Our theme continues to be Together in the Boat as we get ready to launch Life Groups in two weeks on Sept. 17. When Jesus and Peter briefly walked on water in the middle of big storm, the winds did not actually calm down until Jesus and Peter were back in the boat together with the other disciples. That’s how Jesus designed our life as people of faith—to do it together in the boat with him.
Today our life following Jesus gets more challenging as he starts talking with his disciples about his impending death. Peter—who just got gold stars for confessing Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, now gets called Satan for being totally wrong about what being the Messiah means. Peter was hoping for a Messiah set on overthrowing the oppression of Rome—he wanted Jesus to go for power instead compassion, authority instead of authenticity, a crown instead of the cross.
But political power and worldly authority are not Jesus’ way to usher in God’s kingdom. Maybe Peter hoped the ends would justify the means—if Jesus got the power, he could use it for good. But, for Jesus, the ends don’t justify the means—the kingdom is found in the means themselves— If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Jesus is talking about a way of life to bring about the kingdom—not just how we order our individual lives, but how we live as his community of followers—the church! When Jesus answers Peter rebuke, he turns to face all the disciples and he is talking to them as a whole—he’s talking in the plural! The kingdom of God is both realized and lived out in relationship—that is, together in the boat with Jesus.
Too often we interpret this passage as though Jesus is just talking to us individually—but we cannot usher in the kingdom by acting alone. When we hear this passage directed at only individuals to take up their cross, it has incorrectly become a platform to justify victimization, abuse, and personal suffering as if these are someone’s “cross to bear.” This passage does not mean remaining in an abusive relationship or situation. It does not mean becoming a doormat, being a victim, lacking in self-care, or people-pleasing to your own detriment.
Nor does self-denial and cross-bearing mean refusing life’s joys and blessings. Suffering with illness or aging with grace and a positive attitude is very good, however this is also not your cross to bear.
So then, what way of life and what kind of kingdom is realized in the community of disciples by denying themselves and taking up their cross?
First let’s tackle Deny yourself—this means to “disown yourself” and remember that you belong to God. St. Luke’s and every person here and every person you meet is created in love and bought with a price—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Because we belong to God, God’s interests, hopes, and dreams become our interests, hopes and dreams. God’s interests are above our interests.
Jesus continually spent time alone with God to put God’s interests above his own. This was how he resisted the temptations of the devil in the wilderness. He dis-owned himself—he remembered he belonged to God, and put God’s interests and plans above his own. This is why Jesus called Peter Satan—because he tempted Jesus put his own interests above God’s.
God’s interests and dreams for St. Luke’s and our life together are bigger and better and more important than me and you and our personal likes or dislikes.
Social media and a consumer culture has taught us bad spiritual habits- Like it, don’t like it, love it, don’t love it, as if our opinion is the be all and end all of life. Come to the church of Burger King where you can have it your way—but Jesus calls us to follow him to the cross and not the crown!
It’s hard to turn off these habits when we gather together—but Jesus wants us to build relationships with each other around what God’s interests and dreams are for this church and the world.
Jesus asks our priorities to go in this order when planning our mission: Is what we are doing good
• First, for the kingdom of God,
• Second for the mission of St. Luke’s as a whole – which is another way of saying does it reach beyond our doors to the community in mission?
• Then groups and individuals in the church
This is what it means for us to live out the Lord’s Prayer together—Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. But this is tough stuff—we cannot do this kind of hard spiritual work alone—which is why we are forming—you guessed it—Life Groups! So we can grow together in listening together for God’s interests and dreams. The kingdom of God is both realized and lived out in these relationships—that is, together in the boat with Jesus.
Take up your cross and follow me. Let’s talk a little bit more about what it means to take up your cross.
Again, we take a communal view because Jesus is talking to the disciples together. Taking up our cross—as the church—means identifying where we take a stand, where we are willing to suffer for the sake of those who are the least, or the lost or the last.
Taking up our cross is suffering we willingly choose for the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of someone who is in need, for the sake of sharing the Gospel. The question for St. Luke’s is, what are we willing to do as a congregation, to take a stand, who are willing to be in solidarity with, to love with compassion, and to serve who are in need that might cause us suffering?
