June 18, 2007

"God's Year to Act"

A sermon for a service of U2charist sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, Journey of Faith Church, and Christ Episcopal Church, and held at Christ Episcopal Church in Dearborn, Michigan, June 16, 2007

Isaiah 58:6-12; Psalm 40:1-11; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15; Luke 4:14-21

It’s great to be back in Michigan, where I’ve got good friends, new friends, and a great deal of history. I was born in Southfield, just a few miles from here, but I spent my teenage years in Los Angeles. And like a lot of people in sunny southern California, I learned to surf. I loved it, but wasn’t at all good at it, especially at first. I got a lot better almost instantly, though, when I finally got one insight that’s absolutely fundamental for surfing.

I imagine that even if you haven’t surfed yourself, you’ve seen enough surfing in movies and such to know pretty much how it goes: You take your surfboard to the beach. You paddle out to where the swells are forming. When a swell comes along that looks like it’s going to be a good wave, you start paddling. Once you’ve caught the wave, you can stand up and ride it.

There’s a common misconception, though, among beginning surfers about the role of paddling in that process. When I first tried surfing, I thought that it was the force of my paddling that propelled the board such that I could catch a wave. The harder I was finding it to catch a wave, the more frantically I paddled. I ended up with very sore shoulders and hardly any rides. Then I started to think what propelled the board was a current in the water, and I got very frustrated not being able to find this magical current on any given wave.

But then finally someone explained to me what really propels your board in surfing. It’s GRAVITY. A wave is a moving hill, and as long as you’re on a slick surface pointed downhill, you’re going to slide forward. Catching a wave is just a matter of lining yourself up with the wave so that you’re pointed downhill, and continuing to ride it is just a matter of pointing your board just close enough to parallel to the shore so that as the wave continues to break, you continue sliding downhill without reaching the bottom.

In other words, surfing is basically well-planned falling. It’s aligning yourself with what’s going on in the ocean and with the forces operating in the world -- gravity, friction, and so on -- such that the most natural way forward becomes an exhilarating ride. I still pretty much suck at surfing, so I’ve only caught that perfect ride a couple of times, but I can say even based on those couple of times that it’s an amazing feeling. You’re in touch with these elemental forces, and there’s something that feels very wild and powerful about that, but being aligned with them, there’s also something profoundly peaceful about it. Noise and distractions, including all of those self-conscious thoughts and anxieties, melt away into one feeling of "YES"!

I’d say that there’s no feeling like it in the world, except that I believe there is. Engaging God’s mission of justice for the poor can feel a lot like it. Let me put it this way:

The perfect wave is starting to swell in this world, and being aligned with it is one heck of a ride.

What do I mean by that? Take a look at the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs. Eight points:
1) Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
2) Achieve universal primary education.
3) Promote gender equality and empower women.
4) Reduce child mortality.
5) Improve maternal health.
6) Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases.
7) Ensure environmental sustainability.
8) Develop a global partnership for development.

Eight points to change the world. And we’re talking about a big change. Here’s how things are now in this world. Right now, more than a billion of the world’s people live on less than a dollar a day. Right now, one child every three seconds -- 30,000 children a day, 11 million children a year -- die of preventable diseases. Half a million women die every year while giving birth. 2.6 billion people don’t have access to basic sanitation that would allow them to stay healthy. I will never forget the images of those caught in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and I never want to forget that there are billions of people in the world for whom every day of their lives is like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

It’s what Bono, U2’s lead singer, calls “stupid poverty,” because it could be eliminated if just seven-tenths of one percent more of the wealth of the richest nations went toward sensible development in the poorest. Stupid poverty. It’s stupid because we let all of this heartbreak happen when it wouldn’t happen if we put our hearts and our heads together.

Right now, the U.S. spends more than THIRTEEN TIMES more on defense than on aid. Right now, our government is not fulfilling the commitments it made previously. Americans are generous in their charitable giving, but only two percent of Americans’ charitable giving goes outside the borders of the U.S., and we tend to give it haphazardly, when someone asks, or when a crisis reaches our T.V.s. A recent study by Claude Rosenberg and Tim Stone (Note 1) showed that if U.S. citizens budgeted in charitable giving to address the Millennium Development Goals -- if we figured out what we could afford and gave it regularly, instead of writing a check haphazardly, as someone asked for it -- American charitable giving would go up by ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS a year.

One hundred billion. I’m not a numbers person myself. That sounds awfully abstract. So how about this:

Nineteen billion dollars a year between now and the year 2015 could ELIMINATE starvation and malnutrition from this world.

