A Pastoral Message for the People of St. John’s Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC,
by The Rev. Dennis Foust, PhD, Senior Minister, on October 23, 2022
Scriptures: Mark 8:31-38
Comedian Yakov Smirnoff immigrated to the United States from Russia. He told of his first confusing shopping trip. He saw powdered milk – just add water, and you get milk. On another aisle, he saw Tang or powdered orange juice – just add water, and you get orange juice. On another aisle, he saw baby powder and he thought to himself – What a country!
His confusion reminds us how we often desire everything to change or improve instantly.
Seventy years ago, in 1952, one of the most influential pastoral pulpit voices in American history, Harry Emerson Fosdick, published a book entitled, A Faith for Tough Times. Written at the beginning of the nuclear age, he described the confusing world of his time and asked the reader to consider this question: “What does life mean in a mess of a world like this?”
Today we can be confused by all the bad news whirling around us.
- We hear of nuclear escalation, environmental abuse, and political ads spouting lies.
- We hear about war, racism and how immigrants and refugees are mistreated and abused.
- We hear of economic gloom, rising costs of gas, groceries, housing, heating, and healthcare.
- We hear repeated stories of guns and violence in theatres, malls, concerts and on campuses.
- We hear of rising discrepancies between the mega wealthy and those who live in poverty
suffering from homelessness and hunger.
- We hear of the devaluation of public education and the shortage of teachers.
- We hear about the lack of funding for mental health and the deconstruction of institutions.
- We hear the angry disparity and the refusal to listen to opposing or contrasting perspectives.
- We hear stories of greed, cries of the voiceless and shouts to impose increased fear.
We often hear all the bad news and wonder what we can do.
We are tempted to just settle into our self-absorbed and well-insulated pandemic cocoons to focus on our creature comforts allowing our affluence to have controlling influence.
However, as disciples of Jesus, as followers of THE WAY OF JESUS, we step toward the world’s need. We ask, “How can we Build a Better World amidst all this chaos and destruction?
At the risk of sounding pollyannish in the pulpit, I remind you of Jesus’ words spoken to his disciples as he faced his suffering and death on the cross: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” In other words, there will always be trouble.
In today’s scripture, Jesus informed the disciples that he would undergo great suffering and be rejected. He had to rebuke Simon Peter who mistakenly believed that to be a follower of Jesus meant that he would always be in the majority. In fact, Jesus pronounced that perspective to be satanic. Jesus told Simon Peter to refocus on divine visions rather than human ways.
Jesus identified discipleship as being costly; losing our lives to be saved.
I encourage you to consider that the widespread chaos of today offers us the opportunity to identify what is temporary and what is permanent. When everything that can topple shaking around us, we can better see that which stands firm. Like Jesus taught in his parable about two houses, one on sand and one on solid rock, we learn what is permanent during stormy days.
You learn The Way of Jesus is founded upon your life of God, the Solid Rock.
Beloved, as you live in THE WAY OF JESUS, as you allow him to guide your steps,
YOU ARE GOD’S GOOD NEWS PEOPLE IN THIS BAD NEWS WORLD.
Yes, you will be counter-cultural; you will be in the minority.
However, just as Jesus brought hope, light, and a message of Good News –
You are offering resurrection hope to those who are despairing.
You are carrying light to those blinded by darkness.
You are proclaiming God’s Good News message written on that wall during the holocaust –
“I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I cannot feel it.
I believe in God even when God is silent.”
Here are some investments you are making in God’s Good News.
- You are encouraging the COMMON GOOD in an individualistic culture.
- You are peace-building in a conflict-oriented and war-torn world.
- You are embodying active servant faith in a self-absorbed culture.
- You are offering pathways of redemption and inclusion amidst failure and abuse.
- You are reconciling and healing in a world addicted to rejection and eye for an eye.
- You are transforming shame and self-abasement into forgiveness and self-esteem.
- You are proclaiming God’s victorious vision in an age of cynicism and hatred.
Beloved, you are incarnating God’s compassionate love revealed in Jesus as you work for justice and truth.
Jesus said the way to be his follower is to “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him.”
Think about denying your self-centeredness: Half of your problems come from getting your own way. And most of your other problems come from wanting your own way. Being self-centered is destructive. When you deny yourself, you can become a follower of Jesus Christ.
An admirer once asked the conductor, Leonard Bernstein, “What is the hardest instrument to play in the orchestra?” Bernstein did not hesitate. He said, “Second fiddle. I can always find a person to play first violin, but to find a person who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm and commitment – now that’s a challenge. Second French horn or second flute is the same. If no one plays second violin or second French horn or second flute, we have no harmony.”
As you deny yourself, you take up your cross of discipleship, which is more than membership.
By taking up your cross of discipleship, you identify with Jesus focusing on human needs.
For the early Church, the cross ceased to be a symbol of shame and became a sign of salvation.
By carrying your cross, you participate with Jesus in God’s salvation of the world.
As you deny yourself and take up your cross, you follow Jesus as a person of compassion.
Paul Escamilla tells of taking his six-year-old son with him to visit Esther, an elderly widow.
His son, David, became a favorite guest and was especially cherished by Esther.
She would always have a small gift or piece of candy for David.
One day she asked him, “David, what gift did you bring to me?” He said, “I brought myself.”
Esther replied, “David, that is the most important gift of all.”
Beloved. You are God’s Good News People in this Bad News World!
Amen and AMEN!
Please pray with me.
Spirit of The Living God, fall afresh on us, for we can never be born again too many times.
As an act of worship, we bring to you ourselves once again.
We ask You to keep us from making commitments we do not confirm with our living.
In these confusing days, renew us to be Your disciples building a better world.
Although Your work through us may not bring instantaneous change,
remind us that our efforts are anchored in our relationship with You, the solid rock.
Deepen our spiritual growth and empower us to be people of active faith in The Way of Jesus.