Sermon preached September 16, 2012
Text: Mark 8:27-38
Thirty years ago this past summer, just about a mile from here at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, a young woman named Julie and a young man named David said “I do.” Even if I said that we were both sixteen at the time, we still would not be all that young today. Thirty years.
In those years I have had the wonderful opportunity to officiate at a lot of weddings for others. There is a great deal of work and planning that goes into most weddings, that goes into that moment when a couple says, “I do.” But that is just the beginning. Those who think that is the moment in a marriage are mistaken. It is an important moment, but only a beginning. Things are just getting started.
Thirty years ago, Julie and I made that beginning, and a lot has happened in those thirty years. We have three children, all now in their twenties. The day of their births was significant. David wanted to come early. He was born six weeks prematurely on the day one of Julie’s cousins was married. Beth arrived a little early, too. She was born on a Sunday morning right in the middle of the worship service at Roseau United Methodist Church where I was the pastor. You will be pleased to know I missed church that day. Sarah was a little early, as well. Julie was scheduled for a c-section, but Sarah could not wait and the operation happened a few days earlier than expected. Our children were born, named and baptized. But that is just getting started. It is just getting started for them. It is just getting started as a parent. As a parent you don’t just get to name your children then move on.
School began this past week. It is always fun to talk with parents and children about that. At Wednesday dinner I got to hear some wonderful stories from Abby Adamec about school. That first day when your child enters kindergarten is a milestone, for both parent and child. But it is just getting started. I went to kindergarten at Lakeside Elementary, and I was just getting started. K-12, then four years of college, then three years of seminary, then seven more years completing a Ph.D.
I like to cook. I am not a great chef or anything, but I like to cook. I know that when you get your recipe out and you put all the ingredients on the counter, you are just getting started. You don’t holler out “dinner’s ready” if that’s only how far you’ve progressed.
I remember an episode of the television show Seinfeld. It is still on quite a bit on re-runs. Jerry is going to pick up a rental car. He is told that they don’t have a car for him. “But I made a reservation.” “I know.” “Isn’t the reservation supposed to hold the car? I don’t think you understand what a reservation is.” “I know what a reservation is.” I don’t think you do. You know how to take the reservation. Anyone can take a reservation. You just don’t know how to hold the reservation, and that’s really the most important part of the reservation.” Taking a reservation is just getting started.
There is something of that just getting started thing happening in the Gospel reading for today. Jesus inquires about who people think he is, and then asks who the disciples think he is. Peter: “You are the Messiah.” It is often translated, “You are the Christ.” Apparently Peter is spot on. You get the sense from the way the conversation moves forward, however, that Peter thinks this is it. It is going to be easy street from here on out. They have discovered who Jesus is, and now it is just a matter of sliding into glory.
In the starkest, boldest terms, Jesus says, “no.” Jesus says, “you’re just getting started.” Here is how he says it. First he tells them all that suffering is on the horizon. Then he says: If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. To say Jesus is the Christ is just getting started.
There is a stream in the Christian faith tradition that places a great deal of emphasis on that moment of decision for Jesus. The ministry of Billy Graham, which has influenced my life along the way, focuses a lot on that moment of decision. His radio program, which I listened to some in my teenage years was called “The Hour of Decision.” It began in 1950 and is still being broadcast. The magazine of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which I once subscribed to is called Decision. There is a stream in the Christian faith tradition that emphasizes that moment of decision. In my Christian coffee house days, I remember a song we sometimes sang. Glory, glory, glory, somebody touched me. Glory, glory, glory, somebody touched me. Glory, glory, glory, somebody touched me. I know it was the hand of the Lord. It was on a ________, somebody touched me. We were all invited to know that day of the week on which we had made our decision for Jesus. After the sermon, we are going to sing a song that I first sang in my Christian coffee house days.
Deciding for Jesus, saying yes to Jesus in an hour of decision, whether it was at an evangelistic rally, watching Billy Graham on television, in Sunday School, at camp, or maybe just over a period of time, that is important. Such a moment of decision matters. But it is just getting started. There was a study done awhile back that indicated that a significant number of people who come forward at Billy Graham events have come forward before. Nothing wrong with that, unless they have forgotten that coming forward to decide for Jesus is just getting started. I want to give Billy Graham credit. He understands that. I remember doing some of his bible studies as a youth as one way to move forward after my hour of decision. Saying yes to Jesus, saying about Jesus, “you are the Christ,” is just getting started.
Here’s what we know about the way forward. There is some suffering along the Jesus way. This is not to say God causes our suffering to teach us something. This is not meant to be a blind acceptance of suffering, not at all. Suffering is there in the world – hunger, homelessness, abuse, addiction. There are children with distended bellies and children dying of malaria. We have a choice. We can see it, and suffer because we truly see it and respond, or we can turn away. The way of life is to look, see, respond. Those who would try to save their lives by looking away, lose their lives. Those who look, suffer and respond find their lives. I think there is some link between being able to see the hurt and pain of the world and being able to see the beauty and wonder of the world.
The way forward is the way of the cross. Here the cross is not meant only as a symbol of suffering, which is most often how we see it. Jesus’ cross was a literal cross. Our cross is living out our lives in response to God. It is to respond to God in all things. It is to live wide open and to love with abandon. This is the way of life.
To say “yes” to Jesus is just getting started. It is like saying “I do,” or the first day of school, or a birth, or getting all the ingredients ready to be prepared into a meal. It is important to say “yes,” and even more important to keep saying “yes,” top stay on the journey.
There is good news here. The good news is that this way that refuses to avoid suffering, that this way of the cross, is the way of life. There is more good news. No matter who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done, the way is always open. And if you once said “yes,” and then gotten lost on the way, a new beginning is always possible. With Jesus you can always say “yes” again as if for the first time.
There are moments in our lives where we all may need a new beginning, a sense that we are just getting started. There is a certain joy and excitement in that. Maybe now is such a time in your life. Maybe now is such a time as we come together as a new congregation. There is joy and excitement in that.
Let’s get started again on the Jesus way. Let’s keep going in the Jesus way. Amen.