Resurrection! Thoughts Mary’s proclamation and meeting the one who changes everything.

Resurrection

John 20: 1-18

20Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

This week I read an article in The Christian Century by Jim Friedrich, an Episcopal priest.

He said that next to the Garden of Gethsemane, at the entrance to Jerusalem’s Church of All Nations, there is a sign that says:

“No explanations inside the church.”

This sign was apparently “intended to discourage talkative tour guides from disturbing the church’s prayerful ambience with shouted lectures”.

Lectures about what?

Friedrich puts it this way:

Confronted by a room full of people who spend most of their time in secular social ways of thinking, where the dead stay dead and God—if there is one—does not intervene in the natural order, preachers are tempted to mount a defense of the resurrection …

A defense to the resurrection is an attempt to prove that it really happened.

If you have ever read Lee Strobel’s, The Case for Christ, you have some idea of what a detailed argument for the reality of the resurrection might look like.

History, science, logic all come together to “prove” the resurrection to skeptical, doubtful or unbelieving people.

That would be great for a Sunday school class, but I don’t think Easter morning is the right place for it.

Most folks don’t come to hear an explanation.

Everyone here either believes it; or wants to.

Today, we are happy to look at the resurrection as a mystery that we just take on faith.

We come here on Easter simply to celebrate

Friedrich agrees and puts it this way:

Easter Sunday is for proclamation, not explanation. It is a time to meet the One who changes everything.

I like that.

[T]o meet the One who changes everything.

That is what we celebrate.

So that is what I will do, I hope.

Proclaim the resurrection and introduce you to the one who changes everything.

And to celebrate.

This is a nice segue into our text.

John proclaims the resurrection and tells a story about the “”one”.

The resurrected Jesus.

And he also tells the story of the impact it had on the one particular person who was its first witness.

In the story we observe three characters.

Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the beloved disciple who we assume to be John.

All three were close with Jesus for most, if not all, of his ministry.

John’s story opens early on the first day of the week.

It is still dark.

Not just because the sun has not yet come up, but because to John it is a time of terrible sadness and confusion.

Why?

Jesus, the one who was to change everything was dead.

All the anticipation was for nothing.

Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb where Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea put Jesus after they took him down from the cross on Friday.

She is alone.

We aren’t told why Mary went to the tomb.

John tells us that Jesus had been anointed and packed with spices on Friday by Joseph and Nicodemus.

But Mary’s visit reminds me of the mother of a friend of mine who died in his early 20s.

After my friend was buried, his mother went to the grave every day for weeks just be near him.

Maybe that is what Mary was doing.

She just wanted to be near where she thought Jesus was.

But when Mary gets there, the grave is open!

Think about that for a moment.

Can you imagine what she felt?

Not joy, I assure you.

But fear.

Fear that the body of her beloved Jesus was stolen!

What other explanation could there be?

Mary certainly did not expect to see a living Jesus.

Mary sort of staggers backward, hand over her mouth, then turns and runs away.

Mary bursts in on Peter and John.

It’s dark there, too.

She screams, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb …’!

Who are “they”?

No doubt to Mary “they” were the one’s who opposed Jesus during his life and now wanted to rid the world of any trace of him.

Peter and John look at each other.

Then they rush out the door.

The scene is almost comical.

Can you imagine Peter and John bumping in to each other and the door frame as they try to get through the door?

Once out, the race is on.

John, the younger is also the faster.

He wins.

But when John gets to the grave he just paces outside.

Peter arrives a moment later and, true to form, heads straight into the tomb.

No body!

Just the grave clothes.

Peter slowly backs out.

He is speechless.

Now John crawls in.

The grave clothes are there but the body is not.

This makes no sense.

If people came and stole Jesus’ body, why waste time removing the grave clothes?

He tells Peter he believes something important has happened but does not understand what it is.

What they were not expecting is a living Jesus.

Maybe John tells Peter that this reminds him of the time Jesus said he would rise up in three days after he was destroyed.

Then Peter and John just go home.

Mary remains.

I like the way John describes it.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.

While Peter and John have left, she is still there.

Pacing outside the tomb.

