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Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” – Mark 8:31-38

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“Jesus called the crowd together with his disciples and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Jesus makes it clear that following Him will not be easy. It will be painful at times. There will be times of struggle. Preachers do us a disservice when they make following Jesus sound like the path to perfect health, wealth, and happiness. Jesus never promised any such thing. Jesus did promise that he would always be with us, and that he was preparing a place for us in God’s house.

So today I’d like to take a look at discipleship from two angles. The first angle is found in our reading from Mark, and centers on what Jesus has to say about following Him. The second angle is found in our Lenten series A Disciple’s Path, on what it takes to grow and mature as a disciple of Jesus.

Looking first at the reading from Mark: Jesus talks about discipleship in terms of taking up a cross and following Him. When Peter objects, Jesus’ rebuke strikes us as odd. Surely Jesus would understand that Peter doesn’t want Him to die? And then there’s the words Jesus uses: “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” What exactly is it Jesus is objecting to?

Mark’s Gospel doesn’t tell us what it was Peter said, but Matthew’s Gospel does. When Jesus says he is about to be turned over to the chief priests, Peter answers, “God forbid! This must never happen to you!”

As the authors of A Disciple’s Path point out, in order to read scripture with understanding we need to put it in context. We need to get into a 1st century mindset as much as possible. Peter and Jesus and all the disciples grew up hearing about the promised Messiah in synagogue: the Son of David, the heir to David’s throne; and one who would come to restore God’s kingdom. They also grew up under Roman occupation, watching false messiahs – people who tried to restore God’s kingdom by force – being nailed to crosses by the roadside. The Romans used crosses on a regular basis to keep the people in line.

Peter loved Jesus, and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. So when Jesus started talking about a cross in his future, Peter would have remembered all those false messiahs hanging on crosses and his heart cried out “Not you!! Never you!”

Peter wasn’t able to see beyond the cross to the resurrection, at least not yet. Peter didn’t understand yet that Jesus’ death on the cross would also mean the death of sin, and reconciliation between God and humanity. All Peter could hear was the end of hope and the end of the most amazing person he’d ever met.

In that moment Peter was acting more like a fan than a disciple. A fan is someone who idolizes someone from a distance; a disciple is someone who follows closely. A fan doesn’t really know or understand the object of their admiration; a disciple seeks not only to understand but also to imitate the Master.

Jesus says to his disciples, to all who follow Him: “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

So how do we react to the reality of our own mortality? Do we spend the time we have on things that only satisfy for a moment? Or do we spend the time we have on behalf of God and others?

This is the call to Christian discipleship. It is a call to death and to resurrection: dying to self and living to God; dying to the world and living into God’s kingdom. This Lent we focus on discipleship in order to learn how to follow Jesus more closely.

This week the discipleship focus is on the discipline of prayer. Before I head down the path of prayer, I want to share a few introductory notes from the book A Disciple’s Path for those of you who have not been able to join the study groups yet.

A Disciple’s Path shares a great deal from the teachings of John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism back in the 1700s. The Wesleys were Anglican priests who believed in using spiritual disciplines in order to become true disciples of Jesus. There were three disciplines they focused on: (1) study of scripture; (2) daily devotions (Bible reading, meditation, and prayer); and (3) social outreach, especially to the poor, disadvantaged, children, and the imprisoned. The Wesleys were very methodical about these disciplines, which is where the word ‘Methodist’ comes from. Their ‘method’ sparked a renewal movement in the Church of England that spread like wildfire in the United States as our nation was being born.

There’s one other question that comes to mind when we talk about a path. If we are on a “Disciple’s Path”, where does this path go? Our path leads us into fellowship with God and life in the kingdom of heaven. It is a great and awesome thing getting to know the Creator of the Universe… and the bigger our concept of the universe, the bigger our God becomes. I love the contemporary praise song “God of Wonders”:

Lord of all creation
of water earth and sky
The heavens are your Tabernacle
Glory to the Lord on high

God of wonders beyond our galaxy
You are Holy, Holy
The universe declares your Majesty
And you are holy, holy
Lord of Heaven and Earth

 

This is the God Jesus is leading us to on our path.

But there’s more than that. Jesus shows us a God who is not only holy, but a God who is also the very definition of love. God is kind and gentle. Scripture says:

“a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”

When we feel like we’ve got nothing left to give, God is there, keeping the flame alive.

This is the God Jesus is leading us to on our path.

The question then becomes, how do we stay on the path, and stay as close to Jesus as possible?

