Lent 2 – Sunday, February 28, 2021 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
Speak to us this day, God of Truth and Justice. Open us to the hard truths of your great Dream, your Beloved Community. Make our hearts restless until they find their rest in you, in your Kin-dom. Amen.
The March from Selma, Alabama—56 years ago next Sunday—March 7th. Over 600 people, led by then 25-year-old John Lewis, the late Senator and Civil Rights Leader, crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, named for a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, and they met by a police, a military force. They were attacked by the police-the military force blocking the road. Bloody Sunday, March 7th, 1965—a pivotal moment in the struggle for racial justice and equal rights. Why? The purpose of the march was nothing new. The act of marching for Civil Rights was nothing new. The leaders and marchers had done this work before. Even the violence, sadly, was not unheard of, though John Lewis suffered a fractured skull for his leadership and bore those scars the rest of his life. So what made the Selma March different? What caused this march, and this confrontation with white supremacy, to be a turning point in the work for justice? It was caught on camera. By that Sunday evening, footage of the violent attack by law enforcement was broadcast into homes across the nation. Suddenly, large numbers in our nation’s population could not ignore the hard truth in black and white before them. The horrors of racism were exposed (at least a little bit) and there was no going back. But it was a hard, hard to truth to face.
The road to Caesarea Philippi—centuries ago in ancient Israel—Jesus, followed by his disciples, and apparently a crowd, engaged in a pivotal conversation and teaching, a turning point in Jesus’ earthly ministry. As they all walked along the road, Jesus asked a crucial question—a question we all must answer for ourselves on this journey of discipleship—who do you, who do we, say that Jesus is? Impetuous Peter, excitable Peter, gets the answer right…and oh-so-wrong. “I know! I know!” Peter exclaims. “You are the Messiah! The Son of the Living God!” I can picture Peter practically bouncing in delight, doing a little happy dance. ‘Jesus is King, Jesus is King!’ And then…oh, and then…Jesus began to teach—BEGAN to teach. You see, Jesus will have to continue, to repeat this teaching again and again. Jesus began to teach about suffering and rejection. Jesus spoke of his death, and of his rising. (There is that ampersand—the holy ‘and’ of God) Jesus didn’t speak in metaphors or with any veiled language. Jesus said all of this plainly and openly. And Peter rebuked Jesus, the One he just declared Messiah…King. Peter corrected the Teacher.
The hardness of this truth was too much for Peter, and so he tried to deny it. He didn’t want to listen to the realities of death and pain and struggle—he just wanted the glory. He, the rest of the disciples, the crowd—they just wanted a return to the good-ole-days, the King David days, told to them from their childhood, viewed through some very rose-colored glasses. They wanted to ‘get back’ to the glory-days of Israel, to ‘get back to normal.’ I wouldn’t be surprised if some in the crowd just stopped listening as Jesus talked about losing your life in order to save it. I wouldn’t be surprised if some simply stopped following. Listening to hard truths is…well…hard. But the confession of Peter that Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus’ revelation of the role of the Messiah is now public information. Nothing would be the same again, and there was no going back.
This reading from Mark on our second Sunday of Lent does not need a seminary-trained clergy person to interpret it. Jesus is NOT being cryptic. Here is the hard truth of discipleship. Many in the world do not want God’s dream to become a reality. Many in this world work against God’s Beloved Community. And sometimes those many are us. We are not bad people. We do want, at least in some abstract way, to have God’s dream realized. We want all to mean all, for all to be included, for all to be beloved and precious and treated that way all the time. Yet, in the concrete living of God’s way, we have to make sacrifices. We have to let go of some comfortable, and even loved things in order for the Dream to become the Reality. And we have to listen, and keep following, and keep working, even when it is very, very hard—really hard to do so.
The good news of this passage today is that Jesus didn’t stop teaching—he shared the realities of living God’s dream again and again, the hard parts and the wonderful parts. The good news of this passage is that it is human to want to stop listening and to turn away, and Jesus understood that, Jesus understands that. Even after Bloody Sunday, people ‘got back to normal.’ And today racism remains a pandemic in our nation. Even after Jesus spoke so plainly, he found himself declaring, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ Again and again, the hard truth must be spoken, must be shown, must be faced. And when we do, Jesus is there to meet us, to face it with us, to journey beside us into the glorious Dream.
As the vaccine slowly reaches more and more people, as spring whispers across the northeast, as our weariness gets the better of us, that phrase begins to echo—“Get back to normal. Get back to normal. Get back to normal.” But ‘normal’ is not the way of God’s dream. ‘Normal’ is not the way of Beloved Community. Jesus does not lead us ‘back to normal.’ Our God is the God of new creation, of new beginnings. Our God, revealed in Jesus, calls us forward on the journey, never back. Now is the time for us to envision a new tomorrow—a tomorrow that puts an end to Bloody Sundays (or Mondays or Tuesdays or any day). Now is the time to dream new dreams, and work for a deeper living of Beloved Community. Now is the time to listen to the call of the Spirit, the Spirit that leads us to be a compassionate community, transformed. Let us dream of and work for that day—oh, that Glory Day– when we no longer have to speak the names of the dead who killed by systemic racism-even found in our police forces: Daniel Prude, Elijah McClain, Ahmed Aubery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade…and the list goes on and on and on. Let us listen. Let us believe that we are part of the dream…and then work to stop the screaming.
Let us speak our belief, whether it be strong as iron and soft like clay. Pastor Debbie will lead us:
Sometimes our believe is confident,
like a child on a dance floor—
unashamed and wildly genuine.
Sometimes our belief is distant,
flickering and calling out to us
like a lighthouse on the sea.
Sometimes our belief shows up as passion,
guiding the way we vote, shop, give, live, trust, and hope.
Sometimes our belief is like a shadow—
faith stitched to our heels, unmovable, unlosable,
a gift for winding journeys.
Sometimes our belief exists like growing pains.
We step forward. We fall back.
But again and again,
Jesus invites us to listen,
to grow and to take another step.
So again and again,
we speak these truths out loud:
We believe…we believe…
Again and again, we believe.
Thanks be to God. Amen.