Then, very tentatively, she peeks inside the tomb.

Mary gasps.

Two angels!

They ask her why she is weeping.

They seem truly puzzled.

Maybe they say to each other, “What did she expect to find?”

She tells them that she can’t find Jesus.

Not a living Jesus.

Jesus dead body.

I want to think that the Angels looked at each other and one of them says, “She doesn’t know!”

Before the angels can say anything, she turns to run and bumps into Jesus who is watching her.

But she does not recognize him.

Why would she?

A living Jesus is not what she was expecting.

Jesus, too, seems puzzled.

“Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”, he asks.

Maybe Mary says something like, “Are you the gardener? Where have they taken Jesus?”

Then the man then calls her by name.

“Mary!”

Mary’s eyes get big.

Her hand covers her mouth!

It’s Jesus!

“Teacher!” she cries.

She opens her arms and rushes to hug him.

Jesus does something surprising.

Jesus backs away and tells her not to hold on to him but go and tell the disciples, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Why would he do this?

Maybe because now he is the “Resurrected Jesus”.

The one who died and is now the one alive again.

He is now the Christ.

This is the new “one”.

He is the one ascending to the Father.

Gathering his divinity back as he goes.

He is the same, yet new.

Mary has been introduced to the new one who changes everything for her.

Her world is different.

No need to look for Jesus among the dead any more.

She found him alive.

He called her name.

And Jesus has given her a task.

Go and tell.

Mary starts crying again, but now these are tears of joy.

She runs off to do what Jesus asked her to do.

The eleven are all together now.

Mary bursts in.

“I have seen the Lord!”

“He is alive!”

Proclamation.

Introduction.

Mary is changed.

That is Mary the first witness.

Mary the apostle.

What a great story!

If this were a book group, we might now have a conversation about why Peter and John, two of the twelve, did not get to be the first witness.

They were so close to Jesus.

Peter was the spokesman of the group.

Why not him?

John was the one Jesus loved.

Why not him?

Why do they just walk away puzzled?

Because they have not yet heard the proclamation.

They have not met the risen Jesus.

Mary gets that honor and is changed forever.

What changes for Mary?

A dead Jesus was a living Jesus.

The despair had turned to hope.

The darkness had become light.

Death was not the end of the story.

Jesus was ascending to his Father and her Father, to his God and her God.

It meant that because Jesus lives, the gates of the Kingdom of God were open to her.

To follow Jesus, to live the Jesus way, meant she too would ascend to Jesus’ Father, her Father, Jesus’ God, her God.

So, what does that mean to us today?

Our despair can turn to hope.

Our darkness can become light.

Death was not the end of our story.

Jesus was ascending to his Father and our Father, to his God and our God.

That because Jesus lives, the gates of the Kingdom of God were open to us.

To follow Jesus, to live the Jesus way, means we too will ascend to Jesus’ Father, our Father, Jesus’ God, our God.

That is why we are here.

We have all come to the empty tomb.

We want to hear the proclamation of the resurrection.

We don’t know how it worked.

Most of us don’t care.

We accept it as a mystery.

What we hope to find, if we have not found it already, is what Mary found.

Jesus.

Alive.

Calling us by name.

Giving us a task.

Asking us to follow Jesus right into God’s kingdom.

And altering our lives forever.

Meeting the one who changes everything.

Jesus is alive!

And so are we!

He is risen.

He is risen indeed.

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019)

Easter week Services at John McMillan Presbyterian Church: Tenebrae — Thursday at 7:30pm; Good Friday Vigil — Noon; Easter Sunday — Sunrise worship at 7:00am; Traditional worship at 8:30 and 11. Come and be with us!

When I was a kid, I remember Easter week a bit differently that I do now. Good Friday meant no school. Easter Sunday was a big deal and was always a fun day. A basket of candy (spice jelly beans were my favorite) was hidden somewhere in the house and the church was packed. Great music and that same story every year. Jesus Christ is risen today. He is risen indeed.

Now I think of Easter week differently. And I like it more now. Like most churches, at John McMillan Presbyterian Church we experience Holy Week in many ways. I say “experience” because we try to put ourselves in the shoes of those who were there with Jesus as he traveled to the cross.