John Wesley had a lot to say about that. He talked a lot about grace. Grace a tough word to define, but basically it means unmerited favor. Wesley talked about three kinds of grace. If you grew up in the Methodist Church you’ve heard these:

  • Prevenient grace – the love of God that is active in our lives before we know God.
  • Justifying grace – which we experience in conversion. Someone once called this “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”.
  • Sanctifying grace – the love of God that never quits, that catches us when we fall, forgives us and guides us into holiness.

Grace is all God’s work. There is nothing any of us can do to save ourselves. Our part as disciples is to cooperate with the process. To take our part in the relationship. Because to be a disciple is to be in relationship with God.

And essential to every relationship is communication. Which brings us to the Path of Prayer.

The authors of A Disciple’s Path lead off with an interesting factoid: when doctors tell patients to make lifestyle changes like quitting smoking or losing weight, “only one in seven patients actually makes the lifestyle changes… that could save their lives”. One in seven.

If this is true of our physical lives, how true is it of our spiritual lives? If the greatest commandment according to Jesus is to “love God will all our heart, soul, mind and strength” – how can we love someone we hardly ever talk to?

Prayer needs to be our #1 priority. John Wesley said:

“You may as well expect a child to grow without food as expect a soul to grow without private prayer.”

The problem is, many of us feel like we don’t really know how to pray. We may have been taught to say grace before meals, and we probably were taught the Lord’s Prayer when we were kids, and those are good places to start. But then what?

Prayer is basically conversation with God. I like to kind of chat with God throughout the day – while I’m doing the dishes or working in the yard. But there is a need for more structured prayer too.

John Wesley taught his family and friends to begin with reading Scripture. He said to do this daily. He said to read with the intention of knowing God better, to ask the Holy Spirit to teach us as we read, and show us how to apply what we learn.

Prayer itself can take many forms. One form of prayer that many people find helpful is outlined in your bulletins this morning: the ACTS form of prayer. The letters stand for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Begin with Adoration – telling God what we appreciate, how wonderful God is. Then move into Confession – which includes bringing both our shortcomings and our gifts to God. Confession should always include both the negative and the positive, putting both in God’s hands. Then we move into Thanksgiving for God’s gifts, and then into Supplication – which involves bringing needs to God – our needs and the needs of others. This is where people’s prayer requests would fit in.

Because the ACTS format is so easy to remember and use, A Disciple’s Path recommends it for your daily use this Lent, and so does your pastoral staff.

For those of you who have already used ACTS in the past and may be looking to try something a little bit different, there is another form of prayer that the Wesleys used that’s mentioned on page 28 of A Disciple’s Path. It’s an ancient form called a Collect. I like this form because it’s easy to remember and work with. A Collect is made up of four parts:

  1. The address – that is, who you’re praying to
  2. A characteristic of God that you appreciate and need to depend on
  3. A request based on the characteristic of God that you pointed out in part 2
  4. Bring it back to God

This is an example of a well-known Collect:

“Almighty God,
To you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid;
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name;
Through Christ our Lord, AMEN.”

But a Collect can be very simple too, something like this:

  1. Dear Lord,
  2. When you walked on this earth you healed the people your disciples brought to you
  3. We your disciples bring to you now our friend (name) who needs your healing.
  4. We ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.

I like this format because it begins and ends with God, and bases our requests on the character of God. It helps keep us focused on Who we’re talking to, and it helps prevent us asking for things that are not in the character of God.

So there you are: the Collect. If you like it, use it!

A Disciple’s Path also recommends keeping our prayers written down (or on the computer if you like.) Keeping a written list helps bring to memory the many things God has done for us.

So this week, as we walk the Disciples’ Path, let’s focus on getting to know God better by reading Scripture and talking with God in prayer. And as you see God moving in your life, share what you see with one other person – a pastor, or a friend, or someone who isn’t a Christian yet – share what God is doing in your life.

May God bless us this week – and may we bless God – as we walk the disciple’s path toward eternity with Jesus. AMEN.

 

Preached at Fairhaven United Methodist Church and Spencer United Methodist Church, 3/1/15

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Thank you for your prayers as I have been recovering from my latest mishap. The foot is doing well, improving a little bit every day… I’m still not able to drive yet but hopefully soon.

