intent to put inside each of us the same compassion, love, creativity, and power inside of us that Jesus had in his own being.  That sounds like a big claim, but what else does “image of God” mean?

Maybe one of the reasons that God wants us to stop and rest once a week is push a reset button, to get that perspective, to see each other as God sees us.  To peer more closely at the image of my neighbor with Jesus and consider what I see, what he sees.

By the way, did you notice the shadowy figure in Rubens’ painting “The Tribute Money?”  I couldn’t find an explanation of this, but it looks like a toothless, poor woman to me.  Jesus would notice a woman like that.

Something tells me that I can steal a glance at Jesus and catch a look of love on his face when it is your image we are looking at.

What do you think of our politics, Jesus?  What do you think of President Trump, and Colin Kaepernick, and Kim Jung Un, and Harvey Weinstein?  What do you see when you look at Puerto Rico, and Napa, and Houston, and Storm Lake?  What do you see, Jesus?  Can I see what you see?

Mixed Emotions

Matthew 22:1-14

Proper 23A

We are getting down to the wire in the book of Matthew.  Jesus is in Jerusalem, teaching in the temple courts.  His message has gotten much more intense and harsh.  Wicked tenants and angry laborers are populating his parables now.  We are only a few days away from Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.  Imagine the roller coaster of emotions that Jesus  must be experiencing: love for his friends, concern for their future, anger at the temple leaders, fear of the pain he will have to endure, determination to complete his mission.

We know that Jesus was fully human.  So he knows what it is like when our emotions run the gamut.  Many times we feel several emotions at once, in the midst of intense situations.  These feelings can motivate us to heroic deeds, or paralyze us with indecision.  They are true indications that we are human.

One example of mixed emotions we feel as parents: waiting for your teenager who is out way past curfew, and they don’t answer their cell phone.  With each passing minute your mind conjures more scenes of mangled cars and injury or death.   You worry desperately, and then when your teenager gets home, you can’t always stop yourself from yelling at them because of what they just put you through.  Profound relief is mixed with anger, and you don’t sleep well afterward because of all the confusion and trauma.

Life is complicated, and our feelings are seldom experienced in their purest forms.  Love is mixed with anger, forgiveness is tainted with resentment, grief is mixed with love and regret and misunderstanding in varying degrees of intensity from one moment to the next, leaving you exhausted.

One of the great things about the Bible is that these life experiences, this jumble of emotions, is reflected there.  Abraham and Moses display both trust in God and impatience with the divine will.  Miriam is a victorious choir director after the Israelites escape from the Egyptians, but later grows sullen and jealous when her brother Moses seems to be getting all the glory.

And the picture of God is complex.  In fact, we don’t always like it that the sweet taste of the gospel is preceded with the bitterness of God’s wrath.  Sometimes we get the sour taste of judgment and prefer to turn the pages back to something more palatable like Psalm 23.  We’d rather read about comfort and restoration than lament, revenge and terror.

But the Bible has all of it, and it’s a good thing.  Even though we might prefer only words of comfort and promise, we would never locate ourselves in the biblical story if it did not also include the despair, terror and anger that we cannot avoid.  And so as we open ourselves to the Word, we find that it reflects the complexities and dangers that are familiar to us.

The parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew starts out with such promise.  The king’s son is getting married, so the celebration will be grand and memorable.  He pulls out all the stops for this most special occasion, and he anticipates the delight of his friends when they will all share a feast of joy with him.

What a disappointment when his friends refuse to come!  It is unthinkable.  It’s not just that they forget, or that they are too busy.  They refuse.  The king can only wonder if they misunderstood, so he sends out more servants who describe the succulent feast in detail, and they’d better hurry before the veal roast is overcooked.  This time the response is even more shocking: some of the people just walk away, and others turn on the servants and kill them!

Disappointment quickly turned to rage, and the king had his former friends slaughtered.  Anyone else who was willing to accept the invitation was now invited to the feast.  Day laborers and servants and beggars alike found themselves seated in the king’s banquet hall, eyes wide with wonder at the plates heaped with delicacies they had never tasted before.

The excitement and anticipation of the king had turned to disappointment and then rage.  Even after the doors were closed and the guests timidly started sampling their food, the king caught sight of someone who didn’t put on the wedding garment handed to him at the door.  When he suddenly disappeared, the rest of the guests averted their eyes and tried to concentrate on enjoying their good fortune.

So the best we can say is that the parable which began with such good will ends with nervous gratitude and not a little bit of fear.  Not unlike more than one meal we’ve had in our house, when even our favorite foods taste like straw because we’ve just had a terrible argument.  Our home doesn’t feel so safe any more, and the food practically sticks in our throats because we are shaken from the emotions of anger and disappointment.

Well.  This parable kind of sticks in my throat too.  It seems apparent that the king has to represent God, and I don’t like reading about God’s wrath.  Disappointment I can handle.  But when the sadness turns to wrath, and people are cast into the darkness, destroyed and their houses burned, I don’t want to hear about a God like that.  I’d rather talk about Psalm 23, and God’s good care for us.

But if we’re going to read the whole Bible, we have to accept that God has both love and judgment on the divine agenda.  The people who refuse God’s invitation are not invited to come back the next day.  They don’t get doggie bags of leftovers from the feast.  And the one who shows up without the wedding garment is not tolerated.  If you accept the invitation, you accept the terms of it, and the garment of righteousness is required, no exceptions.

It’s a tricky parable to figure out.  And pretty frightening if you put yourself in the place of any of the king’s subjects.  We like to think that we’ll accept God’s invitation to the banquet without hesitating, but what if we make a mistake and show up without the proper uniform?  What if we’re caught off guard and refuse the invitation just because we’re distracted?

I hope I can reassure you with two ideas.  The first is that we often jump to the conclusion that this parable is about going to heaven.  It might be.  But remember that the kingdom of heaven is not just far away in the future.  It is right here, right now.  We just read it in Philippians 4: “The Lord is near.”  So that when God invites us to join the banquet, we can pull up to the table of blessing and grace every single day.  It’s not an all-or-nothing deal.  The punishment of the arrogant may just serve to remind us not to be stupid, or to impress us with the fact that this is serious business.  God’s disappointment when we reject God’s invitation is so profound that it turns to anger.  Don’t be foolish; join the family at God’s table.

The second idea is this.  Even if this parable were only about going to heaven after you die, you don’t have to be afraid of missing your one chance.  No one on earth has the wedding garment all sewn up.  You can only get that when you get to that mysterious doorway between the street here and the banquet hall of heaven.  It will be handed to you through faith in Jesus Christ.

See, that wrath of God’s that we don’t like to read about is real.  But it will not be taken out on you.  Jesus Christ bore the terror, the shame and the death so you won’t have to.  The wedding garment has been crafted of love and forgiveness.   It is pure white, the only color that will be worn among the privileged guests–privileged not just because they were invited, but because that gorgeous, costly garment is free to all who will accept it along with the invitation.

So, even though the parable of the wedding banquet doesn’t have a happy ending, the outcome in God’s plan is very good.  In the meantime, we still have God’s Word to remind us that God means business when the invitations are sent out.  And what fools we are if we do not catch God’s excitement and come to the banquet, dressed in the richest of robes and ready to join the feast, all of it made with love, just for us.

A Fruitful Harvest

Matthew 21:33-46…Proper 22A

            It is harvest time in Iowa.  By now many farmers know what their yields are, if you have fields that have not been destroyed by drought, hail, or wind.  I can’t imagine how devastating it feels to plan carefully, to put all that work into a crop, then have it wiped out in five minutes of hail or through the slow agony of drought.

In our agricultural setting, can understand why the image of a vineyard is used several times in the Bible as an image for God’s relationship with the people of Israel.  It got to be a regular theme among the prophets: God’s careful planting and tending of the vineyard, which ended up yielding either bad fruit or none at all.  In Isaiah 5 the bad harvest was an image for their idolatry and their neglect of the poor. 

Familiar as this image must have been to the temple leaders and Pharisees, Jesus still caught them off guard.  When he described the careful work of the landowner who trusted his tenants, they were pulled into the story.  The tenants’ betrayal and murderous actions were shocking.  Jesus got the response he expected when he asked how those tenants should be treated: “[The landowner] will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and he will rent the vineyard to the other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”  The men shook their heads and drew themselves up with pride.  They would never commit such a crime as assaulting the landowner’s agents and killing his son.

And Jesus reeled them in.  He told them that the kingdom of God would be taken away from them, so that someone else would have a chance to produce God’s desired fruit. They were the wicked tenants!

If any goodwill remained among these men for Jesus, it evaporated in that moment.  It was bad enough that Jesus had already accused them of hypocrisy, unforgiveness, defiling the temple, and not bearing fruit for God.  Now he was calling them murderers!  And then for Jesus to add the blasphemy of implying that he was the son sent by the landowner—in other words, God’s son—this could not be tolerated.  As we know, Jesus’ words proved prophetic, because he hung on a cross a few short days later, a victim of the schemes of these very men.

God plants a vineyard, and builds a wall around it, and installs a winepress and a watchtower.  Seeing it as a metaphor for Israel or even as the kingdom of God sort of keeps this exchange between Jesus and the leaders at arm’s length.  We can condemn those men as Jesus did.  They did kill the son, so they should be condemned.

But what if the vineyard comes closer to home?  What if you and I are God’s vineyards, bought with a price and planted with great care?  God builds a wall around us to protect us and installs a winepress in us, anticipating the harvest of fruit in our lives.  God then entrusts us with the task of bearing fruit, so that we have to weed and prune and nourish the vines in order to present God with a share of a bountiful harvest when the time comes.

In 2012 my daughter Karen and I took a trip to the northwest coast of Italy, a group of very old little towns called Cinque Terre (cheen-kway tare-ay).  They are connected by train, with roads that can only handle supply trucks and service vehicles.  There are also hiking trails between towns, which we enjoyed using.  If you get the mass email I send out each week, the one for this weekend has a photograph of grapes on the banner, a picture I snapped on one of those hikes. 

As in other parts of Italy, grapes grow well on the hillsides there.  But over the last century or more, the vineyards got smaller and smaller, subdivided among heirs of the original landowners.  In recent decades it became cost prohibitive to cultivate many of them.  Whether you cultivate crops or not, you understand why many families who now live some distance away are reluctant to come back and care for a small plot of grapes for no other than sentimental reasons.  The vineyards fell into disrepair.

So when there was a deluge in 2011, the original well-tended vineyards on the terraced hillsides were no longer there to keep the soil in place.  Huge landslides ravaged the towns below, particularly Vernazza, where the mud pushed through the main street on its way downhill, so deep that it reached the second story windows. 

The only reason we could stay there was because a tremendous effort poured into Vernazza afterward, the mud and debris were cleared out, and the damage was repaired.

During the pandemic this year, one of the outcomes is that we are getting a sense of how we have gotten off track.  It is a landslide of sorts, revealing our neglect of the vineyards of our souls.  Our lives have become fragmented in our lifestyles of consumerism, distraction, and tribalism.  We are finding how much we have let material possessions, political arguments, and just plain busyness take over our lives to the neglect of our souls.

The soul is more than a metric telling us what is right and wrong.  That is called a conscience, and God could have left it at that, giving us a built-in meter that goes off when we stray off the path.  Our lives are about so much more than being good and avoiding the bad.  If that is all that we need religion for, we wouldn’t have to spend so much time at it.

Instead, we need to recognize that we have an inner life that our culture does not encourage us to cultivate.  It offers us distractions that in themselves are not bad, but they take us farther and farther away from the vineyard of our truest selves, the place where we meet God, the source of our joy and our hope. 

Last spring I sent out a little video on our YouTube channel about digging your well before you get thirsty.  It is another metaphor for the same thing.  We need to tend to our souls or we will find ourselves without the nourishment and living water we need in a crisis.

I have spent the last three years learning the skills and taking the time to do this.  I have entered a way in religious life called the contemplative path.  It is not the navel-gazing we might have mocked, but it is so much more. 

The Apostle Paul discovered this after Jesus got hold of him.  He writes about it, trying to describe what it means to be “in Christ” and “Christ in you.”  He alludes to it in the passage we read in Philippians 3 today, the treasure of knowing Christ.  “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings…”

That is more than believing the right things and being a good boy.  We are so much more than agents designed to produce good deeds.  Those good deeds are meant to be the fruit of time spent tending our souls, nourishing the seeds and vines God puts in our hearts and enjoying the fruits of love and joy, peace, patience and kindness. 

How do you do that?  You know the verse by heart: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps 46.10a)  My guess is that you already know the truth of it.  But there are many practices you can try as you do this, and I’ll be glad to share them with you.  We will be talking about prayer for the next five Sundays. 

For now, let me lead you through a simple one.  You’ll need to trust me enough to follow along. Close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths.  Repeat to yourself the simple words from Psalm 46:

“Be still, and know that I am God…Be still and know that I am…Be still and know…Be still…Be.”       

Saying Yes

Matthew 21:23-31

Confirmation Sunday 2020

Rev. Deb Mechler

          The parable is easy enough to understand, because we have all lived it if we grew up with a sibling or two.  Early in the morning, Dad hollers at us to get out of bed and do our chores.  One son says yes but never follows through.  The other rolls over but is hounded by his pesky conscience and ends up doing all the work. 

          Growing up in the rural Midwest, even though I wasn’t a farm girl, I learned the Midwestern work ethic.  It is still ingrained in me that one of the worst four-letter words I can be called is L-A-Z-Y.  Sound familiar?

          But Jesus wasn’t just talking about hard work.  He was talking with the religious leaders, who had been watching him like a hawk once he entered Jerusalem on a donkey.  He proceeded to chase the merchants out of the temple and taught quite a few important lessons during that week.  The religious leaders basically asked him, “Who do you think you are, acting like you own the place?”

          In fact the exchange between Jesus and those big shots was a lot like what passes for dialogue these days: find a hole in your opponent’s argument, catch them in it, and declare yourself the winner.  Except that doesn’t really do anybody any good.  Jesus was all about doing good, not just thinking or saying you are good. 

          Back to their question, “Who do you think you are?”  Jesus had a habit of not answering questions directly, and this was no exception.  He told the story of the two brothers and their dad.  The religious leaders probably didn’t recognize what he was accusing them of.  They never did seem to understand what Jesus was getting at, with a few exceptions like Nicodemus.  His own disciples struggled to get what he was talking about until quite a while after he went back to the Father and gave them the Holy Spirit to help them sort it out.

          Jesus was telling them—and us—is that what you say doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you do.  Well, that is easy to grasp, right?  Don’t be a hypocrite. 

          Now you might expect me to say something here like “live what you believe.”  But I’m going to go out on a limb today and say that what you believe isn’t even as important as what you do. 

          Shocking, I know.

          But Jesus didn’t seem to be into doctrines or creeds. 

          So why have we gone to all this trouble to teach them to you in confirmation classes?

          You need those things to get you started.  You need to know them so you will recognize ideas about God that are off track and will result in a lot of pain.  So, I’m not dismissing the importance of believing the right things.  Certainly the Bible is critically important too.

          But here’s the deal.  “There is not a creed or mission statement in the world that is worth one visit to a sick friend, or one cup of water held out to someone who is longing for it.”[i]

          See, you can believe you love your family, but if you never spend time with them, do you actually love them?  You can believe you are a hunter, but if you never get up at dawn and shiver in a deer blind, you can’t really call yourself one.

          And if you don’t do what Jesus taught and did, you can’t really call yourself a Christian.  Because Jesus wants followers, not admirers. Not people who think going to church makes them his devoted disciples.

          Not that going to church is a bad thing. 

          I know what people like to say: “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car.” 

          True. 

But going to church really matters.  We ask you to make vows today that include going to worship (not just church, but worship) and frequently receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion.  You will promise to “live among God’s faithful people and to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper.”  Not because those will make you a Christian, but because they will help you understand what it means.  They will also place you among people who are on the same path, and will hopefully live their faith alongside you.  Together you can make a huge difference in people’s lives. 

          Do you remember the three words I used as a theme in our classes?  Believe, belong, bear witness.  We want you to understand what it means to believe in and trust God, the one who made you and loves you no matter what.  We want you to belong to a community of faith, which is another way of saying the church, because it will help you grow in your relationship with God, among other benefits.

          But if you don’t also bear witness to your trust in God and the good news that is for everyone you meet, then your faith will eventually shrink and become no more than a nice idea you visit once in a while.

          And guess what.  Actually following through like the brother who first said “no” to his dad but then thought better of it, well, that will help you trust God even more.  It really will. Bearing witness, or living out, your faith, will help you trust God more.  And you won’t be alone; that’s why we need each other in the church. 

But it means you sometimes have to do what isn’t popular, like giving up your spot at the lunch table to go listen to someone you know is hurting.  Or giving up your dream of the next cool gadget so you can give money to help hungry people instead.  It means following through on these vows you’ll make today: to “proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”

          It is not easy.  Jesus never promised easy.  But he promised you life when you follow him. Life that means something, life that has staying power even in a pandemic or a family crisis or in the face of those dark thoughts that threaten to overtake you sometimes.  It means knowing you are loved by the One who knows you best, and keeps inviting you to new adventures in faith.

          Jesus says if you want to follow him, it’s simple.  Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  Don’t just talk about it or think it.  Do it.

          Are you saying “yes” to Jesus with your mouth, or with your feet? 

Time will tell. 


[i] Taylor, Barbara Brown, 1999.  Home By Another Way. (Boston: Cowley Publications), p. 190. 

God Asks a Question

Matthew 20:1-16…Proper 20A

When is the last time you let God ask you a question?

In the gospel of Matthew we have been hearing questions from Jesus.  I preached from Genesis all summer, and I decided to return to the gospels this fall, because I imagined that at least some of you were anxious to get back to Jesus.  Genesis asks us some uncomfortable questions.  Let’s get back to the comfort of being close to our Lord.