We start our Easter journey on Thursday evening at 7:30 with our Tenebrae Service. A service of “shadows”. The world gets dark as the disciples have their last Passover with Jesus. Someone betrays, others sleep, they all run away in the end. We listen to the story of Jesus last 24 hours with scripture readings and reverential music. It all ends in darkness and silence.

Next, we gather at noon on Good Friday for an hour-long vigil where we hear the story of the crucifixion and try to understand what it means.

Saturday is silent, as we, like the disciples, are … well … speechless.

Then! Then! It is Resurrection Day! We gather at 7am for a sunrise worship service and welcome the rising sun and the Rising Son! At 8:30 and 11 we have our traditional services with brass, bells, celebratory music and then … that same old story. The one that we never get tired of. Jesus Christ is risen today. He is risen indeed.

Come and join us here at John McMillan Presbyterian Church as we walk with Jesus from death to life. We will look forward to seeing you.

What If I Stumble? Thoughts on forgiving ourselves.


Mark 14: 32-42; 66-72

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ 33He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ 35And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ 37He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour?38Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 39And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’


66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. 67When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.’ 68But he denied it, saying, ‘I do not know or understand what you are talking about.’ And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. 69And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, ‘This man is one of them.’ 70But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.’ 71But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about.’ 72At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.

In my reading this week, I came across this in Harriet Lerner’s book, Fear and Other uninvited Guests.

She was sitting at the family dinner table, her mother in law posed this question:

“If you left the room, what would be the very worst thing that the rest of us might say about you – the thing that would hurt you the most?”

That kind of reminded me of my college reunion last year.

At the dinner, my friend said that the most common greeting we had for others was, “I think I remember you…”

The one you did not want to hear was, “I REMEMBER YOU!!!”

You probably don’t want to know what they remember.

Then, you leave early.

And Harriet’s mother in law’s question comes to mind…

Why do we feel that way?

Professor Katie Day puts it this way:

Most of us have mental files of cringe-worthy moments of our lives, when we have acted in contradiction to how we see ourselves, or at least how we want others to see us. We can laugh at our embarrassing moments, but we hope that our more egregious displays of imperfection never see the light of day.

How we think about these cringe-worth things, particularly the more egregious, come in an array of feelings.

They look like this.

Embarrassment.

Regret.

Remorse.

Guilt.

Shame.

An range of self-criticism.

It also describes a downward spiral.

It looks like this.

You have done something wrong.

It might be a minor indiscretion, or it might be a major offense.

It might be something harmless.

It might be something that hurt someone.

How do you react?

You are embarrassed.

Your face blushes and everyone laughs.

Later it will become a funny story.

If what you said or did has offended someone, you regret having done it.

You immediately say you are sorry and seek forgiveness.

Maybe you get remorseful.

What you did lingers in your thoughts and you plan how to make sure you don’t do it again.

You learn from it.

Still good.

But then things ,might start to go badly.

You feel guilty.

That lingering thought moves in to your brain and takes root.

You can’t move on.

You relive that event time after time.

You go through the process of regret and remorse all over again.

Again and again and again.

What you did is unforgettable and unforgivable.

I haunts you.

And then there is shame.

Rock bottom.

Shame is not what you think about what you did, it is that you think what you did defines you.

It is who you are.

You can always seek forgiveness for something you did, right?

But how do you seek forgiveness for who you are?

Shame can rob you of self-esteem.

It can make you feel unworthy of joy and love.

If that is who we are, there is no reason to change our behavior.

According to psychotherapist and author Beverly Engel,

Shame is incredibly unhealthy, causing lowered self-esteem (feelings of unworthiness) and behavior that reinforces that self-image. As we are learning more and more, shame can be an extremely debilitating emotion. …

Some have explained the difference between shame and guilt as follows: When we feel guilt we feel badly about something we did or neglected to do. When we feel shame we feel badly about who we are. When we feel guilty we need to learn that it is okay to make mistakes. When we feel shame we need to learn that it is okay to be who we are.

