A New Beginning: A New Service
Mark 8:27-38, Proverbs 1:20-33

A church was looking for a new minister, and the selection committee finally recommended a young man just out of seminary. Many of the older church members protested that a more experienced minister would have been preferable. Committee members responded with the argument that a younger minister might breathe some fresh life into the congregation. At the end of the meeting a member of board commented to an older man that this marked the beginning of better things for the church. “Yes,” he said with a wry smile. “Moving on to greener pastors.”

In some ways I feel we are living this story. I am fresh out of seminary, newly ordained just 3 months ago, and now we are starting afresh here. So the question is, “What is going to happen?” I know some of you are thinking I’ll bring in lots of new ideas, and you might even be looking forward to it. I’m sure some of you are thinking I’ll bring in lots of new ideas and dreading the thought.

I confess that maybe I do have a few ideas. I confess that if I were to create my own ideal church, it might look different than what we in the United Church of Canada are used to seeing. But I am not here to create my own ideal church. I’m not here to help you create your own ideal church either. WE are here to help create God’s ideal church in this community. Together, we will work to discern God’s call for Carman United Church, in the community of Sydney Mines.

There are a couple things to look at in our reading from Mark this morning. The first is Jesus’ response to Peter’s exclamation about who Jesus is. Peter has just made a great proclamation. He has correctly identified who Jesus is. “You are the Messiah,” he says. Does Jesus praise him for figuring this out? No… he sternly orders all the disciples to keep it quiet. Why? It’s not time yet. Jesus still has much work to do, and people need to figure out for themselves. They need to witness Jesus Christ in action, they need to decide for themselves who Jesus Christ is. They need to hear his teachings, they need to be touched by him, they need to make their own public proclamation that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God, Lord of all. We need to figure it out for ourselves. We need to let the living Christ into our hearts and touch us as he has touched so many people around the world for generations and generations, revealing himself as Christ the Lord. The Saviour of all mankind.

Jesus goes on preaching publicly about what is going to happen to him. The suffering, rejection, death and resurrection. Peter pulls Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him, telling him this can’t happen, it must not happen.

Jesus again gets upset. “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Jesus accuses Peter of looking at his own needs. Peter wants Jesus to stay, and tries to talk him out of it. Trying to make Jesus turn away from God’s plan on healing the world. Saving it from the sinful state it finds itself in.

Why call him Satan? Think back to the start of Jesus’ ministry. Back to after his baptism when he goes into the wilderness for 40 days. In the hot, dry desert. In the end, Satan comes and tempts him with riches and power. Satan attempts to pull Jesus away from God’s plan in the very beginning. Here, Jesus sees Peter as being used in a similar manner, as the end comes closer, as God’s plan progresses towards its goal, Satan is trying to turn him away.

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 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.”

Here are the words which are key. These are the words which speak distinctly about what being a disciple is all about. This is the “new beginning” I want to address this week. Last week, I spoke about the new “law”. About how it’s not about how we dress, who we hang out with or what we eat, it’s about relationships and caring for one another in all circumstances. Jesus showed us what it looked like to follow the laws, and it wasn’t very pretty. People were shunned and ignored. Instead Jesus wants us to reach out and help all people. Here, this week, we learn about the consequences of such a decision to follow his lead.

Deny yourself and follow him. Lose your life to save it. Deny yourself? Lose your life? What does this mean?

This is where we begin to see what Jesus is doing. The core of his teaching. If any of us tried to do what Jesus did for three years straight, we would have given up a long time ago. Jesus could have easily said, “This is hard work, and no one appreciates what I am trying to do here. I’m going to do something for myself for a change.” But he didn’t. He didn’t walk away, he stayed. He followed the plan God laid out for him. They plan they created to save the world. He didn’t seek riches or personal gain, he gave himself to the mission of God in the world.

How does this translate for us today? Should we all go out and quit our jobs so we can live a life in service to God? No, that’s not what we’re hearing today. What we can be expected to do is to seek God’s plan in the places we find ourselves.

