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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Repent-ish: Part 2

"Repent-ish: Part 2"

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Mark 8:31-38


Does anyone else lie awake at night worrying about the future?  

Glad to know I'm not alone.  

I've never been to a fortune teller or a psychic.  

I've thought about it.  

I might do it.  

I can't predict.

It would be good to know what's coming – in the future.


If only…

If only… we could see the winning Powerball numbers.

If only… we could know when a car's going to pull out in front of us.

If only… we could reliably foresee the trajectory of our decisions.


We try.

We make educated guesses.

Sometimes, we're right.

Sometimes we get to say, "I told you so."

(That's always fun.)

But most of the time, there's just no telling what's around the corner.



Both the scriptures today are about predicting the future.


God taps the divine finger on Abram and Sarai, gives them new identities, and sends them off with the prediction, nay, the promise, that at ages 99 and 90 – they're going to be parents – Surprise! – parents of multitudes.  

At their age, is this GOOD news?

Or is it a sign of great suffering to come?

As it turns out, pretty much both.

That's their future.


And then in the New Testament Lesson, Jesus tells his disciples that he's going to undergo great suffering, rejection, and murder – and then in three days rise again.

Is this BAD news? GOOD news? Both?

That's his future.


In both scriptures, God is predicting the future.

God's future is GOOD news. But there's BAD news, too.

You can't make a new covenant without breaking up with the old one.

You can't get to Resurrection without the cross.

Good news. Bad news.



And, when God is involved, weird news.

In both these scriptures, God is predicting futures that – frankly – don't make sense.

Two elderly nobodies are going to become parents of nations.

The Messiah, the chosen One of God, is going to do what?

"God forbid!" Says St. Peter.


Now, I know.

People will quote Mark 10:27: "With God all things are possible."

I've seen that embroidered on pillows.

It's a soft, warm place to lay your head.

We forget that on the cool side of the pillow, you turn over what he says about God's possibility, one sentence before, Jesus also says of a rich man who can't sell what he has and give it to the poor – he says, "For him, that's IM-possible."

Good news. Bad news.


It may be that for God all things ARE possible.

But it's also true that for human beings – as we know – SOME things are highly unlikely.


We can be a very UN-predictable species.  

WE can be weird news.

We can act out of character.

We can go off on a whim, chasing after God in some foreign country, like Abraham and Sarah.

We can run off, go off, without warning – chasing after God knows what.

It happens.


But, on the other hand, we are also very, very, very predictable.

We love being normal.

High, holy people – and low, unholy people, too – don't like people who rock the boat.

You mess with the system, the system's going to mess with you.

Completely predictable.

So, when Jesus says he's going to undergo suffering, rejection, and death – it's not that far-fetched.


But that in three days rising, thing… that's just weird.

And Peter tells him so.


The Bible teaches us, again and again, that the one thing we CAN predict about God's future, is that it's going to be UN-predictable.



There's an old saying: "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans."

That goes both ways.

In the Bible, if God wants to make people laugh, or scratch their heads, or say, "No way!" God tells them the plans.


In Genesis 18, when God tells Abraham and Sarah the plans for their future, 90 year-old Sarah laughs in God's face.

In one of the funnier moments in the Bible, in Genesis 18:15, God says, "Sarah, did you just laugh at me?"

And Sarah says, "I did not."

And God says, "Oh, yes you did."


In Mark 8:31-33, rebuk-y Peter gets rebuked back.  

It's not funny in a ha-ha way.

But it is ironic.

The one who tells Jesus to stop talking that way gets taken to the woodshed for talking that way.


In both episodes – Sarah and Peter – the one who tries to out-predict the predictions of God is the butt of the joke, the brunt of the rebuke.  


Jesus says to Peter, rather harshly, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."


And then Jesus starts predicting weird things.  


He says,  


"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." (8:34-35).


Jesus is making another prediction, here. Maybe a promise. Maybe both.


Now, obviously, we don't read this passage literally.  

None of us carry wooden crosses on our shoulders.

None of us are trying to get into heaven through the glories of martyrdom.  


There's an interesting parallel, though, to the story of Abraham and Sarah.

The first thing – the first thing – God does when making this promise, this prediction to them – is to change their names.

You can look at this literally. Some do.

Abram means, "Exalted father."  

Abraham means, "Father of multitudes."

Sarai means, "MY lady" or "My princess."  

Sarah means, "Lady or Princess OF ALL."


I'm not now nor have I ever been in the Witness Protection Program.

From what I hear, the FIRST thing they do is give you a new name, a brand-new identity.


Jesus – in what he says – more figuratively than literally – is that when anyone chooses to be his follower, they lose their life – they lose their OLD identity (put it on a cross) – and take on a new life, a NEW identity.


Your name will probably stay the same, but God predicts, God promises, that as a follower of Christ, you WILL be a different person.

You WILL see and be seen by the world differently than before.


What that means, precisely, to you and to your life – is hard to predict.

Maybe it means you stop trying to be first.

Maybe it means you come to the church on Wednesday mornings to pass out food.

Maybe it means you stop rebuking people for not living up to your expectations.


One thing living in the Spirit of Christ sure does mean is that there will be GOOD news.

And there will be BAD news.

Because that's the way the world works.

That's the way people are, even those who follow Jesus.

There will be times when – like Peter – we hear Jesus whispering – or yelling – at us, "Get thee behind me, Satan!"  

He doesn't mean it literally.

Peter wasn't Satan, and neither are you.

But you will mess up.  

That's predictable, for sure.


I don't think we get in Jesus's way because we don't believe.

I think we get in Jesus's way because the things God does are so unbelievable.  

Things like super-senior citizens becoming parents of multitudes.

Things like a crucified man being seated at the right hand of God.

That's some strange stuff.

Stuff that nobody in their right mind could ever have predicted.



Some night, later this week, I predict – mmmm, I predict…

I'll be lying awake at 3am.

Probably turning on a David Attenborough nature documentary because they always put me to sleep.

Take my word for this and please don't call me at 3am to verify.  

Put that thought behind thee, Satan.


And in that time between sleeps, I WILL be thinking about the future.

I might also be re-thinking something I did or should have done in the past, but that's a different sermon.

I'll be worrying about the future and wishing I could see what's coming.

Maybe you'll do that, too.

But I know.


I know:  


There will be good. And there will be bad.

But more than that pedantic prediction, I know  

I can rest my head  

knowing that through the miraculous weirdness of the Holy Spirit,  

God will do things my wildest dreams could never imagine.


Just like God did with Abraham and Sarah, and Peter, and Jesus.  

And you.