Monday, March 2, 2015

Sermon for March 1, 2015; Mark 8:31-38

Rev. George Miller
March 1, 2015
Mark 8:31-38

There are many ways to read the Gospel of Mark. One can pick it up and read it like a book: this is what Jesus said; this is what Jesus did.

One can ask questions- who is Mark, when was he writing, what was going on and why did he choose to tell the story of Jesus this way?

Scholars that I’ve studied say that Mark was written by a Jew living in Jerusalem during tough times. They were under Roman rule, persecuted by Nero and the Temple had been or was about to be destroyed.

It is said that Mark was written to give the people hope, painting Jesus as a hero and an example to follow when enduring hardships and persecution.

In other words, Mark would be an appropriate gospel to give courage to the 220 Syrian Christians who were recently seized from their homes by Islamic State militants, and to the 200 others who gathered in a church east of Beirut on Thursday to stand in solidarity with the victims.

For years now there has been constant reporting and discussions about ISIS and Muslim extremists. About the destruction and death that has taken place.

People all over the world are trying to make sense of things, trying to figure it out; what’s the solution?- what to do?

There are those who speak of ISIS and Islam as the same; who see militants and Muslims as one.

But not all Muslims are militants and not all Islamists are in ISIS.

Most, believe it or not, are just people trying to survive, figuring out what to do, and they are also unsure, they are also afraid.

To make sense of it all, I have to place things into my own individual perspective:

I think of all the letters to the editor that have appeared in the last 5 years speaking out against the lesbian and gay community; the ones that are full of anger and venom, that use scripture and refer to Christ.

Not one of those letters was written by a Muslim, but by local Christians in modern day America.

And they hurt, they shamed and they set out to silence a part of the population.

I think of the 60’s: segregation, separate water fountains. Those who marched in Selma, who waded in the water of Biloxi, who sat at lunch counters; who were beat, locked up, had ashtrays dumped on them.

The acts of the KKK, with white cloaks and burning crosses; white men who lynched, killed and created terror in the night.

They were not Muslims. The KKK is a Christian organization.

And they hurt, they shamed and they set out to silence a part of the population.

The Nazi’s in the 1940s. They snuffed out those with developmental disabilities. They virtually wiped out the Gypsy population. They imprisoned gays and lesbians. They murdered millions of Jews: children, mothers, grandparents.

And they were not Muslims; they were Christians. They were German. They shared the color of my skin and many bore the same blue as my eyes.

And they hurt, they shamed and they set out to silence a part of the population.

Yet how many here today would want to say that every Christian who writes a letter to the editor represents all of us, from all denominations, from every time and place?

How many of us want to say that the KKK, as Christians, speaks for all of us, from all denominations, from every time and place?

How many of us want to say the Nazis, as Christians, speak for all of us, from all denominations, from every time and place?

Ask my college professor who lost family in the Holocaust what he thinks about militant Christian extremists.

Ask a member of the LGBT community what they think of militant Christian extremists.

Do so, and you might understand why it may appear as though some of the newer generations seem complacent or don’t overtly agree with what others are saying in regards to ISIS and their acts of terrorism.

You may understand why government leaders are careful with what words they use and how they approach things, or why pastors like myself have not spoken much about the acts of violence that have been taking place by ISIS or extremists.

It is because we are cautious; we are cautious because we know how labeling a whole religion based on the acts of some can create hurt, shame and silence.

And yet the events are taking place and they seem to be increasing, with new threats being discovered.

Last week a parishioner sent an e-mail about the slaying of 21 Coptic Christians by Islamic fundamentalists. Friday’s paper told of “Jihadi John,” a masked man with a British voice who beheaded several hostages.

Underneath was the story about the abducted Christians and the destruction of artifacts.

Today, as we bask in the after-glow of a successful yard sale, there are Christians, such as those in Beirut, who are living in truly dangerous times in which following their faith can bring them hurt, bring them shame and silence.

They are Christians who are living in times not unlike Mark’s gospel or the time of Jesus.

During then there was only one Kingdom-Rome. You were expected to behave, stay in line and to respect Roman authority.

If you did not, there were ways to make you pay, to conform, to get right.

If you still did not do as you were told, you could be arrested, you could be jailed.

There was also the cross.

The cross back then was a political weapon of punishment. To be placed upon a cross meant you were a criminal; you were an enemy of the state; you were different, radical.

The cross was a vile way to die; carrying it created a macabre parade that made it clear who had the power and who did not.

A cross was meant to hurt, and to shame, and to silence a part of the population.

This helps to explain why when Jesus talked about his suffering and his death that Peter was so quick to rebuke him.

Traditional Jewish thought was that the Messiah would come to set things right, destroy the enemy, and have dominion and glory over all people and places for all time.

If Jesus was indeed the Messiah it would follow that he would be victorious and triumphant.

Therefore, this image of Jesus suffering did not fit into the classic understanding of how the Messiah was to be.

Never could Peter or any other faithful Jew comprehend that the Messiah would be hurt, or be shamed, or be silenced.

Never could they have conceived that the weapon of their Roman enemies, the cross- could ever be used as a means of Good News.

No wonder Peter rebuked Jesus, no wonder Peter and the disciples never did fully understand what Jesus was talking about.

Verse 34 is where things get deep and harder to digest. Jesus tells them “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

I think there’s much misunderstanding about this scripture. Some see it as applying to a situation they are in that’s not so pleasant, such as a sickness or financial duress.

I don’t think taking up your cross means that.

Nor do I think that giving up Cool Ranch Doritos for Lent means one has taken up their cross, or that going a month without Facebook makes one a martyr.

I think what Jesus is talking about is the intentional decision one makes with the full realization that doing what is right, doing what is just, doing what is good for the sake of God’s Kingdom is not always easy, does not always come with rewards, does not create easy streets or guarantees.

The realization that to do compassionate acts of Christ, to share in his prophetic voice, to drop our security nets can actually bring hurt, can actually bring shame, can actually cause others to want to silence our voice.

And if we are to follow, truly follow Jesus as he carries his cross, we are to be prepared. Prepared beyond physical ailments or personnel losses; prepared beyond giving up snacks or soda.

To be prepared knowing that some, or most or perhaps even all others may see us as criminals or as enemies or infidels…

…When one stops to ponder it all, it’s amazing to think that to preach the Good News and to live in such a way that
-widows are cared for
-children are welcomed
-foreigners are treated with respect
is reason to warrant the hurt, the shame and the silence of the cross.

It’s amazing to think that to preach and to act the Good News
-of thousands being fed
-blind being made to see
-unhealthy demons being cast out
is reason to warrant the hurt, the shame, and the silence of the cross.

It’s amazing to think that to preach and to act the Good News that
-prodigal sons are embraced
-adulterers are forgiven
-the sick are cared for
-everyone is welcome at the table
is reason to warrant the hurt, the shame, and the silence of the cross.

In conclusion, what kind of Christians are we? How do we profess and live out our faith? How do we carry our own cross?

Also, how do we, as Christians, own up to what has been done by other Christians in the name of Jesus Christ in order to hurt, to shame and to silence others?

How do we preach and act out the Gospel in the face and threats of extremists and militants who are trying their best to hurt, to shame and to silence not only our Christian brothers and sisters, but the voices of so many other people of the world?

There is no answer I can give. There is no set of instructions I can share.

So we wander and we wonder as we make our way with Jesus into the Holy City, as he prepares to pick up his cross, will we have the courage and ability to pick ours up too?

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