This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Sara Keeling about the readings for the 1st Sunday of Lent [A] (Genesis 2.15-17, 3.1-7, Psalm 32, Romans 5.12-19, Matthew 4.1-11). Sara is a United Methodist pastor serving Good Shepherd UMC in Dale City, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including lenten practices, the frustration of Facebook, dismantling the patriarchy, obedience, cosmic plans, one man to ruin them all, death’s dominion, funeral feelings, and the futility of resistance. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Eve Was Framed!
My family and I were away from the church last weekend while on vacation and I asked one of my lay members, Melissa Clark, to preach in my absence. Apparently, her sermon was met with audible “amens!” and applause at the end.
For a regular preacher this brought me great joy and great envy!
Her sermon was on Mark 8.31-34 and she graciously allowed me to post it here on the blog…
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 way to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
I know that Taylor did not announce that he wouldn’t be here this week and I am not sure if that is because he through that if people knew I was preaching more people would show up than for him or less! Either way, you’re stuck now!
I hope all of you saw the sign out front this week. If you did not it says “Tweet Other As You Wish To Be Tweeted.” I have to say that I first saw it posted on our church Facebook page and when I read ti I assumed that it was directed at me. Now I will admit that I am not on Twitter, or Instagram, or many of the other social media outlets, but I am on Facebook, a lot. A lot. If you are not familiar with Facebook or the process of making friend on Facebook you may seem surprised, or maybe not, that I do not have a lot of friends on the site, only about 150. Some people consider it an achievement to get as many friends as possible and thus end up with thousands. I have made it a practice not to be friends on Facebook with anyone that I work with and I do not send out friend requests because I am concerned that what I post might offend some of the people that I am friends with in polite society. If you are not familiar with how to become friends on Facebook, you would send a friend request to someone you know or want to know and they have the opportunity to accept or deny your request, that being said, if you send me a friend request this week I am going to accept it, but consider that you have all been warned!
On of the things I have learned about myself on Facebook it that I am extremely judgmental and extremely unapologetic when I think I am right.
And I always think I am right.
I am therefore, part of the problem that I am about to complain about.
The problem that I am focused on right now is the loud voice of people that continue pushing this pervasive idea that there is a war on Christianity. My first thought is that that is absolute rubbish – there is no such thing.
How can people who believe in a God that rules over all and is the most powerful force in the universe believe that God could be under attack or much less win that that war. But the more I think about it, maybe there is.
Maybe the war began when we removed prayer from public schools, or maybe it was when the Supreme Court affirmed the their decision in Roe v Wade? Maybe it was when the gay marriage was made legal? Or maybe all the trouble started 100 years ago when women were given the right to vote? That sure changed things.
Actually, it must have started when retail stores that live or die by the money they make between Thanksgiving and Christmas forced all their employees to stop saying Merry Christmas.
It sounds a little ridiculous don’t you think?
I am beginning to that think there is a War on Christianity but I am also beginning to think that the war is being waged by Christians.
It is only Christians that are yelling at the top of their lungs that prayer has been removed from schools, but that is not true. Children are allowed to pray they are just not being forced to pray. And, lets face it, would we want our tax dollars paying some of these teacher to pray with our kids? How about the school principal in Boca Raton, Florida who told a parent that “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened” or the music teach in Chicago that posts videos on Youtube denouncing non-Christian religions saying that are only two religions in the world, “God’s Way” or man made religions like Islam, Judaism, and Scientology. These are not the kind of people that I want teaching our children anything, let alone prayer.
Many people want to blame the decline of society on the removal of God from schools and public places. But I would argue that there is not a single person in this church, community, state, country, or world who could move God anywhere that God does not want to go.
The idea that there is a War on Christmas because we’re not allowed to say “Merry Christmas” in our places of business is another myth being screwed at us by Christians. I have worked in retail all my life and I assure you that I say “Merry Christmas” all the time. The only time I don’t say it is when I am not sure that the person I am talking to is Christian and I don’t want to offend someone of a different religion. If I don’t say “Merry Christmas” to you it is because I don’t recognize that you are a Christian, and you should ask yourself why that it. Is it because I can’t recognize you as one, or are you not behaving like one? And yes, I don’t want to offend my non-Christian customers by saying the wrong thin, and the idea of not wanting to offend someone, or being “politically correct” is the absolute tenant of Christianity: “Love you neighbor as yourself.”
