Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
March 1, 2015
“Jesus Displays Tough Love”
“Hear now these holy words of scripture from the gospel according to Mark, chapter 13, verses 31-38.”
31 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. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, i will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words j in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
“May God bless our understanding of these ancient words.”
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After graduating from High School I joined with thousands of others who joined the U.S. Air Force. It sure sounded good, getting out on our own, seeing the world, and getting trained in an area of expertise. At the recruiting office we each signed some documents, took the oath and became Airman. As a group, they first put us on a train to the local airport where we flew to San Antonio, Texas, and then bused us onto Lackland Air Force Base, a basic training camp.
We were typical teenagers, we had no idea what joining the military truly entailed. Basic training was grueling and most of us could hardly wait for it to be over. Yet, looking back from my vantage point, all these years later, I see it differently. Oh, I still think it was grueling, but I no longer think it was cruel and without value or merit. The Training Instructors, (we called them TI’s) they were tough. They pushed me and all the other fellows really hard. But, there were a lot of things they taught us and a lot of things they prepared us for. For one thing we learned how to maintain a full wardrobe, starting with a set of green military fatigues – to a set of formal Dress Blues. We learned how to wear them and take care of them correctly. We also learned that in the military you live on your feet, so learning to care for your shoes and ultimately your feet – was vital. We also learned how critical it was to take orders and do things we didn’t want to do. We learned what it means to be part of a team, part of the greater whole. (The old adage that “divided we fall,” “united we stand,” certainly applies in the military.)
Ultimately, we learned that it wouldn’t get any easier than it had been in boot camp. I remember the TI telling us that it would get harder not easier. We didn’t believe him then. But, the TI was right. Many of us spent ten months together, in a technical training school, at Sheppard Air Force Base, Wichita Falls, Texas. Our tough training in boot camp prepared us for the assignment. But it was much harder. The day started before the sun came up. We marched to breakfast and then to a full day of class, then we marched back to the barracks where many of us studied into the night. A group of us learned how to repair the then ‘state of the art’ communications equipment called ‘teletype’ machines. It was crucial training. After graduation two of us were assigned to Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.
It was a very powerful military installation. There was a strategic bomber wing, as-well-as a missile wing, and a large component of fighter jet aircraft, in addition to the supply and military transport aircraft. The communications component of this Strategic Air Command, in which we were assigned, was vital to its operation and effectiveness. Two years later we were reassigned to South East Asia, during the Vietnam War, landing in Ubon Thailand. The tough training of our TI’s in basic training once again helped prepare us for our new work assignment. There the communications center, in which we worked, was the link between the states and the combat forces in Viet Nam. Our work was crucial to that communications link. Without that tough initial training in basic and technical training – we may have failed. All things considered, I know we were fortunate to not have served in combat, yet our role in the military was in direct support. Personally, I was and am proud to have served.
What has this got to do with our lesson today? It has everything to do with it. Those Tough Training Instructors were preparing us for crucial work, giving us important skills. With those skills we became part of the larger component, and helped make a difference. Jesus’ message to us this morning is a tough message. As we look at it Jesus was preparing his disciples and all of us, his followers, for the important work of building and maintaining the larger church, The Universal Church of Jesus Christ. Jesus used strong language just like those TI’s, he used tough love! Our Training Instructors loved their country just as much as I have come to love it, thus they pushed us hard – they used tough love. They knew what we needed to learn and pushed us hard to learn it! That’s what tough love is: pushing someone to be all that they can be!
“Then (Jesus) 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. /Matthew 13: 31/ Imagine, if you can, that you have just started working for this brand new firm. You are excited about the charismatic leader of the firm; this is why you have joined. Then in one of his training and motivational speeches he tells you that in order for them to succeed, he is going to need to be sacrificed and resign his position. Then he goes on to tell you, that after a period of time he will re-emerge. Just like the early disciples of Jesus, you would be confused and you would not want to accept this line of thought. In both scenarios, it is hard to grasp the leader’s idea of success into the future.