Now you might wonder what that has to do with Peter.

First let’s go back a bit in Mark’s Gospel.

Peter has declared Jesus to be the Messiah.

Jesus and Peter along with Jesus’ followers have come to Jerusalem.

Jesus entered the city to the adulation of his followers.

8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna!
   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10   Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

I imagine Peter was leading the chant like a drum major.

Jesus spent the week decrying the Temple authorities in front of the Passover crowds in the Temple and teaching his followers the true nature of God’s Kingdom.

Jesus then calls the twelve together for one last Passover meal.

He tells them one of them will betray him.

Jesus tells Peter he will deny him.

Peter says, no way!

“If you die, Jesus, I die with you!”

“That is the kind of man I am, Jesus!”

Which brings us to today’s scripture.

Peter almost immediately stumbles.

First, he falls asleep three times after Jesus asks him to keep watch and pray himself while Jesus prays in Gethsemane.

That might have been a bit embarrassing, I think.

A good story for later.

Jesus even seems to get I.

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

After Jesus wakes Peter up the third time, Jesus is arrested and taken to the Palace of Caiaphas to be tried for blasphemy.

Peter flees.

He regrets this and wants to make up for it.

Maybe Jesus will see him and know he did what he said he would so.

His remorse makes him think about what he can do now.

Peter has it!

He follows and actually goes into the courtyard of the Palace.

And then Peter denies he was ever with Jesus.

He then denies he is a disciple of Jesus.

He moves away to be by himself.

He is guilty.

How can his denial be forgiven?

Finally, Peter says something like this:

“Damn it, I swear on Abraham’s beard I don’t even know who this guy Jesus is!”

When Peter realizes his complete and utter failure to Jesus, he weeps.

He weeps uncontrollably, I bet.

He has failed his friend.

Him mentor.

His Messiah.

Epically.

Peter realizes that he, Peter, is not the man he thought he was.

He thought he was loyal and faithful and courageous.

He now believes himself to be disloyal and unfaithful and cowardly.

He is untrustworthy, unforgivable and unlovable.

Peter is ashamed.

In the time it took for a rooster to crow.

From that point on, he felt like he was unworthy of anything good.

It is easy to understand this downward spiral.

Look at what Peter did!

Have you ever felt like that?

Like you have epically failed someone?

Like you have epically failed yourself?

That you are somehow undeserving of good things because of what you did?

That you don’t deserve joy because “you are a bad person”?

That you don’t deserve to be forgiven because you are unforgivable?

But we don’t have to do something as awful as that for us to go from embarrassment to shame, do we.

We can also push ourselves down that scale for the smallest things.

Minor gaffes.

Major offenses.

We fall down that hole for one reason.

We can’t forgive ourselves.

If we can’t forgive ourselves, why would we think anyone forgives us?

Why would we think God forgives us?

We can’t learn from what we did and move on.

Why should we change?

It’s who we are, right?

That is why it’s important to learn how to do forgive ourselves.

As Christians we are taught to forgive because we have been forgiven.

We are also encouraged to seek forgiveness from others.

I have preached sermons and taught classes on forgiveness.

It’s hard to give and seek forgiveness.

But not as hard as forgiving yourself!

Here’s a hypothetical:

A friend confides in you that he has done something embarrassing, something he regrets.

He is remorseful but also guilty because he thinks what he did will not be forgotten or forgiven.

He can’t think of a way to keep from doing it again.

And he is ashamed because it he thinks people think he is a bad person.

What do you do?

You assure them that we all make mistakes.

Nobody’s perfect.

Make amends as best you can.

Learn from it and move on.

That is called compassion.

But we have tremendous difficulty being compassionate to ourselves.

Our self-talk sounds like this:

I must be stupid to make such mistakes!

I must be a bad person for doing such a thing.

I am unforgivable.

I am unlovable.

We need to figure out how to stop that.

All I can offer today is what Peter did.

First, he stuck around.

He did not hide from his community.

He confessed what he did.

We know that because we know the story.

Peter told someone!

Peter then followed Jesus into Galilee.

Mark does not say much about what Jesus and Peter talked about, but John’s Gospel does.

