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A Good Guide

Updated: Feb 27




“A GOOD GUIDE”

a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.

February 25, 2024


Mark 8:31-37  NRSV

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, 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 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.”


I am worried that my GPS app on my phone is fundamentalist.  It’s not like it’s “his” way or the highway.  It’s his way or no way!  Whenever we go north, as we did this past weekend, we always choose to go by the Sawgrass Expressway.  Just our choice, not the fastest, or cheapest, or whatever Waze thinks I should choose.  For Waze it is his way or no way.  Kind of like fundamentalists.  Even when I get on the Sawgrass he is always trying to redirect me.  I think he wants to save me from myself, like a lot of fundamentalist Christians want to do.  All I want is a good guide to get me where I am going.

In some ways I think God is kind of like a life GPS.  I think that is what faith in God is all about – finding your way on this journey of life with God’s guidance.  As we start this Lenten season, I want to use that metaphor of a GPS, or a map guide, for our journey.  On the altar is a sextant.  It was the old-time sailor’s version of GPS I guess you could say.  Sailors can get to their destination by a variety of ways using a sextant.  I believe fully in a variety of ways or paths to journey faithfully with God.  I don’t believe in an exclusive path.  I don’t believe God demands that we go one certain way in order for God to love us.  I know the Scriptures that our Fundamentalist siblings use to demand “their way or the highway.”  I believe strongly that the way they use those passages is wrong.  But even that isn’t really important to me to spend time on this morning.

         

I want to spend time doing three things.  I want to focus on the meaning of Lent and faith as a journey.  I want to explore what our Scripture reading has to say to us today.  And I want to tie in some of what we are processing in the Living the Questions group.

         

The United Church of Christ had a saying a few years back.  “Faith is a journey, not a guilt trip.”  The point, of course, was that too often people view church, and Christians, as being all about guilt.  Mostly about making others feel guilty.  I think faith is a journey.  God journeys with us along life’s way.  How we understand that relationship is key to our lives.  I believe God’s love and wisdom guides us in every relationship we have in life: human, spiritual, and with creation, too.  In essence every thing in life is about relationships.

         

I also think every relationship challenges us in some way.   Some are almost always a blessing and some are almost always not and some have a fair share of both.  To be honest, I think my relationship with God has had its fair share of both.  I suspect you might be able to say amen to that if you were pushed.


The question is, will we develop our relationship with God?  As we learn to trust God, we will find that even the challenging times in our relationship with God can help us.  This is what I want to invite you to consider on this Lenten journey this year.  How has God been your guide, and how has that challenged you at times, and how has it been a clear blessing at other times?  Ultimately, life and relationships can shock us with unexpected challenges.  But the promise God makes is that God will not abandon us or stop loving us no matter what – not if the circumstances are terrible, or if they are tremendous.  God’s love is greater than the shocking things in life good or bad.

         

The Scripture story is a shocker.  First off, Jesus saying that he had to be rejected, suffer and die would have clearly been a shock to those hearing it.  He was the next Messiah, the next King of Israel in most of their eyes.  God’s King surely wouldn’t be rejected!  Secondly, Peter, disciple number one, has the audacity to “rebuke” Jesus.  That would have been a shocker.  And then of course, Jesus calling Peter, his number one disciple, “Satan,” would have shocked them all.  Shocker number three comes when Jesus challenges anyone who wants to follow him to take up their cross, would have to be willing to lose their lives to save them.  When it comes to guidance for our lives, a GPS for living, Jesus was clearly operating from a different satellite than many were in his day, and really, than many still are today.


Let me say this about all that shocking information.  Partly, the Gospel is telling us Jesus knew what he was facing.  He knew that power did not like to be challenged, and that those in power, politically, religiously, and economically, all have ways of dealing with anyone who challenges them.  And their way of dealing with it is always, always some form of the cross.  Jesus didn’t take up his cross for to glorify himself.  He took it up for all of humanity.  It was an act of compassion for us.  He did not do it for his own salvation, or victory.  Any cross we take up must be based in what we are doing out of love, out of a desire for justice, out of compassion for others.  This is what we give in return for our lives.  The only profit in this life is the relationships we have between ourselves and others and with God. 


Jesus accuses Peter of thinking like humans think rather than like God thinks.  Another way of hearing this is to see Jesus was challenging Peter to set aside his expectations, his priorities for God’s.  I believe he does that with us as well.


Many of the things I have resented or felt were not the blessing I would like them to be are because I have been self-absorbed rather than absorbed by the way of Jesus Christ.  I can be all about what would make me happier.  Even at my best, in conversation with God I’m often more about what I want than seeking what God wants for me in my life’s journey.

         

There are a lot of versions of a saying that illustrates this, but the briefest one goes, “I asked for strength and God gave me difficulties to make me strong.  I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve.  I asked for courage and God gave me dangers to overcome.  I asked for love and God gave me troubled people to help.  My prayers were answered.”  It is helpful to a point to think this way, but it is also problematic in that it assumes God sends us troubles and difficulties.  I think that is more of “thinking like humans than like God.”  I think it is more accurate to say difficulties and problems and dangers and even troubled people are not sent by God but happen because life is about relationships.  And our relationship with ourselves, with others, and with God can bring us challenges.


If Lent is a season to seek to grow spiritually, let me invite us to begin by reflecting on our relationships.  Most of us struggle with the questions we have, the struggles our relationships often bring.  The promise of faith is that God is a good guide for these questions.  God may not shout the answers to us, but in God we find a companion who knows us, loves us, understands us, and wants to help us find the way to life abundant on the journey.  At the same time, God knows there is no abundant life if our relationships are based in selfish, human thinking. 


As we look to Scripture to understand God’s thinking, our Living the Questions series helps us.  It invites us to understand Scripture as the work of humans describing their experience of God.  It often uses symbols and metaphors, poetry and song to describe that.  Jesus used stories we call “parables.”  All these ways are like a window we look through to see God.  The window is not our focus.  The window helps us see beyond our walls to a wider view or vision.  As we listen to Scripture it can help guide our living in relationships. 


I don’t believe Christ asks us to take up a cross or lose our lives simply to suffer.  I hear him asking us to see how relationships with others always require us to sacrifice.  We have to be careful here that we don’t equate that with abuse or unjust suffering.  This is exactly what Christ went to the cross to defeat.  Seeking to give up our way for God’s way is always a challenging thing.  It is a challenge to go where Jesus went.  His words and actions were all pointed toward the relationships we have in our life journey. 


“Thinking like God.”  That seems like the bottom line here.  It may seem impossible – a journey to an unknown and unknowable place.  But what faith is all about is finding a way to trust in a relationship with God, the God Jesus Christ came to reveal.  Jesus didn’t reveal to us a hateful, vindictive, violent God. Jesus affirmed that God wants us to see how to live in relationship with others, with God, and with creation itself.  And that begins when we turn from all selfishness and self-serving actions and seek in every moment to ask how we can build a better relationship with others, ourselves, with all of creation and with God.


Waze may be a good guide most of the time on road journeys.  The journey of life calls for an even higher perspective than that.  This Lenten season, join me in making a commitment to grow in your relationship with God.  Faith tells us God is truly a good guide.  AMEN.

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