March 1, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God who is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
Some people when they walk into this church, when they see an African American woman, especially if I am not dressed in the obligatory black with a white collar around my neck, don’t see a pastor. Early in my ministry here at St. John’s I remember on a few occasions I was asked by guest using the building on week days what I was doing here as if I were in the wrong place.
One Saturday, while we were hosting a blood drive I walked in the door with jeans and a casual sweater. I walked around the room speaking to various people who were giving blood, chatting and laughing with members of the congregation. One of the Red Cross volunteers, a kind elderly lady, as one of the members said hello --- asked if I were the cook.
After all I was the only African American in the room, I had to be there to cook or clean or serve. And I laughed and said, “No I am the pastor.”
She stuttered, and everyone around the conversation felt embarrassed as she explained away her mistake “you look too young to be a pastor.” I wanted to say, “you should tell that to my thirty something son.” Of course I didn’t fit her idea of the senior pastor of a successful Lutheran congregation.
In hindsight, my answer should have been: “No I am not the cook but the pastor and I do serve a meal every Sunday that you are of course invited to.” This volunteer had made an incorrect assumption..................................................
As we walk in the wilderness of Lent we turn to the eighth chapter of Mark’s gospel. We pick up right after Peter has made his amazing pronouncement about Jesus. “You are the Messiah.” He says. It is a stunning confession, a particularly stellar moment for Peter. I can imagine that he is beside himself because he has finally gotten it. He finally realizes that Jesus is the Messiah. And we think-- “but of course.” But for Peter, for any of the disciples this is a remarkable response to the question, “Who do you say that I am?”
Many thought it was more likely that Jesus was John the Baptist or Elijah returned to life, both incorrect assumptions, rather than the Messiah who has come to save the people from Roman rule. But Peter, bless his heart, has figured it out. The evidence has always been there right in front of him; he has seen Jesus feed thousands, unstop the ears of the death, bring sight to the blind, and even walk on water. But only now does Peter realize that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who has indeed come to save Israel.
Yet “Jesus warns them to keep it quiet, not to breathe a word of it to anyone.” Peter has made the confession, but Jesus is sure that none of them truly understand. So he pauses from his questions and begins to explain. “It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests and religion scholars, be killed and after three days rise up alive.”
And surely this breaks the hearts, disappoints and disabuses the assumptions of all who hear.…………………………………..
And Peter, being Peter can’t help but react. He can’t stand to think that Jesus his friend, his teacher was looking toward suffering and death.
So I can imagine he grabs Jesus by the arm and says -- no way.
Suffering unto death isn’t really necessary is it? And so Jesus uses very harsh language in his rebuke of Peter, “Get behind me Satan for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Peter a little embarrassed wonders what he has done. We can see he has caused Jesus to name two opposing ideas: what God wills -- divine things and what people want -- human things. An incorrect assumption is that Jesus has come to do what Peter wants, what the disciples want, what people want him to do, or to be what people expect him to be. But Jesus has come as the Son of God to do God’s will!
Jesus’ idea and Peter’s idea of what it means to be Messiah do not match up. Peter’s is a cultural assumption, that he learned most likely at home, at the knees of his parents or grandparents. He thinks of the Messiah in terms of human strength and power. But Jesus has come to turn these assumptions on their heads. Jesus wants to let this disciples know to help all of us to understand---It is not about military power and might, but about the power of love and forgiveness.
It is not about ruling with an iron fist, but serving with compassion and mercy. It’s not about having it all, but giving it all away for the sake of the world. Hopefully, these harsh words by Jesus help Peter to understand that Jesus didn’t come to lead a physical revolt, but came to follow the path set for him by God even as it leads him to a cross………………………………………
The assumption is that Jesus will defeat an army.
The reality is Jesus will defeat death.
The assumption is that Jesus will show military might.
The reality is Jesus will show the power of God’s love.
The assumption is that Jesus will rescue them from oppressive rule.
That reality is Jesus will deliver the world from sin.
Jesus has come to do God’s will! Do you get it?.................
Even we make incorrect assumptions about Jesus. We assume Jesus is a cosmic Santa Claus and if we pray hard enough we can have whatever we want. Or Jesus is a Genie in a lamp that if we rub the right way we will get our wish. We assume that Jesus hates all those we hate and we forget that Jesus’ story is about ultimate love. We assume that Jesus gives us what we deserve. We forget we deserve the destruction that sin brings.
We assume that we are smart enough, educated enough, good enough to get right with God; we forget that it is Jesus that makes us right.
We assume that Jesus came just for us good church going folks. We forget that Jesus came for all people: Jew and gentile, male and female, black and white, gay and straight, healthy and diseased, the sober and those struggling to be sober, the sad, the suffering, the sick, the poor, the hungry, the homeless, not just me--but you too.
We have so many incorrect assumptions about Jesus including that he came to do everything, to give us everything we want. The reality is that Jesus came to love us, to free us from sin and death so that we can be active for good in a world of trouble.
Jesus’ explanation continues; he tells his disciples:“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
And by now Peter is again beside himself, but in a different way.
He thinks what Jesus is asking is ridiculous. “Does Jesus really want us to pick up an object of suffering, degradation and shame? That’s a crazy idea, when is he going to defeat the Romans?”
We forget just how counter cultural Jesus was in his day. We forget how counter cultural truly following Jesus is even today
Jesus asks them; Jesus asks us to put away our incorrect assumptions, to pick up our cross and follow him into life giving service. Jesus advocates risking our lives for the sake of others, putting ourselves on the line, in harm’s way.......going the extra mile, getting out of our comfort zones, doing the unexpected...for the sake of the gospel, and in response to the incredible love of Jesus who stretches his arms out on a cross for our sake and for the sake of the world.
Picking up a cross-- I am only just now figuring out how that looks for me.
I know it has something to do with the kindly red cross volunteers incorrect assumption picking up the cross for me means crossing over borders and boundaries, going sometimes where I don’t want to go, being a stranger in a foreign land and in the wider Church being the one who speaks up against oppressive systems of racism, sexism, homophobia and even sometimes being called an angry black woman. Yet, anything I could ever do falls far short of what Jesus has done.
Picking up a cross---I don’t know how that looks for you. Rarely will it mean actually dying, in this time and place. But it will mean living boldly into who God has called you to be. It will mean giving of yourself as you live out your baptismal identity.
Picking up a cross was really hard for Peter. Peter, you remember him. He is the one who denies Jesus three times as the cock crows. But he finally did, he finally had to put away his incorrect assumptions because he and the other disciples learned the reality. After many ups and downs starts and stops they picked up their crosses... and carried the message of the gospel into the world.
No matter the incorrect assumptions people make about you, let them think that you fit into every stereotype, every convention, every idea they have of normalcy. But pick up your cross and live as though you are loved. Live as though you trust the promises of God. Live as though you really know that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God......