Except where we landed in the book of Matthew, we came smack up against Jesus’ question: Who do you say that I am?  (Matt 16.20)  And before we could come up with an answer, he tells us he is going to be arrested, tortured, killed, and raised again.  We can barely absorb the horror of that before he tells us this (my paraphrase):  “If you want to be close to me, you will have to go with me on the road to the cross.”

It’s enough to make you want to go back to Genesis.  But if you are brave, you stay the course with Jesus.  I will assume you have that kind of courage.  So what comes next in the gospel of Matthew, Pastor?

I’m glad you asked.

The transfiguration, where Jesus lets his inner circle get a glimpse of his true glory, and to see where he gets his wisdom (from Moses and Elijah).  Also what kind of authority he has—enough to tell demons where to go.

Moving on, Jesus repeats his prediction of suffering, which upsets his disciples a lot.  And then, if they are not confused enough, he riles everybody up with his strange assessment of greatness, in the following order, give or take:

  1. Children
  2. People who are lost in their faith or their shame
  3. People who need your forgiveness
  4. Your spouse who is driving you nuts
  5. You

Peter tries to get this ranking straight in his own mind, essentially attempting to correct Jesus’ unfortunate perspective on society.  We didn’t read it in the gospel lesson; it comes before today’s text, in Matthew 19.  Jesus just gets done telling a very godly man that if he really wants to experience God’s kingdom, he should loosen his grasp on his wealth and let it do some good among the poor.  He explains to his disciples that wealth makes it harder to get close to God.

Peter, assuming that he didn’t need that kind of lesson, sets Jesus up for the kind of answer he expects.  And gets the answer he wants:

“Then Peter said in reply, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.”

That had to make Peter feel very satisfied.  Jesus finally got it right, as far as he was concerned.  He would get what he deserved.  If only Jesus hadn’t added this: “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Matt 19.27-30)

Shoot.  There he goes again.  He went on to tell another parable to drive home the point, the story we read just now that one of my Bibles entitled “The Laborers in the Vineyard.”

That title is a little short-sighted in my opinion, because it is not about the laborers.  It is about the landowner.

Let me say that again.  It is about the landowner.

And let me say it a third time.  It is about the landowner.

Jesus was so smart.  He knew that wages matter more than almost anything to us.  It is a common denominator, whether you are rich or poor or somewhere in between.  Fairness about wages is the point for us.  We believe that people should earn what they get paid.

For some reason we let that ethos color our entire perspective on society.  So, if people are upright and industrious, they deserve the good things in life, a sort of payment for being good.  If people are bad, they don’t deserve anything good.  And then we let this color our regard for the poor, or people who are disadvantaged by their skin color or sexuality or ethnicity.  If they don’t have the gumption to improve their situation or be righteous or go through the proper channels, they can’t expect to get the same treatment as those of us who got it right.

I sense a few feathers ruffling.  Hey, Jesus ruffled more than feathers.  He got himself killed by talking like this.  Asking questions like, “Are you envious because I am generous?”

He had the audacity to imply that God decides what is right, not you.  Not me.  We like it when God’s generosity means I am invited to the table.  We do not like it when certain other people are invited to pull up a chair alongside of us.  As in, “Wait, what’s she doing here?”

But we are not the ones doing the inviting.  Jesus also told a parable about a wealthy person preparing a great banquet, and the first ones invited had better things to do.  He then tells his servant to welcome everyone who wants to come, “so that my house may be filled.”  He did not tell his servant to leave some people out.

That is what I would be inclined to do.  I might assume that I knew what kind of people would feel most comfortable at the master’s table, and which ones I would be doing a favor by leaving them out.  Letting them know they should work a little harder at being worthy.  Maybe they will get invited to the next party, or someone else’s.

How could I dare to be so presumptuous?  How can any of us?

Here comes God’s question again: Are you envious because I am generous?  Which begs the next question: What on earth do I have to be envious about?  I haven’t been left out, even though my self-righteousness is the only kind of thing Jesus condemned.  I am not worthy to be included, but I am.  So what is there to be jealous about?

How many times do we read about God’s generosity but subconsciously insert asterisks and clauses and exceptions into it?  Yes, we tell ourselves, God is merciful and loving, except for people who have not repented of being gay, or broken, or lazy.  We do not get to decide who gets the full benefit of God’s love and mercy.

This is the full gospel in a nutshell.  And in case we still don’t get it, guess what comes next, in Matthew 20.  The parable about the generous landowner, and the question God essentially asks us about divine generosity comes right before Jesus’ third prediction of his death.  This is what God’s generosity looks like:  Choosing his own death over condemning us.

Jesus would rather look like the guiltiest of all than to have us comparing ourselves to one another, and judging who comes out more deserving.  He would rather die than let us use the Law against each other anymore.  The Law that was first given as an invitation to life on God’s reign had become in human hands a weapon to exclude people.  Sound familiar?  The Bible gets used that way all the time.  We thought the Law was what was right, but there is a higher authority, and it is God.  On the cross Jesus took the full brunt of judgment so we will know that the Law does not give life.

All we can see in the Law is condemnation.  How did we ever equate that with God?  God gives life.  God’s first, last, and only impulse toward us is to forgive, to get all that sin and judgment and comparison and jealousy out of the way, so we can experience the full force of God’s love in the life God calls us to live.

God deeply, inexplicably loves every single soul who ever walked the earth, and we can’t do anything about it.  It looks as though the only choice we have on the road to the cross alongside Jesus, and in the life that comes after the cross, is to be generous like God.  To live unburdened by the responsibility of judging one another, of deciding what is right and what is not, who’s in and who’s out.  To be free to love as God loves, and to leave the payroll business to God.

It is about God.  Next question, please.

The Power of Forgiveness

Matthew 18:21-35…Proper 19A

What a wonderful gospel text for Kamden’s baptism today!  We wash him with the waters of forgiveness and love, as God claims him to be God’s own.  Kamden belongs in the community of faith, where forgiveness is the norm.  We refuse to live by the world’s script of revenge and violence.  Instead we follow in the footsteps of our Lord, who showed us the way to stop sin’s deadly cycle and instead choose life and freedom from anger.  It is not an easy life, but it is the best life, and we welcome Kamden into this life this is defined by love in Jesus’ name.

The parable we read in the gospel today is practically a cartoon, making it crystal clear how we are to respond to God’s forgiveness.  A man owes the king a debt that is absurdly impossible to repay, or even to incur.  One talent was worth fifteen years’ wages, so the debt amounts to 150,000 years’ worth.  So when he tells the king, “I will pay what I owe,” those listening to Jesus would have chuckled.

But then he turns around and skewers another man who owes him a hundred denarii, one hundred days’ wages.  The contrast between the debts is ridiculous.  How could the forgiven servant even think of being so cruel after he had been released from so great a debt?  You get the idea.

The other servants in the parable seem like stand-ins for us.  They can see the cruelty of the forgiven servant.  The injustice of it was so obvious, and they wouldn’t let it pass.  They had to report back to the king.

It is hard to read the ending of this parable, where the king reinstates his debt, throws him in prison, and has him tortured.  Yikes.  But remember, it is a parable, not a true story, although it does end with, “So my heavenly Father will also do to you…”

My sense is that Jesus uses exaggerated images—including the punishment—so we will really hear what he has to say about forgiveness.  It should make a difference to us.  Experiencing forgiveness is not meant to be a one-off or an ending.  What we do next is critical: how we treat other people, how we are changed by being forgiven.

Sometimes I think we regard forgiveness as a simple matter of bookkeeping.  We sin, God forgives, make sure the accounts are clear with your prayers.  Don’t get behind on your account!

That is shrinking the gospel down to be so small, sterile and practically irrelevant.  Forgiveness is the good news Jesus told his disciples to tell everyone, but it is the hardest thing for us to do.  It is grueling, and painful, but powerful.  Nothing short of transformation is what happens to us when we realize the force of it.  We are forgiven.

God does not forgive us just so we can feel better, although it certainly does that.    Forgiveness is a dynamic force.  Think of it as a seed containing tremendous potential.  It is meant to grow and produce more forgiveness, more freedom and peace and release from shame.

Because we are forgiven, we see other people not as walking debts owed to us, but as those in need of mercy just as we need mercy.  Think of how our relationships would change if we did this consistently.  Think of how different our culture would be.  It would look like the kingdom of heaven.

Regardless of what you have been taught about sin, it is not about God getting what is owed, or erasing a debt, much as that image might help us sometimes.  God is not interested in bookkeeping.  Jesus blew that idea out of the picture when he made the servant’s debt too large to imagine.

God’s mercy and forgiveness are not about a transaction.  God is personal, eager to help you and give you life in every way possible, from the inside out.  That’s why it’s so important to restore the relationship, and to spend our lives letting God’s fierce, forgiving love enliven all our relationships with each other.  So, we extend mercy as we have been given mercy.  The power flows through us to give life to other people.

Friends, this is the greatest miracle God works.  Parting the sea for the Israelites was big, but this is even bigger, because our hearts can be the hardest things on earth to move.  We cannot do it without getting close to Jesus.  He literally died to show us the way through it.  If you are struggling to forgive, invest your time with him and let him work a miracle within you.

I know, sometimes the injury is too much to forgive.  Forgiving your spouse for being irritable and forgiving someone for abuse are two vastly different things.  The only way we can possibly experience forgiveness for others is by going to God again and again, trusting that God’s mercy is big enough and strong enough to overcome your pain and allow you to forgive.  Only God can work on the inside of you to change what seems stuck and hard and impossible to budge.

Did you think it could be any other way?  Have you been fooling yourself, functioning on the “no forgiveness required” plan?  There is no such plan.  If you follow Jesus, then you learn to forgive, no matter how long it takes.

Nicholas James Yarris was convicted of kidnapping, rape, and murder and condemned to death at the age of 21.  Twenty-two years later, he walked out of prison a free man.  He proved his innocence through DNA testing in a grueling round of appeals and transfers.  He had spent his entire sentence in solitary confinement.

You would think that Nicholas would emerge as a bitter, broken man.  In fact, he spent his time relishing the outdoors and the taste of foods he hadn’t eaten in years.  He laid in bed with the windows open, the cold night air chilling his room as he gazed at the stars.  His biggest problem was sensory overload as he rediscovered the joy of human touch and the beauty of nature and life itself.

He was asked whether he was angry.  It would be understandable.  If I were in his place, I wonder if the first thing I’d do is go and find the prosecutor who put me in prison when I was innocent.  I might wish that he would suffer the same punishment.  But Nicholas claimed that he couldn’t be angry after he’d been given the biggest gift of his life.

If you can get to forgiveness—and by God’s grace you can—then you will end up with more time and energy than you had before.  You won’t have to waste it all on keeping a grudge alive.  Like Nicholas after being released, life just feels different.  It might even be confusing at first, letting go of all the man-made rules that say you are supposed to stay angry and protect yourself from getting hurt again.  Come to think of it, you will be hurt again.  Yes indeed, if you are human, you will be hurt.

That is why Peter wondered if there might be a limit to all this forgiving.  Isn’t seven times enough?  He thought that was generous.  But Jesus told the story of this nasty servant just to show Peter that this forgiveness business isn’t about keeping a tally of your tolerance.  It’s about being transformed by forgiveness, so entirely changed that you are eager to practice it on other people, time after time after time.  77 times?  Maybe it won’t be as hard to do when you get to the 78th time.  By then it will be a habit, just the kind of habit God was hoping we would get into.  It’s a habit God can’t seem to shake either, which means mercy for you and me, mercy for all.  Thanks be to God.

Why Two or Three are Gathered

Matthew 18:15-20…Proper 18A

Rev. Deb Mechler

Four or five years ago, before the last presidential election, it seemed that the political climate was becoming more divisive than it had been since the 1960’s and ‘70’s.  Things got much worse after the election, and they haven’t gotten better. 

A colleague and I tried to do something about it in early 2017.  We formed a group we called “Knock Knock,” because we wanted to remember that “Who’s there?” is more important than our different opinions.  That people matter more than anything else.

It was hard.  We laid down ground rules for discussing the issues in our nation.  We committed ourselves to listening well to each other’s stories.  Sometimes it was excruciating to follow those rules and not start arguing. 

Our group is no longer active, but not much has changed in the public square.  We are deeply troubled by the divisiveness in our country.  Add to that the anxiety of a pandemic, and the needle goes to the red zone.

We feel helpless, unable to see any end to the argument that can even lead to violence.  Are there any answers that will help us unite again as a country?

Today’s gospel lesson reminds us that there actually is an answer.  It isn’t an easy fix, but the message is clear: here is how you handle broken relationships.  You do the hard work of love.

I know that it isn’t that simple, and Congress is not likely to respond to a reading of Matthew 18 with instant remorse and reform. 

But we aren’t the Congress.

We are the church.

Jesus knew that we would have trouble getting along and working together as his spiritual body on earth.  We find unity difficult to maintain, because we are human, and we naturally say and do things that hurt one another.  Our life experiences create different perspectives.  Jesus addressed the problem by telling us not to avoid confronting the problems as we want to do.  He told us to keep at it, to make our bonds strong even when it is very hard.

In other words, Jesus depended on us to show the world what love looks like.  To demonstrate that we truly can work together even after we have mistreated one another.  The next part of Matthew 18 has Peter asking Jesus about forgiveness.  Jesus explains that our forgiveness for each other can never top God’s mercy toward us.  We must not run out of forgiveness for each other.

            So, Jesus says that if someone offends us, it is our responsibility to go to them and call them to account.  I’ll bet that’s not your first reaction.  It’s not mine.  Well, I take that back.  My instinct is kind of like that.  I want to go and tell them off, and I’ll practice five different ways to do it as I’m running my errands or cooking supper.  Instinct would have us react by playing that little game of avoiding each other, or ripping each other to shreds in our separate coffee groups. 

            Jesus teaches us to change the way we respond to offense.  His first instinct is restoration.  He is describing a community in which the ties that bind us together are stronger than the issues that divide us.  Church is a safe place where we are called to be genuine, a place where we will not be ridiculed or ostracized if our real selves are unpolished or broken or repulsive.  It is a community of people who encourage us to face our sin and to move beyond it to follow Jesus.  Here we do not shrink from the hard work of accountability, and forgiveness, and new beginnings.  In the church we hold our pride loosely, and instead use our strength to forge our fellowship, our friendship with one another.

            Did you notice?  Jesus repeats here those words that he used with Peter about the keys of the kingdom—whatever you bind here will be bound in heaven, and what you loose here, same in heaven.  Last week we emphasized the loosing.  Let go your hold on your possessions, ambitions and pride, so you can take up your cross and Jesus.  Today we need to think of the binding that characterizes the community of faith, the church. 

Jesus asks us not to avoid dealing with our conflicts.  Avoidance only lets resentment go underground and forces us to pretend all is well.  It keeps our relationships shallow, when they are meant to be deep and life-giving.

            He reminds us that what we say and do to each other matters, but not in the sense of keeping a tally of wrongs.  That never leads to life.  We are going to make mistakes, but we face them with love and mercy toward one another, and in doing that we find a much deeper trust and commitment with each other. 

            Most of us are terrified of confronting someone like this.  That is why we need each other’s help.  I experienced that encouragement last week.

            I was in a Zoom meeting doing work with colleagues from our synod, when someone brought up concerns about our group that she thought we need to address.  In her explanation, she used my name.  She didn’t make an accusation, but it stung anyway.  After the meeting, another colleague checked in with me to see if I was okay.  I admitted that I felt hurt, but I knew I would need to contact the other person to discuss her concerns.  I was encouraged to wait a few days before making that call.

            It reminded me that I have learned not to be hasty in such situations.  So I did wait, and pray.  I found that the resentment and defensiveness was gradually replaced by curiosity and love.  I waited for the right moment when I would feel at peace, ready to call my colleague.

            As it turned out, she called me.  We had a long, productive, loving conversation.  I was able to hear what she had to say, and we ended up making plans for our group that will help us move forward. I realized that she used my name in the group, because I am the one she knows bets, and she felt she could take that risk because we have a history together.

            I can avoid conflict as easily as anybody else, and I have had my share of tasting shoe leather from putting my foot in my mouth.  But this time, it was an experience of grace, learning the deep wisdom of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18. 

            This is often called a teaching about church discipline, but it is not as much about disciplining one another as it is disciplining ourselves.  Being obedient to Jesus even when it is tough to do.  Together we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, which is another name for that lifeblood of love that we get from Jesus, to be the community that the church was created to be. 

            “Our life together is the chief means God has chosen for being with us…it is the place where we come to know God or to flee from God’s presence, depending upon how we come to know or flee from one another.”[i]  The world needs to see in us that love is possible! 

            We come to this place, we gather here because this is a sanctuary.  It is a safe place, where we know we are deeply loved, and we can’t help but worship the God who loves us like that.  It is a place where we can be ourselves and let everyone else be themselves, and extend forgiveness and tolerance to one another because we ourselves are forgiven and loved beyond this life and this space. 

We are willing to suffer for that love, and suffer for each other’s sake, because all of us are held in God’s great love shown to us in the cross of Jesus Christ.  We are bound together by cords of love that Jesus fashioned.  Where two or three are gathered in his name, he is here among us, suffering with us, doing the hard things with us, so that we can know his love fully and spend our lives exploring its dimensions together.  Thanks be to God.         


[i] Taylor, Barbara Brown, 2004.  Seeds of Heaven.  (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press), p. 89

What Kind of Cross?

Matthew 16:21-28

          There was a young man who was eager to make his way to the top in the business world.  He went to a well-known millionaire and asked him the first reason for his success.  Without hesitating, the businessman replied, “Hard work.”  After a lengthy pause the young man posed the question, “What is the SECOND reason?”

          He wasn’t expecting the answer he got. 

          Jesus said he would build his church on Peter’s confession, that he is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  He then proceeded to tell his disciples how that would happen.  He would suffer greatly at the hands of the religious leaders, be killed, and be raised three days later.

          Peter, the newly appointed Holder of the Keys of the Kingdom, was dismayed.  “Whoa, Jesus, hold on now.  That is not the program I had in mind.”  A Messiah doesn’t save a nation from oppression by getting killed, let alone the indignity of having to suffer.  Peter, like the rest of us, was in the habit of thinking in binary terms: defeat vs. victory, death vs. life. 

