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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Face Set Like Flint - 09/12/2021

This determination we hear of in Isaiah, of setting one’s face like flint toward something, is intriguing to me in these busy and strange days we are all in. Flint is a sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of mineral quartz, for you rockhounds out there. It is very, very hard and breaks into sharp edged pieces that can be used to build strong structures, to cut, start fire and grind other materials. Turning your face like flint is to be strong, pointed and unbending toward your goal.

Turning a face like flint is what Jesus is doing in our Gospel reading today. This is a pivotal moment in the Gospel of Mark. The story has moved steadily, but kind of slowly, with the rich accounts of Jesus bringing the Good News to a.n.y.o.n.e. with ears to listen, anyone feeling that God-gift of faith grow inside like the tiny but mighty first flickers of a great fall bonfire. We’ve heard about the way Jesus feeds all these people, literally and in so many other important ways. How he casts out the demons and heals the broken and wounded human bodies he encounters.

We come along in this story from Mark with the disciples encountering all Jesus has said and done and then like Peter, with our hearts pounding in our chests a little quickly, and our brains trying to comprehend all we’ve witnessed, and that flame of faith now building up to a fire you can gather yourselves and your stories around, we say it too. “You are the Messiah,” Jesus! (Mk 8:29)

Yes, Peter. Jesus is the Messiah, God’s promised anointed one. The one who all our ancestors and prophets pined for because they knew when this Messiah finally came, he would free us from anything that oppresses us and tries to keep us from being the marvelous creatures God intends when we are knitted in our mother’s wombs. The Messiah would overcome anything that tries to put distance between us and God who so delights to be in close relationship with us; anything that gets in the way of our capacity and will to love the neighbor, especially those neighbors who are really hard to love.

And that’s where it happens. Our story from Mark changes when Peter makes this proclamation. Now the story will begin to move much more quickly to Jerusalem and the cross. We can detect this change right after Peter’s out loud proclamation because Jesus’ demeanor changes. His mind and motive turn fully to what he has come to here to do. As Isaiah would say it, Jesus “set his face like flint” (Isa 50:7) on Jerusalem.

And “(Jesus) sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.” (Mk 8:30-32)

Many of us know this story well. We know that Peter cannot bear to set his face like flint on the end that Jesus has now laid out before them. It’s too hard. He instantly and instinctively tries to pull back on the power of his proclamation.

Because Peter cannot do what Jesus has just described, we cannot do it … we cannot muster enough of whatever it took for Jesus to set his face like flint on Jerusalem. That is why he came to do this for us. To show us this different Way and then to bear all the ramifications of our sin and brokenness on that cross so we don’t have to be plagued by our inability to do so. That is why he came to not only die for us, but also to defeat death and live for us so that even our earthly death is not the end of the story.

I pray none of us ever gets too lackadaisical in hearing this truth we cling to so confidently. I pray each time we are blessed with the opportunity to come to the table, the disciple inside each of us also proclaims “You are the Messiah, Jesus” as we take in the bread and the wine, the Good News, the nourishment and the healing Jesus has brought to our lives.

So we don’t have to set our faces like flint on Jerusalem. It’s done. The Messiah has done that Divine work on our behalf, which brings me back to Isaiah, one of the prophets who pined for the promised Messiah.

Isaiah is not talking about what Jesus has done from his perspective in history, some 500 years before Jesus’ time on earth. He is talking about himself setting his face like flint on the mission of speaking the Word and command of God to the Israelites who are returning to free life after exile. In their time scattered in exile, many have started worshiping the weak, fickle and temporary gods of others instead of the God who brought their ancestors out of Egypt. Many of them have adopted the ways of others and turn their backs on vulnerable and hungry neighbors.

The prophet is charged with speaking this hard truth into this situation … as you can imagine, speaking these hard truths to those who have forgotten to place God and God’s commandments at the heart of everything else makes the prophet unpopular, it makes life more difficult for them, maybe even risky.

“The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backwards. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” (Isa 50:5-6)

And yet the prophet sets their face like flint on what God has instructed and awakened.

I don’t know about you, but I needed to be reminded in this busy and strange time that we can also do this in God. We can set our faces like flint on the places God is calling each of us.

… the places God is calling the faith community that is Eden and it’s wonderful capacity to minister to one another and this community … it’s gifts for hospitality, meaningful worship and warm fellowship, which, have faith, will not be submerged by this pandemic if only we keep our faces set like flint on the wellbeing of ourselves, our communities, this nation, this little blue orb in God’s vast universe.

I can set my face like flint on where God is calling me into ministry now, as I prepare for a second call, having been made a pastor by all of you …  having been prepared here so richly, in ways I can already see and surely more ways I cannot yet see, prepared for what and where God leads tomorrow and in all my days in ordained ministry.

Just like Isaiah and his contemporaries, we can set our faces like flint on the places and spaces God is guiding us, as unknown and unsure as they might feel – even when we are standing on the shifting sands of change.

And unlike Isaiah and his contemporaries, we who live on this side of the cross, at this point in history some two millennia after Jesus came to earth, we can set our faces like flint on where God is taking us and how God is guiding us with even more confidence than Isaiah had. The confidence we gained that day when Jesus heard Peter’s proclamation and knew the time had come. He looked toward Jerusalem with singular focus and determination. Nothing would stop him.

I wonder if he heard the words of Isaiah as he looked toward Jerusalem, words I think serve us well in these busy and strange days too:

The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; (God) who vindicates me is near.” (Isa 50:7ff)

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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