This was the message that I gave at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Bartlett, TN, on 29 August 1993. This was the 12th Sunday after Pentecost but I used Mark 8: 27 – 37 as my Scripture reading and the basis for my message. This was the 7th message I gave in my career and I was still exploring how I was going to do things. I would begin following the common lectionary two years later when I served the churches of the Chattaqua Parish in Kansas (see “Hide and Seek”) and begin using the revised common lectionary when I moved onto Memphis in 1996.
Also, this was still early in the adaptation of technology to preaching, so you will find references to scripture readings instead of the reading itself. The pulpit was very crowded that Sunday as I had my printed notes and my Bible marked with pages to turn to when I needed to read the passage.
Good Shepherd was my mother’s church (hence the references within) and it would become my church when I moved from Kansas to Memphis.
When you read the text upon which this sermon is based, Mark 8: 27 – 28, you begin to wonder how the disciples phrased their answer. I don’t think that the disciples were surprised when people said that Jesus was another of the prophets. Now people are often surprised when they find out that I am Jenny LeBouef’s oldest son.
Now they know of her son Terry, who often plays guitar here at Good Shepherd, and possibly of Tim, a fireman here in Memphis and they know of Tracey, her daughter. But when they find out that she has an third, older son, their response is often “You mean there’s another one!”
I don’t think that the people used the term “another one” in disgust either. The story is often told about an early Methodist circuit rider named Nolley who
“. . . approached a settler unloading his wagon at a new homestead in Mississippi. When Nolley told the settler who he was, the settler exclaimed, ‘Another Methodist preacher! I left Virginia for Georgia to get clear of them. There they got my wife and daughter and I came here and here’s one before I got my wagon unloaded.’
Nolley replied, ‘My friend, if you get to Heaven, you will find Methodist preachers there, and if you go to Hell, I am afraid you will find some there; and you see how it is on earth, so you had better make terms with us and be at peace.'” (E. G. Watts, We Are United Methodists, Graded Press, 1987, page 31)
No, I don’t think it was with disgust either. On the whole, I think that, if you were to have asked people of that time who Jesus was, they probably would have answered “Oh, he’s just another prophet; we’ve heard them before.”
But Jesus wasn’t another prophet. The message he gave was far different from anything the prophets might have said or done. It was also a message never given in the synagogue and it was accompanied by actions which showed there was a power behind the words. Instead of gloom, it was a message of hope and joy and a vision for the future.
That this was an entirely different message is shown by the size of the crowds who came to hear Jesus, as we can read in Matthew 4:23 to 5:1. That this was a different message is also shown by the fact that people broke down age old differences and prejudices to seek out Jesus.
The Canaanite women – Matthew 15: 21 – 28
The women in the crowd – Mark 5: 25 – 34
Zaccaheus, the tax collector – Luke 19: 1 – 5
Today, our church faces a similar challenge. It must find ways to take the Gospel message outside the church walls; it must help those who have turned away to come back to Jesus.
I am speaking primarily of that generation we call the “baby boomers”, adults who during the 60’s turned away from the church and who are now seeking to return. I am also speaking of the children of this generation, known as the “baby busters”, who are now just making their own spiritual decisions. And close behind is another generation, the “baby boomlets”, whose spiritual well-being the church must concern itself with.
We hear and read that, in order to bring these groups into the church fold, the church must change. But too often churches change the message when it is the approach which must change.
The message Jesus gave us is still valid today but it cannot be presented in a language no one understands. The actions supporting the message must also reflect the message. “Boomers” left the church in the early 60’s in larger numbers than any other generation before in part because they no longer trusted the church. The message given by the church offered no hope or peace at a time when the country was torn apart.
The “boomers” went looking for a spiritual home but found a church whose message was as slick and superficial as the society they lived in. If we are not careful, the church today will lose the “busters” and the “boomlets” for the same reasons.
John Wesley understood the need for the church to present a message the people understood. A church blind to the needs of its members or its community cannot do its work. You cannot preach of the power of the Saving Grace of Jesus Christ when people are hungry, homeless, or suppressed by an indifferent society. John Wesley also understood that an individual, having accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior, had the responsibility to show that he had done so. This meant helping the community
Now, English law prevented Wesley and the other early Methodist preachers from preaching in established churches and the law also made it difficult for their followers to build their own churches. This forced the Methodist Revival into the countryside. While this may have been intended to hold the movement down, it had the opposite effect because it took the Gospel message to the people. In taking the Gospel to the people, it became possible to put the Gospel into action.
A church which seeks to grow today, a church which feels the need to do more than exist from Sunday to Sunday must do two things. First, it must offer to all who seek it a chance to enter into that loving relationship with Jesus. Second, it must take its activities beyond the church walls.
Jesus never turned away anyone who sought His ministry. His disciples might have wished that he had ignored the Canaanite women but Jesus told her to come to Him. The scribes and Pharisees surely spoke ill of this man who would dare to eat with Zaccaheus, the tax collector and sinner. But Jesus’ ministry was not limited to a select few; it was open to all.
The Church of England in John Wesley’s time may have turned its back on the poor and lower classes but John Wesley knew that he could not do so.
Those who seek a spiritual home, those who are making that most important spiritual decision are all looking for that loving relationship that the church can provide. Will they find it?
The answer lies not with the pastor but with the people. The same studies that tell the church it must change if it is to grow also tell us that an individual returns to a church a second time if someone other than the pastor greeted them the first time they visited them.
We tell each other that Jesus loves us but do we show that love to others? Do we allow the Grace of Jesus Christ that is in our hearts, that warming of our souls, to be felt by others?
Today Jesus asks us the same questions he asked the disciples on the road to Caesarea Philippi: “But who do YOU say that I am?”
(Mark 8: 29)
Are we prepared to follow Christ as He asked in verses 34 – 38 of Mark 8?
When John the Baptist was in jail, he became concerned over the stories his followers told of this man from Galilee. – a reading from Matthew 11: 2 – 6
Could we respond the same way today?