We already have some answers. For example, we have willingly chosen to stand with, support and welcome people who are LGBTQIA. This is one ministry in Texas, where we are in the minority as a church, standing in solidarity with people who have been openly shunned and rejected.
The day after our first Pride Sunday in June, there was an anonymous letter and card addressed to me tapped to the side entrance of the church. Inside were pictures of Sodom and Gomorrah burning and information which I am sure you can imagine.
But given that LGBTQIA people live with this kind of fear and harassment in their daily life, work, school, and medical care, this is a crucial way for us as people of faith, together in the boat, to take up our cross and follow Jesus beside LGBTQIA people with love, compassion, support and solidarity.
We have an opportunity to do this again at the North Texas Pride event on September 30th—you can sign up in the Gathering Area or talk with Kristin Atchison. Remember that you do not have to understand everything to love and welcome everyone.
The same is true with hungry neighbors at our free breakfast. Two weeks ago, we had a woman who had been laid off from her job. She has six children, everyone was hungry and she wasn’t sure how she was going to feed them, when she saw our signs for a free breakfast. They came, and got their fill of burritos, snack bags for later, and a box of food to help get them through the week. They also got the ice cream from the Honda Helpers free ice cream truck! She came back yesterday to thank us for the help; she was working again and so grateful, so she made a donation! You never know who God is going to send when are taking up our cross together and giving our time and resources to be available with free hot food, conversation, and prayer. The kingdom of God is both realized and lived out in these relationships—together in the boat with Jesus.
What does it mean for you to participate in denying yourself, taking up your cross and following Jesus as part of this wonderful St. Luke’s community? Life Groups, which start in 2 weeks on Sept. 17 -- help us build this kind of kingdom community where hear God’s interests and dreams through each other, where we gain the courage to stand in solidarity with those who are marginalized and suffering, where we experience the kingdom of God in the relationships that we build, and where our own needs for prayer and companionship are met in addition to Sunday morning.
When I was a young child, I remember Saturday nights we would get ready for church the next day. We all had baths before dinner, dad would polish our shoes, we got to eat pancakes for supper and watch the Lawrence Welk Show—it was the only night we could watch TV during dinner. Then we went to bed early so we could be on time for Sunday School before church. This ritual taught me the importance of church, of prayer, of being part of that community.
My sister Pam and I always shared a bedroom, and during this early stage of life, we developed our own ritual to remind each other to say the Lord’s Prayer before we went to sleep. After we said our prayer, we would say, “beep, beep” to remind each to pray. Maybe we got that from the Road Runner cartoon.
I like to think of the Life Groups and our “beep beep” community—the one that’s there for you and reminds you what’s important, that you’re a person of prayer and connected to this larger community that’s following Jesus together.
So sign up for a Life Group that will start the week of Sept. 17th, as we seek God’s dreams for the kingdom, as we stand in solidarity with those in need, and our spirits come alive.
Today we celebrate being this community as share Communion together this morning at the railing. This Communion railing and many Lutheran chancel areas are shaped like a boat—wider in the middle and narrower at the ends. Come and be fed—where Jesus nourishes us for this life that we together—never alone, but always together in the boat with Jesus.
Message for Pentecost 13 on Matthew 16:13-20 and Acts 2:42-47 on August 27, 2023 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas. Because we are launching Life Groups in the fall, I changed the New Testament Reading to Acts 2.
This week we are continuing our theme of “Together in the Boat” (which is funny because again, there are no boats in our readings today!). It refers to our Gospel two weeks ago when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water in the midst of a storm. Peter walks on the water briefly before the wind scares him, but the storm only calms down when Jesus and Peter get back in the boat together with the rest of the disciples. Dealing with life’s storms and challenges is more successful when we are together in the boat with Jesus. One of life's challenges is asking for forgiveness and repairing relationships.
