A Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Madison
September 19, 2021
Mark 9:30-37

“Jesus was teaching his disciples and telling them, “the Son of Man will be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise again.” But they did not understand this statement and were afraid to ask him.

Hold onto that story for a moment, because I want to take us in a different direction. Now some of you have been in the church a long time, and some of you are new. But for the sake of everyone, I want to pull back the curtain a little bit on this whole church thing, because some of us may not know and some of us need to be reminded – after all we are a people prone to forgetting. 

So here it goes. This is what we are about. This is what we cling to:
That we were created by, in, for and out of love. That love, God, created and cares for all that is.
That in the end love wins. Death and evil do not get the final say.
And that what seems like an end is only the beginning.
That in time all things will be healed; all will be made whole; all will be redeemed. 
Nothing is beyond the reach of God’s grace and mercy. 

And frankly, as beautiful as that is, it is downright hard, and occasionally impossible to believe. After all, have you lived in this world? A quick watch of the evening news will reveal that nearly everything in our lived experience screams against such ideas. 

And we know it’s hard to trust something that runs contrary to our reality. 
We know it’s hard to believe something you’ve never seen. 

I think of the youth I used to work with in Milwaukee’s central city. Try telling them they can go to college. Yeah right, no one from the 53206 goes to college

I can tell you as a girl who grew up in a church where women weren’t allowed to preach or teach adult Bible study, it wasn’t until my 20’s that I considered that I could become a pastor. And it wasn’t until my 30’s, after having worked with a female priest, that I believed in my bones and in my heart that I could be a priest. 

No matter how lovely, how grand, how well articulated a vision might be, it’s hard to believe something we’ve never seen – something that has no legs in our reality.

In  our gospel reading today, Jesus plainly and directly lays out a roadmap for his disciples.
He gives them the playbook for all that is about to go down. 

…the Son of Man will be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise again.

Now this isn’t the first time they’ve heard this. You might remember in last week’s reading, Jesus told them this exact thing. And you might recall that it wasn’t received well. Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, pulls him aside and corrects him. In response we get those seemingly hard and necessary words of Christ, “Get behind me Satan.” 

It’s hard to blame Peter in that situation. 
Afterall, Messiahs aren’t meant to die. 
People don’t come back from the dead.

It’s no wonder the disciples didn’t understand Jesus’ statement, that they didn’t ask questions.
It’s not surprising that they were afraid. 

It’s hard to believe in something you’ve never seen. 
It’s hard to trust something you experience screams against.

So it should be no surprise that the disciples turn to a safe topic: power. Who is going to be the top dog?

And yet, we know, with hindsight, that the disciples don’t stay in that spot of shock, disbelief and uncertainty.
History tells us so.
Our being here today tells us so.

You see, Jesus’ words actually become reality. 
He is killed. He does rise from the dead. 
Their fear is conquered. Death is swallowed up.
He is the Messiah, the Savior they hoped for.

And while I wasn’t there that day Jesus emerged from the grave, I’ve seen resurrection.
I have seen life come out of death.
I’ve seen what seems to be an end, turn out to be a beginning.
I’ve seen fresh air breathed into suffocated lungs when they discover that they are loved, that they are enough.
I’ve seen broken relationships healed. Unthinkable forgiveness.
I witnessed the transformational power of incomprehensible grace.
I’ve seen faith give birth to love and hope in the most hopeless and broken places. 

Sure, it’s rarely that straightforward, linear, and easy to see. 
Anyone who has walked through grief, parenting or middle school can tell you that.

And yet, somehow, embedded in it all is this heartbeat of death, resurrection;
death, life; 
death, resurrection.  

Sometimes I see it; sometimes I trust it; and sometimes I can only hope for it.  

This belief in death and the resurrection that follows leads us to mutter unthinkable phrases,
like in a moment when we gather around the table and declare,
Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.
Or those words spoken at our burial service, 
even at the grave we make our song: alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Friends, what have you witnessed? Where have you seen resurrection?

We know it’s hard to believe, to imagine, something you’ve never seen,
so for those of us who have seen resurrection, speaking resurrection is our work.
Peter’s first letter names it as giving voice to the hope within you.1
Poet, Wendell Berry famously called it practicing resurrection.2
Jesus exemplifies it when he tells his disciples that it’s in the lowest and vulnerable of places – in a greasy, dirt-covered child – that they will see God.3
The disciples live it as they partner with God to speak and practice God’s healing mission in the world; as they discover their fear has been overwhelmed by hope.

It’s hard to believe in a reality you can’t imagine. 
And yet that is what we are called to bear witness to.

It requires that we know the story that has been laid before us.
Just like Jesus does for the disciples, we have a playbook. 
Scripture gives us a pretty clear picture of God’s mission in the world.

It requires that we name the places where we’ve seen resurrection, 
AND do not shy away from the places where it feels absent.

It requires that we remind ourselves of that rhythm of death and resurrection, and sing it for others and each other when we’ve lost the tune.

It requires that we not only practice, but speak resurrection – giving voice to the hope we have found.

And in doing so, we partner with God in making the unbelievable, believable. 
Both for each other and for the world.


  1. 1 Peter 3:15
  2. Wendell Berry’s Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.
  3. Mark 9:37