This sermon was preached for the community at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on February 28, 2021. It can be viewed on YouTube at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
The texts were:
Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16
Romans 4: 13-25
Mark 8: 31-38
Children’s message: Have my bag handy: My children, who are now grown-ups, always make fun of the size of my bag. I quit carrying a small bag after becoming a parent as I felt like I was always needing something I didn’t have. If they got hurt, I would need a first aid kit, snacks for when they were hungry, water for thirst, pen and paper for when they were bored, tissues, hand wipes, and more. If they needed something, I could help. And even after they were grown, I discovered that keeping these things around wasn’t a bad idea, not just for if I need them, but I could help someone else too. We all need help sometimes don’t we? We all get hurt, sick, lonely, hungry, sad, it’s just what happens in our lives. We don’t like it and we don’t like to think about it do we? Well our story about Jesus today is kinda about that. Jesus was walking along with his disciples and started telling them that he was going to be hurt and die, which happens to every person. But Peter didn’t want to talk about that. Peter wanted to believe that Jesus and hopefully himself as a friend of Jesus, would avoid ever being hurt and dying. But Jesus says, no, that’s not how life goes. We can’t pretend that we’ll never be hurt, sad or that people will never die. We have to be honest about that and tell the truth of how God is always with us especially when we are hurt, sad, lonely and dying. Jesus tells the disciples that they can’t pretend that hard and scary things won’t happen, because that doesn’t help. But they DO need to help other people through the hard and scary things, maybe crying with their friends and family, by sharing food, clothes and money, by saying no when someone is hurting someone else. That’s what “picking up our cross” means. Notice how the cross looks like a “t”? Well, Jesus wants us to follow him into the truth that yes, we might get scared and hurt, and the truth is also that God hold us and hold each other and help others when they need it-like what’s in my mom purse. I want you to draw or write what you have that you can share when a friend is hurt, scared or lonely.
Full confession: I have always possessed a “gallows” sense of humor or maybe what is better described as Gen X snark. It’s probably because I’ve had a few life events that if I didn’t find the irony or the humor in, I’d cry all the time or be jaded. Well, and maybe I am both of those things, but mostly, the snarky thing. Call it irreverent, call it a coping strategy, but it’s all part of my charm. So, when the pandemic first started, and Mike and I would be watching the horrifying news each evening, all the poor decisions or simply lack of leadership happening, I would turn to him and say, “we’re all gonna die.” To which he would say, “yes but maybe not today.” Each day in 2020 would pass with some over the top new low, and I would look at Mike and say, “We’re all gonna die.” “yes,” he would say, “but maybe not today.” There’s been a couple of times with all of the chaos in the past two months where Mike has conceded where we might all die sooner versus later….
Despite my snark, it is true that we are all gonna die. From this life anyway. Yet, I think what is at the root of my snark is our ability as humans to think that we can outsmart reality, suffering, hurt and death. That WE’RE different from everyone else and we’ll escape it. But that’s just not how life works, it turns out. We often ask, “why me?” when bad things happen to us, but I’ve learned the real question is “why not me?” Suffering and death is a part of life and all the major world religions have at their core how we cope with life’s hard realities. But we live in a culture that tells us to deny aging and death: from commercials for anti-wrinkle creams, hair dyes, fat removal, to how we keep dying people hidden away in facilities and sanitize the dying process so that no one is uncomfortable. We are lulled into holding on to the deception that we can avoid the inevitable. We will do anything: any diet, any exercise routine, any procedure, any supplement, and hold on to any illusion or delusion to convince ourselves that we can outsmart aging, suffering and dying. Until we can’t. Until we trip and fall into the reality that we and everyone we know suffers and dies. But even then, our inner dialogue becomes one of rationalization that maybe they didn’t hold on tight enough, that their suffering was teaching them something, or us something, or worse, was God’s will. This is never true.
Peter is caught up in the very human delusion that he can escape the reality of suffering and death, after all he knows Jesus, the Messiah who will conquer all! The Messiah who will hold the Empire accountable and the Israelites will be conquerors and in power at last. But Jesus sees the self-deception that Peter is holding on to, and names it by calling him Satan, the deceiver. You see, Peter was still deceived that he was in control, he hadn’t figured out yet that following Jesus,aligning your life with God, isn’t going to spare you from hurt, suffering, oppression and death, it doesn’t spare you from being human. Following Jesus means that you let go of all the deceptions, all the fears, so that you can pick up your cross; you can pick up the truth that there is suffering in your life and the lives of people around you. The truth that we can’t honestly enter into the hurt of the world if our hands and hearts are clutching our own misconceptions, worries, fears and delusions. Picking up our cross means that we’ve let go of anything that doesn’t bring the fullness of life for ourselves and the people around us.
This isn’t easy, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s a journey that we have to be honest about and commit and recommit to every day. We can’t put our heads in the sand, or hope that someone else says the hard, but true thing. We can’t drive by the tent camps of people living on the streets and hold on to the myth that a solution is too expensive or the people won’t want it. We can’t watch over and over again as black and brown people are unjustly incarcerated and murdered by authorities and hold on to the lie that racism and white supremacy doesn’t exist and we don’t have a role. We can’t witness the denigration and lack of human rights of people who are LBGTQIA+ and hold on to the prejudice that they should be excluded. We can’t ignore the racist or sexist joke because we want to hold on to “niceness” or our need to be liked. Like Peter, we want to hold on to the delusion that following Jesus means that we should be able to hold on to our comfortable life, or hold suffering and death at bay, or that being church is about feeling good, safe, and secure.
We forget what the cross really means in our life. It’s not a sign of holding on to protection, piety, status quo or comfort. The cross was a symbol of abusive power for the Empire, for the powers and principalities as Paul calls it, and was used by the Empire to keep the marginalized people of the society in their place out of fear. But God doesn’t allow abuse to continue, let status quo stand, doesn’t let fear and death win. Jesus picked up the cross to turn it into a symbol of God holding on to God’s vision of justice, of God’s upheaval of worldly authorities and of God’s will for life and wholeness for all creation. Jesus picked up the cross to show us to let go of the myth that suffering is good, God’s will or redemptive, but to show us that suffering is reality AND that God is present; we aren’t alone in our suffering. Jesus picked up the cross to show us that God lets go of everything that doesn’t bring life, empties God’s hands to hold on to us, to reveal that when it’s hard, when it looks bleak, God’s love, justice, mercy and life will find a way to hold on.
We are called to empty our hands, to let go, so that we pick up our cross, we hold on, we hold on to one another when suffering abounds, to hold each other in God’s love and care, clearly name the oppression, abuse and harm being inflicted on our marginalized siblings and speak the truth to the powers of this world in love. Not love that is sentimental and mushy, but love that can hold on in tension, paradox and reality. This is Luther’s theology of the cross, that in the cross of Jesus, suffering, reality and wholeness in God’s mercy and grace can be held together. We pick our cross, the cross that holds us when nothing else can, and we let go of the delusions of what we think life should be. We let go of our false life to hold on to a true life of being held by God’s love, mercy and grace, in the reality of our lives. This is good news indeed. Amen.