Desmond Tutu told a young man one day a way in which we can see where God needs us to serve. The Newspaper. Tutu called it God’s “to do list.” And it’s a perfect example. It even breaks it down into simple categories. Are you interested in local issues? Well, turn to the first few pages. Provincial, national? They follow in the next couple sections. What about international issues? Well, that’s in there too! It’s all in there, black and white. It is a perfect little package in which we can see the pain and suffering in the world, all in one place.

Let’s look for a moment at our reading from Proverbs. “Wisdom cries out in the street, in the squares she raises her voice.” Wisdom, God’s Spirit calls out to us from all places, “Look at me! Here I am! Join me!” And no one listens.

My friends, are we listening? Are we hearing the cry of God’s people? Are we building relationships, or are we trapped by our traditions and laws we’ve created to protect ourselves?

Jesus Christ took the hard road. He faced suffering head-on. He went where no one else was willing to go to heal people, and share the message of God’s love, shown through his own actions. Jesus did not go out into the streets handing out invitations to join him on Sunday. Jesus helped people where they were. He worked without walls. He worked without care about how others saw or thought of him. He just showed love and compassion. And he taught them about God’s way. He taught them the reason why he was doing this.

Take up your cross and follow me.”

I want to revisit something I said earlier. What am I here to do? I am here to work with you about how we can show God’s love as fully as possible. I believe that our streets are crying out to us. The people of Sydney Mines and the surrounding area are crying out to us.

What are they crying?

When kids go back to school, what’s the popular question. “How did you spend your summer vacation?” Well, I spent my first couple months here getting a feel for this town and its people. Listening to the people in the streets, seeing what is happening in the news. Getting to know people at community events, like the Johnny Miles Festival and Bartown Days.

I ask you, what cries do you hear? What are the needs of the people of Sydney Mines? What are the needs of your workplace? Your street? Your home? Your soul?

I know for some of you, the last few years have been hard. You might be beaten up spiritually, you might be tired, and you need a rest. That’s okay. We have all been there. At some point, we have to ask ourselves, “am I ready? Am I ready to make Jesus Christ the central focal point in my life?”

I’ve been told that this once was a very active church in this community, but things aren’t quite what they used to be. No doubt numbers have had a lot to do with it. Fewer people, some who have moved away, and members who might not be quite as young as they used to be, all this makes a difference.

So here’s one of my ideas. Let’s start small. I want to hear the cries from our streets. I know to know some places where God is calling from. I may not be in the office quite as much for the first part of this week. I am going to be out trying to talk to people. I am going to ask “What can the church do?” I am going to start at our schools, the places our young families take their children. I want to talk to our government leaders, which may take a while. And I would like you to join me in this quest. You don’t have to talk to anyone in particular. But look around the town, and as you do, ask “Is there someway we can help?” Even if you are just asking yourself.

It’s not about us. It’s not about our building. It’s about following Jesus Christ. The Jesus Christ who saves lives. The Jesus Christ who gave up his life on a wooden cross on calvary. Why? So that we might live. I’ve heard so many stories of lives changed by coming to faith in Jesus Christ. People who turn away from selfish needs and submitting to the loving guidance of a God who loves us more than we can ever imagine. A God who says “come to me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest.”

I invite you to share with me your stories. I want you to share with me your insights to the question, “Is there someway we can help?” You’ve all lived here much longer than I have, you’ve seen and known more about the people who live here and the struggles they face. I know this is a great town to live in. I also know that it faces problems. Two doors down from me this summer a man was stabbed in his front yard.

Take up your cross and follow me” Is there someway we can help?

If you see places where we might be able to help, please call me and I would love to talk about it with you. Has God placed something on your heart? I want to hear about it. We can’t do everything, but I think we owe it to the community in which we live to at least begin to see where there is need. We need to see where we might be able to start. Where we might be able to share the great blessings and gifts we have with those who are in need. Those who need to know the love of God in order to find healing and fulfillment. Together we can make a difference in this community, however we feel God is calling us to serve.

This is a new beginning, a new chance to make a difference in the lives of the people of Sydney Mines, including our own.