GiftsEden On The Bay

All are welcome ~ Come as you are

Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Live Forward Trust Backward - September 13, 2015

It was the first time … the young girl had been in a home where the adults actually seemed to care how her day had gone. It mattered to them not only that she ate something, but that she didn't eat too much junk. They liked to go to the football games and, she really didn't want them to know it so much, but she really liked going too. She liked the feel of the cool air and being with all those people in the stands. She liked the way the light and the air shifted  and the field lit up when it got a little dark and they turned the lights on. They had even noticed her singing a long with the radio one lazy and quiet Sunday evening, and they told her she had a really nice voice. Had she thought about joining the choir at school or at church?

It wasn't always like that for her. Her mother had tried. Her father had left a long time ago. He lived a few hours away. She rarely saw him, just often enough to make her wonder if he would come back. But he didn't. And her Mom ... she just couldn't stay away from the partying and the drugs. She really did try. She'd get that look of focus and courage on her face. And then for awhile she'd turn down friends asking if she wanted to go out. She'd clean the house, make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. She'd get to work on time and then she'd get home late and tired, but she was home. She tried. But, she just couldn't keep it on track. This time her mom lost her job and things just went down in flames. And so now she had foster parents.

It wasn't all rainbows and puppies dogs though. She missed her mom. She wondered how she was doing. Where was she sleeping, even?

And, it wasn't just things like eating healthy food that mattered to these people. It also mattered to them that the house was picked up, that she didn't watch TV all the time or stay on the computer all night. They expected her to work as hard as she could on her homework. They started taking her to Sunday school. The worst thing, she thought, was that she had to go to bed so early. She could lay there and read for awhile if she wanted. But lights went out at 10 and that was that. The only thing you could do was go to sleep. It infuriated her.

The other day she really screwed up. A couple of kids had found out that she was a foster kid, that the state had taken away from her mom, and so they decided to pick on the new kid. She lost her cool. She gave one of the kids a shove and was sent to the office. They sent a note about it with her to her guardians, but she didn't give it to them. Then the school called and they found out anyway. They were pretty upset. She kind of thought they might send to another home. So, she started yelling at them about their ridiculous rules like going to bed so early and that this whole situation was all very hard for her to get used to. When she started yelling like that, they just said that she wouldn't be allowed to go the next football game and she should go to her room. She was certain now … they were calling the social worker and sending her away.

About a half hour later they called her out of her room … it was time for dinner. She sat down waiting to hear what she was sure was coming. Her foster mother looked up. “So we're planning a big camping trip next summer. Any ideas where we should go? We've always wanted to see the Grand Canyon.”

We live life forward, but we understand it backward … and then God comes in with promises to surprise us with something new and unexpected.

***

It was the first time … Peter had said out loud what everyone was thinking: that this teacher and miracle worker they had been following all over creation, was the Messiah. Jesus was the Son of Man, the anointed one promised by God for generations, to conquer what oppresses the people and chase it off for good. Peter was sure of it.

Peter didn't come to this conclusion just because of the amazing things Jesus did, either. Although on their own, they were quite convincing – like feeding all those people at the lakeside in Galilee. Peter had seen for himself there were only a few fishes and some loaves in that basket. He saw Jesus walk on water too, and cast out frightening and powerful demons.

Peter and the others who had somehow found themselves in Jesus' closest circle now had quickly become like a family as they traveled all over the place. And all along the way, he had been teaching them about the scriptures and showing them the truth in them. He reminded them of where they came from … a people who had to put all their trust in God when they came out of Egypt, and those times in exile too. And God provided. Jesus made them feel like they could do the same thing in the face of the Roman oppression they dealt with every day.

They always left these discussions feeling like their understanding of God in their lives had grown beyond anything they ever imagined. It also left them wanting to know more because, lately Peter and James and others were talking about how they too could learn to teach and preach like this. They could bring the “Good News” to all corners of the world. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news!”  (Mark 1:15)

But there was even more that convinced Peter Jesus was the Messiah. It seemed like whenever it came to the prophets, Jesus himself seemed so obviously to be the fulfillment of what those people said was coming. Like when the Prophet Isaiah said “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped ... For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water...” (Isa 35:5-7 paraphrased)

And now here they were in Caesarea Philippi. It felt like they had stepped into the a world built right from those words of Isaiah. But now, Peter was feeling a like there was a fist of iron sitting in his stomach.

