Sunday, 1 March 2015

Lent, day 10: Sunday sermon - A cross carrying community (lent 2 yr b)

Sermon for Communion Sunday.  
The second in my Lent series  'The kin-dom of heaven: living as God's community'
Last week we explored being a covenanted community; this week we reflect on picking up our cross, and being a cross-carrying community.

1st READING: Romans 4:13-25
2nd READING: Mark 8:27-38

SERMON  ‘A Cross-carrying community’
Let’s pray:
may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our 
hearts be acceptable in your sight, 
O God, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

It was all so upside-down.
Madness.

There’d been miracles:
healings,
the feeding of multitudes.
Surely, surely these were signs
that God was with them.
People everywhere had heard of him -
were speaking of him,
   were speculating about him.
Who was he,
this wandering rabbi
performing wondrous deeds?
‘Who do you say I am?’
he’d asked his closest followers.
And, in a moment of startled insight,
Peter found himself uttering words that generation after generation
had yearned for, had longed for:
‘You     are the Christ.’

Four little words,
weighed down by a myriad of hopes
and expectations,
and chief among these: liberation.
Liberation from illness,
from hunger...
and indeed, Jesus had shown
his credentials there,
but beyond these,
a liberation from the yoke of oppressive empire
that echoed down through centuries
of having been in thrall to other empires:
Egypt
Persia
Babylon,
and latterly, Rome.

‘You are the Christ’ expressed the hope
for a new David -
a deliverer anointed by God
to free the Jewish nation from
the tyranny of Rome,
a deliverer who would visit God’s judgement upon those who would dare to
crush his chosen ones;
 ‘You are the Christ’ came with expectations
of a warrior Messiah,
who would avenge the wrongs done to Israel
and restore Israel to her former glory;
who would resurrect national pride from the gutters of inglorious, humiliating subjugation,
and cause other nations to humble themselves and bow down -
to pay homage.

But...
it was all so upside-down.
Madness.

‘You are the Christ.’
Four little words that are immediately seized upon by Jesus
to teach those closest to him
just what it is to be the Christ.
What follows is plain speaking -
blunt talk.
In no uncertain terms,
the disciples are disabused of any notions
of glory they may have had when thinking of
the nature of Messiahship.
No amazing escape across a miraculously
dried sea-bed,
no joyous return from exile,
no heroic, battle-hardened warrior leading
God’s people to victory over Rome.
Jesus’ description of Messiahship
is completely counter-cultural,
and utterly shocking:
a Messiah rejected -
a Messiah...killed.
And Peter is unnerved by this teaching,
so much so that he pulls Jesus aside
and rebukes him -
because suffering and dying Messiahs
make absolutely no earthly sense at all.
Which is exactly what Jesus picks Peter up on when he says:
‘you do not have in mind the things of God,
but the things of men.’

Quite a turnaround for Peter:
from profound insight to utter confusion.
From ‘you’re the Messiah’ to
‘but not that kind of Messiah!’
But it gets more alarming:
there’s talk of picking up one’s cross -
not only does the Messiah suffer,
so too, do his disciples.
No power, no prestige:
rather, a call to put aside personal gain;
a call to a very different kind of faith -
a faith not built upon material symbols
of earthly success,
but grounded in the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

It was all so upside-down.
Madness.
It    still    is,
in the eyes of the world.
To deny self,
to deny gain, fame,
...to let go of our preconceptions of success
and of what we think a Messiah should be:
to choose, instead, a very different way of being.

But we don’t do it alone -
as followers of the Christ -
as Christ’s body here on earth -
we are called communally to pick up,
and carry our cross -
we are a cross-carrying community.
Nourished, strengthened,
and sustained by the One we follow,
and at whose table we feast,
we are called to give of ourselves - to God -
and to others.
To be real, authentic:
understanding that to be fully human
is to allow ourselves to be vulnerable,
to open ourselves up to the possibility
of pain and of hurt
just as God, in Christ did.
...To follow, in faith,
is to love sacrificially:
love our friends, yes,
but love our enemies as well -
to seek ways of reconciliation.

To pick up one’s cross and follow in faith
is to call out political expediency
which relies on scapegoating those who are the most vulnerable in society
in order to gain votes in a ballot box;
to engage in society,
to question the growing gap between
rich and poor;
to uncover and challenge abuse of power -
on a grand scale -
and, at the domestic level.

To pick up one’s cross,
in the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, is to:
enter ‘into the reality of a child,
of the poor,
of those wearing rags,
of the sick,
of a hovel, ....of a shack.
It is going to share with them.
And from the very heart of misery,
of this situation,
... to say to them,
“You aren’t trash.
You aren’t marginalized.”
It is to say exactly the opposite,
“You    are valuable.
For Romero, picking up his cross
and walking in faith
challenging oppression
and speaking out on behalf of the poor
in El Salvador resulted in his assassination in the middle of worship.

As a cross-carrying community,
we are not called to look the other way
when we see others hurt,
we’re called to get involved,
just as God, through the incarnation,
got involved with the whole human race.

It was all so upside-down.
Madness.
Returning to the conversation between
Jesus and his disciples for a moment:
In the midst of all this odd talk,
this overturning of cherished
definitions of Messiah,
it’s interesting that one quite significant detail appears to get lost:
so shocked are the disciples,
that they seem to miss
what Jesus says immediately after he’s told them that he’ll be rejected, suffer, and be killed:
they miss the bit about
‘and after three days,    rise again’.

As we pick up our crosses,
we discover that in the very act of giving our lives - through sanctified love of God and neighbour -
we discover what it is to truly   live;
that in giving,
we discover that we truly receive.
As we walk towards Jerusalem
over the course of this Lenten season,
nourished and strengthened for the journey
by the bread and wine of communion:
let us pick up our crosses,
walk in faith,
walk with our brother Jesus,
‘in paths of love and justice.’
For this is the way of the
upside-down kin-dom of God -
the community of faith.
Madness, perhaps,
but a life-giving,
love-giving madness
that chooses to give glory to God,
being fully persuaded
that God has the power
to do    what he has promised.
Amen.

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