          Jesus’ reaction was emphatic, perhaps because he knew how tempting it was going to be to abandon his mission and switch to Peter’s version of Messiahship.  “Knock it off!” he commanded Peter.  “You are not serving God this time, but Satan.  He has no idea how God works.”

          And most important, if you are his disciple, the question is not whether or not you will take up your cross and follow; the question is how.  He was very clear about what disciples do: they follow their master, period.  There is no menu of options to choose from.  The cross is it.

          Peter heard Jesus’ prediction and panicked.  Maybe he wanted a safe Messiah, a victorious Messiah.  That would mean he could be comfortable and confident about following Jesus.  He would be on the winning side! 

          It is tempting for us, isn’t it?  It is easier if Jesus would just act like a mascot, and we can wear a cross on our necklace or lapel so people will know what side we’re on.  Easier if we can just stick to our own way of life, because we don’t want to suffer.  Nobody wants to suffer.
          The trouble is, if we decide to go our own way instead, comfort, reputation, and security quickly become the standards for our choices.  We work hard to obtain them, so we don’t want to lose them either.  Consequently fear of missing out guides our decisions, which means we are not following Jesus. 

           A few years ago a classmate of my daughter took discipleship seriously and heeded Jesus’ call to go abroad to help the poor.  Jeremy didn’t go through any mission agencies.  It seemed foolhardy.  But he was determined, and amazingly, people he met along the way handed him everything he needed.  They said God had told them to help.  Jeremy has had a number of adventures in mission since that first bold step.

          But at the start, his parents were beside themselves with worry.  They talked to me about their fears, and boy, did I understand.  It all seemed very risky.  But eventually none of us could deny how God was leading and providing for their son.  He was bearing fruit for Christ Jesus.

          The system of Jesus’ time—the leaders of the sacred Temple—expected to keep him in line with their disapproval and threats.  But it didn’t work.  He had the audacity to walk toward his cross instead of away from it. And he tells us that we need to get in line along with him.

          What does it mean to take up our crosses?  That is a very good question, one that we can spend a lifetime unpacking.  I do know this much: I am not supposed to carry your cross, nor you carry mine.  Each of us has our own. 

          In one way, taking up our individual crosses is not complicated.  God has given each of us a soft spot for some group or some cause that we would like to serve, whether it’s children, the elderly, hunger, homelessness, the environment, and so on.  And God has given each of us skills we can use in service to them. 

          You might not mind building frames for houses, or baking a dozen pies, or teaching English to immigrants, or visiting people in the hospital.  Other people wouldn’t dream of doing those things.  We each have things we love to do, that give us life instead of making us weary.  So the first question we need to ask ourselves is “What has God given me to do?”

          When we take up those crosses, Jesus asks us to go a little further than we might do on our own.  We need to follow him to the point where we can only do it with his power and his provision.  With his forceful, unrelenting love.  So that the second question we must ask is, “What does love require of me?”  It seems that Jesus was asking himself that question throughout his ministry, and certainly on the road to the cross.           

          We all know what Jesus’ cross was for.  A cross is not a pretty thing; it is ugly, invented to strike terrible fear into a populace and keep them in line with the Roman occupiers. 

Noted peace activist Father Daniel Berrigan said, “If you want to follow Jesus, you had better look good on wood.” 

          Life is filled with hard things.  Jesus asks us to make our hard things count.  He allowed himself to be crucified solely for the purpose of loving us beyond our sin, our guilt, and our death. 

          So the one thing all our crosses have in common is love.  Not fluffy, romance-novel love.  Not even familial love.  Love that lays down its life for others.  That is the only kind of cross that is genuinely Christ-like love. 

Right now what we want most from God is comfort.  We are struggling with the pandemic and all it requires of us.  We are reeling not only from annoying restrictions, but also the terrible consequences of the pandemic.  Many are also suffering from being thrust into poverty, losing crops, losing homes. 

          We are in a time of great suffering.  A worldwide pandemic is causing massive poverty and resulting hunger and despair.  Cries for racial justice have boiled over into violence. Hurricanes are wreaking havoc again.  Drought and wind have wiped out the hopes of many Iowans.  All the anxiety leads to fear, distrust, division. 

          See, the cost of discipleship is high.  It costs us everything, nothing less.  But the cost of not following Jesus is high too.  It means that people won’t have help, and hope, and friends.  People actually die in despair because they don’t receive help, and we can give it to them.  

          It was Ravi Zacarias who said, “I have little doubt that the single greatest obstacle to the impact of the gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the failure on our part to live it out.”[i]

Jesus calls us to die to ourselves so we can follow him with no distractions, competing priorities, or illusions that we can share the spotlight with him.  Not once does he promise that we will avoid death and suffering.  He teaches us instead that there are worse things than death, and living in fear is at the top of the list.[ii]

          The good news is that Jesus does not just stand by his disciples and point out the way he wanted them to go.  He did not say, “Well, if you want to be my disciple, you walk a few miles straight down that road, through Jericho to Jerusalem, then to the Temple, and they’ll show you what to do when you get there.  You might run into some trouble, but after all, if you want to be my disciple, that’s what you’ll have to do.” 

          No, he didn’t do that.  He led the way.  And he is with us on the way, every day, following through on what he said and did and promised.  He shows us how to carry a cross of love, how to feel truly alive in spite of its ugliness and heft, both on the journey and beyond.  Thanks be to God.  


[i] Quoted by Kimberly Dunnam Reisman, Following at a Distance, 2005.(Nashville: Abingdon Press), p. 75

[ii] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Pick Up Your Cross” in God in Pain, 1998. (Nashville: Abingdon Press), p. 59

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“Who Am I?”

Matthew 16:13-20…Proper 16A

Rev. Deb Mechler

            Have you ever participated in an opinion poll?  We have gotten these calls during presidential elections.  I took the bait once and spent 20 minutes on a phone call I was told would be brief.  The candidates want to know how they are being perceived.  Do they change their message when they get the results?  We don’t think much of people who do that.

            “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples.  So they reported the latest buzz.  “Elijah…one of the other prophets…John the Baptist.”

            But Jesus was just setting them up for the real question: “Who do you say that I am?”

            Oh.

            Well, that’s different. 

            But Peter was ready.  Only this time he wasn’t sticking his foot in his mouth as he usually did.  “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  And he won the best prize ever for his correct answer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you” for knowing it and having the guts to say it out loud.  “Christ” means “Anointed One” or “Messiah,” which meant he was the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries. 

            Jesus didn’t need the disciples to tell him who he was.  He knew.  He was—is—the Son of God.  He was sent for a specific purpose for which he received that anointing.  Jesus knew he was the Savior of the world.

            But he wanted his disciples to know it too.  They were his disciples, after all.  We’ve heard the word “disciple” so many times it almost sounds like Jesus’ back-up group, like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Gladys Knight and the Pips.  Jesus and the Disciples.

            Disciples follow their rabbi, or teacher, for the purpose of learning to be like him.  They pattern their thinking and behavior after their teacher.  It is a relationship of deep respect and love.  They spend so much time together that when their teacher dies, they can carry on his way of thinking and living, and teach it to the next generations.

            So Jesus needed his disciples to know who he was because it would determine who they were.  He talked about this in his last conversation with them in the upper room before he was arrested.  Remember?  He said, you aren’t just my servants; you are my friends…If you love me, keep my commandments…God is glorified if you become my disciples and bear fruit that will last…make your home in me and my words…This is what must define you as my friends and disciples.

            Jesus didn’t let other people define who he was.  If he did, he would have conducted himself much differently.  He might have become a popular teacher who simply taught the party line of the Pharisees, with better charisma.  He might have hung around with the well-to-do Sadducees and become a darling of the Roman authorities.  Or he could have spent all his time healing people, because everybody loved him for that.

            But he didn’t.

            He didn’t endorse the agenda of one party or another, then or now.  Instead Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human.  He walked and talked and had friends and slept in odd places and led a motley band of devoted followers by being himself and no one else.  He taught us what it means to be authentic, accepting reality, at peace with who he was and what he was able to do.  Because he knew who he was and what he needed to do, he didn’t have to spend time impressing anyone or worrying about what they thought.  He didn’t conduct any polls.  He could see the people around him and detect their needs, sometimes when they didn’t know it themselves.

            Is this a model for us?  If we call ourselves disciples, it is.  Disciples reflect the values and lifestyle of their rabbi.  This is what frames their perspective on the world, what guides their decision.  You can spot a true disciple a mile away.  Because they reflect their teacher.  They conform to his teachings, his ways.

            What forms your thoughts and opinions?  Do you share other people’s ideas without reflecting on them first?  Whom do you admire and want to be like? 

            Paul said we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed into living, breathing tributes to God.  Not to a political party.  Not to a style of music or fashion or athletic team.  In the English translation, Paul said we are to be “living sacrifices” to God.

            “Who do people say that I am?” is a question we might all pose to ourselves.  What do people see when I approach?  Am I a chameleon, ready to mold myself into someone they might like?  Or am I confident and at peace with who I am in Christ?  Take a moment to think about that.

            So, who are you?  The first answers come easily.  For me: I am a mother, a wife, a pastor, friend, grandma, musician.  I love to travel and read, and I love pie.

            What are your labels?  Businessman, retired woman, teacher, husband, chef, farmer, hard worker, artist, neighbor?  Republican, Democrat, Independent?

            But that is only your outer shell.  There is an identity that God has placed within you that some call the true self.  It is the part that knows the truth about your weaknesses and but also your strengths.  It is where your fondest dreams of goodness lie.  It is the deepest reality of who you are, and I will be bold to tell you who you are in your truest self.  You are a beloved child of God, baptized to seal the deal.

            As God’s beloved, you are made in God’s image.  Everybody is.

            I struggle to remember this.  Do you? 

            What is so wonderful is that God knows our deepest secrets and worst failures, and insists on loving us through them and beyond them.  And we are given the Holy Spirit to live in the freedom of our true selves, being who we actually are and not the version we have constructed to impress other people or make ourselves feel better.

            Because you can be a wife, husband, farmer, teacher with bitterness and greed, or you can be those things with love and joy.  What is on the inside comes out in the way you live your life every day.  As Jesus said in the gospel we read last week, it’s what comes out of a person that defiles (or heals) a person. 

            The life of faith is about that.  Living from the genuine core of who you are: a beloved creation of God alongside all the other beloved beings.  We don’t have to stress over it.  We are invited to relax and be who we are, to stop striving for some ridiculous standard.  

            Listen to the inner voice telling you the truth.  “You are beloved.” 

It isn’t lying.

            What difference will this make?

            It will change your life for the better.  It won’t be pain-free, but you can stop pushing and pretending and seeking other people’s approval.

            But maybe you don’t want to change.  You’re fine with the way things are.

            If I might offer a little more incentive, then think of this.  The world does not need more carbon copies of mediocrity.  They don’t need half-hearted, fair weather followers of Jesus.  They don’t need churches like the either.  The people around us are desperate to know that they are beloved, and you might be the only person who can show it to them.  You don’t have to memorize a gospel message and convert them.  You just need to let your true, beloved self shine, and they will get the message just fine.

            You are God’s beloved.

            Live as God’s beloved. 

“The Real Thing”

Matthew 15:10-28…Proper 15A

            Jesus went on a road trip for some reason.  Maybe he had to get away from the crowds for a while, or the Pharisees, or both.  He went to the coast, around Tyre and Sidon.  Apparently they had gotten word about him there too, because a local woman approached and didn’t ask politely; she shouted for help.  Her daughter was being tormented by a demon. 

I can’t imagine how distressed she was.  And when some people are distressed, they yell.  But it bothered the disciples.  It wasn’t the only time they tried to shield Jesus from people they considered annoying.  They asked him to send her away. 

We would expect Jesus to respond as he did in the same situation with Bartimaeus, a blind man in Jericho.  “Bring him to me,” Jesus said, and then he had pity on the man and restored his sight. 

Not this time.  He hesitated.  “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” 

Seems pretty harsh.  Since when did Jesus act as though he had a limited supply of compassion or healing power?  Why would he say such a thing?

This was not the only woman he gave some credit for being able to debate theology. Back then, that was unusual.  He did it with a women of Samaria too.  My guess is that he was testing his disciples.  Maybe even being a little ironic, or even teasing, as if to say, “Hmm, guys, what do you think?  Isn’t God’s grace only for the chosen people?”

            When she got close enough to talk instead of shout, she again asked for his help.  And Jesus continued the charade: “Nobody takes the food off the kids’ plates and gives it to the dogs.”  Everybody knew his meaning. 

            But now she got the idea, and she knew how to play his game.  “Ah, but the dogs do get to eat whatever falls off the table.”  As if to say, “You could have some pity and ‘accidentally’ push a little over the edge for me to get.” 

            And we know the rest.  Jesus commended her trust in him, and he healed her daughter.  Jesus knew real faith when he saw it.  She trusted him because she recognized the real thing in him: the love and compassion of God, and the power to make people whole again. 

            Faith comes in many forms.  There are billions who have died without ever knowing or saying the Apostles Creed, yet God has welcomed them into eternal life with Jesus.  That document didn’t come around until long after he walked the dusty roads of Palestine. 

            Real faith doesn’t necessarily reside in religious buildings.  Jesus called the Pharisees “blind guides” who were taking the people far afield from the kind of faith that warms the heart with love for God.

            People these days know the real thing when they see it too.  Just last week we got the monthly report from our Luke Society director Indielou.  He told us that a local marabou, which is a kind of worship assistant and teacher in Islam, had requested prayers for his daughter whom they could not wake up.  Indielou’s team gathered around her bed and prayed for her in the name of Jesus, and she woke up.  What a testimony not only of God’s power, but also that a Muslim leader trusted the God of the Christians. 

            He is not the only one.  Many Muslim friends of Christians we know in Mali ask them to pray for them.  It happened to me the last time I was there, praying for a barren woman, for several who wanted to work but couldn’t get jobs, and so on.  They know the real thing when they see it.

            Jesus took pains to show his followers that nobody is an outsider as far as he is concerned.  He showed respect and love to women, lepers, tax collectors and prostitutes, Roman soldiers and synagogue leaders alike.  He loved them all and recognized their earnest desire to know God and trust God.

            These days we are struggling with the temptation to treat too many people like outsiders.  We are recognizing our innate prejudices and attempting to bridge gaps.  But in some ways the gaps are widening as we think the people who disagree with us about this or that have to be treated as enemies.  Nothing could be further from God’s desire for us.

            I want to share with you a story about one kind of outsider, and some kids who know how to be the real thing, to refuse to treat someone as foreign or less deserving.  It made the rounds of the internet some years ago.  I don’t make a habit of using internet material for sermons, but this one has always touched me deeply.  Here it is:

In Brooklyn, New York, Chush is a school that caters to learning disabled children. Some children remain in Chush for their entire school career, while others can be mainstreamed into conventional schools.

At a Chush fund-raising dinner, the father of a Chush child delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. 

After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he cried out, “Where is the perfection in my son Shaya? Everything God does is done with perfection. But my child cannot understand things as other children do. My child cannot remember facts and figures as other children do. Where is God’s perfection?”
The audience was shocked by the question, pained by the father’s anguish, stilled by the piercing query.

“I believe,” the father answered, “that when God brings a child like this into the world, the perfection that he seeks is in the way people react to this child.”

He then told the following story about his son Shaya:

One afternoon Shaya and his father walked past a park where some boys Shaya knew were playing baseball. Shaya asked, “Do you think they will let me play?”

Shaya’s father knew that his son was not at all athletic and that most boys would not want him on their team. But Shaya’s father understood that if his son was chosen to play it would give him a comfortable sense of belonging.

Shaya’s father approached one of the boys in the field and asked if Shaya could play. The boy looked around for guidance from his teammates. Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said “We are losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we’ll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning.”

Shaya’s father was ecstatic as Shaya smiled broadly. Shaya was told to put on a glove and go out to play short center field.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shaya’s team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shaya’s team scored again and now with two outs and the bases loaded with the potential winning run on base, Shaya was scheduled to be up. Would the team actually let Shaya bat at this juncture and give away their chance to win the game? Surpassingly, Shaya was given the bat.

Everyone knew that it was all but impossible because Shaya didn’t even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it. However, as Shaya stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shaya should at least be able to make contact.

The first pitch came in and Shaya swung clumsily and missed. One of Shaya’s teammates came up to Shaya and together they held the bat and faced the pitcher waiting for the next pitch. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly toward Shaya. As the pitch came in, Shaya and his teammate swung at the bat and together they hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher.

The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shaya would have been out and that would have ended the game. Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far beyond reach of the first baseman.

Everyone started yelling,”Shaya, run to first. Run to first.” Never in his life had Shaya run to first. He scampered down the baseline wide-eyed and startled. By the time he reached first base, the right fielder had the ball. He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman who would tag out Shaya, who was still running. But the right fielder understood what the pitcher’s intentions were, so he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman’s head. Everyone yelled, “Run to second, run to second.” Shaya ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home. As Shaya reached second base, the opposing short stop ran to him, turned him in the direction of third base and shouted, “Run to third.” As Shaya rounded third, the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming, “Shaya run home.”

Shaya ran home, stepped on home plate and all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him the hero, as he had just hit a “grand slam” and won the game for his team.

“That day,” said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, “those 18 boys reached their level of God’s perfection.”[i]

              And I would put it this way.  That way, those boys did what we all can and should do: they saw Shaya’s heart, and they connected to him with their hearts.  They knew the real thing when they saw it, and it was a boy who just wanted to feel welcome. 

            Those boys were the real thing too.  That looks like the love of Jesus to me.  I know the real thing when I see it.  Don’t we all? 


[i] Taken from http://placeofpersistence.com/where-is-gods-perfection-the-story-of-shaya/

Here is the complementary series of the Revised Common Lectionary, using the stories in Genesis.