Twelve billion dollars a year between now and the year 2015 could give every child in this world an education through primary school.

Fifteen billion dollars a year from now through the year 2015 would provide access to clean water and sanitation for everyone in this world.

Nineteen plus twelve plus fifteen. That’s forty-six billion dollars a year -- less than HALF of what planning to give and following through with those plans would generate if every American did that.

If we make that commitment and follow through on it, then, in the year 2015, everyone gets enough nutritious food to eat. Everyone gets access to clean water. And every child gets an education, EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD. Three of those eight goals met with American people like you and me planning to give what we can and then following through on those plans. And then there’s what would happen if our government followed through on the commitments it’s already made. Just seven-tenths of a percent more in intelligent, coordinated aid for development -- in putting our hearts and heads together -- and the Millennium Development Goals are more than achievable.

I’m going to turn 45 in the year 2015. Most of us in this room will still be around then. And I would love to come back here in the summer of 2015 for a party where all of us can get together and say, “Hey, remember when we all got together and sang U2 songs all night? Yeah, and we decided to join this movement -- to step up, to tell our friends, to call our senators and our representatives? Remember back in 2007, when we said we were going to have this party in eight years?”

And then we can lean over to any kids at that party who are too young to remember what it was like in 2007, and we can say, “You know, there was poverty then. Back then, there were kids who died of malaria because they didn’t have a $3 mosquito net. In 2007, there were girls who couldn’t go to school because they had to spend all day carrying water from the river, and back then people got sick from drinking the only water they had to drink after all that work.” And there are going to be some kids at that party in 2015 who are going to say, “NO WAY,” because they live in a world in which none of those things happen any more, and they just don’t remember that they ever did.

That is going to be some party, sisters and brothers. That is going to be some party all over the world, where every one of us can tell the story of what it was like then, and what you did -- and what you did -- what all of us did -- that changed the world forever.

So I hope you don’t mind if right now I invite myself to that party in 2015. I hope you’ll invite yourself to it right now too. And I hope that you and I will spend the next eight years inviting everyone who will listen to that party. Can I get an Amen?

That’s what I’m talking about. That’s the wave we’re going to ride. In our gospel for tonight’s service, we heard Jesus telling everyone in his hometown synagogue what his mission in the world was. He said:

God's Spirit is on me;
he's chosen me to preach the Message of good news to
the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, "This is God's year to act!"

God’s Spirit is on me, because God has chosen me to preach the message of good news to the poor. Christ’s mission in the world. This is what God does in the world when God becomes flesh and dwells among us. Christ’s mission.

And we -- you and you and you and I -- are the Body of Christ. We are the very body of Jesus in the world. We have on us the Spirit that Jesus sent to every one of us. That’s why I know that when you hear what God is doing in the world -- what Good News for the poor there is -- there’s a part of you that feels the excitement of that perfect wave when it starts to swell. Here it comes. There’s a part of you that says, “YES!” You are the Body of Christ in the world. God’s Spirit is on you because God has chosen you to bring good news to the poor. Chosen YOU. Anointed YOU. Given YOU the gifts of the Spirit to prophesy -- to speak truth to power, to invite everyone you know and even people you don’t know, or don’t know yet, to that party we are going to have on that day when every one of us can say, “the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing!” YOU are the Body of Christ, chosen and gifted to ride the wave of the mission of Christ in the world. What can one person do? I don’t know, but I know what the One Body of Christ can do because God’s Spirit is upon you. It requires your generosity and it requires your voice. But this isn’t momentum that you have to create by yourself with frantic occasional paddling. This is a WAVE, and what your calls and your letters and your generosity are going to do is line you up to ride it.

God’s Spirit is upon you because God has chosen you to bring Good News to the poor.

That’s what the invitation to this party looks like, and I want to invite every person here right now to invite one or two of the people around you to it. I want to invite you to turn to someone next to you, put your hand on their shoulder if you both feel comfortable with that, to look that person in the eye, and say:
God’s Spirit is upon you because God has chosen you to bring Good News to the poor.
Right now.

[The congregation does this.]

God’s Spirit is upon me because God has chosen me to bring Good News to the poor.

Write that on a note and put it on your bathroom mirror to see in the morning and at night. Put it in your wallet to see when you pull out a credit card. Send a note to your friends from this service in a few weeks to remind them. Pick up the information from the ONE Episcopalian campaign. Pick it up, plan to line yourself up to ride this wave, follow through, and ride it!

