Pick Up Your Cross and Follow Me
Lent 2, Year B, 2009
Grace Episcopal Church, Traverse City, Michigan
the Rev. Daniel Richards
Yesterday I spilled my coffee. I got in the car to go to a vestry retreat day and just knocked it over into the floor. I had only had about a third of a cup. No, I had less than that. I just knocked it over! And then I got to the retreat, which was really a lot of work, and all that they had was decaf from a little green plastic thing with a handle, like children's paint comes in. Like you find old crayons in. Then I had to come back here and lead the Saturday evening service. O, man, I tell you I suffered! No body knows the trouble I seen . . .
What does suffering mean? Okay, so there isn't alot of theological meaning to my suffering yesterday. But it was rough. Really.
We live in a culture that doesn't like to suffer. That's why we have dishwashers and leather seats in our automobiles. We will destroy the earth and our own health to not suffer. We spend money to protect our not suffering and to medicate ourselves when our bodies just can't keep up with all the comfort.
We even develop whole theologies around not suffering. I don't know what Bible some evangelists are reading. Today's gospel just blows that crystal sidewalk ten feet above the sidewalk theology out of existence. "Take up your cross and follow me." Everybody wants to be a savior, but nobody wants to die.
What is the covenant context for this statement? What has God promised us that is in the background of this calling to Jerusalem? There are books of the promises of Scripture that are lovely devotional books that help with all sorts of things. The promises included are varied and beautiful, but they never include this little bit. You are going to suffer, o son, o daughter of man! And you might die.
The covenant that Christ offers is that the God of all Creation loves you. That God is mad about you, like a protective mother bear, like a husband loves a wife. That God is at work in you and through you and is bringing about peace and a day of justice when we will all gather at the feast of our Lord.
Our part of the covenant is that we are asked to trust that. It is one of the blurry spots in translation that faith means trust. The word in Greek is far closer to trust than to our theologically loaded faith, and much closer than belief which is a referent to those theological geometry proofs of the Reformation. We got into rationalistic faith that reduced the whole world of metaphor and poetry and story of the Bible to theological statements that are true or not true, the arithmetic of heaven. Too bad really. The beauty of life that imbues the life of love is lost to certainty.
But trust. We are asked to trust the covenant of love in the face of a world that has no patience for love. We are asked to trust that God loves us when our neighbors don't, and to love them anyway.
I was working for a church in San Francisco that hired me to do an evangelical-style contemporary service on Sunday nights while I was in seminary. The service didn't last long, but while doing it, I gave out homework assignments, ala Tyler Durden. But before I would give them out, I would do them myself the week before. So I bought lunch for a lady that I didn't know at Nefeli, this great little Greek cafe where I got coffee everyday. She was not pleased. I think it made her nervous, but it came across as anger. As I sat outside to study, she just bored holes in the back of my head from inside, until she came out to sit across from me, and she said, "You want me to say thank you, but I am not going to, because you need to learn to do things without expecting anything in return." Agh! That no good, ungrateful . . . I could hear God laughing. There were strange atmospheric phenomena that day in the sky, because God was laughing so hard. Here I was trying to set up other people, and God set me up. I wanted to teach, but not to learn.
Jesus is being honest here. If you are going to go out into the world and love your enemies and bless those who curse you and hold out hope for the hopeless and welcome for the stranger, you are going to suffer.
Faith is trusting that it is going to be okay. That there is a love bigger than your present moment. That the truth we serve is written at the heart of creation in the way things really are. It means love in the face of anger and violence, hatred and indifference. I am still learning.
While in San Francisco, I went to hear a converted Buddhist speak about his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He was in a cell next door to a Christian who was taking the worse of the abuse because he was not Buddhist. And this Buddhist kept asking him why he didn't give up. As the prisoner neared death because he was a fighter pilot who would not give up any information he told the speaker, I believe in a God who loves me in Christ, and I believe he loves them too, referring to his captors. That Buddhist sitting in a cell converted to Christianity because as he said, that I trust that Love, and that Love has a name. The other prisoner died, but he passed on that Love with his faithfulness and his unwillingness to curse those who did him harm.
We serve a Love that has a name. And it demands everything in return for Love.