Wrestling for Good News

Matthew 15:21-28; Genesis 45:1-15

I mentioned at the outset that I faced planning worship today with some confusion.  To be honest, I was more than a little intimidated.  The issues we have been facing are huge: threats to the shaky peace with North Korea, violence and murder at demonstrations by white supremacists and counter-protestors.  And these are only flash points in an era of violence by and against police, terrorism, rising prices, and imploding health care structures.

It is one thing to feel the unease of inflation and political discord; it is another to witness blatant hatred that we thought had been dealt with fifty years ago.  But if we are honest about it, we knew that although hate crime was all-too-slowly confronted and outlawed, it went underground and has never stopped finding expression.

As God’s people we live in a real place and a time, just as God’s people did in the stories of the Bible.  We are not immune to suffering and disaster, and we are certainly not exempt from sinful behavior.  The things that were feared by Abraham and Isaac and Jacob are the same things we fear: suffering, death, meaninglessness, loss.

The problem comes when we live our lives from the stance of fear.  The way I see it, that is what Joseph’s brothers did.  Their first priority was protection of their tribe.  It was a brutal time in the development of civilization, so we shouldn’t be surprised that defensiveness and violence were native to these men.  All the more reason to pay attention to the ways God communicated to the descendants of Abraham that there is a better way, God’s way.  That our Creator made us in the image of God, and that we were wired to love, not hate.

We have been looking at these stories in Genesis, from Abraham to his great-grandson Joseph.  We have seen how God is faithful even when we are faithless.  How God makes a covenant and keeps it, no matter how disappointing the actions of the humans who are party to that covenant.

These are not pretty stories.  Genesis might be the source of the creation stories and Noah’s ark that we teach our children with colorful images, but they are far from storybook pictures in real life.  You recall that the first murder recorded in the Bible happens only a few chapters in, and it was downhill from there.

The word “Genesis” means beginnings, and we do well to think of how the Bible gets us started thinking about faith.  To me, the pivotal moment this time around is that mysterious night at the River Jabbok, where Jacob wrestled with a man who stripped him of his pride and left him with a limp.  That man, whom Jacob recognized as a God figure, renamed Jacob “Israel,” a name that includes both struggle and victory.  It means “he who wrestles with God and prevails.”

What an odd name for what became the name of an entire nation, the people of God, no less.  We consider ourselves spiritual descendants of those folks, a designation Paul gave us.  We could infer from Paul’s theology that we are God’s “chosen ones.”  That creates all kinds of problems if you think about it.  It makes us insiders and everyone else outsiders, and that is clearly not the way Jesus wants us to operate.  Jesus was all about breaking barriers, welcoming the outsider, blessing sinners.

You might not get that impression of Jesus from today’s gospel reading.  He gave a foreign woman grief for asking for the kind of blessing the Jews thought were theirs and theirs alone.  It is a puzzling exchange.  But in the end, Jesus did heal the Canaanite woman’s daughter, proving once and for all that the blessing is not just for one tribe.  And in the process, he allowed—expected?—her to have a voice in a time when women were not encouraged to speak up, especially about faith, and certainly if you were not a Jew.

It is not the only confusing incident in the gospels.  Jesus had the annoying habit—annoying to the temple leaders, at least—of reaching out to unclean people and foreigners and women.  All.  The.  Time.  That was his modus operandi.  Which makes sense, because his becoming a human in the first place, then dying for us, is the biggest gesture of reaching the lost and unclean that ever was.  Reaching us, in other words.

So now, what about wrapping up the story in Genesis?  We didn’t read all the drama leading up to Joseph revealing himself to his brothers, for lack of time.  You might remember that when they first showed up to get food in Egypt, the ten sons of Israel didn’t recognize the baby brother they sold off years ago.  He was now the virtual viceroy of Egypt!  Joseph had a little fun with them, making them run back and forth to their father a couple of times and framing them as thieves for good measure.

But all’s well that ends well, right?  I have preached the Joseph story that way more than once.  Joseph forgives them, and they live happily ever after.

Let’s be realistic.  Joseph’s brothers were selfish, mean, violent men, and it is unlikely that they changed.  What I like to think about is what life was like for them after they settled in Goshen.  They were refugees, guests in Egypt.  They were beholden to their brother and to their neighbors.  What a humbling experience for such brutes.

They had to deal with people close by, and how they would live together peacefully.  They were the sons of Israel, which meant that they would wrestle with who God is and who they should be in the world God created.  That defines us as God’s people no matter what time we live in, or where we live.  We are those who wrestle with what it means to be God’s chosen, God’s beloved.

Which brings us to today in the United States.  We have to wrestle with racism, and face the fact that we have not made as much progress in eradicating racism as we thought.  White supremacy is evil.  Nobody can claim to be made more in the image of God than anybody else.  We are all God’s beloved, meant to live in community safely, joyfully.

Brian McLaren, a pastor and author who was at Charlottesville last weekend, makes this call to the church:

“All of us, especially people of faith, need to proclaim that white supremacy and white privilege and all other forms of racism and injustice must indeed be replaced with something better – the beloved community where all are welcome, all are safe, and all are free. White supremacist and Nazi dreams of apartheid must be replaced with a better dream – people of all tribes, races, creeds, and nations learning to live in peace, mutual respect, and neighborliness. Such a better world is possible, but only if we set our hearts on realizing the possibility.”[i]

This might be a wake-up call for us, but it is not news to millions of our neighbors.  Here is something I read from an acquaintance who grew up as a white male in Iowa and married his African-American wife, about his children who are now adults:

“You don’t know my children well, but you know they’re African-American. That has all sorts of dynamics for our family, of course, but here is one you may not have thought of. Our kids got about three, maybe four years of bliss on this earth, when everything was wonderful and mommy and daddy loved them and they were cute and they could play with anybody else’s kids. All good. But at some point the light went on – or it went off, I’m not sure how to put it – when they learned that there were people in their own hometown who thought less of them because of the texture of their hair or the color of their skin. My kids. Grew up with the knowledge that there would always be hatred for them in this world. There would always be people who would despise them. People who would rather the world not have anyone in it who looks like them. People who would consider that they were less human, and so less capable of being children of God, a blessing to the earth, the apple of God’s eye.

“Can you imagine what that does inside a person’s mind? You probably can’t; I can’t, because I still think that anyone who got to know me would probably like me. More or less. But how does that change a person? When their internal messaging system goes from ‘life is beautiful’ to ‘somebody out there hates me’?”

When this is the experience of a huge portion of our population—or even if it is the experience of only one of our neighbors—we as God’s people are called to turn that around.  There is no more consistent message from the one we claim to follow, Jesus our Lord: that love is the rule, not hatred, in God’s world.  What that looks like, how we act that out, is the responsibility of each person in this room to discern.  Whether it means changing your attitude toward the person living next door to you or seeking the forgiveness of someone you have wronged in your own family, it is your call as God’s people.  Not only my call as your pastor.  Yours.  Whether you decide to stand up as a congregation and say “No more!” to bigotry and how you might do it, that is for you to decide.

I have been realizing lately that I have to actively ignore the needs of immigrants and minorities if I want to maintain my comfortable life and avoid doing anything.  I can no longer think of this as someone else’s problem.

For you and me, for the whole church of Jesus Christ, I believe we have this threefold mandate:

  1. Stop letting fear or even discomfort determine our response to the troubles of our nation. Millions of people—people we know up close—are suffering from violence and injustice rooted in hatred. We need to act.  We will probably make mistakes, but God even uses mistakes; we learned that in Genesis this summer.  The church is God’s Plan A for the world.  There is no Plan B.
  2. Admit that the white American church has been complicit, sometimes even active in oppressing minorities such as blacks, native Americans, women, and the LGBT community, among others. Jesus didn’t tell us we get a pass on loving anybody. He died for all, and that means all.  We have to face up to our sin, confess it, and be forgiven.
  3. Realize that faith is not about having all the answers. It is about wrestling with God’s love and authority, and taking responsibility for what that means for us as a congregation, and as individuals. You live in an immigrant community.  Deal with it the way Jesus would.

This is unsettling, isn’t it?  But it is also empowering.  Where do we get our power?  We kneel at the railing and receive all the love and life we need from Jesus who was broken for us.  Thanks be to God.

[i] http://auburnseminary.org/what-i-saw-in-charlottesville/

The Right Time for Leadership

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

          Are you a leader?  For the past twenty years or so, leadership has been a buzzword in business and industry.  There is no shortage of books, seminars, and advice about being a great leader.  We think of leaders as charismatic people who can accomplish great things by fostering teamwork and motivating people to maximize their potential.

Wow.  Even though I have not studied leadership beyond the class I took at seminary, it isn’t hard to pick up phrases like “maximizing potential” in a culture saturated with ideas about how to be a great leader.

But here’s the thing.  You are a leader.  Everybody is a leader if you think about it, because leaders are simply people with social influence.  Unless you are a hermit, you have influence whether you know it or not.  If you are a parent, a friend, a co-worker, or a sibling, you have influence on other people.  They either want to follow you or they want to avoid being like you.  That is influence one way or the other.

After spending some time in the story of Joseph the past few days, the idea of leadership emerged from today’s text.

First, a brief review.  Remember, Abraham was first called by God to go to the country where he would eventually bear many descendants.  Abraham and Sarah waited for twenty years before their only son Isaac was born.  Isaac married Rebekah, and they bore twin sons Esau and Jacob.  We spent some time in Jacob’s story the past few weeks, noticing God’s faithfulness in spite of Jacob’s faithlessness at times.  In fact, that theme came through first with Jacob’s grandfather Abraham.  We will see it again in the next generation.

Jacob was renamed Israel, and he had a houseful.  He married sisters Leah and Rachel, although not by choice.  Their father Laban tricked him into marrying both.  His wife Leah bore him six sons.  His two wives’ maids bore him four more sons.  Finally, Rachel bore him two sons.  Twelve sons in all.

But one son was the favorite.  We don’t have to infer this; it is written right there in Genesis 37:3, “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves.”  (You might have been taught that it was a coat of many colors, but the original language is not clear.  Sleeves, color, it doesn’t matter when it is the only fancy coat in the family.)

What we didn’t read a moment ago were the dreams that infuriated Joseph’s brothers even more when he described them in detail.  One was about sheaves of grain that all bowed down to the sheaf that represented Joseph.  The other had the sun, moon, and eleven stars giving homage to Joseph.  Even his father was disturbed by Joseph’s incredible arrogance in telling his brothers his dreams.

Another piece of the story that we left out was an episode where the boys’ sister Dinah was violated by a Canaanite man, and the ten brothers took gruesome, extreme revenge on the entire village of the offender.  Joseph ought to know that these men are not to be trifled with.

They were true to form, muscling Joseph into a pit and then selling him off to a passing caravan as a slave.

Wow.  It is hard to find any good news to preach about in this story.  Maybe we need to see the worst of our human tendencies sometimes and leave it at that.

But of course I won’t.

Not only was Jacob/Israel an ambitious, competitive, selfish person, he was also a poor leader, at least up to this point in the story.  Think of it.  The sons of Israel grew up in a household filled with jealousy and bickering.  So, how did the kids turn out?  Predictably, they were competitive, petty, and vengeful.  They were taught to blame somebody for every problem, and they were good at it.  I am reminded of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where he taught us to beware about harboring anger, because it is the root of murderous intentions.  Israel’s boys were weaned on anger.

The atmosphere they were raised in bore logical results: a model of family dysfunction.

Although it is a terribly negative example, it is a cautionary tale about leadership in families.  That might sound strange to call parents leaders, but is that not what we are practicing every day with our children?

What is the right time for good leadership in the family?  Every day is the right time.  The influence we have on our children does not happen in specially planned lessons or events.  It happens every single day, by how we live our lives in front of them.  You have heard the expression “children learn what they live,” and it is true.

Our children do grow up.  They have to take responsibility for their choices.  They might reject our values, but it is virtually impossible to wipe the slate clean from their upbringing.  They usually carry on our values, and we can be dismayed by the messages they received without our realizing it.  There is a reason parenting is serious business!

But at least we have to do our best.  We are given a wonderful pattern for raising our children, one of only a handful of guidelines for parents found overtly in the Scriptures.  It is found in Moses’ instructions to Israel’s descendants centuries later after they were delivered from Egypt and prepared to enter the Promised Land.  It is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

In other words, we need to claim our identity as God’s children and rehearse what that means every day of our lives.  We need to lead our children in the ways of God’s reign.  We don’t have to quote Bible verses and act out Bible stories every day.  We do read the Word of God and live it together by loving God and others as Jesus taught.  We explain why we do that when the questions come.  It is day to day leadership for life.

If you are like me, you know you haven’t done this as well as you think you should have.  Then the Genesis stories can be a comfort, where God proves faithful in spite of human mistakes.

So, the right time for leadership in families is all the time.  But there is also a time for leadership in the moment.  For that, we focus on Reuben.

Reuben was the oldest son of Israel and Leah.  He appeared to be a leader in this story.  He was no saint, and I’ll let you search for what I mean in chapter 35.  But when he heard his brothers’ murderous plans, he rose to the occasion.  Reuben talked them out of killing Joseph, and convinced them to put him in a pit instead.  He planned on rescuing Joseph later once his brothers cooled off.

But we know that he never got the chance.  Joseph was a day’s journey down the road before Reuben finally got the chance to double back and check the pit.  He had to keep the terrible secret of Joseph’s fate, calculating which news would be worse for his father to hear: Joseph’s death or his brothers’ wickedness.

Well, that’s enough drama for now.  At least Joseph is still alive.  If you remember the whole story, you know that God kept him alive for a reason.  He would see his brothers again, and much like their father Israel, they would have to face the evil they had done years ago.

We are all leaders, because we all have influence.  Joseph’s story shows us that our influence matters both in the mundane routine of every day, and also in decisive moments.  We all have an impact, for good or ill, every single day.  Once in a while we even have opportunities to make a real difference.  We can counter the bad news of this world with the good news of God’s love and compassion by what we say and do.

It’s not the most inspiring conclusion to the story, but I think it is valid, and it matters.  At the same time, we shouldn’t gloss over the glaring, terrible actions of these men when they let their jealousy and anger dictate their actions.  If Jesus is right, our anger can take us that far.

Left to our own passions, we can take sibling rivalry to terrible heights.  If nothing else, we are reminded that on our own, we cannot be trusted to do the right thing.  But we have God’s Spirit dwelling within, so that by God’s grace we can have influence that reverses negativity and evil in the public square, in our workplaces, and in our homes.  We can lead with the love of God.  Thanks be to God.

What Happens at the River

Genesis 32:22-31

          We are in the last chapter of the life of Jacob that we will cover this summer, moving on to his son Joseph next week.  We have only been given a few slices here and there: his birth to Isaac and Rebekah, a bit about his upbringing, his shady practices to cheat his brother Esau out of his birthright and blessing, his dream on the way to Haran, his relationship to his uncle Laban and marriage to Laban’s daughters Leah and Rachel.

Here is a tip for interpreting Scripture: pay attention to what is included, and what is not included.  What is chronicled in the Old Testament, the Gospels, and so on are the parts of the story that make a point.  Why Jesus’ birth and nothing about his childhood, for example?  Why some of his teachings and not others?

Why are we given these specific glimpses into Jacob’s life?

I think one thing we might notice about Jacob’s story is that God kept the legacy of Abraham’s call and blessing alive in his descendants, regardless of how deserving they were.  His story depicts Jacob as an ambitious, savvy, self-serving person.  In Genesis 32 he finally returns to the promised land and out from under his father-in-law’s oppressive thumb.  He knows that he will have to face the twin brother he ‘done wrong,’ and the narrative in Genesis describes his anxiety in detail.

We can’t be sure why he sends his entire company ahead of him, and at first glance it seems a coward’s ploy.  But the day after his night at the Jabbok River has him leading his family to meet Esau, so something significant happened there.

What happened that night?

It is as mysterious as any event in the Bible.  Jacob wrestled with a “man.”  No name.  He was a tough opponent, and the match lasted for hours.  Presumably they had to take a break now and then.  Why didn’t Jacob just run away?

For some reason he had to stay with his opponent.  And when the landscape around them began to take shape in the predawn light, the mystery man finally conceded the fight.  “Let me go,” he asked.

Maybe Jacob’s answer tells us why he stayed in the fight.  “I will not let you go, unless you bless me,” he answered.

Huh.  What a strange thing to say.  Can you imagine a high school wrestler asking for a blessing from his rival?

To me, that request seems like the theme of Jacob’s life.  I will contend with you, Esau/Father/Laban, until you give me what I want.  And then he gets it, and finds his prize sifting through his hands.  It is never enough.

But this time is different.  The man’s response is unexpected.  The blessing amounts to a new name, Israel.  Jacob wants to know who exactly thinks he has the authority to rename him, so he asks, and he receives no answer.  Somehow he knows by then that it is God.  Maybe he suddenly recognizes the voice he heard all those years ago during his dream about a ladder.

“I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved,” Jacob declared, and as usual, gave the place a name to commemorate the moment: Peniel, for face of God.

“Face” is a funny word.  Around Jacob’s time, having God’s face turned toward you was a sign of divine blessing.  We love to hear it in the Aaronic benediction: “may God’s face shine on you.”  A face is a part of the body but also a sign of favor.  We turn our face away from things we despise or fear.  We offer our face to someone we love.

“Face” is also a verb, the way we talk about confronting something important.  You face your fear, “face the music,” face your problems.  You deal with them honestly and responsibly.

My sense is that this event in Jacob’s story is a gem with many facets and much value.  He had to face some things, and it changed him.  It is a model for spiritual transformation, and for growing up.

Jacob had to face his past behavior and take responsibility for it.  He had to admit that he had cheated his brother Esau.  In anticipation of meeting his brother, Jacob asks God to deliver him from Esau’s revenge.  Then he sends a huge gift of 440 sheep and goats, thirty camels, fifty head of cattle, and twenty donkeys as a peace offering for Esau.  Since Esau has been seen traveling with 400 men, this was probably a wise move.  Jacob knew he deserved his brother’s vengeance.

