Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"...take up your cross..." Who me?

To follow is my sermon from Sunday, I post it today because I am continually challenged by the red letter words of Jesus...including, and in particular this week, the whole 'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up ones cross' part.  Who really likes to deny oneself?  (And frankly I fear that too often this passage is used as a way to suppress questions and honest discourse about ones wrestling with everything from suffering to day to day living.) 

After doing some reading this summer and listening to Peter Rollins I approach this passage through  another lens.  I humbly offer and appreciate the opportunity to enter into conversation about the red letter words of Jesus.   (You can hear an interview with Peter Rollins on Homebrewed Christianity by clicking here)



The Gospel of Mark Chapter 8:27-30, 34-35

 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?’  And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’  And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him...

'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."

As we look over the scope of the Gospel of Mark, chapter 8, Jesus feeds 4000 men, women and children - people who would have gone to bed with empty stomachs were it not for his compassion and the miracle of God’s abundance.  It is amazing how 7 loaves and a few small fish were transformed into a feast – a feast fit for a king – or a messiah perhaps?

A few verses later Jesus bantered with the Pharisees who were begging for a sign; 'prove to us that you are the ONE from God'…they hoped, but dared not believe.  They couldn't wrap their minds around the concept because Jesus was going about it all wrong… he didn’t look or act like David did – remember David, the anointed king – the man after God’s own heart – the man who not only killed Goliath the giant but was a man of the sword his entire life? This is the script they were relying on – the way it was supposed to go down – and if the messiah didn't appear according to their preconceived notions, then, well he obviously wasn’t the messiah now was he?

And yet here is Jesus – feeding people, healing the blind, caring for widows and orphans – speaking with gentile women for heaven’s sake AND doing his best to sidestep the very power structures who were put in place to keep the peace… what was he thinking? How was he going to get any traction politically without the right connections?

So with this bit of back story we can see how this morning’s exchange between the disciples and Jesus is really important for us to consider – as people of faith – as people of the cross – as people who live here in Waverly, Iowa in this time and place.

Remember from birth every Jewish boy and girl was told that some day, SOME DAY, the Messiah would come – and the Messiah would rescue them – toss out the oppressors, bring about wide spread institutional changes that would allow for freedom of religion, economic prosperity and safety and security. They KNEW this – it is what the people had YEARNED for, prayed about, sought out for hundreds of years.

Against this backdrop Jesus asks; 'Who do you think I am?'  They responded a bit haphazardly; some say…and they repeated what they had heard.  'But who do YOU say that I am?'  He asked more pointedly – and Peter answered; 'you are the Messiah.'

And then, He does the unthinkable – Jesus says; 'don’t tell anyone…'  Why did he say don't tell anyone?

Perhaps its because they didn’t want to hear it – because they weren’t ready to believe it could be true…because, as Jesus recokoned rightly, he didn’t look like what they thought he should look like…because He knew that  God’s plan for the world wasn’t to live by the sword or by any power structure known to man for that matter – but to live into a life of empowered by God’s love, mercy and grace.

Wow – think about this – and how this kind of thinking impacts us today – here and now - because I don't think we get it even now.  Let me ask you...who do you say Jesus is?  OR, phrased another way - what do you tell people about Jesus when you are outside of church?

We know the rest of the story – we know in our heads that Jesus IS the Messiah – that Jesus is the 2nd person of the Trinity – that Jesus IS our Lord and Savior - but how do we live this out in our hearts, with our hands, and our feet?

I want us to consider that this isn't the only question Jesus was asking.  Perhaps, just perhaps even more important than what we believe is the question HOW do we believe?

For too long we as a society – as a church – have concentrated on what we believe to be true; we champion right thinking for everyone! We have tried to pound it into our heads, into our children, into those people outside our doors.  We have lectured and taught and even, sad to say, guilted people into agreeing with our truth about Jesus – to the point that those who don’t believe ‘rightly’ are tossed out and those who express doubt are silenced and those who are on the fence are scoffed at or scolded until they’re old enough to quit going to church or say they are over it all -and maybe they’ll get back to it some day – and this isn’t new to us.  Peter chastised Jesus, the messiah, for not toeing the line.  What is wrong with this picture?

