Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters,[d] this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
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[c] 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.”
Sermon. September 12, 2021
Rev. John Steitz
As we prepare to gather in the Sanctuary for worship after eighteen (18) months of a still raging pandemic, we reflect on why we gather as followers of Jesus Christ.
Like Peter, we affirm that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. Like Peter, we don’t want to hear that this involves suffering, and even defeat.
We want triumph and glory. Or at least a confirmation that we can live comfortable lives. Confirmation that the church will be here when we need it to be. Confirmation that things will soon return to the way they were before the pandemic.
Yet, in this passage Jesus calls his disciples to follow him. And following him does not lead to comfort. Following Jesus means to deny ourselves and to take up our cross.
What cross are we to follow in this age? Are we willing to carry it?
One cross that we all carry is the impact of the pandemic on our lives, on our families, on the world. We are learning how to adapt to a new reality.
Just as it is not possible to be a follower of Christ and avoid the cross, it is not possible to live today and avoid the realities and ongoing consequences of this pandemic age. For an all too brief moment at the beginning of the summer I had great hope that by the fall things would be able to return to the “normal” we knew before.
The pandemic has completely transformed what it means to be the church. Before we would gather on Sunday, hold Sunday school, a worship service, and then a coffee hour. Those on boards would meet on occasion and the pastor would be alerted to offer care to those in need. But for many church goers it was the act of going to church every Sunday that constituted what church was all about.
Then suddenly we were not able to gather safely. Would it be possible to continue to be the church without being able to gather together?
What we learned is that much of the life of the church is able to continue, and in some ways can be done very effectively by connecting remotely. I’m not saying that this is the most ideal situation, but carrying the cross of the pandemic has helped us grow as disciples of Jesus.
As we prepare to gather in-person in the Sanctuary I am filled with great hope, but it is a different kind of hope than I had at the beginning of the summer. It is a hope based on concrete ways that we have continued to be the church throughout the pandemic.
The Prayer Circle gives me hope. After meeting daily for the first ten months, this now meets three times a week. The Prayer Circle was a key way that some of us stayed connected across distance and across the months. People grew spiritually. We lifted many people up in prayer. Without the cross of the pandemic I doubt such a group would have met so frequently and might not have grown so close.
The online Sunday School gives me hope. There is a sustained weekly attendance of about ten, whereas before the pandemic the Sunday school averaged two children each week. Moreover, there are three children who participate from a distance. Therefore, the Sunday school is now reaching five times as many children online as before when it was in-person. And nearly a third of the children live too far away to participate in-person. Without the cross of the pandemic we would not be reaching as many children.
The Transition Committee gives me hope. This has been a very long process, especially for those on this committee. Some congregations divide the work they have done into three committees, one for the goodbye to the previous pastor, a second to select an interim, and a third to work on the profile. The Transition committee persisted through the multiple challenges and is nearing completion of its work. The cross of the pandemic slowed the work of the Transition committee, and forced the committee to do things quite differently than we would have had we been able to gather in-person. Yet the committee persisted and the work is getting done.
The Church Profile gives me hope. This document plays an important role in the search process for a settled pastor. It is a mission document and a spiritual document on who we are as a faith community. The profile helps us discern where God is calling us as we move into the future.
The Core Values of UCC Norwich – Spiritually Alive, Neighborhood Engagement, Making Disciples, and Loving Church Family – grew out of the work that was done on the profile. The Welcoming Diversity section will give a strong grounding for living into the UCC Just World Covenants.
It was clear that the cross of the pandemic was transforming us as a faith community and the church profile reflects this. It is a snapshot of who we are and where we are right now going as we journey through the ongoing pandemic.
The Open and Affirming group gives me hope. Very soon after we agreed that ONA would be the focus of our community engagement ministry everything shutdown. Yet the ONA team persisted and developed an online program to reach local youth. This fall the ONA youth group and an ONA community group will gather in-person once a month.
The Rainbow Mondays online campaign grew out of our ONA group. There were weeks that I wondered how much of an impact this might really have. Now the diversity and inclusion office at a local college is promoting Rainbow Mondays on their campus. And diversity and inclusion offices at other colleges are being contacted to participate.
The cross of the pandemic required that we organize online. We reached local youth and had a positive impact on several young lives.
Now there will be college students impacted by our work for LGBTQ+ inclusion beyond Norwich.
Finally, the Livestreaming group gives me hope. We are getting all the equipment in place and learning how to integrate this into our live in-person worship service.
Once this is all in place people will be able to join us both in-person and online as we gather to give God thanks and praise. Those unable to attend in-person on any given Sunday will still have an opportunity to join in worship.
The cross of the pandemic required that we shift to a weekly worship video. This gave people an opportunity to join worship from their homes, and this will continue through the Livestream service. The pandemic has not and will not stop us from worshipping God!
Just as the online Sunday school and the Rainbow Mondays online campaign reach new people we would not otherwise reach in-person, there is a potential that the online Livestreaming service will do the same.
There is no way around the cross for followers of Jesus Christ. There is no way around the pandemic. Yet by carrying the cross of the pandemic we have kept the faith and grown as disciples of Jesus Christ.