He had to face the fact that he hurt his brother deeply.  Most of us have to deal with this at some point.  Whether by accident or design, we do deep damage with our words, speaking volumes in our silence at times.  We mess up, and the destruction is as real as any bomb can render.

God’s people seek forgiveness.  Relationships matter to God more than anything else, so we work to restore what we have done to one another.  It is hard, hard work.  Making the phone call or knocking on the door of someone you have hurt opens you up to be hurt in return.  I have had that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  As God’s people, we take that risk.

Jacob had to face himself.  He was a deceiver from the word go, and he met his match in his uncle Laban.  Maybe one of the reasons he had to get away from Laban was that they were too much alike.  Jacob had to admit that it takes one to know one, and he was aware of the stories told around the campfires about his exploits.  He pretended that it didn’t bother him, that it was part of his bravado.  But he knew better.  He could not run away from himself, and he could not breed enough livestock or sons to cover up his nagging discontent.  He had to get to the bottom of his anxiety.

This is what God’s people also do.  If we not only read the Scriptures but also let them read us, we will find ourselves and our foibles on its pages.  It might be a holy Bible, but it’s full of sinners like you and me.  We have to see our sin in technicolor and face it, before we can appreciate God’s mercy.  People like Jacob make it easy to recognize.

Finally, Jacob had to face God.  He had to admit that his trust in God had so many conditions attached to it, it was hard to tell it apart from his own business plan.  At the Jabbok River, Jacob realized what he had been chasing all along.  It was something he had already been given, but he wouldn’t see it: God’s blessing.  Maybe he never could see it because he thought it had to be earned.  That has a familiar ring to it, doesn’t it?  You can’t receive or even recognize God’s love because you think it is supposed to come with a checklist, lots of strings attached.

The least likely person to teach Jacob about mercy would be Esau, but it was indeed his long lost twin who made God’s mercy real to Jacob.  When Esau caught sight of him, it was like that scene out of the Prodigal Son parable.  He ran to meet his brother, and fell all over him with love and forgiveness.

But we can’t forget about the limp.  Jacob maybe didn’t run to meet Esau, because he had a fresh injury.  God—or whoever the wrestler was—left Jacob with a souvenir of that night: a hip out of joint.  Maybe Jacob needed that limp, to remember how broken he felt when he faced himself, his sin, and his God up close.  How he felt broken, but healed—whole—at long last.

Our scars do that, don’t they?  They help us remember how not to behave, how to avoid danger, how not to be broken the next time.  But the stories of healing that go with those scars are often the greatest gift.

Do you have stories like that?  Scenes from your past that taught you to be humble, to pay attention, to love instead of harboring resentment.  Jesus kept his scars so we can remember, and be humble, and grateful.

These scars serve us as a faith community.  They help us remember what we have been through together.  They remind us that we are all broken in one way or another, and we come together with our patches and glue and duct tape, ready to hold each other up in the next go-round with the hazards of life.

Jacob had one other souvenir from that night: a new name, Israel.  It gets translated in a few different ways, but my personal favorite is that it means one who wrestles with God, and prevails.  The father of the nation God promised to his own grandfather Abraham gets the name that doesn’t mean “king” or “righteous.”  It means struggle, which is a good word to describe a life of trusting God.  It has all kinds of bumps and detours and confusing turns, but remaining on the journey is what matters.  The relationship with God—the struggle, even—is  the journey, and God promises to get us where we are meant to go.

So, if you have things you need to quit avoiding and face up to, you can hang out with Jacob and know it will be okay.  God can handle your wrestling moves and go the distance with you.  Whether it is your past, your sin, your ugly habits, or an unexpected hardship, God has a blessing for you in it.  Your blessing might look like a scar, but if God is with you through the darkest parts of it, it is a story that has God in it.

But wait.  Jacob wrestled with God, and prevailed.  Why on earth would God give Jacob the satisfaction of winning, when a big head was exactly the problem with Jacob all along?  Why, indeed.  Why does God let us prevail, when we don’t deserve it in the least?  I guess we have to wrestle with that.

“The Lord is in This Place”                                                              

Genesis 28:10-22

          Have you ever noticed that some characters in the Bible are just a little too close to your own type to be comfortable?  Peter comes to mind—an impulsive, fumbling disciple whose best intentions are often overshadowed by his big mouth.  Jacob is another one—a lying, manipulative scoundrel who is just normal enough to look like most of the rest of us.  His mother Rebekah probably had a lot to do with his crafty ways, being quite the manipulator herself.

Last week you heard the story of Jacob’s desperate ploy to obtain his father’s blessing, a blessing that properly belonged to his older brother, even if the gap between their ages was only a few minutes.  Jacob got his wish.  He and Rebekah managed to pull Esau’s blessing out from under him, away from their blind father.  However, it was one of those “be careful what you wish for” times, because once he received the coveted blessing, Jacob had to figure out a way to live long enough to benefit from it.  Esau wasn’t an outdoorsman for nothing.  He could have easily killed his twin and gotten the whole mess cleared up, and it appeared he was waiting around for his ailing father to die so he could do the deed.

Anger like that is hard to cover up, and Rebekah and Jacob’s guilty consciences wouldn’t let them rest easy either.  Jacob was sent away under the pretense of finding a proper wife among his kinsmen.  Isaac certainly couldn’t argue with that, having made his match the same way before his sons were a gleam in his own eye.  Jacob had to leave hastily, without much so much as a bedroll to sleep on.  He headed toward the hill country, making his way up to a high ridge where the light lasted just a little longer.  One has to wonder what he thought of his blessing now.  What good would it be to him in a strange place, where nobody cared about his birthright?  Finding a large rock for a wind break and a smaller one for a pillow, he dropped to the ground exhausted and fell into a deep sleep.

What Jacob dreamed that night was one of those peculiar scenes, of which there are many in the Scriptures.  This one was a ladder, which he somehow knew was braced in heaven.  Angels were seen going both ways, busily doing whatever assignments they were given.  He hears God’s voice (though he later may have wondered how he knew it was God) making the most generous promises of land, offspring, God’s own presence, protection and guidance to a man who does not deserve them in the least.

Jacob wakes up, gets his bearings, and says to himself, “Huh!  I had no idea that God would show up like that in the middle of nowhere!  This gives me the creeps, but on the other hand, it’s really amazing when I think about it.  I feel as though I got to see the gate of heaven with my own eyes.”  He did what people often did back then, and found a rock to mark the spot, and named it House of God.  He reminded himself what God had said in the promise and vowed to follow God as long as God proved faithful.

There are locations in this world that spiritual people call “thin places.”  For some reason the membrane between earth and heaven seems almost translucent, defying explanation or logic.  Rivers, hilltops, islands, chapels, historic sites that have been visited by thousands whose experience of God seems to happen more easily there.  Where the sense of the divine is almost palpable, and one leaves with a feeling of awe.

Jacob seems to have come across just such a place, where he had a dream that there was a staircase connecting it with heaven.  He said, “The LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”  But now he does know, and he erects a marker to remember the place.

Are there places where God is not?  We call some places “godforsaken,” as though they are so miserable or the circumstances so dire that it seems sacrilegious to claim God is present.  Places where there are no traces of God’s goodness that we can see.

It seems easier to contemplate what makes a place holy.

The Scriptures tell us that God is everywhere, as we read in Psalm 139 a moment ago.  We can’t flee anywhere that God is not present.

The physical world as we know it is blessed by God, because God created it, and Jesus chose to live here among us.  So there is no place that is not sacred, that doesn’t have the fingerprint of God impressed upon it in some way.

Jesus taught that wherever we are—God’s people—there God is too.  He calls us his body.  His Spirit lives in us, so that wherever we are, God is there.

I have to tell you a story of another person who was fleeing like Jacob, running away from danger.  Except this person didn’t create the problem Jacob was running from.  She was fleeing injustice and persecution.  She was seeking a safe place.

You are aware that we had two teenage girls from Mali living with us in February and March.  Conditions of their visas required that they return home to their mother.  But the situation they faced was more dangerous than any of us thought.

The girls’ mother’s name is Bibi, a force of a woman who began and developed an orphanage out of virtually nothing.  She was born into a Muslim family and culture, but decided a few years ago to become a Christian.  She lived her faith openly, with joy.

Bibi ran her orphanage with integrity, even though sometimes she had to depend solely on God for donations to come in, to feed the children and care for their health.  But some of her workers were dishonest, and stole things.  She had to fire them.

They decided to band together to take revenge, and told the police that she was selling children on the black market.  One of Bibi’s adult daughters was taken into custody and told that unless she corroborated the lies against her, she would not be released.  They also asked for money for her freedom.

When she heard that her adult daughter was taken, Bibi knew they were after her.  She the girls fled for their lives.  She took them to a cousin in the Ivory Coast and went on to the U.S. to stay with her American daughter in Tennessee.  I received a phone call from her as soon as she got to Knoxville.  She was desperate, exhausted, unsure of what to do next.  I told her to get some rest, and we would talk about it the next day.

The following day, Bibi told me that she wanted to take the girls to Ghana, a much safer country for Christians right now.  She had only one contact there, a woman pastor she met a few months ago.

I told Bibi that I know someone in Ghana.  John is a surgeon and a Christian leader, a very resourceful and loving person.  It seemed worth a try to see whether he had any friends who might provide refuge for my friends.  I sent an email to John, and soon received a reply.

John wrote that my email popped up just as he was chatting with friends of ours from Spencer, people who know Bibi and her work, have visited her orphanage, and met her girls when they were living with us.  This conversation was taking place halfway across the world, at a conference in Manila, the Philippines.  He offered to take my friends into his home, and sent a phone number for his brother so that she could go there in Ghana immediately.

What are the odds that I would reach John instantly, and that it was the moment he would be talking with people across the globe who knew Bibi personally?  When I called Bibi the news, she was speechless, crying tears of joy for God’s rescue.

It seems that God truly does “have the whole world in his hands!”  I picture in my mind a map of the world, with lines connecting west Africa to Tennessee to Iowa to the Philippines.  God sees it all and has a hand in our well-being.  God is watching over this precious woman who has cared for poor children for so many years.

I remember visiting the site of that orphanage on the day I met Bibi.  She seemed to sense that this was an important moment.  She drove me to see the site the government had granted to her in a very poor section of the city.  She had erected a sign on that plot, declaring that it was the future site of the orphanage, even though she still didn’t have a penny to pay for it.  And that orphanage was built, thanks to donations from people around the world.

Indeed, God had a plan when another daughter came to the U.S. and got a job with an airline that can fly Bibi wherever she needs to go, for free.  God had a plan when I met Bibi several years ago, so that in July 2017 I could say, “I have a friend in Ghana who might be able to help.”

We are assured that God sees Bibi’s other daughter who is still in custody.  We know that God is working through the faithful women who were left behind to care for the children in the orphanage.  We don’t know how this is going to play out, but we know that God is active in all of it.  God is in that place that seems godforsaken in our eyes.

Surely the Lord is in all these places, in all of these times, just as God was there for Jacob throughout his life.  Do you wonder whether God sees you, and cares about you?  I am here to tell you that “the Lord is in this place,” everywhere you go, and loves you in every place and time.  Thanks be to God.

Arranging a Marriage*

Genesis 24:1-67

             Since we are going to talk about the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah today, I thought we should get some advice on finding a spouse from some experts.  These are elementary age students who have made some keen observations[i]:

 How do you decide whom to marry?

Alan, age 10: “You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff.  Like, if you like sports, she would like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming.”

Kirsten, age 10: “No person really decides before they grow up who they’re going to marry.  God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you’re stuck with.”  (Maybe she’ll get stuck serving chips and dip.)

How can a stranger tell if two people are married?

Derrick, age 8: “You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids.”

What do you think your mom and dad have in common?

Lori, age 8: “Both don’t want any more kids.”

How would the world be different if people didn’t get married?

Kelvin, age 8: “There sure would be a lot of kids to explain, wouldn’t there?”

How would you make a marriage work?

Ricky, age 10: “Tell your wife she looks pretty even if she looks like a truck.”

Abraham faced the question of how Isaac would marry and produce heirs.  He wanted to align this next generation with God’s promise of descendants to fill the land that was promised to them.  But it seemed best not to let Isaac marry a Canaanite woman, but to find a wife among the folks back home.  On the other hand, he didn’t want to see Isaac travel in that direction, for fear that he would like it there and not return.

Hmmm, this would be tricky.  Sarah had died by this time, so she could not help.  Finally Abraham hit on the idea of sending his trusted servant to find a wife for his son, who was at least 37 years old.  It was time.

Abraham sends for his servant and explains the plan.  He asks him to make a solemn oath to follow orders.  The servant obeyed Abraham and went to Aram-naharaim, to the city of Nahor (which also happens to be the name of Abraham’s brother with family in that area).  He stopped and let his camels rest near a well, where he prayed that God would have one of the young women respond to his request for a drink by offering to water his camels.  That would be the sign that she was the chosen bride for Isaac.  Rebekah, depicted as a beautiful virgin, did exactly that.  Considering the fact that a camel requires many gallons of water, this was no small offer.

The servant whips out some gold jewelry and offers it to her, and then asks if her family might have room for him to stay the night.  (This was a common custom in that time, and still is in many remote areas, so it wasn’t as bold a request as it might seem to us.)  In fact, her family was related to Abraham, and she was Isaac’s first cousin once removed.  To make a long story short, Rebekah’s family welcomed Abraham’s servant, listened to his account of his search for a wife for Isaac and the fact that she appeared to be the chosen one, and consented to the marriage.  They wanted Rebekah to wait a week or two to say her goodbyes, but the servant wanted the deal to be done, and she agreed to leave with him right away.

Wow.  Talk about a whirlwind romance.  But this isn’t even a romance yet, because Isaac is still back in Canaan waiting to see who his bride will be.  When the caravan arrives and Rebekah sees her intended walking in the field, it is love at first sight, and the two lived happily ever after.  Well, not exactly, but they did get married, and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

It is a great story about Abraham’s faith, and the loyalty of his servant, the faith of Rebekah in cooperating, and the patience of Isaac as he waited.

What I want to point out this time is one sentence in Abraham’s instructions that is easy to miss.  It’s almost a throw-away line, but I think it is significant.  After the servant poses the question of whether he can actually get someone to come back with him, Abraham tells him that God “will send his angel before you; you shall take a wife for my son from there.  But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.”  (Gen 24.7-8)

The emphasis seems to be on making Isaac stay put, and Abraham is doing all he can to ensure that he does.  But then he allows that the servant might be right.  He might not be able to get a chosen bride to come with him.  It is an asterisk (*) in the plan.  God might make this happen in a way he didn’t expect.

Abraham planned it out as well as he could.  But he had to mind the asterisk, that God might have a different plan.

This potential scenario—that God would override his plans—was wisdom hard-won for Abraham.  He had enough experience to know that he could rely on God, but he could not predict what God would do.  He could not control God.  He had to trust God.

Nevertheless he did make a plan, and in this case, it worked out.

This seems like a good way to go.  Do your best to line up your life with God’s reign, following God’s commands, following Jesus in the way of love and sacrifice as best you can.  But then allow for the asterisk, the potentiality of God showing you a different way.

I have friends who learned this several years ago.  Tom lost his job, and struggled with unemployment for a few months.  At the same time, their close friend and neighbor had a teenage daughter who went off the rails for a while.  She fell in love with a boy who was bad news, fell under his spell, etc.  You know the story.  But her father wasn’t in the picture, and she badly needed a man she could trust to love her through it and to help her out of the situation once she got things figured out.

In retrospect, they could see God’s hand at work, making Tom available to her at odd hours while he was unemployed.  It wasn’t long after that episode that he found a great job and life moved on for all of them, with a little more faith as a benefit.

The next time they sensed God calling them in an unexpected direction, they had more confidence, more trust that God would work it all out.  They never expected to move halfway across the country, but God has proven faithful once again.

Trusting God is sometimes about that asterisk, that openness to God’s unexpected purposes for us.  It is hard to operate this way when you are young and looking out over the unexplored landscape of your future.  It is wisdom gained from a lifetime of trusting God, wandering from God, God picking you up and providing in spite of your mistakes, and gradually, over time, entrusting yourself to God’s goodness.

Sometimes we wonder what God wants us to do.  As a pastor, I get asked that question from time to time.  I think it is all right to proceed as best you can, choosing the most loving and faithful option in front of you, and trusting God to make a course correction if necessary, allowing for God’s asterisk.  That takes plenty of faith by itself, and it works out fine in both big and small decisions, as far as I can tell.  By the grace of God, we can do it as well as Abraham or anybody else.  Thanks be to God.

[i] Source unknown.

“Meet Me at the Mountain”

Genesis 22:1-14

Ann[1] is having quite a summer.  One of daughters had a scheduled surgery last month.  Then her younger daughter had to have a tooth pulled, a frightening experience for someone with a mental disability.  Her husband had to wait for his insurance company to approve major surgery for a painful condition.  Her son injured his leg.  If that weren’t enough, a friend was  killed in an accident.

Some people might say that God was testing her.  I don’t think God devised this as a plan to gauge her faith or commitment.  But you might think otherwise when you read Genesis 22.  It is called a test.  Why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice the long-awaited son God promised?  If God wanted to gauge Abraham’s faith, wasn’t this going too far?

It is a hard passage to grasp.  But I think it is hard because we take it on its own instead of considering the whole story of Abraham, or the historical setting.  It would be good to get a grip on this story so that we don’t have to avoid the horror of it or explain it away with vague, unsatisfying generalities.

“Meet me at the mountain I will show you in Moriah,” God told Abraham.  “Take your beloved son whom I gave you, and give him back to me there.”

That seems like the most unfair, cruel command God gives anyone in the Bible.  It seems like a good reason to stay away from the Old Testament altogether and stick with the Gospels for Sunday worship.

But these are the Scriptures Jesus and his followers read, memorized, and depended on.  Abraham was considered the father of their faith.  They could not avoid the story, nor should we.