It’s no surprise that one of my sins is over-functioning and over-working—it’s a sin of pride—like everything is up to me. When I am organized, I work from a To-Do List, but when I am overwhelmed, I lose the list and then I try to hold it all in my head, which is what I have been trying to do the last week to 10 days. It’s been hard to take the time to sit and write a new list or keep track of the list I already made. When I hold things in my head, especially now—it worked pretty well 20 years ago—I forget things—especially all the little details.
This week I realized I had given Pr. Janet the wrong starting date for the Life Groups for the Red Letter Spiritual Growth Challenge. And I thought, “what a major screw up—this affects curriculum and all the Luke’s Learners teachers, and I have really messed this up.” So on Thursday, I asked her into my office and confessed that I had misspoke on the date and I was afraid I had therefore messed up her whole curriculum plan. I apologized and asked her to please forgive me, and how could I help make it right.
And in her especially loving way, Pr. Janet said, "you do not need forgiveness, you are already loved as you are, and it will all be ok." But of course, being me, I still felt bad anyway. Without even thinking I just blurted out, “but being forgiven by you helps me know that I am also forgiven by God.”
So being a wonderful friend and pastor, she said, “I forgive you.” And I felt so much better—forgiven and renewed—not just for giving the wrong date on the schedule, but for the whole thing—being my sinful self over and over again, no matter how much I try not to be.
Then the Holy Spirit gave me a nudge right then and said, “this is why we are launching Life Groups here—so everyone can have this kind of forgiveness moment. Everyone needs this moment when being forgiven personally by another Christian, helps you know and experience being forgiven by God—Intimately, completely—in friendship and in trust."
Such forgiveness a crucial part of being in the boat together with Jesus.
This is because forgiveness and grace are not something we can easily give ourselves. We need forgiveness announced, proclaimed, declared, told to us. It’s why it’s so often the opening ritual of our worship service—the point is not that we are so depraved, but that we cannot proclaim God’s audacious, radical, and overflowing free grace and forgiveness to ourselves.
Just like an announcement of true love, someone has to declare it to us, “God loves you! You are forgiven, you are set free, you are accepted, you are loved. We see you and know you as you are and we love you, and God does, too! That’s why he sent us Jesus!"
Experiencing this forgiveness in Life Groups where people have come to know us well over time, carries personal and spiritual power with intimacy and trust at a level we cannot create in corporate worship. They are both wonderful gifts and serve different purposes.
Offering and receiving forgiveness is called the “office of the keys” in our Gospel reading, and Jesus gives this gift to the church—the body of Christ, who like Peter, confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
Life Groups take our spiritual life to the next level because they offer us a unique chance to loosen whatever binds us, limits us, holds us back and through community, to release those things to God. Being loosened with forgiveness in the safety of the boat with other believers on the journey, gives us greater freedom and love to serve as disciples in daily life because we are unbound from guilt or shame, loneliness or isolation.
This liberating faith is what happened to the early church as they gathered in small groups and house churches. Our Acts passage shows they were together in the boat of faith, sharing meals and possessions, they worshipped together, and celebrated the Lord’s supper, they declared the forgiveness of sins the name of Jesus, the Son of the Living God, and they were filled with glad and generous hearts. They felt the forgiveness and presence of the living God through the embodiment of each other and their good will, fellowship and joy became contagious! People witnessed their life and wanted it for themselves!
• People saw how much joy they had,
• people experienced how much goodwill and generosity they shared;
• people witnessed how much overflowing love they exhibited,
• people discovered how many burdens and bound up resentments and sins had been released and they all wanted what those early Christians had.
So day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
This is called building the church through attraction not aggression, through magnetism not manipulation, through authenticity, not argumentation.
I wonder if this is why Jesus tells them at the end of our Matthew reading not to tell anyone he was the Messiah—because he wanted their lives to speak louder, more truthfully, and more effectively than their words.
