September 3 sermon Cross life

Good FridaySeptember 3, 2017


Romans 12:9-21

Matthew 16:21-28

Growing up, I knew I was different.  As a youngster in coastal Connecticut, oh, I entertained notions that were like every other kid—would I be the next Carl Yastrzemski? Would I wear the uniform of a Coast Guard cadet? But these two were easily, handily topped by the notion of being a disciple of Jesus.

In case you don’t know Carl Yastrzemski

This notion, finding my way in life with Jesus, has never left me.  It has stuck, for better for worse, for richer, for poorer.  I have cast my lot with the peasant rabbi from Nazareth, even while singing French love songs as a voice major in college, even while cheering my young progeny at soccer games in New Hampshire, even while navigating the narrow aisles with hipsters at Trader Joe’s yesterday.


And in the German pietist tradition (pietist with a does of orthodoxy thrown in) of my formative years, I never entertained that being a Christ follower made me set in the same way Joel Osteen preaches.  Namely, that being aligned with God and his son Jesus means you are blessed with material wealth and well-being, as if not being on that path to glory results in the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey.


No, even way back when, I regularly heard sermons that said in so many words that being along the path with Jesus means that the cross is something you wear, or is always in front of you, or looms in the background.  You can’t go anywhere without it, like it’s permanently affixed on you, a veritable tattoo.


This cruciform way of being could be a problem in ordinary grade school social circles, to demonstrate to your friends who would rather just play kickball or practice vocabulary.  And I can’t say that I was ever successful in really mentioning the cross that stood in front of or was always there getting in the way.  I think others thought that I was a bit weird, or brooding, which I’m sure was also a legitimate assessment, given as my father likes to call our inherited defect.


The Greek word dei means necessary.  In the Gospel of Matthew, after Peter says who Jesus is (the Christ, the Son of the Living God) and receives the beatitude blessed are you, the vocabulary shifts from Jesus teaching to (how is it put?) Jesus began to show his followers that is it necessary, dei, to march to his betrayal, suffering, and death, raised on the third day. 


In the gospel narrative, the cross is not yet a symbol of salvation.  This cruciform way of being is not gold-plated and adorning a neck or plastered on light fixtures, or put on bulletin covers.  This path, this life in Christ announces something counter, maybe everything counter to the culture that is bent on success, power in wealth and privilege, or aligning with the ruling class.  This way with God is a rash jettisoning of all that is held dear, your own life, your own preservation and reputation.  Dei, necessary, that Jesus should go this way and not the other way!


Peter, newly nicknamed the rock, switches places from confessor to denier.  Peter, the foundation for the church, now becomes the thing you trip over, Jesus using the word scandalous for Peter’s agitation.


Jesus was always attention-getting.  Powerful Herod found him to be a threat when he was first born, remember as Herod went to great lengths to rid Jerusalem of two-year olds.   Remember Jesus’ choice of followers, common laborers and tax collectors? People would talk about the company he kept!  And remember his choice to listen to the hungry thousands despite limited resources and which his disciples showed a severe lack of judgment?  Engaging in conversation with a non-Jewish woman and being influenced by her? 


The kingdom of heaven may not what you think it is.  It’s not a building made with stones.  It’s not a non-profit charity heavily endowed.  And it’s not even a church that seems to have its act together.  It’s weirder than that. It’s counter cultural.


Jesus asks “What will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?”


Tell, me if you think following Jesus looks like those who give freely without strings attached.  Does a follower of Jesus give up clinging to what cannot last? 


What do you think of St. Paul’s admonitions? Something like aligning ourselves with genuine love, and clinging to what is good.  Noticing need and responding to it.


David Brooks writes a weekly column for the New York Times, and has been on Yale’s campus to speak about the notion of moral character.  He calls the current wave of American culture as a looming dread, and that a growing response to that dread is in fact a problem.


In a recent column after the debacle in Charlottesville, he addresses this:


The age of anxiety inevitably leads to an age of fanaticism, as people seek crude palliatives for the dizziness of freedom. I’m beginning to think the whole depressing spectacle of this moment…is caused by a breakdown of intellectual virtue, a breakdown in America’s ability to face evidence objectively, to pay due respect to reality, to deal with complex and unpleasant truths. The intellectual virtues may seem elitist, but once a country tolerates dishonesty, incuriosity and intellectual laziness, then everything else falls apart.


The best way to address the current malaise, Brooks suggests, is a return to modesty, which to me seems wonderful weird, blessedly countercultural, a line in the sand that is cross-shaped and points to life, when the blinders we wear tells us otherwise.


It means to stand for something that bucks the trend, which offers no easy answers, but is a way that Jesus himself showed to be dei, necessary.


Brooks writes this about modesty:

Modesty means having the courage to rest in anxiety and not try to quickly escape it. Modesty means being tough enough to endure the pain of uncertainty and coming to appreciate that pain. Uncertainty and anxiety throw you off the smug island of certainty and force you into the free waters of creativity and learning. As Kierkegaard put it, “The more original a human being is, the deeper is his anxiety.”


Kierkegaard was not German, but a Danish pietist.  And he coined a wonderful image of following Jesus no matter what, calling it a leap of faith.


Let us join the Jesus movement anew, allowing all sorts of leaps into faith, opening hands and hearts to the path ahead.  And let us invite others to this way, as we are fed by Jesus and ponder the way of the cross.

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