The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
Peter began to say to Jesus, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age —houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.' - Mark 10:28-31
Grace and peace to you in the name of the Most High God. Amen.
I apologize if you already heard a fantastic sermon on this text; a sermon that stopped your heart with its promise of grace and mercy, as only the promises of God really can. I suspect you did not hear that sermon yesterday because many of you preached on Sunday and you likely concluded whatever you had to say about the man seeking eternal life, and the problem of riches, before you got to Peter’s whiney response. Or you used another text altogether.
Also, we Lutherans tend to be modest when it comes to aiming straight at the heart of our peers. We wait for a campfire retreat under the stars for anything that poignant. So here goes. This homily is for you, my siblings, my fellow deacons and pastors, interns and guests; for all of us, who join Peter in saying – “Look, Jesus, we have left everything – or at least quite a lot – and followed you.”
And Jesus delivers. “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or family or previous work – for my sake and the sake of the good news – who will not receive a hundredfold now and in the age to come eternal life.” Jesus is specific: houses, family and new fields. A hundredfold – with persecutions.
I really went digging, friends. I wanted to make sure there wasn’t a softer, less complicated translation for that pesky word "persecutions" in verse 30. But even in this year of great pandemic fatigue and weariness, disappointments and postponed plans, "persecutions" means what we think it means. Set-backs, danger, attacks, barbs and arrows, blows and real trouble aimed at those who proclaim God’s mercy and grace for all.
When I need to be reminded what discipleship is all about, I go to Bonhoeffer. I mean I literally go to Volume 4 on my bookshelf, his work entitled Discipleship in the impressive collection of his works published by Fortress Press. Written in Germany in the mid-1930’s, these lectures stand at the heart of all that Bonhoeffer taught. They also prefigure the path Bonhoeffer’s own life would take as his opposition to the Nazi regime got him into more and more trouble.
Inside Vol. 4, I found a notecard I had used as a bookmarker. On it was written a comment a prospective seminarian made to me back when I worked at Luther Seminary years and years ago. Maybe it was you. Someone said, “Surely, in the midst of life God doesn’t want me to toss everything aside.” Let me say that again, “Surely, in the midst of life God doesn’t want me to toss everything aside.” I wrote that down because I believe that may be exactly what Jesus asks of you or me. When it comes to following Jesus, potentially everything is on the line. Or, as Bonhoeffer wrote in that famous volume … “When Christ calls a (person), Christ bids (them) come and die.” (page 87)
Here, in the dark we may allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to admit that we are dying. Something in us has been rubbed raw this past year in which so many of the things that revive our spirits have been taken away. And their loss weighs like a personal loss within us. The easy banter at a coffee hour, the children who bounce up to the chancel for an informal lesson in the middle of worship, the poignancy of holding an elder’s hand at her bedside, breaking into harmony on the second verse of a familiar hymn, the clatter of dishes in the kitchen after a community meal, a genuine embrace as we share the peace.
Multiply those by our grief for real people who have died. Our outrage at the politicized impasse that makes it so darn hard to talk about race or divergent views points on climate change or social reform. Closer to home, vacations have been rescheduled, family reunions cancelled, and no one – no one – can tell us with certainty how much longer we need to live like this. “Look,” Peter said to Jesus, “we have left everything and followed you.”
That’s the key, of course. We are following Jesus. We have been called away from other paths, other ways of making good sense of our lives. And in post-modernity there are lots of choices. But we are here tonight, singing hymns and offering prayers around a campfire -- because we choose to follow the One who has first chosen us. And we have the privilege – as have the generations of church ministers before us – to show others what it means to follow Jesus not only in the words we speak but in the whole way we live out our lives. When we know with confidence where we are going; also when the way ahead is not yet known.
My sisters, my brothers, dear siblings in Christ, Jesus loves you just as he loved the earnest man who came to him, seeking the path to eternal life. Jesus promises a hundredfold multiplication within the community of faith of anything we have lost or set aside because the heart of God is just that wide. And you know that in the depths of your being even when you are tired and your voice sounds more cynical than you mean it to sound.
You are loved. And God’s grace and mercy are there for you. Tonight. And tomorrow. And for all the days to come. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Bishop Patricia Lull