A few of you have asked for a copy of last Sunday's sermon. I don't normally post my sermons. Partly because there is usually interaction during my preaching--so posting what I've written wouldn't really give the whole sermon. But this week was different in that I just preached. I threw out the first edition of this one on Saturday afternoon (ouch). Thankfully, a conversation with Nadia Bolz-Weber moved this one into a different direction. So, thanks for that, Nadia. Humble Walk Lutheran Church
Sunday, March 4, 2012 (Lent 2)
Mark 8: 27-37
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.
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. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 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." 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. 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
Take up your cross and follow. Lose your life.
I suspect that what you might hear in this invitation is “blah blah blah.” Or blah blah church blah blah nice idea blah blah.
Aside from that rather graphic movie by Mel Gibson a while back, we have domesticated the cross. When you see it in Precious Moments figurines, it's hard to think about it as an instrument of torture designed by the Persians. Let's pause there. Think about how the Persians came up with this design. Giant instrument of torture think tank? Trial and error? A night of hard drinking and creative brainstorming?
In any case, the Romans were mighty happy with the Persian's crafty design of the cross and adopted it's use to torture political criminals. Which, you know, when you think about Jesus dying as a political criminal on a device used for political criminals—it's sort of hard to make the argument that you can separate faith and politics.
In any case, back to the Precious Moments.
So,we have this cross. And Jesus tells the disciples to pick theirs up and follow. Not quite the sexy discipleship training program they were looking for. For these poor disciples, this would have been a terribly ridiculous, offensive, unimaginable symbol of discipleship. They likely looked at Jesus like he had lost his mind. (Like us hearing, “Pick up your electric chair and follow.” Or “Take up those lethal injections and follow me.”)
It is also just a bit of anti-common sense: those who wish to save their life, must lose it.
And here is where I actually get stuck as a preacher. The whole Gospel today is nearly everything I hang my theological hat on. It's the bread and butter of my faith life. It's why I even try and follow Jesus.
So, you would think that would make for an easy sermon. But, it's actually feels impossible. Because this isn't one I can teach. Or maybe even preach.
I for sure can't make you believe it.
AND we have to recognize the real baggage around this Gospel. The church has used this passage in terrible ways...with messages like: We'd like you to take up your cross as soon as you are not so gay. Or losing your life for my sake means quietly suffering abuse at home. I can tell you with certainty that the Jesus that spent the first seven chapters of this Gospel alleviating suffering and cross boundaries would never make those claims.
So, what DO we do with this Gospel? Losing lives, saving lives. I can't tell you what this Gospel means in your life. I can tell you what I see...what I have experienced.
It is about death and resurrection. It is dying and rising. It is Jesus meeting you in the most broken places. You can't get any more broken than the cross. And this is where Jesus finds us. And then he says, go on, pick it up. This is where you will meet others, too.
When you are suffering. When you are an emotional wet bag of groceries.
It is the moment that you realize that you cannot by your own strength get sober.
It is the moment you realize that you cannot get out of an emotionally abusive relationship on your own.
It is those twenty minutes last week when you weren't thinking about yourself and how freeing that was.
It is when you are so overcome with grief that you feel like you can't get out of bed.
It is when you feel stuck at work, or feel all alone at recess, or like your parents couldn't possibly begin to understand you.
Or when your nephew is diagnosed with Autism. Or you see your parents slowly moving toward Alzheimer's.
Or your most important relationship has slowly and painfully dissolved.
It's in all of these places that God shows up. In the most (f-ed up) painful places.
And we may be disappointed to find this out. At first. Because perhaps we'd rather have a God that fixed everything rather than just showing up. And we realize that God revealed in Jesus isn't maybe the God we want...but it's the God we desperately need. Maybe God enters here—in our places of need—because it's at these moments when we usually realize we can't do it on our own. We actually can't pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. The illusions of self-sufficiency have faded.
God leaves heaven to enter our hell; God abandons strength -- so that God can join us, hold onto us, and love and redeem us at our places of weakness.
Perhaps this what Jesus meant by saying that those who want to save their life.
This is death and resurrection. Bread and butter Gospel Good News. Because it means we all get to begin again. And the starting over point is Jesus entering in and finding us in our mess. Showing up. THIS beginning is near.