We Are Not Alone: Accompaniment 3-1-15

Last Sunday I introduced our sermon series We Are Not Alone by talking about the book Bowling Alone. Robert Putnam in that classic book presents his research that shows a general decline in social institutions. Not just the church, but school organizations, sports leagues, dinner clubs, bridge clubs – all those social groups that my mother or the older women of the church could tell you about.

Each week during Lent, we are looking at ways in which we may feel isolated or alone and ways we can challenge those feelings are create more (what Putnam calls) social capital in our communities. Listen for the Word of God:

Mark 8:31-38 Then Jesus began to teach them that the Promised One had to suffer much, be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and religious scholars, be put to death, and rise again three days later. Jesus said these things quite openly. Peter then took him aside and began to take issue with him. At this, Jesus turned around and eyeing the disciples, reprimanded Peter. “Get out of my sight, you Satan!  You are judging by human standards rather than by God’s! Jesus summoned the crowd and the disciples and said, “If you wish to come after me, you must deny your very self, take up your cross and follow in my footsteps. If you would save your life, you’ll lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you’ll save it. What would you gain if you were to win the whole world but lose your self in the process? What can you offer in exchange for your soul? Whoever in this faithless and corrupt degeneration is ashamed of me and my words will find, in turn, that the promised One and the holy angels will be ashamed of that person, when all stand before our God in glory.

March 1, 2015

We Are Not Alone: Accompaniment

Martin Luther King jr. wrote about a crisis of faith that he had one night when he was getting death threats to his family and he was worried that he couldn’t continue to lead the movement that had formed around him. Being a leader was a very lonely position to be in. He says that night at his kitchen table, he heard a voice telling him “I will never leave you alone, never alone, never alone. I will never leave you alone.”

It can feel lonely taking leadership. Our decisions to take on real challenges in our lives are always decisions we have to make on our own. When we decide to take up our own personal cross – whatever it might be, it is a lonely decision.

The Gospel of Mark is 16 chapters long. today’s reading is from the end of chapter 8, just about halfway through, a high point of the whole Gospel. Up to this point, Jesus has been gathering people together, healing people and casting out demons. Right here at the halfway point, Jesus starts to tell them that being the Messiah meant that he was going to suffer, be rejected and put to death.

Peter, who had just looked good in answering Jesus question “Who do you say that I am?”, suddenly doesn’t like the way this is going. He takes Jesus aside and rebukes him and Jesus calls him Satan. From this moment on, the disciples begin to realize that there is much more to being Jesus’ disciple than watching him heal and hearing him teach. They have a decision to make – about whether they are going to just watch Jesus do his thing or whether they are going to be disciples of the Way.

We have a similar decision to make as we join the church, and during Lent when we think about our next steps in becoming disciples of the Way. It can feel like a lonely decision, that decision to not be halfway followers, but to go all in with Jesus, to go all in on the Way.

See, we as a church are not really called to get new members for the church. Our task is not to get new members or get more people ordained, or get people to become apostles or pastors or bishops or priests. Our task is to become disciples, and to help others become disciples, followers of the Way, as the early church called themselves.

That decision can be a lonely decision, but it can also lead us to accompany others in their decision to be followers of the way.

Accompaniment can mean playing along with someone like the guys in the band at the Christmas Gospel concert. Accompaniment can also mean walking with people on the Way, walking with people who have made the hard decision to disciples, to follow Jesus all the way.

 

Did any of you see the Oscars last Sunday evening? My personal highlight of an otherwise boring evening was Common and John Legend singing their song “Glory” which won an Oscar. The rap singer Common began the song on the replica of the Edmund Pettus bridge where the Selma march for voting rights began in 1965. As he moved forward, a choir began to sing behind him.

As they walked forward, singing, you may have noticed that the choir was a mixture of African American and white people. If you looked really closely, you would have seen that the white people were not singing. Do you know why they weren’t singing?

They stood silently to symbolize that they were accompanying the people of color in their struggle, that they were not the leaders, that they were not going to take over, but that they would stand in solidarity with the leaders from the community. I was really moved when I heard about this gesture of accompaniment.

When folks take up their crosses to be disciples for the transformation of the world, it can feel like a lonely road. When people spit and throw stones it can be even lonelier and when supposed allies start taking over it can be lonelier still. In that movement people kept moving, one step in front of another, knowing that if nobody else was with them, God was.

When we take up our cross – whatever it might be – fighting for a social good, for our own  well being, or for our children, or our community it can feel like a lonely road. The decision to be a disciple of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is a personal decision that sets us apart. Know that when you make that decision, when you take up your cross, when you move forward in your life, God is part of that decision. We don’t become disciples for some kind of reward, to be closer to God, because God is always with us. When we move forward on the Way, though, it’s energizing, because we notice more often that God never leaves us alone in those hard places, never alone. We are not alone.

 

Offering for School in Uganda – UNIFAT. Last month and on Ash Wednesday, we collected special gifts for the Grace Cafe at Arch St. Church. This month we have been giving to the school in Uganda organized by my friend Abitimo Odongkara, who spoke here two weeks ago. She goes back to Uganda this week. I will see her this evening to wish her well on her way. We have given her over $750 to support the school. I am hoping that today we can push it well over $1000.

We offer ourselves to God through this offering and after we sing “Faith, While Trees are Still in Blossom” we come to the table to symbolize our steps toward becoming disciples of the Way.

 

Communion Hymn: 508 Faith, While Trees Are Still in blossom