Jesus was fully aware of the work that he had to do for the sake of the world.  It was part and parcel with the realities of God-with-us – Emmanuel – he HAD to be condemned, tried, convicted, and crucified for the sake of the world – and we don’t really like to think about this – we don't really like to think that an innocent man died for you and I. But he knew that it was necessary to break down the barriers that had for way too long separated us from God.  Why is it that we still don’t live into this precious gift?  Perhaps because we don't understand fully what it all means?  

I would add that its because we don't know HOW to live into the gift, as people given a fresh start, as people given "the freedom to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, repent of our sin.  As people who are given the freedom and power to resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and as people who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, who put our trust in his grace and promise to serve him as Lord in union with the Church."  (We really say all of this whenever we baptize someone - see our Baptism vows beginning on page 33 of the hymnal).

And so I challenge us to consider how our belief functions – does our belief make room for us to live as people who experience the very depth of our humanity…to be more connected to others and be liberated Christ followers in our ordinary day to day lives.  Does our belief structure free us OR does it destroy us? 

Paul writes about this in his letter to the newly forming church in Galatia that people who live as Christ followers are like a tree laden with fruit – and these fruit are a gift of the 3rd person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit… 

Paul wrote:  the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 

The fruit of the Spirit are reminders of our blessings and our blessedness – and encouragement for how we are to live and function as children of God – as disciples of Jesus, the Messiah.

Another way to look at belief vs function - its like two people who have started to get serious about exercise – one is doing it because they are enjoying it – finding satisfaction in their new found activity – and the other is exercising because they are afraid of dying… in other words; are we followers of Jesus because we want to live more fully in the here and now or because we're worried about what will happen in the hereafter if we don't toe the line? 

Now, I want to dig a bit deeper into the whole pick up your cross thing and follow me thing that Jesus says – because this is something I have struggled with for years – I have often pondered what is my cross? Who is my cross? Is it my struggles with those things that burden me? Or perhaps a relationship or two that I have not made peace with? Let us consider this thought… 

Peter couldn't take it when Jesus predicted his death.  He was trying to wrap Jesus up in bubble wrap to protect him from himself – but if he had listened, truly listened, he would have heard Jesus saying that he HAD to die so as to cast aside his identity and those earthly things that labeled him:  Mary’s son, Joseph’s son, carpenter, Nazareth, rabbi, teacher, leader of Peter, James and John… and when he did so, he would clothe himself in our humanity.

And the only way to do this was to pick up the Cross – literally – the cross - for the cross represented a total loss of identity – the Romans were darn good at killing people – and they found that the best way to suppress a people was by killing them, but they didn't have to wipe out an entire town, all they needed to do was do away with a key leader or two with the most gruesome way to die, on the cross.
For when one was nailed to the cross one was stripped naked, no longer Greek or Jew, slave or free, man or woman – just bare humanity – and Jesus, on the cross – while his humanity was bared, His divinity was also exposed.

Just as Christ lost his identity on the cross, in a scary very real way we are invited to do the same – to shed the stuff of this world that we hide behind – that we use to define us – and identify with our deepest identity!  We are created in God's image, you and I.  We are beloved of God…His beautiful child... bearer of God’s light and love into the world…how awesome is this?!

Kinda scary if you think about it – for this involves heart knowledge, and I fear we don't do this very well.  And yet if we consider taking up our cross to be embracing our true humanity and that part of the divine that is within us - see how this is so liberating?

God is not found in running from the world, running from our fears, running our enemies, running from our jobs, our addictions, our relationships.  God is found in facing the crosses that are before us – confronting the realities of life – the good the bad and yes, even the ugly.  I know its hard to do so, but when we do so – when we authentically embrace life then we are able to plumb the depths of our humanity and then we are able to be closer to God.  

When we pick up our crosses we see God in the ordinary when we embrace the ordinary messiness, yes, even our doubts we are actually given a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.

So let it go – to use the old cliché  – 'let go and let God' – let go of needing to be in the know – of worrying about right thinking – and live as someone who trusts God to set the course – as someone who is more interested in how to live as a Christ follower than as a person who is doing everything just right…because this often prevents us from living into the very light of God! 

Let it go and own the beautiful, fragile messy places of your life - fully anticipating that God will show up.

And allow the fruit of the very Spirit of God to be your guide - the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

In the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks you for this inspirational post! I really liked the part about letting go the need to be in the know. I have shared this post with some close friends.