Yes, words of forgiveness need to be proclaimed; yes words that confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of God need to be spoken—but disciples then must live these words out in deeds and in action. For it is Matthew Gospel that tells us that it is not just earthly forgiveness—binding and loosing—that has heavenly consequences. It is Matthew’s Gospel who makes plan that our actions toward others also have a heavenly impact on the living Lord. In Matthew 25, Jesus says the righteous will ask the Son of Man in all his glory,
“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Life Groups are to help us, like the early church, practice the words and confessions of our faith—but they also enable us to engage in the behaviors and actions of our faith. Some of those actions will be in service to our neighbor like in Matthew 25, and some of those actions will be toward well-being for ourselves and our relationships. The action part of our faith matters, because forgiveness and repentance that shifts our life is best followed by a change in behavior. So, after the forgiveness I received this week, I actually took my full day off instead of working for half of it, which I was still tempted to do (sin is pernicious!). Dan and I went to lunch and then I took a nap. Yesterday, we ran a practice Life Group with 4 of the facilitators, and they laid hands on me and prayed for me to help me make different choices. And I found my list!
I tell you these things, so you know that I only invite you to do what I am willing to do, or already am doing myself. I am not in a different boat. None of the retired pastors in the congregation are in a different boat. I am in the same boat you are, so are they. We are all together in the boat with Jesus.
This week, if there is someone you need to ask for forgiveness, I invite you to have this conversation. If you’re not ready and need help first, then take that step this week and ask for help from a trusted Christian friend, a family member, or one of the retired pastors or me—you do not have to wait for Life Groups to start to be released!
Then I invite you to continue to pray about joining a Life Group. Facilitators are wearing one of these nifty arem bands if you want to talk with one of them. If you are interested in facilitating a group, you still can, so please talk with me!
The Red Letter Challenge Books are in the Gathering Area—some people love having a book, other people with work and family will not have time—that’s okay to do whatever fits into your life. The book is not needed for the Life Group—since there’s a video for that. The book is for your own devotional time. Lets grow together in forgiveness and grace and be that magnetic chuch where everyone wants the love and joy that we exhibit and attract!
Message for Pentecost 12 on Matthew 15:21-28 and Acts 2:37-42 given on August 20, 2023 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas. Because we are starting Life Groups in the fall, I changed the New Testament reading to Acts 2.
Our theme right now is “Together in the Boat” (which is funny because there are no boats in our readings today!). It refers to our Gospel last week when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water in the midst of a storm. Peter walks on the water briefly before the wind scares him, but the storm only calms down when Jesus and Peter get back in the boat together with the rest of the disciples. Dealing with life’s storms and challenges is more successful when we are together in the boat with Jesus.
We have a problem today, however, because our Gospel reading seems to challenge this theme—like Jesus himself is pushing the idea that not everyone is welcome in the boat of faith with him. But that doesn’t really sound like Jesus, so we need to take a closer look. He seems awfully rude to the Canaanite woman, while they are up on the border with what is now Lebanon. But I wonder if his comments are not really intended to teach the disciples a lesson.
Jesus has just finished instructing the disciples about eating with unclean hands—that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth—it is what one says that defiles, because this comes from the heart.
In their encounter with the Canaanite woman, it is the disciples who speak of her negatively, that is with defiled hearts. Granted, she is their enemy, and Tyre economically exploited Israel, especially with grain futures, leaving only crumbs for the Israeli farmers. This woman clearly benefited from these economic structures because she is wealthy—her child sleeps on a bed not simply a cot like most of the poorer peasants that they know.
So the disciples have no patience for this wealthy enemy, and they say so: Send her away Jesus, because she keeps shouting at us. She is a nuisance, a pest and the kingdom is not for her anyway. Send her away – the Greek word is apoluson
But her daughter is sick, and no amount of money has made her well. She acknowledges who Jesus is, Lord, Son of David. This woman actually has the posture and the words of worship – Lord have mercy on me. She is speaking the traditional language of Israelite prayer and worship. Kyrie eleison.
Do you hear the alliteration in their words?—eleison---apoluson. The alliteration in Greek sets up the contrast between the woman and the disciples. The woman--an enemy--has the mind and heart of worship and asks for mercy - eleison. The disciples, have the mind and heart of superiority and exclusion and say– "go away" -- apoluson
Apoluson – this is the same word in Matthew, Mark and Luke in the feeding of the 5000. The disciples say to Jesus, "send the crowds away, we have nothing to offer them." That was pretty recent, and the disciples have not learned the kingdom way, yet.
