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Genesis 17:1-7,15-16, Romans 4:13-25, Mark 8:31-38
Preached @ St. Christopher’s, Roseville, MN, 3/4/11
(A PDF of this sermon is available on St. Christopher's Website, which can be reached by clicking on the title "Lent 2b" which contains the imbedded link.)
In “Gareth and Lynette,” Tennyson wrote a story of a young man who had a vision that he was to join King Arthur’s circle of knights, to which his mother objected. She pulls out her arsenal of arguments against her son’s desire: bribery, promising to arrange hunts and sport and a bride - his age, saying he is too young – guilt, at leaving her alone. All of these being good reasons to try to keep her son from what she perceives as a harmful choice. But her son replies
O Mother, How can ye keep me tethered to you – Shame.
Man am I grown, a man’s work must I do.
Follow the deer? Follow the Christ, the King.
Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King –
Else, what fore was I born?
Tennyson’s story is meant to evoke questions in us, two of which are: In what do we believe? In what do we have faith?
Good and challenging questions. Our Gospel reading from Mark today raises those same questions. In the verses just before ours today Jesus has been identified, by Peter, as the “Messiah.” And then we have the rebuking back and forth between Peter and Jesus, with Jesus then turning to the crowds around them and he talks to them about faith, belief and a re-focusing of our priorities. In what do we believe? In what do we have faith?
Peter was very much acting the part of the mother in Tennyson’s story: wanting and believing in his understanding of what “Messiah” means. Jesus, very much like the son in Tennyson’s tale, is following a path that he knows is right, is the correct one - one he invites us to, asking us to deny our self, take up our individual cross and follow him. Jesus is not talking about self-hatred, or our Lenten penchant to give something up (a/k/a denying ourselves something). Jesus is asking us to focus on what is really important in life. Jesus took up his individual cross and changed the world by carrying that individual cross. We are asked today to pick up our cross, and change the world. Jesus’ cross gave us redemption and love that is beyond measure. What is our cross, that picking that up, dropping those things that are truly unimportant, can change our world? In what do we believe? In what do we have faith?
Our Hebrew Testament reading of God’s renaming of Abraham and Sarah (from Abram and Sarai) is all about faith, and faithful living. Paul, in the portion of the letter to the Romans we hear, defines Abraham’s reward as being based on the righteousness of his faith, not Abraham’s adherence to the law. In what did Abraham believe? In what did he have faith?
Richard Rohr has written about Jesus’ three “P”s: power, prestige and possessions. Rohr says that over 90% of Jesus’ concerns and teachings were on the seduction of these three Ps: a seduction that takes us away from that which is really important in life. We all have seen examples of people who are hugely successful, having power, prestige and enormous possessions, and yet are unhappy, unsatisfied, unfulfilled - Truly living a life not worth anything. This is not a new phenomenon, as Jesus was preaching against this mind-set 2000 years ago. And we are hearing about it today. In what do we believe? In what do we have faith?
Steadfast faith…that is one of the things we ask for in our Collect today. Faith in what? Belief in what? Jesus asks a rhetorical question to the crowd: For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? The new Common English Bible translates that same verse as Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? Why would people gain the whole world and lose themselves? Jesus is asking us to focus on that which is important in life…on the kind of life we are leading…to regularly ask the questions: in what do we believe? In what do we have faith?
A number of years ago, I was asked to sit in on an ecumenical conversation from a group visiting the United States from Northern Ireland, on a trip exploring how different denominations in the U.S. were addressing GLBT issues. In this group from Northern Ireland were: Presbyterians, Catholics, an Anglican priest, a Baptist minister, Unitarians, and a few others. The conversation was guarded and careful at first, but as it got going there were some surprises. The first truly negative comment about GLBT people came from the Anglican. This evoked a very strong response from the Baptist minister and the catholic lay individual, who voiced strong opposition to the Anglican priest’s opinions. Surprising, perhaps, and unexpected to have a Roman Catholic and a Baptist minister give full-throated support for full inclusion of people they felt were a minority, and being discriminated against. In what did those people believe? In what did they have faith?
Our Gospel and other readings, that ecumenical conversation, focus our attention on the possibilities of the in-breaking of God into our world. The retiring Suffragan Bishop of New York, Cathy Roskum, talking about this in-breaking of God into the world said: Supporting MDGs cannot just be about good works and charity and writing checks. Even working for justice does not cover it. But, true sharing of wealth and resources is the in-breaking of God’s realm: mountains of wealth are lowered and the deep valleys of poverty are raised to make the path level for the coming of God.
In what do we have faith? In what do we believe? Do we, here at St. Christopher’s believe our baptismal covenant vows in which we regularly promise to see Christ in the “other”, to seek and support justice and equality, to respect everyone’s dignity? How do we live out those vows? How do we support justice and equality and dignity if we remain silent on issues of the day that make inequality the norm? Where is our voice supporting and arguing for the marginalized? Does our silence make us complicit in acts and beliefs in which we do not agree? In what do we have faith? In what do we believe?
How can we act out our faith, as a community of faith, as the Body of Christ in Roseville today? Would Jesus stay silent when there was a substantive chance that a large swath of people were about to be marginalized: told they are less than those who view them as different? How should – how can our voice be heard?
Anytime there is an attempt to concretize into law prejudice, discrimination, inequality of a group thought of, by some, as different, we, as Christians, must rise up and voice our opposition, and actively work to halt those attempts. Our silence will be damning to us in the long run. We must act to show that discrimination, prejudice, inequality are the exact opposite of God’s in-breaking into the world. While Our actions in opposition to these attempted acts to legalize inequality and injustice can be that in-breaking of God into the world exemplifying the truth: ALL are welcome at God’s table for all the sacraments. ALL are equally loved.
Some will say this is too political – others not enough. It seems we are called by Jesus today to ask the hard questions and find a way to actively create a world where justice & equality for all is made palpable and real for all…..Is this something St. Christopher’s is willing to do? - Else, what-fore were we born?..... In what do we believe? In what do we have faith?
Copyright © 2012, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Art: Cross 23, (a/k/a "Jessica's") jfd+, 2011