This is God’s year to act! Surf's up!

Thanks be to God.


1 - "A New Take on Tithing," Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall 2006

Sarah Dylan Breuer coined the term "U2charist" and, with the Without Walls network for alternative liturgy in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, created the first U2charist service, held in April of 2004 in Baltimore, Maryland.

June 18, 2007 in 2 Corinthians, Current Affairs, Isaiah, Justice, Luke, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals, Ordinary Time, Psalms, Stewardship, U2charist sermons | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 23, 2006

A Loose Woman

Sarah Dylan Breuer
The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, July 22, 2006
Canterbury House, the University of Michigan

Mary Magdalene has never gotten so much press as she’s getting now. With The Da Vinci Code, everyone’s talking about her. And what do we know about her?

She had this reputation in art and popular imagination as being literally a whore, a prostitute. A close reading of New Testament texts about her shows that this is a very silly thing to say. We find out in Luke chapter 8 that seven demons had been cast out of her, and we also find out in Luke 8 that she and a few other women who traveled with Jesus funded the mission they shared — they “provided” for the band of Jesus’ disciples “out of their resources.” In other words, they had wealth of their own, and the freedom to travel with it and do with it what they saw fit. And neither Luke nor any other New Testament writer identifies Mary and these women by their family relationships. There’s no note that this was “Mary, the wife of George” or “the mother of Fred,” or even “the daughter of Jamal” — she’s just “Mary, called Magdalene.”

All of these clues — her lack of family identifiers when people speak about her, and even more than that her freedom to travel with Jesus and spend her money as she felt best — suggest that Mary Magdalene was unattached in conventional terms. Literally, she was a “loose woman.”

And there we have the likely source of that persistent rumor that she was a sinner or a prostitute — neither of which is even implied in any canonical gospel.

So thank God we have The Da Vinci Code to set the record straight. The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction, admittedly, but it’s got this page at the front of it that says that all of the historical claims forming the background of the novel were meticulously researched and are true, true, TRUE! — though those villains in the church who compiled the New Testament canon have tried to keep the truth from us. The truth, according to The Da Vinci Code, is that Mary Magdalene was really a person of inestimable importance in early Christianity because she was secretly the wife of Jesus of Nazareth and the father of a number of children by him.

And I’ve got to say that The Da Vinci Code really, really pisses me off on this point.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I want to scream. After all that women and supportive men have struggled for in the movement for women’s suffrage in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, after the early feminist movements of the sixties and seventies, after women became prime ministers in governments around the world, after women were ordained as priests and consecrated as bishops and now elected — Hallelujah! — as our next Presiding Bishop — after all of this, the only way The Da Vinci Code can think of to say that Mary Magdalene was or is important is to say that she was married to and had babies with a really important man?

Come on!

I have problems with this as a historian. For starters, in the first century, the norm for spiritual leaders in both Jewish and Roman cultures was NOT that they should be celibate. Celibacy was seen as weird and more than a little threatening for both men and women. For the vast majority of Jews, God’s word in Genesis to “be fruitful and multiply” was seen as a COMMAND, not just a warm wish, and any rabbi who didn’t marry and beget Jewish babies was breaking God’s command and threatening the very existence of Israel. And Roman culture had a lot of the same pressures.  Caesar Augustus was the original “family values” politician — ruling an empire decimated by civil wars, his domestic policies were crafted to encourage people to marry and have as many children as they could. Roman culture was also big into machismo — a man who didn’t have children was the object of pity or the butt of jokes, and a man who didn’t want to prove his manhood and “Prove It All Night,” as Bruce Springsteen would say, by having sex with women, was just plain weird.

All that’s to say that if the early Christians could have convinced anyone that Jesus of Nazareth did marry and have children, they would have been shouting it from the rooftops, not lying and murdering to conceal it. “HEY!” they would have been shouting to potential converts, “Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t as weird as you might have heard. He was a REAL man — and here are his beautiful wife and strapping sons to say so!”

The bottom line was that Jesus’ disciples couldn’t get around the embarrassing truth: that Jesus never married, never had children, and the “loose women” who traveled with him weren’t around for Jesus or anyone else to prove their manhood.

But the real problem I have with what The Da Vinci Code does to Mary Magdalene isn’t about historical truth, but about theological insight and prophetic vision. In a sentence, here’s my problem with The Da Vinci Code on Mary Magdalene:

It isn’t anywhere near radical enough.

