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Mt. 16:21-28
Susan in SanPedro

We were ready. The snacks had been sorted. The craft supplies were organized. The nametags were printed, the story circle set up and the "Welcome to Vacation Bible School" banner hung in the parish hall window. The children who would form our VBS'99 community began to arrive and the cheerful chaos mounted. They found their group leaders and gathered -- ready to tackle the first task of the week: select a name for their group . something from Creation ... to be announced in our opening chapel service.

So far so good. Our littlest ones - the 4's & 5's --quickly settled on "The Roses": something that grows. Two other groups followed close behind: from the heavens we had "The Super Stars" and from the seas "The Dolphins." What teamwork! What cooperation! Wouldn't it be wonderful is groups of adults could come to consensus so easily! All right then - let's line up and go into chapel, boys and girls!

But wait. The 6's & 7's were deadlocked. Divided sharply and evenly along gender lines, the boys were shouting "lizards" and the girls yelling "bunnies." Schism - the ever present threat to Christian unity - loomed. The dialogue deteriorated into name calling. "Bunnies are dumb." "Lizards are icky." There seemed to be no way to reconcile the two without stepping in and making a choice that nobody would be happy with. And then, grace happened. Brian, the middle schooler assigned to help with the group for the day, gathered the warring factions around him. "Let me handle this," he said. And we did.

And after much whispering, head shaking and nodding finally came the announcement: "We've got a deal. We're going to be 'The Friendly Lizards From Bunnyland.'"

"How did you do it?" I asked Brian later. "Well, I told them we couldn't get on with Vacation Bible School until they found something to agree on - and then I just kept listening to them until we came up with something they could all live with." The Friendly Lizards From Bunnyland - an icon of the power of dialogue to transform the chaos of entrenched disagreement into the creation of something wonderful.

Yes, it would be grand if we could all agree as easily and happily as the Roses, Dolphins and Super Stars. Maybe when the Kingdom comes that's how it will be. But in the meantime, we can learn much from the Friendly Lizards From Bunnyland. We can seek and serve Christ each other: even if I'm a bunny and you're a lizard. We can recognize that the arguments we're so fond of are often what keep us from getting on with the work ahead of us: building the Kingdom of God - proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ Jesus. And we can give thanks for those among us willing to facilitate authentic dialogue where the Spirit can once again brood over the chaos and bring about creation.

"Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them;for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs." Luke 18:16

Gospel Lesson
HW in HI
27 Aug 1999

Rural Episopal Parish

God's Work in Progress

I hear everything went pretty well in my absence. Except that last week Reg decided to preach on this week’s gospel. I spent some time wondering about that, whether maybe this week I wanted to preach on next week’s gospel and so on. But I decided we’d run into a problem right around a week before Christmas when I’d be on the gospel where Mary brings forth a new born babe and wraps him in swaddling clothes. And then there’s Easter – I’d be preaching the resurrection on Palm Sunday.

The disciple Peter is again front and center this week. Peter is the guy that always has something to say. He has a powerful response to Jesus when he is asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter says that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. He doesn’t equivocate, he just flat out says it. This is Peter’s viewpoint: he has found God on earth. Somehow the unthinkable has happened, and here he is, right next to the Messiah. And the messiah begins to explain that he will suffer – actually that he will undergo great suffering. Peter reacts as most of us might, he cries out, “No!” I guess today we would say that he is in denial. How many of us have heard of the approaching death of a loved one and cried out, “No! This can’t be happening!?” Probably most of would react just like that.

Jesus doesn’t respond with great compassion. He says, basically, get out of my way. The CEV puts it this way: “Peter took Jesus aside and told him to stop talking like that. He said, ‘God would never let this happen to you, Lord!’ Jesus turned to Peter and said, ‘Satan, get away from me! You’re in my way because you think like everyone else and not like God.’”

Time and again Scripture tells us that God doesn’t think the way we think. The psalmist quotes God as saying, “Your ways are not my ways.” What would it take for us to think like God?

We have a model of Godly thinking in the life of Christ. Peter thought exactly what you and i would have thought, “No, don’t hand yourself over to death and suffering. Get out while the getting is good. Don’t do it!” And then we have the thinking of God, the thinking of Jesus. I will stretch myself as far as possible for you, even to the point of breaking. I will do this because you are worth it.

Those are the powerful thoughts of the Savior: you are worth it. I will save you. I will sacrifice everything.

Sacrifice. Sacrifice doesn’t come easily. I wonder: for whom are you willing to sacrifice? For whom would I sacrifice? And just how much would we sacrifice? A few dollars? A couple of hours? Our lives?

Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Sometimes that is exactly the sacrifice that is called for. At the dreadful tragic shooting in Columbine High School last Spring, one teacher safely shepherded many of the students to safety, only to lose his own life to the bullets of one of the gunmen. And so he laid down his life for his friends. Human thinking would have been more along the lines of Saddam Hussein who used human beings as shields. But that teacher was Dave Sanders, and he used his own body as a shield.

Before the shooting at Columbine, I would have said that it is highly unlikely that any of us would be in a position to die for our faith. At least not in this country and not in our lifetimes. Cassie Bernall was a junior at Columbine that day last Spring, and a Christian. A gun-wielding student asked her if she believed. A crystal-clear moment suspended in time. The Nicene Creed when it means something. Choose. If you say you believe in God, you will likely not live. If you say you do not, perhaps you will. Cassie said, “Yes.” The trigger was pulled, and she became a martyr as surely as any saint.

Oswald Chambers wrote a devotional book called “My Utmost for His Highest.” It was written right around the time this church was begun. He writes, “If you say you are sanctified, show it. The experience must be so genuine that it is shown in life.” A friend of mine says the same thing a little more graphically, “A person is no more a Christian because he or she sits in a pew in church, than that person is a car because he or she sits in the garage.”

We, each of us, joined the body of Christ completely the day we were baptized. Of course, we were welcomed before that, but on that day we made a commitment. We said, “Yes!” to Christ, who had already said yes to us. The Holy Spirit was present. And our lives were meant to be changed forever. But were they? Are our lives holy? Would someone know we are Christians by looking at our marriages, our parenting, our friendships? How about the way we deal with or neighbors?

Yakov Smirnoff made the point. He is a Russian comedian, who emigrated to the United States. He said he wasn't prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, "On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk--you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice--you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, What a country!"

We assume that our lives will change instantly at baptism. Dramatically and without a lot of work. Again, that is a little like baby powder giving us an instant baby. Which would be pretty wonderful, if you think about it. For one thing, none of us would ever need to go to church again. My job would be to do baptisms for people who need never come to church because they are instantly transformed.

Of course, if that were the case, the world would be transformed, the kingdom would have come, and you most certainly would not be sitting here this morning.

I want to encourage each of us to think of ourselves as God’s work in progress. Becoming Christians who seek God’s word and do it. Spending more than a few minutes each week, a few dollars each month – but rather spending our lives on God. Becoming Christians who love God so very much that, if it came right down to it, loving God so much even we would give our lives.

The KJV, Mark 8:36 “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”