Jesus lays bare what the disciples really sound like, to hear the exclusion and defilement that was coming out of their hearts; how it sounded when they thought that all the good stuff of God was just for them:
So using sarcasm, Jesus says to the disciples (not the Canaanite woman), Well, yeah, I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel
The disciples hear how ugly the sound. And it gets worse before it gets better. The Caananite woman then kneels before Jesus, now with the posture of worship to accompany the words. With an urgent cry she says, Lord Help me. Again, acknowledges Jesus as her Lord and Savior.
Jesus then magnifies the cost of exclusion and control rather than inclusion and embrace: It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. He is voicing the disciples’ frustration over the economic exploitation of Israel at the hands of Tyre, but personalizing it to this woman—it does sound so awful.
Maybe the disciples are shocked at Jesus words – maybe they feel they are justified—but we do not hear another peep out of them. One hopes they really hear and see the defiling sin that can come out of the human heart.
The Canaanite woman argues her position –even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table. All people deserve God’s grace and favor, even a crumb. Because God's grace is so fast, even a crumb is sufficient!
The gospel is preached by a pagan, foreign woman – even she, on the lowest rung of the social, political and religious ladder to the Israelites – is not beyond the reach of God’s mercy. Jesus commends the woman’s faith and worship and wisdom. She’s inside the boat—and so is her daughter. So are the disciples, recipients themselves of Jesus’ mercy and learning.
The disciples more deeply grasp the truth that no one falls outside of the embrace of God. Then I imagine the disciples start to remember:
• Jesus healed the Gerosene demoniac – who was also outside of Israel—he’s in the boat
• Jesus touched and healed lepers, the lame and those wracked by demons – all unclean and outside of the social and religious communities in Israel—they’re together inside the boat
• Jesus even healed the Roman centurions’ slave – another enemy and oppressor of Israel –and they’re together inside the boat
Maybe this trip to Tyre and Sidon at the border had to happen for the Pentecost that was to come after Jesus resurrection to make sense at all.
Because by the time of the Pentecost event in our Acts passage the whole Mediterranean world was visiting Jerusalem for the festival, and the disciples stopped asking who was in the boat and who was out—they just up and baptized 3,000 people! As you recall at the beginning of Acts Chapter 2, there were Parthians, Medes, Cappadocians, people from Phrygia and Pamphylia, (and all the other names you hope you don't have to read as Assistant on Pentecost!). There were wealthy and poor, women and men, single and married, kids and elderly. They were all gathered together in one place.
The point is—everyone was together in the boat with Jesus. Now, they did not have a mega church building—so they gathered together in small groups and house churches.
Our Acts text says, They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Like the disciples did in the conversation with the Canaanite woman, they experienced transformation in their shared life together through the presence of Jesus’ power in their gatherings! They came to a deeper relationship with Jesus and with each other—they experienced healing, new life, and new relationships, so they invited others to join them! And that’s how the early church grew.
We hope to grow this way too—spiritually, numerically, relationally, devotionally, missionally—by starting Life Groups in September. This is one way to practice living faith together in the boat with Jesus.
Some of you have participated in Life Groups at other congregations—or done them here with our Rooted groups a few years ago, some of you have been in a dedicated Bible study group, or women’s group that share many patterns of a Life Groups. For others, this will be a new practice.
We are hoping that everyone will give it a try for the 6 weeks of our Spiritual Growth Challenge in the fall, we hope groups will continue beyond that. This week I invite you to pray about joining a Life Group yourself. Then begin asking God to show you someone you can invite to join you in a Life Group, especially someone from a different background, like the Canaanite woman in our Gospel reading, so we too can be transformed through new relationships.
We are expanding the boat at St. Luke’s and we want to practice our All Are Welcome invitation with intention and love. With Jesus, no one is supposed to be sent away; everyone is welcome to receive the love and goodness of God.