Jesus and his fellow Jews knew the whole story of Abraham, how he left his home in Haran, set out to follow this strange, other-worldly command to a new place and a new religion.  We have been taking a short course in the history of Abraham’s faith on his sojourn.  We have seen how he and his wife Sarah struggled to trust God for the promises that seemed impossible—that were impossible!

Abraham and Sarah were told to go, and they went.  Theirs is a story of not only going, but leaving.  Leaving home, leaving family, leaving traditions.  They even had to leave the land God promised to them in order to find food in Egypt.  They forfeited their sense of control over their circumstances.  They forfeited their expectations about how God would give them a son.

Leaving, leaving, leaving.  It turns out that this is what faith looks like.

The apostle Paul holds up Abraham as the primary example of faith for the early church (Romans 4:1-16).  He quotes the only verse in Abraham’s story in Genesis that mentions Abraham’s faith: “[Abraham] believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15.6)

Why is that the only verse about Abraham’s faith?  Because faith is not an abstract commodity.  Faith is lived.  It is a story, a way.  Abraham and Sarah were called by God, and they went.  In fact, they went from place to place, and they worshiped in each place.  They learned more about the God they were following in each place.  They discovered that they could trust God in every single situation, about every aspect of their lives.

As we follow them from Haran to Shechem, to Bethel, to Egypt, to Horeb, to Gerar, to Beersheba, in each place we find that they could trust God beyond their expectations, beyond logic, beyond what they could see or touch.  In each place they had to relinquish what they grasped, what they knew, what they expected, and learned to trust God instead.

But now this.

After they had given up everything, it seemed, there was one thing left: their future.  The descendants God promised them could only come through Isaac.  God was very specific about that.  And now God expected them to hand Isaac over.

“Meet me at the mountain I will show you.”

And Abraham went, along with Isaac.  We don’t know how old Isaac was.  No matter how old, we can hear Sarah’s pleading cries at their departure, if Abraham had the nerve to tell her about it.

It is a surprise to us, but it was no surprise to Abraham, apparently.  For one thing, child sacrifice was practiced among the religions of their time.  Even if it weren’t, “sacrifice was the motif by which he had lived for years, the letting go, the leaving behind, the traveling light…By now he has a lived history in which God has provided for him in unanticipated, unexpected ways.  Maybe by now he is used to living trustingly in the seemingly absurd, that which he could not anticipate, that which is beyond his imagining.”[i]

He seemed to be less disturbed by it than we are.  When it was time to leave the young men who traveled with them, he told them “we will worship there, and we will come back to you.”  We.  When Isaac asked where the sacrificial animal was, Abraham assured his son that God would provide the lamb.

Nevertheless he put Isaac on that altar, and bound him, and raised the knife before the angel of God stopped him.

Yikes.  I don’t know whether to call that faith or insanity.

But God called it faith.  “Now I know that you will not withhold anything from me,” is the message to Abraham.

I confess that I struggle with a God who would ask that.  Is God a monster?

That is the real question, isn’t it?

But maybe this is the point God is making on that mountain.  “I am not a monster.  I don’t require child sacrifice like these other false gods you imagine would ask that of you.”

On the other hand, it seems that God wants to know whether we are willing to go that far.  Can we trust God even when it seems that God is asking too much?

It seems like a way to understand the hard things in life, to say that God is testing our faith.  Let’s put aside that idea.  This story is not about life’s tragedies.  Isaac didn’t die of a fever.  He wasn’t killed in battle.  It was a request from God, so it is a situation we might never face.  So please, don’t equate this story with a tragic event in your life, like the series of challenges  my friend Ann is facing.

But we will face our mountain of testing if we are people of faith.  It happens along the journey of faith.  God will ask us to let go of each thing that we want to hold onto as a source of life instead of holding onto God.  It happens here and there, if we are paying attention.  It is forged in times when trusting God is the hardest thing to do, when obedience means real sacrifice.

There are times when you know what God’s command to love requires of you, and it might be excruciating.  My guess is that you have an example in mind right now, and I don’t have to spell it out for you.  This is when our faith is tested, in the knowing, and the struggle.

Sacrifice is not a 21st century word, at least not in our culture.  We laud it in our sports heroes or soldiers or leaders.  But that doesn’t mean we want to do it.

Abraham shows us that faith is lived, and it involves sacrifice. It is about relinquishing everything that makes us comfortable so that we can cast everything we accumulate and enjoy and love—yes, love!—onto God and trust that we will receive even more than we gave up.  Faith is slowly realizing that what we have been holding onto won’t give us the kind of life God offers.  It is no wonder it took Abraham years and years to reach that level of trust.

This strange, horrible story can only be grasped slowly, through trusting God to show us how it works.  Faith in God is a slow, lived process, a giving up of one thing after another so that the way to deeper and deeper faith, the way of following God becomes more and more clear.

God asks to meet us at the mountain where our faith will be tested.  What are the steps, the places along the way where God will ask you to relinquish more and more, bit by bit?  What is God asking you to let go of, right now?  It is a step on the way to a bigger life, a broader landscape of God’s presence and goodness and faithfulness than you can imagine today.

Abraham may be our example of extraordinary faith, but he was a human just like you and me.  He wanted a son.  He was hungry, and afraid, and tired.  But he lived long enough to see that he could trust God every single time, even when the way forward seemed impossible.  Even when all he had left to love was all he had left to give.

I don’t even know if I want to have that kind of faith.  I do know that this is the way God calls us to follow.  As we answer the call, we will see how it’s done.  If we don’t follow, we won’t.  We can meet God at the mountain, or stay home.

Maybe that is the question that haunts us about this story: whether we are ready to take the first step toward the mountain.

So, what’s the good news, Pastor?  The good news is that at every point in Abraham’s life, God loved him.  Whether his faith was strong or weak, God’s love was always strong.  The same goes for you and me.  That is never the question.

The question is, how much of God do we want to see, and know?  The answers are on the way to the mountain.

[1] Not her real name.

[i] Peterson, Eugene.  The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus is the Way. 2007.  (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), p. 58.

Jesus Saves, One Way or Another

Matthew 14:22-33… Proper 14 A                                                                             

              One summer about ten years ago, my nephew Sam almost drowned.  He lives in New Jersey, and he was swimming off one of their beautiful white sand beaches when suddenly he found himself far from shore.  A rip current had developed and carried him away from his friends.  By the time he realized what was going on, a life guard was already on the way to help him.  All he had to do was tread water and wait. 

              Sam wasn’t too rattled about this until he learned that three other swimmers had died a few miles down the beach from getting caught in the same kind of current.  Swimmers are told not to try to swim back to shore because the current will only wear them out.  Sam as a well-toned athlete, very successful in track, but he was no match for a rip current.  He knew he was supposed to swim parallel to the beach to get out of the current, and then swim toward shore.  Fortunately Sam didn’t have to test that idea.  He just got rescued.

              Sometimes trouble comes like that, out of the blue.  One minute you’re having fun, and the next thing you know, you’re in the hospital, or divorce court, or the funeral home.  How did this happen, you ask yourself.  You can’t even take it in at first, it seems so impossible to believe.  And you can’t believe other people are out buying groceries and going to movies as though nothing happened.   It’s almost as though you are far from shore, treading water until you can get back to solid ground again.

              Other times, we end up in trouble of our own making.  You wish you wouldn’t drink as much, but you always seem to go a little farther than you should, and the damage is done, to your marriage, your car, or your career….Those magazines seemed harmless at first, but now you can’t help spending hours on the internet, surfing websites for pictures that you’d be ashamed to show to your kids…Or you got yourself too far into debt, unable to curb your spending when it makes you feel so good to get new things, especially when everything else in your life is so depressing. 

              But sometimes it’s like this.  That impulse to quit your job and find something better is now something that haunts you every day.   Your spouse doesn’t have to say anything, just that sigh and the accusing look when the bills come are enough to make you wish you could do it over and keep the stupid job. 

This year it is a feeling we are all having to some degree or another.  I struggle with more sadness and despair than I ever have before.  The uncertainty and fear are weighing on us, not to mention the distress over politics and the economy.  Fear of drowning can take lots of different forms. 

               I think the trouble Peter got into on the lake was his own doing.  He got all excited when he saw Jesus and jumped out of the boat.  It only took a few steps to remember that his name was Peter, which means “rock,” and he sank like one, all right. 

              I imagine Jesus chuckling when he pulled Peter out of the water.  Hey, Peter, where’s your faith now?  How come you didn’t believe me when I told you who I was?  Where did you think the power to walk on water came from?

              When you read about this passage, Peter usually gets either scolded for doubting or praised for having enough faith to walk on water in the first place.  But this isn’t a story about Peter’s faith.  It’s a story about Jesus.  Peter’s stunt may serve as a way of showing that following  Jesus isn’t smooth sailing—a series of victories. 

              The important thing is that Peter knew how to yell for help.  And to whom.  “Lord, save me!” may have been his most effective and eloquent confession.  After all, we don’t remember Peter for being able to cross a lake without a boat.  We remember him because he’s an awful lot like us, and Jesus never gave up on him.  So maybe Jesus won’t give up on us either, as small or inconsistent as our faith might be.

              Jesus never meant for us to base our faith on spectacles that defied the laws of physics.  Jesus walked on water to get to the guys in the boat.  It didn’t hurt his claim to being God’s son, either, but I don’t think he did it to create faith.  Think of Elijah, whose contest against the prophets of Baal had been won hands down in blaze of fire.  It didn’t keep Elijah from sinking into despair and fear.  Peter’s water-walking stunt wouldn’t keep him from denying Jesus three times, when things got ugly.

              Fortunately, Jesus’ name means “save.”  Our belief in Jesus is based not on miracles or spectacle, but on the fact that he is the only one who can save us.  Jesus’ hand is the one that pulls us out of the jams we get ourselves into, or at least holds us until we get to a boat, or shore.  Jesus is the one who died to free us from slavery to sin.  It happened through his death and resurrection.  Jesus is the one who will be with us when no one else will do that.  Jesus is the one who sees potential in people like Peter, and us, and does whatever it takes to claim us as his own.  He loves us that much.

              The story shows us a few ways that Jesus saves us, actually.  Which is good, because we need various kinds of help throughout our lives.  Sometimes we need to be rescued from certain doom.  Other  times we just need to know somebody cares.

              When the boatful of disciples first spotted Jesus, they didn’t recognize him.  They thought he was a ghost.  Back then the waters were thought to house bad spirits. Who else would be hovering over the stormy waves?  And what else should they expect when it looked like this would be their last trip across the lake? 

              What Jesus yelled to them is what he often says to us when we are on the edge of panic, or even over the edge already: “Take heart!  It is I.  Don’t be afraid.”  It’s me, guys.  You’ll be all right.

              Sometimes that’s all we need isn’t it?  Just to be reminded that God is there, and God is in control.  That it will be all right.  This too shall pass, and it’s all in God’s hands.  The one who loves us and can save us will win in the end.

              I camped out in the backyard with my granddaughter last week.  She is almost eight years old, and it was her first time sleeping in a tent.  The noises made her nervous, so she asked to hold my hand as she fell asleep.  She just needed to know I was there. 

              But once in a while we need more help than that.  We need someone to get us out of the mess that came out of the blue, or that we got ourselves into.  Either way, it’s awful, and we want to be rescued, please, the sooner the better.

              We have enough stories about how God responds to those prayers to know that there are as many kinds of answers as there are problems and people with those problems.  Sometimes God seems to answer prayer with healing, a new job, a way out of trouble.  We reach out and find the hand, right there!  Help comes at just the right time.

              Most times, though, it doesn’t happen like that, does it?  We wonder how it will ever be resolved, and help is nowhere in sight.  Our prayers seem to go as high as the ceiling and then fall to the floor with a thud. 

              My suggestion in such times is this: don’t be so bent on getting rescued that you miss what Jesus does a lot more often.  He gets into the boat with us.  In the lake that night, the rest of the disciples needed saving too.  Just because they didn’t jump out of the boat like Peter didn’t mean they weren’t scared of drowning too.  But Jesus came, and he sat down in the boat next to them.  The waves calmed down, and they worshipped him.

              We don’t know if they worshipped Jesus because he calmed the storm, or because he could walk on water and heal the sick, because he had just fed 5,000 people with a sack lunch, or what.  Maybe it was because they were so relieved to be safe.  Perhaps it was just because they were glad he got into the boat.

              It was probably different for each disciple.  Just as we are all different, and so is our faith, from person to person, from day to day. 

              The life of faith is messy.  Sometimes we love God so much we sing our hearts out.  And the next day we’re denying Jesus every bit as badly as Peter did.  But God loves us anyway, and saves us in spite of our piecemeal, measly faith.  Because our faith, as important as it is, is not what gets us out of trouble.  Jesus is.  It just pays to know enough to look for him when you’re bailing as fast as you can and you know you’re sinking no matter how hard you work at it. 

              Jesus saves us, sometimes right away, sometimes after a long wait.  Sometimes he saves us just by letting us know he’s there.  And many times, like my nephew Sam, we don’t even know we’re in trouble until we see Jesus coming toward us to take us back to dry ground.   Glory be to Jesus, who knows what we need, disregards whatever got us into trouble, and saves us because he loves us, and because he can. 

Jesus Said, “You Feed Them”     

Matthew 14.13-21…Proper 13A

The crowds wouldn’t leave Jesus alone.  He had just gotten the news about the death of his cousin, John the Baptist.  He needed time alone, so he got into a boat and headed for a spot on the lakeshore where people had no reason to go.  By the time he arrived, hundreds—no, thousands of people—had hurried around the lake to meet him there.  Some of them were racing to be first in line.  Even though he was grieving John’s death, Jesus had compassion on them, sighed, and got busy curing those who were sick.

Jesus didn’t see the people as an interruption.  He saw their need.

We get an idea of how many people gathered on the lakeshore that day, because there were about 5,000 men in addition to women and children by the time they served the meal.  It could add up to 20,000 or more.  So Jesus and his disciples were probably pretty worn out when everybody started getting hungry.  “The hour is now late,” the disciples reminded Jesus, as if he didn’t know.  They wanted the people to go away.  People could get food in the nearby villages.  Nobody should expect any more of Jesus and his disciples today.

Jesus didn’t see the people as a problem.  He saw their need, and he said, “You feed them.”

Right.  Where’s the food gonna come from??

This story is the only miracle of Jesus that is reported in all four gospels.  If you had to tell it from memory, you might mention the little boy who offered his lunch, or the parts that Philip and Andrew played in the story, or the reaction of the disciples about how much it would cost.  But none of these details is mentioned in Matthew’s version.  Matthew likes to emphasize the role of Jesus’ disciples.

“You give them something to eat,” Jesus told them.  Isn’t it interesting that Jesus didn’t perform a different miracle?  He could have made everyone’s hunger pangs go away.  He could have made the food appear in everyone’s stomachs, and skipped the whole business of passing it out, cleaning up the fish bones and picking up the leftovers.

Instead, Jesus had them participate.  Disciples, after all, are called to do more than learn.  They are called to work.  Maybe Jesus wanted them to look into the eyes of the people, to see their hands reaching out to receive the food.  Passing out the food may have seemed like a chore, but when you are passing out the food Jesus provides, it becomes more than that.  You get to be part of something extraordinary, and unexpected.

Ask the people who hand bags of rice to people in Haiti.  Ask me what it’s like to hand you the bread of communion.  It is more than a job.  It is a holy moment, something special you don’t forget.  

We have crowds of people all around us, every day.  People who are hungry for meaning.  Hungry for love.  Hungry for friendship and hope.  Could there be an extraordinary opportunity to feed them?  We could pray, “Jesus, send them someone to help them.”  How does Jesus answer?  “You feed them.”

But we don’t have enough, Jesus!  We don’t know how to tell them about you.  We don’t have the training our pastor has.  We don’t have time to deal with people’s questions and issues and stories.  “You feed them,” Jesus says.  And then he takes what we do have and gives us enough to feed them with.  Somehow multiplies it to become a feast.

People are trying to satisfy their hunger with all kinds of things, but their spiritual hunger remains.  

A woman watches as her husband comes home, pops open a beer, and sits down in front of the TV. She knows he’ll be there until he goes to bed, and will change positions only to eat the supper she puts on the end table next to him or to get up and get another beer.  She turns the page of her magazine and wonders if it will ever get any better.  Should she get a different haircut?  Maybe try another diet?

A high school sophomore gets off the phone and wonders if she did the right thing, promising to get pregnant as soon as she can so she and her best friend can share the fun of having babies and moving out on their own.  What else is there?

A man drives home from work, figuring in his head how much his 401K is worth now, a habit he repeats every payday.  Will it be enough for him and his wife to travel in their retirement, the big dream they’ve been working for all their lives?  Or will it get eaten up by long term care, if one of them ends up getting Alzheimers?  

People are hungry for love, for hope, for anything to makes life worth living.  “Why do you spend your money for bread that doesn’t satisfy?”  asks the prophet Isaiah.  See, this hunger is not new.  Jesus is the bread they hunger for.  Bread that tastes like hope, love, purpose.  Bread that satisfies.  “You feed them,” Jesus says.  We have the bread they need; we know Jesus.

And people are physically hungry.  Starvation and preventable diseases should be ancient history in our world by now, but they’re not.  Thousands die every day, and they don’t have to.  Who will feed them?  Jesus says, “You feed them.”  

“But I’m already too busy, I’m tired, and I don’t know how.”  Sounds like something the disciples probably muttered under their breath too.  We know how they feel about the vastness of the problem and the meager resources they have for themselves, let alone share with anyone else.  The problem is too big, and we don’t have enough!  Send them to someone else, Jesus!

“You feed them.”  