Not nearly. Not by a long shot.

The Da Vinci Code wants to say, in effect, that THE importance and the very identity of a woman is defined by her relationship to a man. You couldn’t get a more conventional view out of some first-century “Focus on the Roman Family” or the “Sadducees’ Committee to Keep Women Barefoot and Pregnant in the Kitchen.” I’m not pissed off by The Da Vinci Code because I think sex is bad and good people don’t have it. God made sex, and sex is good — if we’re lucky and get the opportunity to practice it — a lot — over the years in a really good relationship, it’s mind-blowingly good. But for God’s sake — and I mean that — for the sake of the God who sent us Christ Jesus, let’s not look at ourselves and our sisters and brothers in Christ so darn CONVENTIONALLY.

We get enough of that, don’t we? All of us live in a world that is constantly trying to evaluate our worth based on our attachments. Who’s your daddy? Who’s your girlfriend or your boyfriend? What school do you go to, and what fraternity or sorority did you join? What company do you work for, and what’s your title? And believe you me, as an openly gay woman, I meet lots and lots and LOTS of people who want to say that my identity and my vocation is ALL about who I do and don’t sleep with.

Honey, that ain’t liberation. That’s not the freeing, joyful, gracious, saving word that God has for us tonight.

So tonight, I want to claim Mary Magdalene as my patron saint. Tonight I want to invite all of us to claim Mary Magdalene as a patron saint. And I want to say a few words from scripture about what that might mean.

It means hearing and choosing to respond to God’s call — not just once, but every day. Mary heard and responded with all that she was and with all that she had. She found in the community of Jesus’ followers a group of women and men who weren’t going to define her by who she slept with or by any other attachment — and she claimed her identity and her vocation in Christ as an apostle — as one sent and urged on by the love of Christ, called to “regard no one from a human point of view.” And she wasn’t going to let go of that. So when so many of Jesus’ other disciples — his male disciples — looked at Jesus in chains, Jesus on a Roman cross, and regarded him from a human, conventional point of view as a failure and a lost cause, Mary didn’t give in, but went to the tomb. And that’s why scholars call Mary Magdalene “the apostle to the apostles.” She was there at the tomb, and she saw the risen Jesus, and she was sent by Jesus to tell the guys who were busy wondering whether they could get their old jobs and their old roles back that the world was coming to new life in Jesus, who was and is alive.

And I dare say that following the Risen Christ who chose Mary Magdalene as the first apostle of Easter means being a “loose woman” or a “loose man.” It means refusing to be bound by our attachments to anything that might compromise the radical freedom we have to follow Jesus, to relate to one another as human beings made in God’s image and called to full, joyful, abundant life. I’m sure that Mary had plenty of people in her life who were quick to remind her of who she was supposed to be, people who tried to teach her to know her place. But she already knew her place, and it was in Christ — going where God called her and living with the kind of freedom to bring all of who she was to God’s service in the community of sisters and brothers God called. You know, there are basically three words for women in Greek: there are wives, virgins, and whores. Mary Magdalene as a “loose woman” following Jesus taught us another word for a woman that I want to claim for myself and I hope you’ll claim too. When everyone around her wanted to figure out whether Mary was a wife, a virgin, or a whore, she claimed her identity as an apostle, a woman or man sent by Jesus to proclaim the kind of freedom in Christ that Mary found as a “loose woman.” And woman or man, young or old, rich or poor, and whatever other descriptor anyone might want to present as THE definitive thing that should keep us shut in to the roles that “from a human point of view” make us worth anything or nothing, we can thank God in the tradition of the Apostle Mary Magdalene that in Christ we are loosed from all of those conventional bonds and freed for life in the Risen Christ, the life that brings life to the world.

Thanks be to God!

July 23, 2006 in Year B | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

March 17, 2006

"Ain't Got Time to Die"

Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland
Sunday, 12 March 2006; Second Sunday in Lent, Year B

Mark 8:31-38 - link to NRSV text

I once heard a sermon suggesting that Jesus' command to deny self, take up the cross, and follow him could be as easy as picking up an empty beer can on the beach and throwing it away.

This is a different sort of sermon.

I'm not going to say that taking up the cross is as easy as picking up a beer can. I don't think such a thing could even be said in Jesus' time or Mark's. In their time, a cross wasn't a pattern for jewelry, but an instrument of terror as well as torture and death. They knew absolutely and inescapably something that we 21st-century folk have to learn: namely the darkness of the cross. Jesus' earliest followers knew the dark realities the cross represented in their time, and therefore they understood just how powerful the light of Christ is in transforming the Cross into a symbol of liberation.

