Sermon September 16, 2018
This past Tuesday, we remembered those who died in the 9-11 disaster. We remembered people who died in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. We remembered those first responders who came immediately to help those who where affected, putting their lives at risk. We remember that first responders are still impacted by their efforts on 9-11. We remembered those who lost loved ones, friends and colleagues.
As I watched the news on Tuesday, one of the television stations aired a segment on Pat Tillman. I am sure you all know that Pat Tillman was a defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals who decided after 9-11 to serve in the military. Tillman died in a battle in 2004 in Afghanistan. We are thankful for his patriotism, his commitment to defend the United States and we are thankful for his sacrifice. I continue to be amazed by his decision to give up a lucrative football career to serve in the military. Clearly, his desire to protect our country was stronger than his joy in playing football and his wish to make money.
As the newscast continued, I watched an interview conducted with Pat Tillman the day after 9-11. You can see in his face and hear in his words the resolve to do something in response to the disaster. Players and coaches on that Cardinals team later would say they knew something significant had changed in Tillman. They could tell by his words and his look. They were not surprised when he left his football career behind him. Here is part of what he said,
"My great-grandfather was in Pearl Harbor and a lot of my family has given up, you know everything, and has gone and fought in wars. And I really haven’t done a damn thing, as far as laying myself on the line like that, and so I have a great deal of respect for those that have, and what the flag stands for.” Pat Tillman showed his resolve and determination that day.
Our lessons for today, remind us that we are called to have dedication and commitment to follow Jesus Christ. We are asked to have resolve. We are asked to stay the course even though our lives may be difficult. We are asked to follow the example that Jesus gave to us.
You may remember that in last week’s readings, I spoke about persistence. The characters mentioned in Scripture were persistent in their prayers to God. It seems to me that this week is a continuation of that sense of determination. Let us be resolved to follow Jesus.
The phrase that most touched me in Isaiah today is the expression, “therefore I have set my face like flint”. Flint, of course, is a hard stone. It was used as a tool, as an arrow by the Native Americans, and it was struck to start a fire. In the image of a person setting a face like flint we understand the determination that individual has. I am reminded of a point in Luke’s gospel where Jesus decided that he must go to Jerusalem, be crucified and rise from the dead. Luke wrote, “Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. Jesus would not be deterred from this path. No one, not even Peter, could keep him from doing what needed to be done.”
In order to understand what this means to us, we return to Scripture. The passage from Isaiah is about a prophet who has heard God’s word. Knowing the word of God helped the prophet to remain steadfast in the Lord. The prophet was not moved by adversaries or temptations. Nor was the prophet changed by punishment or persecution.
I think we are in a similar position. We have heard the word of God. We should remain committed to following God’s word. It does not matter what difficulties we encounter. We may be tempted by sin, tempted by those who would lead us astray. Jesus was punished on the cross. Our punishment may not be physical, but we may be laughed at or teased by people who do not believe. Our call from God may put us in situations where it would be easier to just give in and deny that Jesus Christ is our Lord. That is why we set our face like flint. We will not be held back from our mission.
One of the temptations we face is found in the letter to James. We must be careful in all that we say. For the tongue can be a source of evil in our lives. The tongue is such a small part of our body and yet it can be so powerful. The tongue can be a source of good such as when we declare the glory of God. It can be the source of evil, such as when we gossip about others.
James wrote that the tongue can control the rest of the body. He referred to the bit of a bridle through which a rider controls all the movements of the horse. He wrote about the rudder of a ship which can be small but controls the movements of a massive ocean liner. We must let the small voice we receive from God control our words and actions.
James even warned preachers like me, telling them to be careful in what they say and mindful of God’s word, we can send many off in the wrong direction. Words can be so powerful. Let us use them to worship and praise God, not to separate ourselves from others.
The Gospel reading gives us another example of determination and the risk of temptation. Jesus was testing the Apostles. He asked them, “who do you say that I am?” Peter spoke out and said you are the Messiah! His words were inspirational. He used his tongue for good. Then, Jesus spoke about the suffering and rejection he would experience. Peter must have been horrified. He loved and worshipped Jesus so much that he couldn’t imagine Jesus suffering. Peter decided he couldn’t let it happen. So he chose to argue the point with Jesus. Perhaps Peter spoke too quickly, letting his tongue and his emotions get the best of him. I don’t think Peter heard the most important words that Jesus spoke on that day. For Jesus said that after three days he would rise again. Peter missed the glory, the promise, and the redemption that he would receive when all the events were concluded.
Jesus gives us a great lesson. Jesus knew what he was going to encounter but was resolved to go through with it. Jesus knew that he would suffer in body and in spirit, but he would continue anyway, for the final result would be transforming.
In the sorrow and depths of despair that the United States experienced during the Civil War, after the death of so many soldiers who fought on both sides at the Battle of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln captured the essence of what it means to be committed. He said, “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Lincoln was steadfast in his efforts to save the union. His words guide our nation to this day.
Lincoln was focused on patriotism, love of our country and dedication to live the ideals upon which it was founded. The example that we receive from Pat Tillman and Abraham Lincoln is about dediucation. Today, we seek to apply their ideas on dedication to our love of God and our resolve to live our lives as followers of Jesus.
Our commitment is to be firm in our faith, followers of Jesus. We live to be part of the Jesus Movement. We need to be dedicated for we know that we will have hard times. I don’t expect that we will be persecuted physically even though Christians in other parts of the world face that possibility. Our temptation will come in other ways. We must expect it and be ready to face it. Perhaps our temptations will be like the one Peter faced. We may experience a time when our faith in Jesus, our love of Jesus is so strong that we only want to live in the resurrection. We want to avoid the suffering Jesus experienced in his life and avoid any suffering in our lives that may come from our faith. Let us instead recognize that we may be tried and let us be resolved to remain faithful followers in all we do. Let us be strengthened by the work of Jesus and accept his mercy and love, his forgiveness when we do wrong. And let us remember that if we are resolved to follow Jesus, we receive his promise of eternal life. Amen.
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