They had been traveling along and had stopped for a break at a cool spring. It was the headwaters of the Jordan River, the very river John the Baptist had been standing in when he told people the Messiah was coming. Behind the springs were enormous cliffs of bare rock face. There was an ancient temple and niches carved into the walls. People had been coming there for a long time. The spring and pools around them were supposed to be healing waters and drew people from all over. It was beautiful. Perhaps it was the beauty of the place and the refreshment of the water that lifted their spirits after long days on the road. Jesus started teaching them again and then he asked Peter and the others “Who do people say that I am?”

And that's when Peter said it. He knew it was what the others were thinking, even though prior to that moment, they,  like so many others, had only wondered aloud if Jesus was John the Baptist or Elijah. “You are the Messiah,” Peter said.

Jesus looked at him very seriously. He didn't deny Peter's statement. He told them they needed to keep quiet about this. They did need to keep quiet about this, Peter realized. They were having this discussion in occupied Roman territory. Caesarea Philippi, after all, was where Herod had built great marble temple in honor of Pan and the Romans had discovered the relief of the healing waters here too. Peter became uncomfortable with his outburst about Jesus being the Messiah in this place, maybe even in earshot of one of the Roman soldiers.

And it got more uncomfortable. Jesus started talking about how the Messiah was going to suffer, and likely those around him too. He said he would be rejected by the priests and elders up at Jerusalem and killed. He said it so matter of factly and it was no joking matter … they were on their way to Jerusalem where all of this could very well take place. It frightened Peter and maybe angered him a bit that Jesus would say this at all, and in this place. The joyful and carefree mood he had been feeling only a few minutes before was spiraling into very deep and dark place.

Peter did not want to go there. He urged Jesus not to talk like this … not even to suggest such horrible things. Jesus snapped at him. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.” … Jesus turned his face like flint toward to Jerusalem, he had a look of focus and courage.

Why couldn't he just trust it, Peter wondered– as the prophet Isaiah did in the scrolls? Why couldn't he set his face like flint and know that he would not be put to shame, that God who vindicates him was near? Sticking to what he knew in the very deepest part of himself was true, that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, would be so hard … maybe impossible in the face of what he was beginning to know was at the end of this journey to Jerusalem.

We live life forward, but we understand it backward … and then God comes in with promises to surprise us with something new and unexpected.

***

It was the first time ... the man remembered being so astonished at God's untiring willingness to forgive our sins and create us new every week. He had come into church that morning after a really bad week. He'd been working at the local mill for more than 20 years and now, for the seventh time, they were told this week that the mill was closing but there was a chance it would be bought by someone else and be reopened. They would be laid off again, but, “Keep hope!” they said. Perhaps they would be called back to work by the end of the year.

Worry set in instantly. How would the family get by on unemployment? Should he wait around again to see if the mill reopened, or should they just move? It all made him very cranky. He joined in the anxious gossip in the break room and fanned the flames of fear among his coworkers with his own anger at what sure seemed like a heartless bunch of paper pushers deciding their fates in some office building miles and miles from there. He was short tempered with his parents and his kids. He got in a huge fight with his spouse and said some very cruel things he wished he could take back.

But he couldn't he couldn't take any of it back. All he could do was apologize and come back to the Lord … again … asking for and receiving that ever flowing forgiveness of sins. It really was astonishing … and freeing. He joined his friends, some of whom also worked at the mill, and his family at the table and they ate the bread and drank the wine that made that forgiveness possible. He felt a sense of focus and courage come over him as he thought about the week to come. It would still be difficult, but he felt determined about handling things better. He wouldn't be perfect – but that was OK, he was freed of that burden by Jesus and he knew what to do with his imperfections.

We live life forward, but we understand it   backward … and then God comes in with promises to surprise us with something new and unexpected.

Amen

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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