Sunday’s Sermon on Saturday Night – Embracing the Cross

Jesus gives four commandments in tomorrow’s gospel:  “Get behind me,” and “If anyone wants to be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” [I have modified them from a strict translation to make the point.]  Take away the Satan bit for a second.  I am all for it, and think there is much to learn there, but right now Jesus is making a point, let’s follow him.

Get behind me.  How often do we get out in front of God or Jesus, deciding what we know God should do: for us with us and for the world and other people?  How do we get behind Jesus?  You can’t follow someone you are leading.  This is Discipleship 101.  Get behind Jesus and listen to him.  Follow his teachings and follow his directions.  Seems like that would be pretty much what being a disciple is, but we don’t always do that.  I once heard a priest say that Jesus didn’t want him to give up his Mercedes.  It was a foolish comment in a sermon, meant in jest I hoped, yet over the next three years, he lost everything and became a much better priest and human being.  He got behind Jesus.

Take up your cross.  What is your cross?  We often allegorize this saying to death.  We translate it to mean that our cross is our little brother Timmy or weight gain or bad credit or cancer.  Jesus does not mean any of this.  You may have to go through it, but it isn’t what he seems to mean here.  Get behind him, again.

What has he told us to do?  Love our neighbor.  Love our enemies.  Serve our brothers and sisters.  Love knowing we won’t get loved back.  Love knowing the cost.  Forgive others.  We are to take up the cross of salvation, the world’s salvation.  We are to suffer and even be willing to die for other people and the sake of the world.  That is taking up the cross.  To be a full human being is to suffer and to die.  And being a human being is what literally being a Son of Humanity means.

Embrace the Suck.  This little phrase, that I have written about on this blog, is really key here.  To do anything great, you have to embrace the work that is required.  So many of us want to be Christian, a Jesus follower, a good person, but we don’t want to face the work that requires.  Jesus saves us by grace.  He died for us before we even knew what was going on, while we were still sinners, as Paul says.  But we are called now into his new covenant to be his body and to be the bearers of the Holy Spirit like Jesus replaced the temple.  We are to be the people of his forgiveness, grace, and healing.  And that sucks.  Really it does. Yes, his yoke is easier than the nitpicky rules and death-dealing score-keeping of religion.  But it is also a much more tremendous demand of our very selves.

Deny yourself.  How do you define your self?  I am a lot of things, none of which is me, and yet all of which are somewhat me.  I have this persona, these hobbies, this sweater, this watch, these kids, this church, this wife, this cool reclaimed English hardwood table, and a rich devotional life, an old Bible.  Whatever we define ourselves by, we have to deny.  In Jesus’ day your self was your social and familial identities.  Deny those.  These days we are more shallow.  Deny all that.  Give away the watch, paint the table, and define your self first and foremost as God’s child.  Start in prayer and remembrance.  Find some places in your life to give things up and learn how to pray with open hands.  Lent is a good time for this.

Embrace the call of the radical love and discipline it demands, and follow Jesus.  We know where that road leads, and I am a little bit terrified.  But it is also my hope and my purpose, my very salvation.  Because like Abraham, I trust that God will provide and care for me along the way.  I know the way will be hard, but it will ultimately be the very road to life and the New Jerusalem, the city of God, where we will see the day finally break and everyone bowing before the One who made us, loved us, and wanted us home so much that he came to find us, and sent us out to bring others to the feast.

Pretty amazing stuff!  I mean, we are a part of what God is doing in Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, just like he was, to save the world.  So embrace the suck, it is worth it.

eastersunday – a poem a sermon before lent sneaks up on us again

from Norwich Cathedral

from Norwich Cathedral

easter sunday – a sermon a poem
By Daniel P. Richards

we walk when we can to the tomb
knowing that life is the way we always suspected

our hope in pools beneath the executioner’s wood
our grief has turned numb and we do what we probably should

take care of the details

so we mix our spices and oils
and go as we have always gone

it was (according to luke) the traditional way
of preparing bodies after the sabbath day

the state (it is said) always wins in the end
so here we go again

the state of things are as they have always been
there is war somewhere and losses here at home

justified killings and innocent people sacrificed to a greater good
we live lives of collateral damage

the environment ruined for a comfortable drive to work
someone somewhere is working her 1000th day in a row

so that i can have affordable tennis shoes or cheap lettuce
a child this morning is watching television alone (again)

what can we do?

we try to take care of the details
and sit is the reality that consumes us

the pragmatic pessimism that sighs
and says once again this is the way things are

we go to war because we are supposed to
when someone wrongs us we have to hit them back

we have to have these betternewerbigger weapons or suv’s
or borders or vaccinations to keep danger at bay

but it doesn’t work does it?
we load the gun and the child finds it

we buy organic and still get cancer
we love our children and they walk away

eastersunday

eastersunday is the ultimate proof
that the way things are is an illusion

the grief that numbs us is confused
by the emptiness of the tomb

and the way things are is underthrown
by a god who works in death to do the new

the thing we did not expect and cannot explain
the moment of death has become the moment of life

god meets us where we felt most abandoned
crying out my god my god why have you forsaken me?

the answer did not come when we wanted it
(when all the world would see

and they would know that we were right
that we were on the winning team)

but rather in whispers and bleached clothes to some women
whom not even peter and john quite believed

and yet here we are still scratching our heads
and asking exactly what it means

i don’t know
but i hope towards this

that god is here with us

the god that didn’t fix the way things are
didn’t soften the religious leaders hearts or overthrow rome

that didn’t go searching in the dark sabbath for revenge
or mount up an army to go after (them)

but that god the creator comes quietly after the storm
and whispers tabitha cum to the little girl

and takes us by the hand
leads us out into a new light

maybe too bright or too dim to quite see everything
and the soldiers are still standing guard at the comer

but somehow it all seems new

and the people around us are no longer enemies or even strangers (now)
but they wear the smile of family and friend

someone breaks a fresh loaf of bread and says (this)
and we take it and become

someone gets out the bottle of wine and says (remember)
and we do

we remember who we are gathered in this quiet room
the unsuspected and somewhat surprised family of god

no god hasn’t made us perfect
nor did we win

but god told us even in the worst of what we could do
that we are still god’s own and loved (beloved)

and god tell us now in this festal laugh
that the way things are is new

the reign the household jesus proclaimed exists
and always has

the whole world over our family is waking up
and slowly getting it as though at dawn

the light of a new day shines and all are one

how then do we live in our cheap tennis shoes
and believe the woman who sewed them is our sister?

that the people in the mosque are redeemed somehow
and that our soldiers are more than killing machines?

i don’t know

but i get up every morning and i sit
alone in a blue room with a candle and an icon

and i remember who i am
and then when i go to the store

i think about who else has touched these things
and i remember that they are loved too

and that they deserve what i do
and instead they get the way things are

so i put my hands into the clay of my tiny corner of the world
and i get to work building this new jerusalem

where the way things are is the way i know them to be
soaked in the light of this eastersunday morning

a world made new and being made new by christ (yes)
and by the christ in us (yes)

today we will baptize children
and we will say with them the words we say about who we are

let us not say them only but remember them in our clay
and not come to this table lulled to sleep by the way things appear to be

but let us come to this table awake to the new day
hands dirty and ready to work

let us hand them a world with fewer crosses and more empty tombs
with more justice and a greater peace

and when jesus comes again in glory
he’ll find a house he recognizes

and their familiar faces
already getting out the bread and wine

for the greatest party ever thrown
and everyone will be welcome

daniel p. richards

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