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Suffering Love

Suffering Love

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” Matthew 16:24

The Reverend Luther Zeigler

September 3, 2017 – Pentecost 13A

Jesus is angry. It doesn’t happen often in the gospels, but when it does we should pay attention. Today is one of those days. Jesus’ anger this morning is directed at Peter, who just last week, you will remember, emerged as a leader among the disciples: Peter, the rock, upon whom Jesus hoped to build the Church, the disciple who boldly identified Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Ah, but Peter’s fall from grace is swift and dramatic. It turns out that Jesus is a rather different Messiah than Peter expects. When Jesus today explains for the first time to his followers that his destiny is not worldly fame and power, but instead sacrifice, Peter is dumbfounded. He goes so far as to rebuke Jesus, insisting that suffering cannot possibly be Jesus’ future. Peter has bigger and better plans for Jesus.

It must have been impossibly hard for the disciples to hear, really hear, that the Cross would be Jesus’ fate. Suffering and death are not things than any of us want to hear – for Jesus, for those we love, or for ourselves.

Surely, Peter must have wondered, if this man is God’s son – if he can heal the sick, feed the hungry, make the blind see and the deaf hear – then certainly he can do better than yielding to arrest and torture and death. I can hear his thought process now, ‘I’ve given up my livelihood, and left my family and friends to follow this teacher. This isn’t how the story is supposed to go. This is not what I want in a savior.’

But we shouldn’t be too hard on Peter for wanting a different outcome. For the truth is that the human heart longs for heroes: heroes who are strong, heroes who are winners.

The Yale theologian, Nicholas Wolterstorff, puts it this way: “When you and I are left to our own devices, it’s the smiling, successful ones of the world that we cheer. ‘Hail to the victors.’ The histories we write of the odyssey of humanity on earth are the stories of the exulting ones—the nations that win in battle, the businesses that defeat their competition, the explorers who find a pass to the Pacific, the scientists whose theories prove correct, the athletes who come in first, the politicians who win their campaigns.”

We love winners. But Jesus asks something different from us. He asks us to turn our eyes toward suffering. And not just his suffering on the Cross. Jesus is asking us to turn toward the world’s wounds, for Jesus is in fact the lens through which God wants us to see all humanity. Like us, Peter and his friends would rather not look into the world’s pain. Like us, they would rather think about their own dreams for a safe and secure future, apart from the world’s needs.

But repeatedly throughout the gospels, Jesus tells us that it is those who struggle, not the victors, who deserve our attention. Jesus turns everything on its head. All our notions about “success” turn out to be wrong. To be like God is not to win at all costs, but to lose for the sake of others. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

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Our True Foundation

Our True Foundation

“Look to the rock from which you were hewn….” Isaiah 51:1

 The Reverend Luther Zeigler

August 27, 2017 – 12A Pentecost

My parents – God rest their souls – were high school sweethearts who married one month after they graduated from high school. My father was 18, my mother 17. They were from a tiny farming town of about 1,800 folks in Pennsylvania by the name of Newville. My dad was the youngest of eight and grew up on a dairy farm. My mother was the daughter of the guy who ran the feed store in town, my Grandpa Arby. Ours was not a Brahmin family.

At the time mom and dad married, they had neither money nor jobs. The only thing they knew for sure was that they wanted to get out of Newville. So, the day after they married, in July of 1957, my father enlisted in the Air Force and was told to report to Lawry Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado, just outside of Denver. And so off my parents went, in a car borrowed from one of their grandparents, and spent their honeymoon driving across country staying in the cheapest possible motels. I figure that I must have become a twinkle in somebody’s eye somewhere around Kansas because I was born nine months and 3 days after they were married. You do the math.

Eventually my parents arrived at base and my father reported for duty. Because he was married, they did not require him to stay in the barracks with the other single enlisted men, but rather provided him with a small 18×6 foot trailer. And after I came along, that’s where the three of us lived, basically in one room, for the next several years – in the Capri Trailer Park.

While I don’t remember much from those days, I have kept an old Polaroid black and white photo of my mom and me in front of our little trailer. I keep the photo not only as a reminder of these humble beginnings, but because it taught me a valuable lesson about my true home. Many years after the picture was taken, when I was in the third grade, after we had moved to California, my teacher asked our class to do a little project on our family origins. You remember the assignment: bring in some photos of your family, and your first house, and share a story about your personal history.

Well, when my turn comes, I pull out my prized photo of our little trailer and began to tell, in the halting way of a third grader, the story I just told you. But then, in the middle of my presentation, I hear one of my classmates say under his breath, but loud enough for everyone to hear: “trailer trash.”

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A House of Prayer for All Peoples

A House of Prayer for All Peoples

“. . .my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Isaiah 56:7

 The Reverend Luther Zeigler

August 20, 2017 – 11A Pentecost

Later this morning, we will welcome Bishop Gayle Harris to dedicate and bless this new entrance to our church, literally opening a new door into our future. Many, many people have contributed to this important project, and we will have an opportunity in the coming weeks to give our thanks to them in appropriate ways. But today I want to spend a little time reflecting on the theological significance of what we are doing.

On the surface, this new entrance may seem to be merely an accommodation to our friends who have trouble walking, who are wheel-chair bound, or who use a walker. And yes, our hope is that this new entrance will meet those important needs. But this new door is much more than that. When our bishop blesses the entrance, the words she will use are these:

“Sanctify, O Lord, this entrance to be an enduring expression of your extravagant welcome and hospitality to us, and to all persons who seek a deeper relationship with you, and bless this community as it seeks, with your help, to break down all barriers that separate us one from the other; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

What happens in this Church every Sunday, you see, is that Christ welcomes us into the heart of God. It doesn’t matter who we are, what we’ve done or not done, where we’re from, how much money we make, what color we are, none of that matters to Christ. Christ welcomes everyone to hear his good news, to be transformed by it, and to be fed at His table.

But a responsibility comes with this welcome. And that is that we share it, we reflect it, we embody it for the rest of the world. And that is what we are doing by opening the doors of our church even wider than they already are. As Christ welcomes us, we are welcoming too.

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