So to appreciate what writers like Mark and St. Paul were doing in presenting the cross as central to our following Jesus, we need to start with the darkness of the cross. And the Cross is a dark place, a monument to how we, "blessed with reason and skill," in the words of one of our Eucharistic prayers, make use of God's gifts to engineer darker and narrower prisons for ourselves. The Roman culture that invented the cross was known for its ingenuity in making use of simple and natural forms for engineering. Shape stones a certain way, and they form an arch that will support tremendous structures, held together by gravity and friction in a way that makes mortar a mere formality. Chart the right pathway for it, and water can be propelled over a tremendous distance solely by natural gravity in aqueducts.

And perhaps the height of Roman engineering, ingenious in its simplicity, was the cross. Take heavy posts, and set dozens and dozens of them along the busy roads into the city. Set brackets in them to receive a horizontal beam. Nail or even tie a man's hands to a beam, set that beam across the pole in brackets, and you have an excruciating form of torture and slow death that takes little time or effort to start but days to finish. Rulers like Pontius Pilate didn't hesitate to use it. It was diabolically simple, cost-effective, and highly visible as a public deterrent to those who would oppose the might of Rome. During the Passover season, as Jerusalem became clogged with pilgrims remembering how their God liberates slaves from their oppressors, Pilate lined the roads with hundreds of crosses, each filled with a living tableau of how narrow and dark a prison we can make of our imagination when we set it upon wounding others.

In short, crucifixion was state-sponsored terror meant to keep the populace in line. It made one person suffer unspeakably, obscenely, excruciatingly, and made that suffering a sign for all to see that Rome was the ultimate power, able to bring hell on earth or peace and order.

Is that what the Cross signifies for us, then?

As St. Paul would say, by no means!

We can't realize -- that is, both understand and make a reality -- the meaning of the Cross without taking a moment at least to look at what it meant to the empire that occupied the Roman province of Palestine in Jesus' day. If our heart skips a beat, or if there's a sharp intake of breath when we think about the cross, that's a good sign. The crosses along the roads of the Roman Empire weren't bits of litter that could be picked up and put away by anyone who "gives a hoot." They formed a long, terrible gash, an open wound in human freedom, in the human imagination, in God's dream for humanity.

And yet it has become a sign of our freedom, our healing, the reconciliation of all Creation with one another and with God.

How is this? How can it be?

It can be -- it is -- in Christ Jesus, and his transformation of Rome's cross into something that for us marks the path of freedom and abundant life -- THAT just might be the most subversive act in history.

Across the Roman world, the cross was a symbol of power -- the power of empire, the power of armies, the power to dominate. And we'll need to look hard at and talk frankly about power if we're going to claim fully what the Cross means to us as Christians.

"But what's with this power stuff?" you might be thinking, "isn't the Cross important to us because that's how Jesus died?" Yes ... but think about it this way. If the only thing we knew about Jesus was that he died on a cross, we would have no clue that Jesus was special. The Passover season was a time when the people of Israel were called to celebrate their liberation from oppression, and thousands upon thousands of people made their way to Jerusalem each year to do precisely that. Imagine for a moment those crowds on every street corner, and imagine the mood among those gathered to celebrate liberation. The combination made Roman authorities in Judea very nervous, and when Roman authorities got nervous, they tended to crucify first and ask questions later, or never. So in all likelihood, when Jesus died on a cross just outside Jerusalem's walls during the Passover season, he was surrounded not just by two men, but by dozens. In that sense, Jesus' death was nothing special. Even Jesus' resurrection would just be an item for "news of the weird" or grist for an episode of The X-Files or Smallville, if all we knew about Jesus was that he died and then was alive again. Or let's say that I tell you that the Plain Dealer this morning had a credible story about some guy named Jim Gundersen in Minnesota who'd had been executed by lethal injection and certified as dead, but then was alive again three days later. I have a hunch that most of us would be saying, "Huh, That's really weird," and not "Where is he? Tell me, so I can go worship him!"

So why is Jesus different for us? Why are Jesus' death and resurrection so important for us that we gather to tell the story every time we break bread in this place? One way to think about it -- the way I want to concentrate on this morning -- is that Jesus' death and resurrection have meaning for us because of the way Jesus LIVED.