Jesus sends Peter out to be the shepherd of Jesus’ people.

And Peter did.

This is what that looks like.

Peter owned what he did.

Confessed it.

Sought forgiveness.

Learned from it.

Forgave himself.

And moved on.

Sounds simple.

But understand this.

Self-forgiveness is very complicated.

It takes introspection and prayer.

It takes self-education and learning.

It takes community, even if the community is just you and your journal.

Some need counseling.

If you think you need it, get some.

If you want to live the Jesus way, learn to forgive, even forgiving yourself.

Now I am not saying that we use self-forgiveness as a sort of “get out of jail free card”.

We still need to go through the regret and remorse stages.

We need to ask forgiveness and do our best to keep from doing it again.

In some ways this is what we do in our confession time at church.

The silent confession is where you can share these things with God, make a plan on how to keep from doing them again and then as for forgiveness.

And maybe ask for help then in forgiving yourself.

Then we need to forgive ourselves and move on.

That is what Peter did.

He confessed to Jesus.

He realized that he was loyal.

He was faithful.

He was courageous.

He was a disciple of Jesus.

The forgiver of all things.

That is what this week is about.

Understanding that we are forgiven by God.

So we need to forgive ourselves.

That is the Jesus way.

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (April 14, 2019, Palm Sunday)

In 2005, Frank Warren started a website called “PostSecret”. Thousands of people have sent Warren “secrets” about their lives that are often funny, but also poignant and powerful. Many are things they regret, some deeply. They are anonymous. And he posts a lot of them on his website! Why would anyone want a secret regret about their past posted on PostSecret? Maybe this. There are things about ourselves that we keep secret, but that we would like to admit them to someone else, even if it is done anonymously. Maybe because it is funny, and nobody knows the joke. Maybe because we are ashamed, but nobody knows the incident. Maybe because it is something we regret and can’t get out of our heads. We cannot forgive ourselves. Maybe we believe that if we put these regrets into words and send the words out into the world, it will somehow make a difference. Maybe it will help us forgive ourselves. Someone knows what I did, even though they don’t know it was me. Maybe these folks then feel cleansed. Or just relieved to have put it out there, in words. I wonder if Peter would have posted his denials on PostSecret? Well, maybe. We know he told someone. That is how we know it happened, right? And we also know that Peter was forgiven by Jesus for doing it, right? But I wonder if Peter ever forgave himself? What makes me think he might not have? Because forgiving ourselves is one of the hardest things to do. It might just be impossible. How do we forgive ourselves? Come and hear about it Sunday, April 14, 2019 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church. This is Palm Sunday and Pastor Jeff will preach “What If I Stumble?” based on Mark 14” 32-42; 66-72. We will look forward to seeing you.

Don’t Promise More Than You Can Deliver: Thoughts on what Jesus really asks of us.

Mark 14: 27-31; 43-50

27And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written,
“I will strike the shepherd,
   and the sheep will be scattered.” 
28But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’ 29Peter said to him, ‘Even though all become deserters, I will not.’ 30Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ 31But he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same.

43 Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. 44Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.’ 45So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him. 46Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. 47But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 48Then Jesus said to them, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? 49Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.’ 50All of them deserted him and fled.


In the musical, Lil’ Abner we meet Abner Yocum and Daisy Mae Scragg of Dogpatch.

Both are of marrying age.

Daisy Mae has been after Abner for a long time.

But Abner does not return her affections.

He is unable to because he drinks his mother’s Yocum berry tonic every day which prevents him from having any attraction to Daisy Mae.

Yet somehow, Abner knows that he and Daisy Mae are destined to get married.

But Abner just can’t commit.

He wants to, but can’t.

Daisy Mae suggests to Abner that he let her catch him on Sadie Hawkins day, when the local women can choose a husband, as long as they can catch the man they want.

Abner is not sure he can do that.

But he promises to try.

Daisy Mae has Abner visualize being caught by her as a way to encourage Abner to let it happen.

She describes the hunt, the approach, the reaching out, the grab.

Can Abner imagine it, too?

He smiles and says he can.

