12th Sunday after Pentecost
September 1, 2019
“Stuff I’m Still Still Learning”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 16 as previously read.
My dear friends,
It was 5 years ago this weekend – the first weekend of September and the 12th Sunday after Pentecost – that I preached for the very first time at GSLCS. 5 years ago. It was a memorable weekend, that’s for sure! It was back in the days when, if we got too much rain, the standing water under the school portables would set off the fire alarms at the school and, sure enough, after my first-ever Saturday night service, the alarms went off and the fire department came with lights and sirens and they needed to access rooms and areas that I had NO IDEA where they were. Once the fire department left, I went to make my first-ever hospital visit in Sarasota. I met, for the first time, Dorothy Berg…a dear soul. We met on September 1st; she died 3 weeks later and would also be my first funeral at GSLCS. That night I went to see Dorothy I had an encounter with a man at the SMH ER. I was wearing my clerical collar so he wanted to talk to me and he explained he was struggling to either go inside and get help with his drug addiction or get picked up by his girlfriend (not wife) knowing they were going to go get high. I encouraged…begged…to go inside and get help. He eventually rode away with his girlfriend and I never saw him again. Yeah…it was an eventful first weekend.
5 years ago, I shared with you some of the things I was learning about life in Florida and I thought maybe we’d go back and look at what I was learning and maybe some things that I am still still learning. 5 years ago I was learning that it’s not always a good idea to feed the birds around here. There is a house at the end of my block where they feed the birds. 5 years ago, I thought the birds were pelicans. Not quite. They are herons and cranes and egrets and ibis. The birds still sit on their driveway, their yard, and the roof. Even 5 years later, it’s still kind of creepy to drive by and see these big ol’ birds just hanging around someplace they don’t belong.
Something that hasn’t changed? The way sin works in our lives. Like those birds that have overrun my neighbor’s home, if you give sin an opening, if you feed it just a little bit, that sin doesn’t take an inch. It takes a mile. A mile of your time as you try and cover your secret sin from family and friends. A mile of effort to keep a straight face amidst the pain or anxiety or desperation. A mile of strength to say “no,” but that sin just keeps hanging around or even on top of your life until you finally relent and let it have its way…again and again and again.
That’s what happened to Peter. He gave sin an inch; it took a mile. Peter let that little voice into his head: “How could you let Jesus talk like that? All this talk of betrayal and suffering and death? That’s not what you signed up for, Peter.” So also many Christians look around at life and wonder if this is what we really “signed up” for. When do we get to the good stuff? How come my health is so poor? Why won’t my kids call or respect me? Why doesn’t Jesus fix my problems?
What did Jesus say? “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Verse 23). Setting our minds and hearts on Jesus, we know things are not going to go perfect or easy in earthly terms. The Christian life is not a faultless and flawless life, but it is a forgiven life, and that forgiven life makes a real difference 5, 15, 50, and 500 years down the road.
5 years ago I was learning that it’s a good idea to avoid Ashton Avenue in the mornings and afternoons when school kids are getting dropped off or picked up. What a tangled, snarled mess! And now, with all the construction at Honore and Ashton, the hopes are that one day the flow of traffic will improve and maybe that area won’t be SO bad during the school year.
I’m still still learning we’re all a bit guilty of that. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (verses 24-25). Yet, knowing that, the sinful nature in us wants us to take the easy way – to avoid the snarls and the tangles…to avoid our crosses – whenever possible. Why reconcile with that person with whom we have a problem? That sounds hard. Why should I make the constant effort to go to church or stick around for Bible study? That doesn’t sound fun. Why should I have to be honest in all my business and financial dealings? Everyone else cuts corners…why can’t I?
Friends, something that hasn’t changed is the reality that the forgiven life of faith is a changed life; I’ve been saying since the day I walked in the door here. That’s what Jesus was trying to tell Peter. Following Christ is not living trouble-free. It’s living and trying and falling and getting back up. It’s about sin, sure, but in Christ it’s sin forgiven. It’s about living and dying…dying to sin and living a new life in and through faith in our Savior Jesus. Taking up your cross to follow Him means you may not know why your kids won’t call or if the tumor will come back or if the money will always be there. Cross-bearing…the redeemed life in Christ that the faithful live each day…means being okay with the hardships and trials that come with life. And, speaking of which…
5 years ago I was learning that South Florida gets lots of little storms – “quick-hitters.” They come quick, they come violent, and then they’re gone followed by rainbows and brilliant blue skies and broken humidity. Well, here’s something I’m still still learning.
Life is full of storms and ups and downs and scary moments and uncertainty and doubt and fear. But we don’t place our hope in the things – the events – of this world. Jesus, our Lord and Savior, is always with us every step of life’s way. He carries you throughout all of life’s storms reminding you of His life and his forgiveness and his salvation that are yours by faith.
Storms of life? Let’s see. In the 5 years that I have been here, I’ve had 2 surgeries ( 1 planned, 1 emergency), faced 1 hurricane (Irma), had one daughter imprisoned for a year, almost lost a daughter to relapse, and had to choose between my marriage and this call. I chose you; I chose to fight the storm of divorce for you. And I did so knowing that we have a God who says “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” And that’s what I have done. I almost lost it all, so I could find life and hope. And for the first time maybe ever…I have found life. I have found joy. I hope.
After 5 years there is a lot I am still still learning, and I look forward to all the years to come because, between you and me and the fencepost, as long as you’ll have me, I’m not going anywhere. I wouldn’t trade this for the world…and maybe that’s the most powerful thing I’ve learned in 5 years…just how good life can be here. With you.