One of the things I’ve noticed about myself when I’m stuck at home recovering is, I end up watching LOTS reruns of Law & Order. Sometimes three or four episodes a day. I’m not usually a big TV watcher, but I think the appeal of the show has something to do with bringing hope into dark situations. When I see the characters working with victims of violence and oppression to bring criminals to justice, something about their struggle makes me feel stronger, makes me feel like fighting my way back to health.

I think that’s part of what attracts me to Psalm 17. Psalm 17 is a prayer written by David when he felt powerless and surrounded. He turns to God, and his faith finds renewed power, not in himself, but in God.

We don’t know for certain the context in which this prayer was written. Most likely it was when David was being pursued by King Saul. But the psalm is appropriate in many different situations. For example I can imagine Jesus praying this psalm when he learned about the plots against his life.

And it’s a prayer we can pray on behalf of others. Over the past few weeks many of us have been reflecting on, and praying over, events in the news. I don’t know about you but I find sometimes I run out of words to pray. When we look at the children at our border, or the Christians now homeless in Iraq, or the refugees in Gambella – what can we say to God about these things? We ask God for peace, for protection, for justice… and then what?

This psalm gives us a model of how we might pray.

We might pray for example for the people fleeing Mosul: Hear [their] just cause, O LORD; attend to [their cries]; give ear to [their] prayers…” (17:1)

Or for the children at our border (no matter where we stand politically) we might pray: “show [them] your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge” (17:7).

Or for our brothers and sisters in South Sudan we might pray: “hide [them] in the shadow of your wings, from the… enemies who surround them.” (17:8)

This psalm is also a prayer we can pray for ourselves when we find ourselves in trouble. If we should find ourselves bullied or lied about or falsely accused we can make David’s words our own. So there are lots of possible applications.

This morning though, under the influence of many episodes of Law & Order, I’d like to focus on four things in David’s prayer:

  • The victim
  • The judge
  • The perpetrators
  • The plea /argument

…because David’s language, the way he turns his phrases, is highly suggestive of a courtroom drama. David has been found guilty by his enemies, who are attempting to carry out a sentence they have pronounced. And David is appealing to a higher court: God’s court.

So our victim is the one who is praying. He says he has been judged unfairly, he is being oppressed, and his life is in danger. David cries out to God, “my cause is just; my lips are free of deceit. (17:1)” David is not saying that he is sinless. He’s not saying he has never told a lie. What he is saying is he’s innocent of whatever it is his enemies are accusing him of. David says he has done nothing to deserve their anger.

In fact, going beyond that, he says to God, “By the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent,” (17:4). David says he has been following the court’s instructions. His innocence is rooted in God’s word and God’s righteousness.

And going even further, in verse five David describes an intimate relationship with God. He says, “My steps have held fast to your paths…”(17:5) The picture that comes to mind is one of watching a parent teaching a child how to cross a stream without getting their feet wet… stepping from rock to rock as the water rushes by. The parent says to the child: “watch where I put my feet, and when I move a foot, put your foot where mine was.” And the child follows the parent across the stream. David is saying, in essence, “I have put my feet in your footprints, and my footsteps are firm.”

David’s comment about footsteps makes me stop for a moment and ask myself: are there people I can pray for whose footsteps are shaky, who need to find God’s footprints for themselves? Are there areas of my life where I can ask this for myself? Who can I pray for along these lines?

Next in David’s prayer we meet the judge. David says he is glad to be pleading his case before this judge because he knows he will get a fair hearing. “Your eyes see the right,” he says (17:2). “Your words have kept me from the ways of the violent” (17:4); “Your paths are firm,” (17:5) “I know you will answer me,” (17:6) “You are the savior of those who seek refuge.”(17:7) David is confident in the fairness of this judge, both because the judge is fair and because the judge is knowledgable. David’s words remind me of Paul’s comments in his defense before King Agrippa in the book of Acts, where he says to the king, “I consider myself fortunate that it is before you I am to make my defense today… because you are especially familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews.” Agrippa was intimately familiar with the issues; and so is David’s judge.

And when we pray, we can share David’s confidence, remembering God’s faithfulness and goodness. We are glad to make our case before a judge who understands.

David then turns his attention to the perpetrators. He describes them as ‘violent,’(17:4) ‘wicked,’ (17:9) ‘deadly enemies.’ (17:9) Twice he says he is surrounded. His enemies seek his life. Even though David does not come straight out and say ‘they’re trying to kill me,’ he says in verse eleven, “they set their eyes to cast me to the ground” – which could also be translated ‘they seek to make me horizontal in the dirt.’ In other words they want to bury him.