One can only imagine what a board of Directors would say to a company president that was hired to fix things and turn around the company if that individual said something like this. Surely, they would pull her or him aside and chastise them for such an outrageous suggestion. In our scripture it is Peter who pulls Jesus aside to rebuke, scold and censure him. But, again, Jesus strongly turns right around and lectures Peter. Jesus really pushes on him – telling him off really good! Of all things Jesus refers to Peter as Satan! “But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!” /Matthew 8:33a/ That is pretty strong language! Borders on the kind of harshness the TI’s, the Training Instructors used on us raw recruits!
Jesus was indeed the charismatic, challenging Messiah that was expected to fix things, thus setting people free from their bondage and servitude! Yet, they didn’t get it! Jesus went on to say to Peter and the listening disciples, “for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” /Mark 8: 33b/ When a corporation brings in a new leader to ‘fix things’ and ‘turn the company around’ all levels of management often do ‘fight’ every new idea, thought and suggestion presented to them by this new leader. There is this book I bought early in my ministry that speaks to the point here. It is called “Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers.” /William M. Easum/ The book speaks to how hard it is to let go of the old way of doing things and how hard the fight for control is as someone new suggests doing things differently. Jesus was lovingly but very strongly pushing Peter and the disciples to see things differently.
There is a list of common responses to this type of leadership. Let me share a few, but don’t worry, you will not recognize yourself in these quotes. “We’ve never done it that way before.” “We tried that before and it didn’t work.” “No one does THAT in this church.” “It’s too radical a change for us.” “We’ve been running this church since long before you were born.” “How dare you criticize what we’re doing?” I love this one: “If only it were that easy.” And this one is just a classic: “We don’t do things that way,” and this one: “Who gave you permission to change the rules?” Jesus was very strongly telling Peter and the listening disciples that they would need to let go of their preconceived ideas of how he was going to bring about change!
Let us make no mistake about this: The work I did in the military supports earthly things, earthly power and earthly securities. The works we do for Jesus, for the church of Christ, for this our church and for the United Church of Christ are of spiritual nature. It’s of Godly nature. It’s not of this world. This is the sacred cow that we struggle with. This is what makes it so hard. We have to let go of our preconceived ideas of how we can accomplish the goals of Christ, the goals of God, with the mindset of an earthly being. Just as it is hard for a new recruit to understand the importance of absolute obedience, and following the order of their superiors, and cleanliness, and orderliness, and discipline; it is just as difficult for the newly baptized Christian, the newly committed follower of Christ, to comprehend and fully embrace the spiritual side of life. It’s a discipline where we have to see things from a different point of view. The earthly and material world is “I” centric, the spiritual world is “God” centered. Many of us that protest say “we have never done it this way.” “We’ve always done it the other way.” Christ is saying to us “your preconceived understandings of the Messiah and the way the Messiah would fix the world are ill-conceived, they’re wrong. I’m going to tell you how we got to do it and it won’t be easy.”
When we try to fix it for another person, when we try to make it easy for another person, we don’t always succeed in the ultimate goal, which is: to help them to become able to do it on their own. In order to help them to become a good follower, a good disciple of Christ, sometimes we have to use tough love. We have got to tell him or her, the hard truth: “this is the way it is and it won’t work unless we, unless you do it this new way.” Tough love is when we realize we cannot always fix it for someone else. Tough love is when you let another person “feel the pain” as well as the love. This is how we, this is how they grow. Jesus was using tough love when he said “to follow me you must let go of all else and pick up your cross and follow me.” /Mark 8:32b/ Virtually everyone has someone that they have tried, for the hundredth time, to fix. “Oh please dear, do it for me.” “If only you would try it this way just this once.” “I’ll do it for you this time, but next time you must do it yourself.” When we see someone do this our heart goes out to them, but we know it won’t work! We are all tempted to take the easier softer way, but we cannot, we must not!
Transformation, change, will only come with common trust. We must trust the Spirit of God to lead us. We must trust in each other and we must trust in the fresh new ideas that come to us, as we grow and change. Jesus’ ultimate message to us today comes to us like that of a hardened military Training Instructor, but also with the love of a caring parent. It is called tough love in the Twenty-First Century. We do need to let go of our earthly things, our earthly mentality and avail ourselves to a more spiritual understanding of God and God’s plan for us; for us as a church and for us as individuals.