Did you catch what Jesus did before he started passing out the bread and fish? “He looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples…”  

Sound familiar?  Why is it significant?  Jesus loved to feed people, for one thing.  He understood real, gnawing hunger.  But this ritual of his also resonates with us when we receive Holy Communion.  You miss that right now, don’t you?  Think of this.  The sacrament is only one of many ways we can feel close to Jesus, feel grateful and renewed.  It’s almost like when you are looking for someone who happens to be standing right behind you. Jesus taps you on the shoulder every day and says, “I’m right here.  Just pay attention!”

Jesus not only fed people with bread when their stomachs were empty.  He feeds our lives, our souls with himself.  Christ is the bread that satisfies.  He gives us every breath, every heartbeat, every moment to recognize his presence with us.  

Once in a previous parish we were celebrating the end of the year in our after-school program.  The children were excited to share songs and stories with their parents.  The trouble was, we were in a weather pattern that could spawn tornadoes.  Our weather watcher told us we had to seek shelter. 

The church didn’t have a basement, and the cinder-block-walled bathrooms were the designated shelter.  The children looked at us, wide-eyed with fear.  I got a brainstorm.  I went to the kitchen where the hotdogs were ready to be served after the program.  We took them to the kids in the bathrooms, and it settled them right down.  Food was a comfort.  They still talk about our bathroom supper years later!  

Jesus Christ is our comfort food, so to speak.  He knows that people need the bread of life that satisfies.  How will they get it?  Jesus used his disciples, their hands and feet and voices, to feed thousands of people that day.  He never intended to do it all himself.  He wanted to share not only the task of feeding them, but the privilege and the joy of it.  He wants us to be in the habit of loving and serving and experiencing the wonder of community.  Seeing the need and having compassion on the people he loves.

Jesus never intended to feed the hunger of the people in our lives and our community by himself.  He expects us to use our hands, and feet and voices.  He wants us to see the beauty of each person, to look into their eyes and see what he sees.  He expects us to be broken, to be bread for them, just as he is bread for us and for all the world.  “You feed them,” he says, and then he gives us himself so that there will be enough to go around.  

What will we say when we see the hungry crowds, or the one or two, this week?  “Send them away?”  Or, “Yes, Jesus.  I’ll feed them.”  You will have enough; you will be enough for them, because you are a disciple of Jesus, our Bread of Life, who lives in and among us today.

Parables About Our Insides

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52Proper 12A

If I were to ask you to use one image—okay, maybe two or three—to describe your family, what would you choose?  I can imagine using the table we gather around as a metaphor for the way my family nurtures me and gives me joy.  Or perhaps a house with a different kind of room for each member to celebrate our unique personalities.  

Jesus talked about a family, but it is a really big one.  It is the family of God.  Well, he only used that image of family once or twice.  He called it the kingdom of God, or kingdom of heaven.  In order to describe something so big, and to remind us who is king of said kingdom, we might expect him to use the image of a castle, or even a territory populated by all the king’s subjects.  A field of battle, maybe, with God as the conqueror.  Certainly not a seed, or a woman making bread.  He wouldn’t ask us to think of a pearl merchant, or a farmer, or a fisherman’s net, would he?

Yet that was his habit.  He used mundane objects and everyday experiences to tell us what it is like to live under the reign of God.  It is a story of love and struggle, creativity and hope.  How does he expect us to get the right idea from such examples?  

Parables are not meant to be reduced to moral teachings or doctrines.  So we might think they are not meant to be taken seriously at all.  It is easy to treat them like throw-away stories, simplistic ideas we relegate to the children.  Great fodder for animated vegetables to play out or drawings to fill in with crayons while the teacher plays a few Sunday School songs on the CD player.

But Jesus was not teaching Sunday School to children.  He was talking to adults.  And we have to assume that, while the parables he used might be simple and even playful, he was also serious about what he was saying.

Perhaps Jesus used objects and situations that were familiar so they would not overwhelm his hearers.  We can be grateful they are small enough to ponder without a lot of effort.  And maybe their compact size and familiarity makes them ideal for quietly prying open our hearts to reveal what is already inside: the kingdom of heaven that—surprise!—is within us, just as he said. 

So, if God’s big story, God’s dream of how the created order is meant to work, is not only something to read about in the Bible, but to recognize and embody within our own lives, what do these parables mean for us?

Living in God’s story is like a mustard seed.  Not much to look at, but it grows into a decent-sized plant. Not really big enough for birds to nest in, but Jesus apparently wanted to depict it as large enough to shelter them.  It is also like yeast, that dissolves and disappears into the dough, but those tiny grains produce a lovely size and texture for our daily bread.

What if God’s love is the seed, growing inside us so that we cannot keep it to ourselves?  What if we are the seeds, meant to let God crack us open and germinate and burst forth with life and fruit for others to receive with gratitude?

Living in God’s great story is like a treasure hidden in a field.  It is like a pearl that dazzles.  The ones who find them are willing to sell everything else they own in order to obtain them.

What could be that precious?  Is knowing and loving God so wonderful that it is worth giving up everything else?  Is that what we are celebrating when we come to worship?  

Or is this extravagant purchase about something more close to home?  What if you are the precious pearl?  What if I am the treasure hidden in the back forty?  Are we that precious to God?

Or what about this…is my neighbor the treasure, the great pearl?  Is his well-being worth making sacrifices to ensure?  Is her story worth giving up even an hour to listen to?  Is your community so precious to God that you would throw open your doors and risk everything to feed them, comfort them, give them shelter from the dangers they are facing?

Huh.  These innocent-looking parables actually have some teeth to them, not to mix metaphors or anything.  

Don’t forget the fisherman’s net that pulls in everything all at once.  Good fish and bad fish.  It reminds me of that other parable Jesus told about the wheat and the weeds all growing together, and how he said to let the master do the sorting when the time was right.  How it is all about a great harvest or a great catch of fish, not about who’s in and who’s out.  

I wonder which of these parables is getting your attention today.  I’ll give you a moment to think about each one.  I would hate to think of you leaving worship without something to take with you.  The parables are yours to ponder, free of charge.   

God’s story in you is like a mustard seed that someone took and planted, and it grew into the greatest of shrubs, where birds could nest in its branches.………….

God’s story in you is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with flour until it was raised and ready to bake.………….

God’s story in you is like a hidden treasure, such an exciting find that the one who discovered it sold everything he had and bought the whole field.…………

God’s story in you is like a merchant looking for fine pearls, who, when she found one of great value, went and sold everything she had in order to obtain it.………..

God’s story in you is like a great catch of many kinds of fish, and those who knew what they had sorted out the good from the bad.…………

Jesus’ disciples said they understood what he was getting at.  But of course, they spent a lot of time with Jesus.  Which is what we actually claim to do, if you think about it.  So maybe we need to spend more time with these teachings, simple as they seem at first glance.  Jesus hinted that there is more to them than what someone may have told us when we learned them as children.  

His hint about their meaning comes in one final parable. It is paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message: ““Then you see how every student well-trained in God’s kingdom is like the owner of a general store who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it.” 

I wonder if what we need is to take a little more time looking at the new treasures he wants to give us.  Treasures that, apparently, are worth more than anything else in our lives. 

Fresh Wind                                                                                 

Acts 2:1-21….Pentecost

Rev. Deb Mechler

          I’d like you to take a few slow, deep breaths as we begin thinking about the story of Pentecost this morning.  Breath is a sign of life, and we are very aware of it right now.  Those afflicted with the corona virus may have difficulty breathing. 

          But we are also very aware of our breaths when we are out in public.  We actually have to treat each other’s breath as though it is poison right now.  But Jesus’ breath on the day of his resurrection was just the opposite.  It was life-giving breath, filled with Holy Spirit power that the disciples would need for their gospel ministry of forgiveness. (John 20:19-23)

          The words for the Holy Spirit in our Acts and John readings today could be translated “Holy Breath.”  The Holy Spirit is compared to wind in other Scripture texts. 

          And wind was the sound that was heard on that day of Pentecost.  The followers of Jesus obeyed his request to wait for the Spirit in Jerusalem, where they gathered together for prayer, probably wondering when and how Jesus would send his Spirit to them as he had promised.  Suddenly they were startled by the sound of a violent wind that got louder and seemed to fill the room before anyone could stumble out of the way.  It seemed to spark and ignite fires over their heads, with all of them pointing at one another before realizing that they had their own personal flames hovering and illuminating the stunned looks on their faces.

          And then all of them began to speak at once, but in different languages, drawing a crowd and amazing the foreigners with speech that even they could understand.  It was chaos, but somehow holy and intense at the same time.  No one could have expected the Spirit’s arrival to look quite like this.  After Jesus rose from the dead and then later floated up into the clouds, I suppose they should have been ready for anything. 

          This has the mark of God all over it.  Is it any wonder that the God who breathed life into Adam, who blew back the waters of the Red Sea would breathe gospel words and power into a roomful of humble followers?  If Nicodemus was there to see it happen, he might have remembered that Jesus once told him how the Spirit of God might show up like this.  Jesus told him, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Jn. 3:8)

          While much of the time we might think we have God figured out, on Pentecost we are reminded that God works in unexpected ways.  God does something new and different when the time is right.  The Spirit makes necessary changes, blowing out the dust in places long abandoned and perhaps even forgotten.  If we are alert to the Spirit’s movement, we get to witness God at work and maybe even open our sails to ride along for a while.  For the disciples, that meant telling people about Jesus and doing the miracles that he had done—healing, casting out demons, watching people transformed by the love and mercy of God.

          Do we still believe in a God who acts like that?  Do we understand that the Spirit will blow as He wills no matter what we might do to try to control His windy self? 

          As a church it is our job to discern how God is directing us to use our particular gifts and calling.  God’s people wait prayerfully for the wind of the Spirit to blow us along, ready to share the fresh breath of life with people who are stuck in the dark, stale air of unbelief or despair.  It is a challenge to remain open to the Spirit, but once you get the hang of it, it’s exciting to see what will happen. 

          The story is told of Rabbi Yechiel of Ostrowce, who was different from the other orthodox rabbis of Europe.  All the others boasted distinguished rabbinical geneologies, but Rabbi Yechiel was the son of a simple baker.  He inherited some of the forthright qualities of a man of the people.

          Once, when a number of rabbis had gathered at some festivity, each began to brag about his eminent ancestors who were rabbis.  When Rabbi Yechiel’s turn came, he said gravely, “In my family, I am the first eminent ancestor.”

          His colleagues were shocked at such impudence, but they said nothing.  Later, each one began to expound on texts from the Torah, quoting the sayings of his prominent ancestors.  One after another the rabbis delivered their learned speeches.  At last it came time for Rabbi Yechiel to say something.  He arose and said, “My masters, my father was a baker.  He taught me that only fresh bread was appetizing and that I must avoid the stale.  This can also apply to learning.”  And with that he sat down. [1]

          I guess we have a choice.  We can be like all those other rabbis, and continue to lean on what we have learned about God in the past, always going back to experiences and ideas that had an impact on us once upon a time.  We can hope that the valuable lessons of our youth will translate to the next generation.  But it will be stale for them. Or, we can expect the Spirit to keep blowing, teaching us new and deeper ideas about God from the same Scriptures, fresh ideas that apply to our experiences and relationships today.  We can welcome the Spirit to compel us to service, in the language of our lives today.

          Do we still believe in a God who breathes life into dead spirits and lights a fire over unsuspecting heads? Can God’s Spirit blow among us?  Or do we believe God’s fresh Spirit is just for other people? 

          It is tempting to put the story of Pentecost in the category of fairy tales, or of history, simply because we’ve never experienced anything like it.  When we studied Acts 2 in confirmation, the students were startled and curious about the way the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples that day.  But fairy tales are fiction, and history is past.  The Holy Spirit who filled the disciples with the fiery passion to tell people about Jesus is here too.  It is the Spirit who compels us to worship, serve, pray, and proclaim the love of Jesus Christ to those gathered near us simply because they live and work here.      

I hope you noticed what Peter said to the folks in Jerusalem who were trying to figure out what was happening.  He told them that this was a fulfillment of the words spoken by the prophet Joel.  Did you hear this part—“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)

          God’s Spirit is poured out on all people!  That doesn’t just mean pastors, or evangelists like Billy Graham, or only younger people or only the leaders.  It means all people—you and me included.  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you still qualify for the fresh wind of the Spirit to breathe life into your faith and your attitude and your daily life.  You don’t have to depend on the Bible verses you or your parents learned long ago, or the counsel of your pastor from 20 years ago.  You don’t have to cling to a faith that is second-hand, or covered with dust, almost forgotten or almost worn out. God is alive! God’s Spirit is an endless source for you, eager to reveal new dimensions of faith to you today and tomorrow and forever. 

          Pentecost is here, today and every day.  God’s Spirit was given to you in your baptism, my friends.  The living God breathes life and love and unexpected joy into you just as surely as it happened to the disciples.  Open your Bible to read of it.  Open your heart, open the windows of your soul and feel the refreshing wind of God’s Spirit in your life.  Thanks be to God! 

Power to Wait

Acts 1:6-14; Ephesians 1:15-23…Easter 7A/Ascension

          Last winter our grandkids got caught in a cycle of catching bugs like strep throat that were going around.  I share emergency duties with their other grandmother, and one day it was my turn to get our four-year-old grandson to the doctor for a strep test.  He was feeling pretty good, but we wanted to try to head off the tough symptoms. 

          As I went out the door, I grabbed a pair of dice, knowing that he liked to use them at my house.  He rolled those dice over and over, delighted with the challenge of figuring out which number was higher.  He was at it for an hour and a half, normally an eternity for a child to wait.  But he was doing what he loved, with someone he trusted, in a room with strangers whose waiting time was also shortened by the pleasure of watching him.

          We don’t like to wait.  As Americans, we are practically drilled in the art of getting what we want as quickly as possible.  In fact, our planet is suffering because of all the energy it takes to satisfy our impatience, manufacturing and delivering all the goods our appetites require.  We get restless in the few seconds it takes for our computers to boot up.

          But now we are forced to wait.  We do not like it one bit, waiting for it to be safe to go out again, waiting to see family and friends, waiting for postponed surgeries and celebrations.  And as congregations waiting to be able to call a new pastor, the unsettled feeling is compounded for you.

          In the time that Jesus was appearing to his followers after his resurrection, he asked them to wait in Jerusalem once he was gone.  But they couldn’t resist asking him one more time, right before he ascended into heaven, ““Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  I would not have blamed Jesus for an eye roll.  He had repeatedly told them that he was not that kind of Messiah.  Instead he reminded them once again to trust God to do what is needed at the right time.  And then he promised them that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit to enable them to tell everyone everywhere about him.

          They did as Jesus asked.  They went back to Jerusalem, where they devoted themselves to prayer.  The version of the story in Luke 24 says that after he ascended, “they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.”  Like my grandson, they were doing what they loved, with people they trusted.

          Yet they had no idea what they were waiting for.  We’ll talk about that next week on Pentecost, when the disciples received great power from God.

          Power.  It is something we seek so often.  We need it for everything we can’t do in our own strength: travel, heat our homes, communicate long distance, and so on.  Besides those kinds of power—horse power, electricity, fossil fuels—we need divine power for our lives too.

          God wants to give you power not only for great accomplishments or acts of ministry.  God’s power is for you for your whole life.  We read what Paul said about God’s power in Ephesians 1.  He yearns for his readers to know “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.”  That is tremendous power!

          What do we need power for?  To do hard things.  One of the hardest things for us: to wait on God.  We would much rather be doing something.  We are in a culture of doers.  But sometimes we are asked to wait.  Since that is an unfamiliar, uncomfortable task, we need God’s power to do it.  It is ours for the asking. 

          It took me eight years to complete my course of study in seminary, partly because I switched programs midstream.  Sometimes the only courses offered were ones I had already taken. Once or twice I had to forgo my education because we were busy raising young children.  There were times I felt as though I would never finish.  I remember talking to God about it while driving my van in St. Paul one rainy day, asking why it couldn’t go any faster.  I sensed God asking me why I wanted it to be done.  I couldn’t come up with an answer.  My only reason was because I wanted it to be done.  I laughed out loud.  That was the only reason I could come up with?  I was able to accept the slow pace of it after that, and even appreciated each course more because of it.

            God knew all about it, and when I would reach the end.  It took all those eight years for me to be ready to be a pastor.  It took that long for my husband to wrap his mind around it too.  When I began full time ministry, it was the ideal time for our family. 

          See, God knows how to use the time for our good.  God’s power is always used for our good, in big things and small things.  Did you hear that?  God is powerful, but that power is always in service to our well-being.  God’s power and love are inseparable.  David says that at the end of Psalm 62:

“Once God has spoken;
   twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
   and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.” (Ps 62.11-12a)

          We have a collective moment right now—a massive pause—in which we can learn and change, or we can squander it with impatience, complaining, and squabbling.  God’s power is available to us for this.  Can we make it a time of discovering God’s power among us?  Of practicing patience and love toward one another?  Can we use this opportunity to deepen our relationships, and to practice forgiveness when we are all struggling to navigate this?  Love and forgiveness are the “heavy lifting” in our relationships.  What better reason to draw on God’s power at work within us? 

The apostles did exhibit great courage and power as they traveled far and wide, making great sacrifices and enduring suffering for Jesus’ sake.  They were not super human; they were  normal people just like us.  They received power because they waited for it, and then let it have its way in them. 

We observe Memorial Day this week.  If there is ever a time of collective waiting, it is in times of war.  How hard it must be to wait for your husband, brother, sister, wife to come home from active duty when you fear for their safety!  How trying it was for whole societies to endure the agonizing period of wartime and all its inconveniences, not to mention the tragedy of death at the hands of other human beings.  We honor those memories, and celebrate those who fought and died, those who came home, and those who still serve for the well-being of humankind, at the risk of their lives. 

Active, hopeful waiting is unfamiliar to us, but it is the way of faith, of wisdom, of love.  The only way we ever grow is to accept reality, surrender to it, and rest in the goodness of God who will lift us to a new, better way of being.  To be a people of hope, able to wait on God, and to make the most of each moment by loving and blessing one another in the power of God. 

