Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost—Year B—September 16, 2012
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Lord God, give me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Amen.
Have you ever found something in the last place you expected to find it? Not the last place you looked, but the exact opposite of the place that you thought something belonged?
Not something as simple as finding your lost car keys in the freezer, but something even more outrageous.
I really wish I had a metaphor to put here…it would make things so much easier if I could simply plug in here an event that many if not all of us had experienced in our lives that illustrates what I’m talking about, but at the same time, doing so would ruin my point.
Things pop up in unexpected ways and in unexpected places all the time, but nothing quite takes the hurt-your-brain logic somersaults as trying to understand and articulate who Jesus is, especially in relation to the cross.
Nothing quite measures up to the backwardness of Jesus as Messiah.
Peter calls Jesus “the anointed one,” which in Greek is “Christ”, and in Hebrew is “Messiah”. The term traces back to the ritual of anointing kings, like David, and high priests with oil. So it is no surprise that when the Jews of Jesus time were waiting for the Messiah to come, they waited in expectation of a strong leader. Likely they hoped for a military leader that would overthrow the Roman government.
But Jesus is a very different kind of Messiah, Christ, Anointed One. He does not plan to use force, or fighting, or power, or politics to gain victory. Other tactics will be used to win victory in a battle much bigger than one with the Romans. Jesus breaks human expectation.
Peter does not get this, and is therefore rebuked by Jesus when he protests. He does not understand what is going on when Jesus for the first time in Mark’s Gospel tells the disciples what he is going to endure in the future.
Great suffering, rejection, and death are not the normal pathway that great leaders take. This is where Peter gets stuck; obviously he does not hear the resurrection part of Jesus’ pronouncement , or at least it does not register with him. Peter focuses on the death part, and that does not coincide with his idea of what a Messiah is and does and accomplishes.
Peter’s mind is set on human things, not divine things. He is critiquing Jesus strategy based on how he thinks things would work out on the human battlefield. But the struggle to come is played out on a much bigger stage, one which Peter has yet to understand.
But what Jesus says is going to happen, happens; God shows up in the last place you would expect.
Jesus dies on a Roman torture device—on a cross.
Jesus dies! That is not what you would normally expect from someone that is supposed to be so powerful and in control, but it does.
As humans, we expect glory and victory to result from acts that show power, not an act that highlights weakness, not from death.
But it is through death that Jesus conquers Sin and death. Jesus loses his life in order to save ours. At the crucifixion, the victory comes to the one who dies and rises again, not to the one who uses their worldly power to do the killing.
The reality of the situation is the exact opposite of our expectations. The rules are backwards, the world is turned upside-down.
And it is when we live into this new, upside-down, backwards, illogical worldview that we take up our cross and follow Jesus. And it is when that happens, when the Holy Spirit works through us, that the Already moments that I talked about last week happen in this world that is still infested with the Not Yet—Sin, suffering, hatred, violence, intolerance, poverty, sickness, and sadness.
It is when pastors see their role as a demotion, as servant to others and God, instead of promotion over others, that they embody the upside-down backwards worldview, take up their cross, and follow Jesus. I mean come on…yes, pulpits and altars are normally elevated compared to where everyone else sits, but that is historically so that everyone could see and hear. The church is one of the only places that leadership positions are actually more like subordinations, and my vestments reflect that. The white alb that I wear is not meant to make me stand out…it is a sign of my baptism, it is meant to cover over what makes me different from the rest of you and show only what we all hold in common…the promises of forgiveness of sins and eternal life that we received at Baptism. Yes, that stole is not a sign of something that we share in common, but it is a sign of that servant-ship that I referenced before, it is a sign of the yoke of the office of pastor—a yoke, being the thing that piece of equipment used with cattle to plow fields and do other work. But enough about me and other pastors…back to Jesus’ instruction on how to become his follower.
Jesus says: “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” This denial is not one of basic need; Jesus is not saying necessarily stop eating, drinking, sleeping, living your life. Instead, it is simply an invitation to set aside the ways of the world, the mindset of power and honor that society runs on, and embrace how Jesus makes all the rules backwards and turns the world up-side down.
It is also when people show power by turning the other cheek instead of striking back that they embody the upside-down backwards worldview, take up their cross, and follow Jesus.
It is when people worry more about the well being and honor of others than protecting themselves and their own reputations that they embody the upside-down backwards worldview, take up their cross, and follow Jesus.
It is when our tongues work to spread peace and love instead of always starting fires and drawing lines between people and groups that they embody the upside-down backwards worldview, take up their cross, and follow Jesus.
It is when we are just as focused, if not more focused, on ensuring rights and a quality of life for all people, regardless of gender, age, creed, nation, dress, reputation, or economic status, instead of simply working to make our individual lives as good as they can be, or accumulating as much as we can for ourselves, that we embody the upside-down backwards worldview, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.
It is not about intentionally doing these things in order to gain eternal life, but it is about the understanding of how Jesus turned the world upside-down and backwards with the cross and having the Holy Spirit work that same upside-down, backwards worldview in each and every one of us as we go out into the world, into our daily lives, to serve all of God’s creation.
On the cross, Jesus shattered every expectation that people had for him as the messiah. He gained life through death, strength through weakness. He turned the world upside-down and backwards, in order to conquer Sin and death and usher in eternal life and the kingdom of God. And thank God he did! Amen.