But what was it about Jesus' manner of life that so transformed the cross for those who love him? I think it's related to something I've noticed this year as I've written week by week on the Gospel According to Mark.

It has to do with the title "son of God," which is NOT Mark's favorite way of talking about Jesus. He doesn't use that title much, but he presents Jesus as being God's son at three crucial points -- all of which we visit over the course of Lent and Holy Week -- as he tells "the beginning of the Good News of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God."

We hear the phrase at Jesus' Baptism, when he has a vision of the Spirit descending upon him, and Jesus hears God call him as a beloved son. And empowered by that experience, Jesus enters the desert.

We hear the phrase at Jesus' transfiguration on the mountaintop, as Jesus is called as a prophet alongside Moses and Elijah, and once more hears God saying, "this is my beloved child." Empowered by that experience, Jesus journeys toward his Passover in Jerusalem.

You may have noticed my saying "empowered." These are stories about Jesus claiming his power. Is that hard to hear? We need to hear it, though. We need to hear it to understand Philippians 2, to realize the vision of the Cross. Because it's at the foot of the Cross that Mark's third crucial use of the phrase appears, that someone -- a Roman soldier no less, a man whose humanity has been so wounded, so eroded, so subverted that he could put another man on a cross -- finally gets what Peter doesn't get in this Sunday's gospel, and this Roman soldier looks at the broken man above him and says -- knows -- "truly this man was God's son."

He gets it. He perceives Jesus' power in its fullness -- power made perfect in weakness, power poured out for the powerless. He's talking about what St. Paul was talking about when he wrote this in Philippians 2:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:1-11)

That's the way of the Cross, of Jesus' cross. Jesus claims his power, God's power, and he gets it -- that real power, God's power, is not a limited thing to be grasped, but an inexhaustible stream flowing freely to refresh and empower the weary and the marginalized.

What, then, might it mean for us to take up our Cross and follow Jesus? It's not a call to martyrdom -- if nothing else, saying that Jesus' blood shed on the Cross was a perfect, full, and sufficient sacrifice for sin, ought to suggest at the very least that God does not want or need any more bloodshed. God is not calling us to be a herd of lemmings. God calls us to be the Body of Christ. There's wisdom in the old spiritual:

'Cause when I'm healin' the sick
it takes all o' my time
'Cause when I'm feedin' the poor
I'm workin' fer the Kingdom…
'Cause when I'm givin' my all,
I'm servin' my Master ...
I ain't got time to die
oh Lord, I ain't got time to die

We are called to pray as Jesus taught us -- that God's kingdom would come and God's will done on earth as it is in heaven -- and then to SEEK that kingdom and seek it first. We are looking for and journeying toward nothing less than God's dream given flesh in the world! We see it every day in communities of justice and peace and hope and abundant, vibrant life, and until we see it everywhere -- on earth as it is in heaven -- we ain't got time to die. No Lord! We ain't got time to die.

But it is time to take up the Cross and follow Jesus. It's time to do with our power what Jesus did with his. This is a powerful congregation. Some of us have power by virtue of our education, our relative wealth in the world, our privilege in society, our voice. And those of us with that kind of power are often tempted to seek nothing more than charity. Charity is a start, but it can take us to a dangerous place in which we release some portion of our resources in order to get more power. We maintain a death grip on the unjust privilege that makes us wealthy, that gives us the illusion of control, and then we give away just enough to feel generous without seriously compromising our privilege.

The way of the Cross -- Jesus' way of life -- calls us to let go of that. Jesus' way calls us to be honest about the power we have -- that some of us have worldly power because of our skin color, our gender, our social class, our education, our birth in the most powerful nation in the world -- and then every one of us has spiritual power, world-changing power, because we are a community upon which God has breathed the Spirit. Taking up the Cross to follow Jesus means being clear about all of the power we've got as a community, and then letting all of that pour out -- "let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:24) -- to empower the poor and powerless.

That's what we remember when we gather as a community of Jesus' Cross, as people who share in Jesus' resurrection. We are called not only to make sure that the most marginalized have a place at the table, but also to recognize whose table it is. The table around which we gather belongs to Jesus the Christ, who saw, as Peter in this Sunday's gospel did not, that true power is made perfect in self-giving love, that the way of abundant life leads to the Cross. And the symbol of humanity's brokenness, of power corrupted to become domination, becomes a sign of peace, and freedom, and life.

Thanks be to God!

March 17, 2006 in Atonement, Cross, Jesus' Hard Sayings, Lent, Mark, Year B | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)