Wrestling with God, It Is Good Work
Psalm 22:23-31; Mark 8:31-38
The apostle Peter does not understand what is happening around him. Jesus says that this mission project of his is about to meet a violent end, and Peter cannot see what it is Jesus is talking about.
I have lived an easy life in the Christian faith. I was born a Catholic. I attended a Catholic Grade School and High School. We were sometimes told that Catholics were discriminated against, but as a sixth grader, John F. Kennedy was elected President of the US. I was able to dismiss the voices of religious prejudice pretty easily. Of all of the conspiracy theories about the assassination of JFK, few rested on his religion as being an important part.
Being a child of the 50’s and a teen in the 60’s, I knew the full blush of the nation’s infatuation with youth. The population boom following World War II, the Baby Boomers were the often indulged children in the generation after the sacrifices made for the World War 2 war effort. The economy boomed with new toys for kids, advertised on the televisions that seemingly covered the nation in a matter of only a couple of years.
All of the families went to church on Sunday. The moms wore hats and gloves, and the dads wore suits and ties. The boys had their hair slicked down and we were all excited to see the parking lot full of new cars, with lots of chrome and ever larger tail fins. The Bible stories read like fairy tales. There was a widespread concern for the good of the community, as we defined community, and we all felt good. The life of a faithful person seemed easy and natural.
Peter represents a reliable voice of common sense, telling Jesus not to wish for martyrdom. It is unreasonable to expect hardships at every turn. When I first heard this scripture as a child, I could not understand why the usually compassionate Jesus turned on his most trusted sidekick.
Jesus seems so harsh when he responds to Peter and calls him the devil. The devil is rooted in the Old Testament as the tempter, the voice that would invite us to seek our own simple satisfaction and not the will of God.
It is not succumbing to the devil to seek and find the simple pleasures of life. The challenge of course is to know what time it is. Is it time for myself and my family, or is it time to step up and speak for the God’s love of justice and compassion?
Some folks never take the time to determine to determine just what time it is. My old brain asks the 1960’s musical question, “Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?” (Chicago) 3:23 to 4:34 (end) The question of this season of our Lenten journey comes around again, are we fully representing our dual nature, or are we settling for the plain and obvious?
In this season of Lent in 2018, I am inviting you to see the humanity of Jesus, where we usually settle for putting the divine Son of God on a pedestal. The problem with worshipping Jesus on high, is that he stops being a useful model for us, because we are merely human, and Jesus, Jesus is divine, and Jesus does it all, and we receive salvation without any effort of our own. It is all about us.
This year I want us to claim our own dual nature. For sure, we are made of stardust like all of creation. That makes us one with the sun and the moon, the rocks and the animals, as we are all made out of the same creaturely building blocks. We might try to keep our quarks and electrons to ourselves, but it is more than we are capable of. We belong to the whole world, not just to ourselves.
At the same time, we are also spiritual. We are made of the same divine DNA that makes us a child of God for eternity. When we fail to honor our spiritual nature, we sell ourselves short. We act “reasonably” like Peter suggests. Reasonable people do not listen for the voice of the Still Speaking God telling them the time has come to represent God’s love of justice and compassion.
So Jesus reads the very obvious signs that the political and religious worlds consider him a threat. They have not been able to see and hear the spiritual invitation that Jesus makes, and instead see how he completes the profile of their stereotypical revolutionary. And they have a plan for revolutionaries. They execute them publicly to send a message to any of those who might want to follow in his footsteps. The powers that be, have a dim view of those who paint outside of the lines.
Peter, cannot see the signs. He is a political innocent. He is a fisherman from the rural northern territory. He was not well versed in politics, or even educated in theology. This Jesus of Nazareth captured his imagination, and we cannot fault him for that, but he was not able to appreciate how this Messiah was disturbing the careful balance of power that was life in an occupied territory.
My own faith in God is structured on what I know of the life and teaching of Jesus. I am especially grateful to Richard Rohr, Phillip Gulley and Brian McLaren who are helping me articulate my faith in this way. I believe that the life and teaching of Jesus, which I love, shows me how to know God, and makes God lovable. Instead of painting the image of Jesus with the supernatural qualities of the divine super power, I see God as the loving, compassionate presence that Jesus honored. And Jesus honored that loving God, in ways that the establishment continues to misunderstand, and often finds threatening.
We have already noted that the Dali Lama, who might be the most widely accepted “Holy Man” of our age, lives a life dedicated to peace and wisdom, and lives in exile from his native Tibet, at odds with the occupying Chinese government.
The psalms, the poetry and prayer collection of the ancient faithful, understand that God stands with the oppressed, the hungry, the forgotten of the world. The psalmist anticipates the Messiah, who redefines power in opposition to the violent nature of human nation states. The parades and processions of the faithful, celebrate humility and not weaponry. The voices of the faithful congregations, praise God for compassion and generosity, in conflict with the strident voices of flesh and blood congresses and administrations.
The world is not bad, in the Creation story God called it good. But the world continues in a cycle of power supported by violence. Those values of the world are in contrast to the life and teaching of Jesus, whose God loves compassion and justice. We were born into this time and place, and gifted by God with unique talents and energies. We gather as a faith community, to deepen our appreciation of God’s love, and recognize our own call to speak out for justice with compassion. We take up out own cross.
You and I are called to imitate this Christ, representing love and compassion in action. It is not a guaranteed smooth ride. It may not be the easy way. You are liable to be misunderstood. You might disturb the balance of power in ways you may not understand. The community may push back at you, in ways that can be surprising, perhaps reacting with violence that is out of scale with the offense.
So like our Jesus, we trust in God’s good love. Like the generations of faithful people before us, we ask Jesus to take our hand and go with us, as we keep our commitment to love in action, Amen.