The greatest commandment, as Jesus reminds of, is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves – on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
We are surrounding ourselves with worldly ideas and calling them Christian ideals and claiming that they are being attacked in a war. We scream about there being no prayer school but we do nothing when children show up hungry day after day because there is no food in their home. We get all offended because no one said, “Merry Christmas” to us but we snap at the cashier cause the sale price didn’t ring up. We scream about illegal immigrants at the southern border without acknowledging that that are also our neighbors and are in danger. They need our Christianity hospital and not our American hatred.
Jesus told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan. You do do not have in minds the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Are all of these not human concerns? Prayer in school? Merry Christmas? Red Starbucks cups? Complaining about whether or not someone “hates America” because they are critical of the government?
These are not the concerns of God. These are made up battles in the so-called war on Christianity designed to create conflict that separates us from Jesus Christ and it is all being done in the name of Christianity.
Jesus also said, “Whomever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” I don’t believe that when Jesus says, “deny themselves” that he is saying “give up everything you own and follow the teachings of the closest church you can find.” I believe that Jesus is saying you must deny the worldly things that separate us from the Lord and then we can follow the cross that he already took up, for us.
Now, I said earlier that I would be compiling about myself in this sermon. I give in to worldly ideas all the time. If you become my friend on Facebook you will learn that I use language that is probably not acceptable to God’s ears, frankly its probably not acceptable in a sailor’s bar, but I rationalize it as “I am who I am.” I am not forgiving of people that I think support un-Christian ideas and I often decide for myself what I believe is un-Christian. So, I repeat, I am part of the problem! Just like the rest of you, I am a work in progress, and as part of that work I will continue to say what I personally believe to be the truth of Christ.
God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
There is no qualifier in that sentence, whosoever is for God to judge, not you and not me. And with Jesus’ help I’ll keep trying to be the best example of Christian that I can. Will you?
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let you left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that you alms may be done in secret; and your father who sees in secret will reward you.”
While I was in seminary Lenten disciplines became an incredible competition. Lent used to be a time of preparation for believers, a time of prayer, penance, repentance, self-denial, and catechesis. Today, in many churches, Lenten observance has been compartmentalized into giving up some of our temptations during the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. At Duke Divinity it was not uncommon to hear subtle braggings throughout the halls; “This year I’m giving up sweets (and because we were in seminary there was always a theological reason) and every time I want to eat a cupcake I will pray instead.” Or “Im going to give up eating meat in order to honor the glory of God’s creation.” Or “I’m giving up television so that my focus can remain on the Word of God.”
I love my friends and peers from divinity school, but two years ago I outdid all of them. I gave up four Fs: Facebook, Fast-food, Fermented Drinks, and Facial Hair (which meant that I shaved every morning for forty days).
What I didn’t realize, at the time, was how often I shared and bragged about what I was giving up. As people would compare their sacrifices and temptations during that liturgical season I was there waiting for the right moment to outshine them with the ultimate sacrifices of a social network, McDonalds, Beer, and my Beard.
I am ashamed at how often I can easily turn the gospel around to be more about my own selfishness than the Good News of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus addressed the crowds and warned them about their piety regarding alms-giving it was all about intentionality. Whenever you drop your offering in the plate, whenever you bring your donations to the local mission, whenever you bring food to the local soup kitchen to not brag about it and share the news with everyone else. If that is your motive, than you are serving yourself and not others.
As we prepare to enter the coming weeks of Lent I encourage each of you to remain committed to doing God’s good work in the world not for yourself, but for the glory of God. If you choose to give up a temptation during Lent do not brag about it to your friends and peers but focus instead on spending more time with God. May God grant each of us the strength to be better and love deeper.