Sunday, September 3, 2017

Take Up Your Cross, Deny Yourself

Matthew 16: 21-28
September 3, 2017

On Facebook I have an acquaintance from high school,
who is a very outspoken Christian,
always putting things about prayer and Jesus up.
And a while back, she put a meme up,
 a little image with words that said,
“Hurt my kids and I’ll bury you where they won’t find the body”.
I’m sure this was kind of a joke, but kind of not.

The most disturbing though, were the comments that followed
in almost in some sort of “Christian honor and zeal”
they were affirming her in that, and trying to top it with
the more violent reaction they would have
if someone “messed” with their kids.
It was almost as if violence was the only honorable Christian reaction.
Anything less proved you didn’t love your kids as much.

There is an innate human reaction to defend what is mine.
Whether its family or things. It’s MINE.
Mine is the first word many children use with regularity.
MINE.  It’s so visceral and human .

I think we can point to a lot of the tension in this
country today to that feeling that someone is taking
away what is MINE.

White supremacists walked through the streets
with torches saying, “Jews will not replace us”
If you can get over the outrageousness of that statement,
behind it, there’s a fear that something is being taken
away and it must be defended.
In response to taking away statues that
most people probably hadn’t noticed, the response was
“They will not take away our heritage”
Defending what is MINE.
Whether its my dignity, or my house, or my life,
or my land, or my family, or my country, or my heritage,
or my way of life, or my leader, or the hearts of the people.
There is a feeling -- almost an obligation that we
need to defend what is MINE and use with force against
anyone who tries to take it away.

I think our country’s fascination with guns and 
especially assault weapons comes under this banner of “self-defense” –
There is an abstract “they” who are always coming to get us.
They are a threat to my stuff and it must be defended
“What if THEY come to take what is MINE away from me?”
We need to feel ready to defend what is ours at any moment.

But where has this gotten us?
We’re not safer, that’s for sure.
The big problem is this cycle has no end.
I take what is mine and you take it back,
the ones with the biggest weapons wins.
Everyone defending what is theirs and
we get stuck in a repetition of violence.

We’ve seen it play out personally and internationally
It starts out small, but sometimes it grows
into violence, war, and even genocide.
Where does it end?

Jesus tells us today.
He says, “this ends with you, my followers.”

Last week, we remember,
Peter confessed rightly that Jesus was the Messiah.
They were all happy about that for a while.
Jesus said that God gave Peter that information
and he would build his church on it.

Peter may have gotten that right,
but it’s pretty clear that Peter was fundamentally mistaken
about how Jesus would go about being the Messiah
and saving the people.

Jesus makes it clear that he will not be defending
their rights with violence or by turning over the government,
or by claiming a piece of land,
or avenging the deaths of his people.
He will not be taking his place as emperor or king.

Actually, what will happen is that he will suffer.
He will be arrested by the authorities and he will be killed.
The powers that have taken so much from
all of them will end unjustly convicting him and taking his life.

Now his disciples knew him most,
 they knew he was innocent of any crime.
And the suffering that Jesus experienced would be unjust,
would be unfair, would be wrong.

And yet Jesus didn’t say,
“disciples, I need you need to get back at them for this.”
“Revenge my unjust death.”
Take back what is rightfully MINE.

Jesus said, if any would be my follower,
deny yourself, deny your ego,
Deny your own rage, your need for revenge,
deny that inclination you have to add more violence to the world
lay down your power and take up God’s power.
Take up your cross and follow me.

No wonder Peter didn’t like that idea at all.
No wonder he scolded Jesus and told him that can’t happen.
The natural inclination Peter and in us
is to defend, to fight, to keep.
To take back what is MINE.

No wonder Peter was uncomfortable with the prospect.
And no wonder Jesus rebuked him and invoked Satan.
This is Satan’s temptation to the whole world.
To take back what is MINE.
Satan says “The best offense is a good defense.”
But Jesus is says, “the best offense is no defense.”

When faced with violence,
Step out of the cycle of defense and violence.
Put the world’s senseless violence on display.
Trick the devil at his own game.
Take up your cross and follow me.
Not saying it’s easy, but it’s what Jesus is saying.

Most scholars agree that the apostle Paul
never heard any of Jesus’ parables or sayings.
The gospels were written down and shared after his death.
He never uses Jesus words in his letters,
even when it would serve his purpose well.

From Paul’s writings, it is apparent that
Paul only knows Jesus from
his own encounters with Jesus Spirit,
about Jesus death and resurrection,
from the fellow believers who traveled with him.

But still, Paul picks up on this important tenet of Christianity
without the benefit of knowing Jesus sayings,
Paul, tells the Romans in his letter:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil”

He quotes this often forgotten section
from Proverbs in the Hebrew scriptures saying,
if your enemies are hungry, feed them;
if they are thirsty, give them something to drink;
for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”
And he says,
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

With Paul, there is no MINE.
Everything about us - our whole lives - belong to God.
So then, even our revenge and anger aren’t ours.
The wrongs we suffer, we don’t own them,
we don’t hold onto them.
They are not ours to keep. They belong to God too.
Paul says, turn them over, let God take care of it.

If any want to be my followers deny themselves
and take up their own cross.
Do not be overcome by evil.
Overcome evil with good.

This is one of the main practices of our faith.
This is what should set us apart as Christians.
Not Christian pride and honor and violence.
Burying bodies where no one can find them.
It’s putting our self aside for others. Even our enemies.

This week as we watched another environmental crisis
unfold in our country, this time in Texas.
We saw a situation that could 
have gone horribly wrong
over and above the flooding.
Houston is a giant city with 
people mixed together,
rich and poor, educated and uneducated,
immigrants and people of color,
and as a former resident of Houston, 
I can tell you
and there’s also a lot out and proud racism.

Especially with the heightened 
tensions in our country
with the scarcity of food and water,
it could have been an 
emotional powder keg.
With people defending what is MINE.

But that hasn’t happened.
 I think we saw many people:
Christian and atheist and Muslim 
and otherwise,
deny themselves and take down their defenses
and take up their crosses and follow the way of Christ.

Regular people put their lives in danger to save strangers,
people who lost all their possessions, going back and giving more.
People who didn’t lose anything giving it away to others,
and putting themselves in the middle of the crisis.

I’m sure, for now, after this is over,
things will not always be harmonious in Houston,
People will start claiming a stake
for what is yours and what is mine.
But for a while everyone got a glimpse of the kingdom.

It’s almost like without anything to defend,
people were free to love.
It’s funny how 24 trillion gallons of water can
wash away our divisions.

And it’s funny how losing everything
can help us find our true selves,
can help us gain the whole world.

A vision of the kingdom in the midst of tragedy.
Absolute vulnerability giving us absolute power.

That is the cross.

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