In verse ten David says of his enemies, “they close their hearts to pity.” This phrase at first makes the enemies sound cold-hearted and unfeeling, but that’s not exactly the meaning. His enemies do have feelings – just not for David. The literal translation of the Hebrew expression can be found in the King James version: “they are enclosed in their own fat”. They are passionate about themselves; they aggrandize themselves; and as David says, their mouths speak arrogantly.

Having said all this David then makes his plea to the righteous judge. He pleads “not guilty” because he is the victim. He says: Hear me. Vindicate me. Show me your steadfast love. Guard me. Hide me in the shadow of your wings.

It’s interesting that David does not ask God to kill his enemies. In verse 13 the ‘sword’ of God might be interpreted as God’s word – an interpretation we find in the book of Revelation as well. David asks instead that God confront his enemies and bring them down. The Hebrew here might be translated, ‘bring them to their knees’ – or to put it another way, ‘teach the arrogant to kneel before you’.

A few days ago during Ramadan a prayer request went around Facebook asking people to pray that members of ISIS and other radical groups would, in their holiday prayers, truly encounter the living God. That’s the sense I get from David’s plea – asking God to make Himself known to his accusers and so put an end to their violence.

When David is finished he makes one more request: “deliver me from mortals whose only portion in life is this world”. (17:14) David knows what God has stored up for them. He knows, as we know, that death will come someday and after that the judgement, and he prays that he will not share their fate. Instead, David prays in confidence: “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.” (17:15)

The apostle John echoes David’s words 1000 years later in his first letter when he says, : “we are God’s children; […] [and] when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (I John 3:2) and Paul also in I Cor 13:12 “then we will see him face to face.

Even though David’s prayer is not answered right away, from the distance of history we know his words were heard and the righteous judge ruled in his favor. In the same way even though we may not see immediate answers to our prayers, we can have confidence that the same righteous judge hears our case; and as we follow in his footsteps, he will rule in our favor. AMEN.

Incarnation Church, Pittsburgh, Sunday August 3 2014

Psalm 17
A Prayer of David

Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry;
give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.
2 From you let my vindication come;
let your eyes see the right.
3 If you try my heart, if you visit me by night,
if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me;
my mouth does not transgress.
4 As for what others do,
by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.
5 My steps have held fast to your paths;
my feet have not slipped.
6 I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me, hear my words.
7 Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.
8 Guard me as the apple of the eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings,
9 from the wicked who despoil me,
my deadly enemies who surround me.
10 They close their hearts to pity;
with their mouths they speak arrogantly.
11 They track me down;
now they surround me;
they set their eyes to cast me to the ground.
12 They are like a lion eager to tear,
like a young lion lurking in ambush.
13 Rise up, O LORD,
confront them, overthrow them!
By your sword deliver my life from the wicked,
14 from mortals—
by your hand, O LORD—
from mortals whose portion in life is in this world.
May their bellies be filled with what you have stored up for them;
may their children have more than enough;
may they leave something over to their little ones.
15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.

 

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It is incredibly encouraging to know I’m being prayed for through this time, and I want to thank and encourage all pray-ers to keep on keeping on!

If I may suggest some specific areas for prayer…

  • For complete healing – that there will be no complications and no need for additional surgeries.
  • For a miracle healing if He will.
  • That there will be no need for any kind of foreign objects, devices, etc post-surgery
  • For blessings on the surgeons and all the medical staff: nurses, medical assistants, anesthetists, office support, etc
  • That God will give the surgeons wisdom, skill and vision (especially if anything unusual turns up) and confidence and patience
  • Continued prayers for my dad and my father-in-law, both of whom are battling cancer, and for my father-in-law’s upcoming surgery
  • Who was it that said “Courage is fear that has said its prayers”?  Pray for courage for myself, my family, and all involved in my treatment and recovery
  • For opportunities to bear witness to God’s love and power in and through this experience
  • That I will have patience with the recovery process
  • That God will restore what will be lost in terms of income, study time, etc and for His guidance with the career choices and ordination process that will need to be addressed in the months following recovery

If I think of anything else I’ll edit this post so keep checking back.

Thanks!