I want to close by quoting a wise Christian mystic of our time, Cynthia Bourgeault, who teaches us how to draw on the power that God has embedded within us in times of trial.  I heard this in a discussion about hope in a podcast, and I was eager to share it with you.  I think it fits well with our need to wait with faith in God right now:

“Hope’s home is at the innermost point in us and in all things.  It is a quality of aliveness.  It does not come at the end as the feeling that results from a happy outcome.  Rather, it lies at the beginning, as a pulse of truth that sends us forth.  When our innermost being is attuned to this pulse, it will send us forth in hope, regardless of the physical circumstances of our lives.  Hope fills us with the strength to stay present, to abide in the flow of mercy no matter what outer storms assail us.  It is entered always and only through surrender, that is, through the willingness to let go of everything we are presently clinging to.  And yet, when we enter it (hope), it enters us and fills us with its own life, a quiet strength beyond anything we have ever known.”[i]

That quiet strength is God, at work in us as we wait with hope in Him. . 


[i] Quoted on “Universal Christ in Deep Time” in the podcast “Another Name for Everything” from the Center for Action and Contemplation: www.cac.org.

The Fourth “B”

John 14:15-24…Easter 6A

          This past Wednesday I hosted the last confirmation class for spring on Zoom.  These are wonderful young people whom I was privileged to teach and learn from in their last year of instruction.  They will be affirming their baptism this year, an event fondly remembered by many of us. 

In my years of teaching confirmation, I have developed a framework for the understanding of living our baptism that consists of “three B’s”: Believe, Belong, and Bear Witness.

          Lutherans are very strong on the “believe” part.  We know how to teach the Small Catechism and the Bible on which it is based.  We recite the Apostles Creed often.  If we had to pinpoint where much of our faith resides in our bodies, I would point to the head.  We are more prone to thinking about God than expressing emotions about God. 

          The “belong” part is what has us feeling a lot of pain right now.  We miss each other.  We don’t gather for worship merely because we need a group to worship with.  We like each other!  And that is the way it is meant to be, if I read the New Testament correctly.  I would caution you not to assume that your children and grandchildren all feel the same way.  They belong to a lot of groups these days, and their congregation is only one of many. 

          Still, we all want to feel as though we belong in a place where we are loved.  If we in the church follow Jesus’ command to love each other and avoid hurting each other, we can invite people of all ages to experience it among us, to feel valued here.

          So, the “believe” and “belong” parts are easy to grasp.  What about the “bear witness” part?  How do we proclaim to each other and to the world that this life of forgiveness and following Jesus is the only way anyone will truly experience joy?  How do we actually show forth the love of Jesus? 

          This is usually the part of the sermon where I try to motivate you to reach out to your neighbors and help them, as individuals and as congregations.  That is a major part of our purpose as the church, for sure.  There is plenty of talking and discernment about that which should be happening all the time among you because you are the church of Jesus Christ.

          In fact, this is what a couple of our baptismal vows focus on.  Specifically, we all have vowed to “Proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,” and to “serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”

          But today I don’t want to focus on that.  Instead I want to ask about our way of being.  What sets us apart in the way we cope with the corona virus epidemic and quarantine?  How do we respond as God’s people that is different from the other groups you belong to?  Is our conversation filled with the complaining and blaming that many people default to in such times?

          The gospel we read in John 14 this morning continues Jesus’ dialogue with his disciples that we explored last week.  Jesus is preparing them for his absence, because they would also be facing a time of insecurity and confusion, as we are right now.  What did he tell them to help them stay the course he had been showing them, after he left?

          Jesus said they will have the Holy Spirit, a true advocate who will stay with them, which the world around them won’t have.  Jesus told them they already knew the Spirit, whether they realized it consciously or not.  They were expected to be different because of the Spirit living in and through them. 

          He said to keep their eye on the ball.  Keep his commandments.  The word for keep here is tereo, which means more than obedience.  It means to value and cherish the way of life Jesus taught them.  Remember that he said his commands are simply to love God and to love the neighbor as ourselves.  That was Jesus’ own way of being.  He asked them to make it their way of being too.  Not just to worship God or Jesus, but to embody love in all that they say, think, and do. 

          As his modern disciples now, that is our purpose too.  But it can be hard in a culture of such division and anxiety.  How do we avoid the blaming and power struggles of our time and instead keep our minds on Christ Jesus?  How do we actually experience the peace in our hearts that only his loving presence can give us?  A few verses later in John 14, Jesus says just that: “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  (Jn 14.27)

          Jesus is not only our “way, truth and life” as he said earlier in John 14.  He is our source of personal and communal peace.  Because he has eliminated the shame of sin and the fear of death in our lives, we are held steady by his living presence, his love that cannot be taken from us.  We want to reflect his unhurried, compassionate attitude toward all people.  We hold fast to the reality that we are his beloved and always will be, no matter how this epidemic plays out.

As God’s people, then, we are called to rise above the anxiety of this time.  We are called to act and speak differently than the troubled ones around us.  Not because we are better; we are anxious too!  But we take our anxiety to Jesus, and he reassures us with his presence and his compassion.  Because we know him, we know his Spirit too.  The Holy Spirit actually lives in us and bears witness to the world through us that God cares for us in the midst of suffering and upheaval.

          This reflects our theology of the cross as Lutherans.  We believe not only that Jesus atoned for our sins and obtained eternal life through his sacrifice and resurrection.  We look to the cross to know that Jesus suffers with us, and we share in his sufferings.

Like Jesus, we move toward suffering for the sake of other people.  We restrain ourselves from criticizing our neighbor and instead consider his own story of suffering that makes him lash out.  We move toward others in crisis even if we have to physically keep our distance, finding ways to help that will restore them and let them experience the love of God that drives us.  We have held back from worshiping together out of love, to protect one another. 

          Jesus said that, for those who cherish and follow his way, “my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (v 23)  What an amazing promise!

          Dr. Leslie Weatherhead was a pastor and writer in London.  He wrote a wonderful Christian classic I recommend to you, The Transforming Friendship: A Book About Jesus and Ourselves.[i]  It helped set the course of my faith journey with Jesus as my companion as well as my Savior and Lord.  In these trying times, it is knowing him that is carrying me through the anxiety.  He writes:

          “I want a personal relation with God which is big enough and real enough to hold me up if all the ships on the sea go down, and if every ‘movement’ in modern life breaks up and perishes…to sail with Christ with all the kingdoms of this world in sight, while life is young and fresh and beautiful.

          “Thus to love, thus to serve, thus to follow, thus to sail in unknown seas with the breath of life in one’s nostrils, the wine of life on one’s lips, the joy of life in one’s heart; this is to find what life is, and why man was created in the morning of the world, when all the stars of God sang together; this is to find the joy Christ had—a joy unquenchable through all the sorrows of His earthly voyaging; this is to find what Paul meant by the ‘glorious liberty of the children of God.’ This is life…This is adventure.  This is religion.”[ii]

          Jesus said his disciples know him.  He wants to be experienced today among us, not only in our church traditions and routines.  He comes to each of us and all of us to be known, not as a consultant, not as a nice idea to think about, but as the source and power of such a love that we cannot contain him.  We are meant to believe and trust him, to belong to his community of faith and joy, and to bear witness to his uncontainable love and resurrection power.  But not of that matters unless we let him befriend us too.  So, there is a fourth “B” that makes us different.  This makes us shine as lights in a dark time.  We love each other and the world as he loves us, fiercely, persistently, flagrantly as those befriended by Jesus.

          Is that the witness we are bearing to our little patch of Iowa? As we keep pursuing friendship with Jesus, the Holy Spirit works in us to make our answer “yes.”


[i] (Nashville: Abingdon Press), 1990. 

[ii] Weatherhead, p. 85, 78.

Jesus Alone is Enough

John 14:1-14…Easter 5A

          “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  Reassuring words from Jesus himself.  How good it is that we can read them and hold them dear two thousand years after they were uttered! 

          This time as I read John 14, I glanced at the end of chapter 13.  Peter has just promised to remain true to Jesus, no matter what.  And Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him three times. 

          Wow.

          Talk about a troubling statement.  And these are troubling times too.  What consolation can we derive from this conversation between Jesus and his disciples? 

          We often read these verses at funerals, for good reason.  We are comforted by Jesus’ promises.  He is preparing a place for us.  He emphasizes that we can trust him: “If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”  He says he will take us there.  He wants to be with us forever.

          Think of it.  For some reason, God does not wish to be without us, ever.  So much so that Jesus did the unthinkable to make it happen.  To be the way for us. 

          Notice that Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  The way to the Father.  He didn’t say, “I will show you the way,” and hand us a map.  Even though in other places he tells us to follow him in the way of the cross, here he says it differently.  “I am the way.”

          We have taken Jesus’ command to believe in him (which he equates with believing in God) and reduced it to a set of beliefs.  The Apostles Creed, for example.  Take all of it to be true, and you will be saved. 

          But Jesus wasn’t saying that.  He was asking his disciples to trust him, that his own life reveals the heart of God.  That we can depend on him.  That his very being is the container for what is true.  That his compassion, his mercy, his sacrifice are what constitute the life that is truly life. 

          “OK, if you’re the way to the Father, then show us the Father,” Philip asked.  And Jesus replied, “You’re looking at him!  Everything the Father is, I am. When you see me, you see the Father.” 

          I noticed that Jesus uses the word “Father” thirteen times in these fourteen verses.  I hear the frustration in his voice.  He is saying he could not have done anything more to show God to them.  All that he has been telling them for three years comes from God.  No wonder Jesus spent many hours in solitude, striving to keep the story straight and not give in to what everybody expected the Messiah to be.

          Yet we act as though Jesus himself is not enough for us.  Matt Chandler says that  we go to movies, concerts, read books, etc. to get intense experiences yet ignore the resurrection power and purpose God has given us, as if having that kind of power and incredible meaning is not enough for us.  We have insatiable appetites to fill the void inside….looking for transcendence—for a sense of awe and deep meaning that we long for—as if Jesus doesn’t provide that, and then are disappointed when all those other things don’t satisfy.[i]

          Friends, we have been are groomed to be insatiable for things we can buy, goods and experiences we can consume.  Advertisers and political candidates tap into our natural hunger for joy and wonder, offering cheap substitutes for that which only God can give to us.  It is as though we are dancing with the partner of our dreams but keep looking over their shoulder for someone better.

          There is nothing better!  If we don’t understand this now, we never will.  Our busy schedules have kept us from sitting in God’s presence and soaking up God’s love for us.  Our chasing after false ideals has us restless for even more if we reach our goals, and in despair of missing out if we don’t reach them. We are looking in the wrong places for filling our heart’s desires.

          Maybe it is because we think Jesus asks too much of us.  He does ask us for everything, nothing less.  But as we turn away from him to other things, they ask for everything too, and we have been giving it to them.  So the question is not whether Jesus asks too much.  It is whether we actually consider him the worthy object of our pursuits.  We will die for something; the question is only what or whom we will die for.

          Friends, in these times, many of our distractions have been taken away from us.  Jesus stands before us in all the truth of his being and asks us to accept him as he is, and to trust that what he does and says and is, is God’s own self.  Is that not enough for us?

          Some of us do not have the time to ponder this.  You may be among those whose work has increased along with the stresses of coping right now.  But the same question will hold true for you both now and in the future.  Can you trust Jesus to be enough for you even as you struggle to cope with it all?  He really is enough for every one of us.

          You won’t experience that as a reality if the Jesus you have been leaning on is a secondhand version of him.  There is a subtle but critical difference.  If you have been keeping Jesus as an idea in your mind, the “correct” Jesus of what you have been taught about him, you may have found this model of him to be fragile, unable to bear the weight of your troubles.

          Instead, he asks us to know him personally.  To realize that his Spirit that indwells you is a living being, Jesus’ own self asking to be unleashed and fully shown forth in every part of your life.  That is why we need to read the gospels to know Jesus.  We need to open ourselves to the Spirit who shows us who and what Jesus is and does.  To recognize the yearnings for goodness, the impulses to love, the desire for justice as God’s own self speaking through our hearts and minds.  This is not an overstatement.  We are told in Genesis that we are made in God’s own image, and Jesus said his Spirit actually lives in us.  It is almost too much to fathom.

          Yet we turn away from this truth and settle for nice ideas about Jesus.  We let other people—including me, one of the preachers in a chorus of others—tell us what Jesus is like.  Don’t settle for that.  Accept Jesus’ invitation to know him yourself, to have the confidence and faith and resilient, true comfort that only he can offer you at this time and all the times of your life.

          Bill Bryson in his book The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America tells about a visit to the boyhood home of Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens in Hannibal, Missouri.  He found a trim whitewashed house with green shutters, which he could see for a mere $2 fee.  It attracts 135,000 visitors per year, who look through windows and hear recorded messages.  Bryson asked a fellow tourist what he thought about the place. 

The fellow replied, “Oh, it’s great.  I come here whenever I’m in Hannibal, two or three times a year.  Sometimes I go out of my way to see it.  I’ve visited this place maybe 20-30 times by now.  It’s a real shrine.”

Bryson observed, “You must be a real fan, a follower of Mark Twain.  Would you say the house is just like he described it in his books?”

“Oh, I don’t know, wouldn’t have the foggiest.  I’ve never read any of his books!”

Don’t let that be said of you about Jesus.  Dig into the gospels for yourself.  I know you miss worship at church right now.  We all do.  But you have a Bible.  You can enrich your faith without my help or the help of any other pastor.  In fact, I have resisted the idea of providing online devotions for you every day.  You need to take responsibility for your own faith and, for a time, your children’s faith.  As Paul said in Philippians, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil 2.12b-13)

That is why I have recorded videos about the different ways that people feel close to God.  They are unpolished, but they can help you understand what works best for you in getting close to God on your own.  I hope you will find them helpful in your quest.

Don’t settle for memes on social media or even the best of teachers.  Don’t merely listen to songs about Jesus.  Those things can confirm what you know, but they are no substitute.  Jesus alone is enough and doesn’t need anything added to his goodness.  Embrace him as your teacher, your friend.  Let the gospel of Jesus Christ be your unfailing source of hope right now.  He will not disappoint you.  Thanks be to God.


[i] Source unknown.

Our Shepherd for 2020

John 10:1-10; Psalm 23; Acts 2:42-47…Easter 4A

          When our children were small, we took them on a vacation to the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.  One of the local attractions was a cave.  There was a little welcome building with facilities by a small gravel parking lot.  A door was erected across the cave entrance.  We paid our fee and waited for the guide to lead us in and tell us all about it.  He took us along the wooden walkway, describing the way the cave had been used in the past by Native Americans and most likely hibernating animals such as bears.  It was one of the tame family experiences you seek on vacation to help fill an afternoon.

          The kids liked it.  As we drove away, I asked them what they thought about being in a cave where bears used to wander in out of the cold.  Our son was quiet for a minute, then he asked, “How did they get through the door?”

          Jesus describes himself as the gate for the sheepfold, in Greek literally the door.  He is the one who lets sheep in for protection and lets them out to find pastures for grazing.  It’s important to remember that the original writings did not have chapter and verse divisions, and this teaching is a continuation of John 9.  Jesus healed a man who had been blind all his life, welcoming him into the family of faith and restoring him to the community.  Jesus contradicted the scribes and Pharisees who had set themselves up as gatekeepers in his place.  The harsh language about those who are thieves and bandits could not have been well-received by those men in power.

          It seems that Jesus’ kind of gate is one that welcomes people in and doesn’t just keep people out.  He wants everyone to belong to his flock.  The Jesus gate is the kind that opens up for everyone to go out and find the food they need.  He is the kind of shepherd who says about his sheep, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

          We have always gotten that idea when we read Psalm 23, haven’t we?  That our Good Shepherd cares for us enough to do everything in his power to keep us safe and thriving.  What does that look like for this time of disease and anxiety?  Let’s take a look.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

That sounds a little like the early believers that we read about in Acts 2.  The people were sharing everything, not as a permanent design for the church necessarily, but because these people were visitors to Jerusalem when they came to believe in Jesus, and they hung around to figure out what it meant.  They had to work out how to feed and shelter everybody.  Not unlike our situation now, when we have many who have lost their jobs and must rely on help to feed the kids.  “I shall not want” is a description of the kingdom of God, where everyone has enough.  Which means we as God’s people need to work out ways to help.

          “I shall not want.”  This pandemic is exposing all the ways in which we have depended on ourselves for security.  But it is an illusion to think that we are self-sufficient, even if that is what we have always been taught.  Soren Kierkegaard said, “If we choose to be our own providence, then we will go quite ingenuously into our own trap, the wealthy as well as the poor. If we want to entrench ourselves in our own plot of ground that is not under God’s care, then we are living, though we do not acknowledge it, in a prison.” (Provocations)

          All the structures of security that we have erected are proving unreliable now.  When they crumble, we find that the ground they rest on is God, who made all things and loves us eternally.  God is our only hope, our only source of security.  How does that work?  For one thing, God uses us to deliver divine provision to one another, so that no one suffers from want.


   He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
   he restores my soul.

Could your soul use some restoring right now?  Mine needs it daily, sometimes hourly.  That comes from the presence of the shepherd himself, who calls each of us by name.  If we have been paying attention to his voice, then we know it well enough now to follow him.  We cannot go many places right now, so we need to find inner spaces where Jesus will dwell with us safely.  Remember the verse, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)  He will meet you there, in the stillness, if you take the time to seek him there.  And trust me, the bears can’t get through the “Jesus door” of your heart.


He leads me in right paths
   for his name’s sake.

I have always thought of this promise in terms of staying on the “straight and narrow way,” being obedient to God.  But there is no promise that these paths are straight.  If we are following in Jesus’ way, sometimes the path leads to suffering like that we read about in 1 Peter this morning.  It is not the popular or easy way to do as Jesus does, caring for others and making sacrifices out of love.  “Right paths” during this pandemic look to me like the ones nurses and doctors take to work in the hallways of hospitals and nursing homes.  They look like the road to your neighbor’s house when you bring them groceries. Maybe they look like the hallway to your child’s bedroom or your husband’s man cave, wh