But then Abner tells Daisy Mae that he sees himself racing off into the woods just before Daisy Mae can catch him.

For Abner, letting Daisy Mae catch him is a promise Abner can’t deliver.

Have you ever experienced something like that?

Someone promises to do something for you, then doesn’t?

Have you ever done something like that?

Told someone you were going to do something and then … well … not done it?

A promise made that was more than could be delivered?

Why does that happen?

Some people are just dishonest sociopaths and will promise anything to get something from you, without intending to ever do what they promised to do in return.

Others overestimate their ability to do what was promised, and when they realize it, just walk away.

Like Abner.

But often promises are broken simply because of misunderstandings.

Confusion.

We have made a commitment to someone or something but are uncertain what is really expected of us.

Where we are not sure what we are supposed to do.

So, we do something, hoping we are right, only to find we have botched the whole thing.

Today’s text is a nice illustration of something like that.

And as usual, Peter is right in the middle of it.

If out text were theater, we would be in the second act.

Act I is The Last Supper.

Jesus has gathered with the disciples for Passover.

He has announced that one of the disciples was going to betray him and that his blood would be the new covenant between God and God’s people.

Now Act II begins.

Jesus and the 11 are walking to the Mount of Olives.

On the way Jesus turns to his disciples and says:

“You will all slip away from me tonight, leaving me alone.”

“The Prophet Zechariah has predicted this.”

Peter responds.

“Not me!”

Jesus says, “Oh, yeah, Peter you, too.”

“Within the next few hours you will deny even knowing who I am three times!”

“Not me,” says Peter, “I am with you to the end, Jesus.”

“Even if it means my death, I will not abandon you!”

The chorus of the remaining 10 all chime in.

“Us, too, Jesus!”

“We won’t let you down.”

Can’t you imagine Jesus’ eye roll?

Right after that, Jesus prays in Gethsemane and Peter, who is to keep watch … well … falls asleep.

Then Judas shows up with the mob to seize Jesus.

Swords and torches.

There is a brief skirmish, a sword is pulled, an ear cut off, but in the end, as Mark describes it:

All of them deserted him and fled.

Including Peter.

Peter and the rest have promised more than they could deliver, right?

They would stay to the end, right?

Until the mob shows up.

Then they abandon of Jesus.

And we think that Jesus must have been deeply hurt.

That this is the beginning of the “passion”.

Betrayal.

Suffering.

Death.

Maybe.

But consider this.

From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he surrounded himself with disciples.

He tried to teach them who he was and why he came.

He knew they wouldn’t understand any of it until he rose from the dead, but he taught them anyway so that when he did rise from the dead, they would get it!

Sins forgiven, death defeated, life in the Kingdom of God.

Now think for a moment.

If the disciples were to see Jesus resurrected, they needed to be alive to see that, right?

The plan also called for the disciples to go and “preach the good news to all creation”.

They had to be alive to do that, too, right?

So, when Jesus was telling Peter and the rest that they were going to run away, citing scripture to boot, he was actually describing how the disciples were going to stay alive!

Jesus on stage:

“I need to go it alone from here guys!”

“You need to do whatever you must to stay alive.”

 “You need to go away and hide.”

Then Jesus says something that is easily missed.

Don’t worry guys, … after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.

They would all get together after the resurrection.

So their flight from the mob was not the end of their relationship with Jesus.

Which is exactly what happened.

They did meet in Galilee and they did finally understand who Jesus was and why he came.

And because they survived, they could pass that on.

Many believe Peter’s memories became the Gospel of Mark.

But we have jumped ahead.

Back to our text and our play.

Peter is alone on stage.

Jesus has just told him he will run away and deny Jesus.

He is rubbing his chin.

Peter shares his thoughts in a soliloquy.

“Jesus said someone is going to betray him.”

“I don’t want to be that guy, right?”

“I’m not going to do anything that might look like “betrayal”.”

“Then Jesus said that his blood will be poured out as the new covenant between God and us.”

“I don’t want to keep that from happening, right?”

 “I need to walk a fine line between ‘no betrayal’ and ‘let Jesus do what he has to do.”