It’s time to let as many people as possible know that St. Luke’s is a place where they are invited into the boat together with us and Jesus! Amen.
Message for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost on Matthew 14:22-23 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas. It is also Blessing of the Backpacks, Sunday School Teacher Installation, and Installation of the Family Ministries Director, Building Manager, and new Youth Leader, a Baptism and a Community Party and Waterslide after church!
Almost every message we hear about this passage is about Peter having the guts to get out of the boat to try to walk on water, and that’s a good message. But today, we are going to look from a different view. I wonder if the smartest thing to do in the middle of a storm is to get out of the boat? Usually the best thing to do is to rely on each other and keep one another safe in the midst of the storm. But not Peter. Is he thinking about anyone else? How do you think his behavior looks to everyone else inside the boat?
Theologian Mitzi Smith reminds us, “Sometimes we want a miracle for ourselves at the expense of others who are in the same boat as we are.”
Jesus indulges him, but Peter does not last long when the winds blow and the storm is a strong as ever. He can only do what all of us must do at some point in our lives, and cry out, “Lord, Save me!”
And of course, Jesus does save Peter--from his fear, his doubt, his selfishness in front of the other disciples. But it’s what happens next that is the real point of the story that we never emphasize.
Jesus and Peter climb into the boat and it is only when they are in the boat, together with all the disciples that the wind ceases, and the storm stops.
Being in the boat together with Jesus—that’s when things really change, that’s when Jesus calms the storm, that’s when life is manageable, that’s when the storms of life are not overwhelming—when we are living in the boat with the community of disciples with Jesus by or side.
Instead of me preaching much more about this—we are going to live the sermon together—embodying the message—in this service and in our event after church. You essentially are the preached Word today, because we are living out what it means to be in the boat together with Jesus.And we are going to start by Installing our Christian Education Staff & Teachers. [Installation of Teachers & Staff].
We can only teach our children how to follow Jesus by being in the boat together with Jesus.We will do this again by blessing the children with their backpacks for a new school year. Everybody’s children are in the boat with us, and so is our community, and we extend the blessing of Jesus out into our community. We want our children to know, that wherever they go, our love, the love of Jesus and our prayers always go with them. Even when they’re not here on Sunday, we are still in the same boat together. Any family can call on any one of us for help if they need it during the week. Our new bag tags this year say, "God's got your back!" There are plenty to go around, so please take one for your purse or brief case. [Blessing of the Backpacks & new tags]
Jayne and her family are already in the boat with us, and Baptism is the official welcome! Jesus loves us all, and today we celebrate that this is true for Jayne in particular! [Baptism of Jayne Marie, a Sunday School student!]
Now my image of this story—is what would have happened if Peter would have said, Lord bid US to come to you on the water, instead of ME.
It would have been a grand experiment—All 12 disciples getting out of the boat together—holding hands or locking elbows—they all could have walked on the water together. Maybe if it were all of them doing it together, Peter would not have so easily looked at the storm instead of keeping his eyes on Jesus. Maybe feeling his brother’s hands in his, he would have felt their strength, known that he was not standing against the storm alone; maybe he would have kept his eyes looking forward at Jesus, rather than over at the wind. That would have been a miracle to behold—12 disciples walking water—arm in arm!
That’s the image I have of us moving forward as St. Luke’s!
We are starting a Spiritual Growth Challenge in September and we are launching Life Groups—so that none of us has to try to do life and weather the storms that come up alone. There will more information in the next few weeks, but I want to get the idea out there that Jesus designed us to do life together.
Groups can decide when and how often to meet. But the idea is to have a group that you build deep trust with over time, who are there for you, pray with you, and will cry out, “Lord, save me” with you when you feel like you are sinking—that is what I call a school of love.
More storms will come—literally and metaphorically—that is life, and it will be ok, because we are together with Jesus. Sometimes we will try new things and we will step out together, arm in arm with our eyes on Jesus.
Who knows what kind of miracles Jesus has in store for our future—it might even be better than a whole group walking on water. I am excited to find out—I hope you are, too.
Image: Sharon Ang, pixabay