 

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Heavenly Father, we bow in your presence.
May your Word be our rule,
your Spirit our teacher,
and your greater glory our supreme concern,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(attributed to John Stott)

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(When camels lower themselves to allow a rider to climb aboard, their front knees hit the ground first… so over the course of a lifetime their knees get quite a workout.  What follows is another great observation from Fr. Drew in Egypt. Drew writes…)

camel knees

Camels' Knees

“Bishop Ghais Abdel Malik, the former Diocesan Bishop of Egypt…  would always remind me and the other clergy, “Do you have knees like a camel?” He was indirectly asking us if we prayed—and not only if we prayed, but how much did we pray?  James, the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:19) was as a man of prayer.  Some say that he prayed so much his knees were as hard as those on a camel – camel knees. Do you pray? If so, how much? Are your knees like a camel? Sadly mine are not as worn as those [above].”

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Today Trinity School held a day of prayer and fasting for the persecuted church worldwide in response to the increasing number and severity of incidents of violence against Christians around the world.  Just as the day was coming to a close the following message was received on campus email.  I copy it here in its entirety as an example of the kind of reports that are increasing in number.  This particular report comes from Egypt, a nation close to the hearts of the staff and student body.

Please join us in praying for peace and an end to religious prejudice and violence both in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Posted message begins here:

“On the day we are praying for the persecuted church this message was sent to me from [the] Executive Director of the Friends of the Diocese of Egypt.”
*****************

Egyptian Muslim Mob Attacks Thousands of Coptic Christians in Egypt

WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 /Christian Newswire/ — As of Saturday, November 21,
2009 the Egyptian town of Farshoot, located 300 miles south of Cairo, and
the neighboring villages of Kom Ahmar, Shakiki and Ezbet Waziri, have been
the scenes of massive Muslim mob attacks against Coptic Christian
inhabitants. The mob looted, vandalized and burnt Coptic properties
estimated for six million Egyptian pounds (over one million dollars), while
Copts are still hiding indoors fearing for their lives. There are reports
that many Copts were attacked and injured. According to many eye witnesses,
the mob made wooden crosses and burnt them in the streets while shouting
“Allah Akbar.”

Victims and eye witnesses said that nearly 3000 angry Muslims have been
damaging and looting at least 50 shops all owned by Christians, including
jewelry stores and pharmacies, over a claim that a 20 year old Christian
man, now in custody, had a relationship with a 12 year old Muslim girl.
Coptic priest Rev. Benjamin Noshi was attacked and is now hospitalized as a
result of a fracture in his skull. His car was damaged by the Muslim mob. By
the evening most Coptic businesses were looted and burnt and many Coptic
Christian families were thrown out of their homes by other Muslim residents.

Farshout’s Bishop, Kirollos, said the attacks were definitely preplanned and
suggested that the principal of an Islamic Institute in Farshoot motivated
his students to attack the Christians. He also pointed out to the shameful
role of the security forces, which disappeared without giving proper
justifications or making any arrests, despite several demands by the victims
to put an end to the organized attacks against the Copts.

In the early hours of Monday, November 23, 2009 three additional
Christian-owned businesses were looted and burnt in the village of “Abu
Shousha” located 15 miles away of Farshout. New attacks were taking place
Monday night in Al-Arky village seven miles away.

It has become clear that the organized violence is spreading out to more
villages only to target the Christian lives and businesses while the Police
continue to watch. The last 90 days witnessed at least seven similar attacks
on Christian villages, where at least five Copts were killed, many Coptic
girls and women were abducted and forced to embrace Islam with the
assistance of the Egyptian authorities.

Coptic American Friendship Association (CAFA) pleads to the American and
International Rights Organizations to demand the Egyptian government to take
immediate measures to protect the Christian lives and properties of the
persecuted Copts in Farshout, Egypt (Copts are about 18 million Christians –
The largest Christian minority in the Middle East).

For more information, please contact CAFA at Coptic.American@yahoo.com or
Call: 703.337.5217

Ihab Aziz
Executive Director
Coptic American Friendship Association (CAFA)

Coptic American Friendship Association (CAFA) is a non-for-profit 501(c) (3)
organization based in the greater Washington, DC area since 1996. CAFA
advocates on behalf of the persecuted Christians in Egypt and the Middle
East.

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A moment of silence to remember two amazing women I have been fortunate to call “friend”, both of whom passed away this week.  The first is Barb Jagielski, member of Carnegie Presbyterian Church, a fiesty, fierly lady full of laughter and faith, at much at home in a biker bar as in a church.   The second is longtime friend Helen Jean Elliott, former Admin Asst to John Guest at St. Stephen’s church, more recently retired and attending Christ Church Grove Farm, who gave me my first computer lessons.  Details are on the “Great Cloud of Witnesses” page.

Pie Jesu, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem


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