“What to do, what to do?”

“I’ve got it!”

“I will stick with Jesus, and if he dies, I will die, too.”

“No betrayal, a disciple to the end!”

What Peter misses is that Jesus’ plan requires Peter to live.

So, when Peter tells Jesus they will die together, Peter is doing exactly what he does not want to do.

He is screwing it all up.

Jesus is not worried, though.

Jesus knows that Peter has promised more than Peter can deliver.

Peter and the boys are not going to die with him.

They will run.

Not because they are cowards, but because self-preservation is human nature.

So, when Peter runs off with the rest, he is unknowingly doing what Jesus expects.

Peter was expected to survive, and he did.

So, it turns out that Peter promised more than he could deliver, but also more than what was required of him.

What Jesus wanted from him.

Which raises a question.

 What does Jesus want from us?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said that when Jesus calls you “he bids you to come and die!”

Is that what discipleship means?

This was a big issue for the Roman Christians who were the audience for Mark’s Gospel.

To be a Christian in Rome during the first century meant that you might really die.

Some Roman Christians promised to die as rather than deny Jesus.

That was a promise they could keep.

Others could not keep such a promise and denied Jesus to stay alive.

Was that some kind of betrayal?

Well, that is exactly what Peter did, right?

And Peter was the rock upon which Jesus built his community.

Their community!

This story would have been of great comfort for those who denied Jesus to save their lives.

It should be great comfort for us, too.

While some can promise to die rather than deny, others can’t promise much of anything at all.

So, what is it Jesus expects?

He expects us to love him.

And do the best we can to follow him.

Jesus also expects us to know that he loves us.

That even though we often promise more than we can deliver, we are forgiven.

Jesus’ blood was shed for that.

That is what happened with Peter.

It’s what will happen with us.

Calvin put it this way:

Peter’s fall … brilliantly mirrors our own infirmity. … The story told of one man contains teaching of general, and indeed prime, benefit for the whole church; it teaches those who stand to take care and caution; it encourages the fallen to trust in pardon.

And because Peter and the rest did run off, we, disciples of Jesus, are still here.

And because many Roman Christians ran off, we are still here.

And even though we “run off” from time to time in our lives, we are still here.

That is one reason we come to church.

One reason we come to this table.

To tell the world we are still here!

I like the way Rischard Voelz puts it:

We know all too well out tendencies to live in denial of our discipleship.

We gather in churches, at camps, at retreat centers, and in other places, in order to renew our commitment as disciples.

We confess our sins, we put our hands in baptismal waters, we will celebrate the Lord’s supper and we say the creed one more time, but not to prove Jesus’ prediction of our flight wrong.  

To prove that we are still here.

Surely, that is a promise we can deliver.

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (April 7, 2019; Fifth Sunday of Lent)

In the movie “Saving Private Ryan”, a platoon of soldiers during WWII is sent into France after the Normandy invasion to find the last living brother of four. The other three brothers have been killed in battle. The Army wants to save the last brother so that he can be sent home to his grieving mother. Spoiler alert! After a long, deadly and difficult search, the platoon finds Ryan. They tell him what happened and that he is to be sent home. To their surprise, Ryan refuses. He will not go. Which creates a bit of animosity between him and the platoon that came to save him. They risked their lives (some gave their lives) to save him and now he has refused to be saved. Their sacrifice will be in vain if Ryan dies. Well … more spoiler alert … Ryan does survive but is also given a mission by the platoon leader – do something with your life!

In this week’s text, Peter continues to misunderstand what Jesus wants from him. He promises to stand with Jesus to the end, but almost immediately runs off when the crowd comes to arrest Jesus. What does our text have to do with Private Ryan? Do Peter and private Ryan have something in common? They do. Both refuse to be saved. Both misunderstand the duty that has been assigned to them. Come and hear about that on Sunday, April 7 (the Fifth Sunday of Advent) at 8:30 and 11 when Pastor Jeff preaches, “Don’t Promise More Than You Can Deliver” based on Mark 14: 27-31; 43-50. There is a lot going on in this text that might surprise you. Come and see!