February 25, 2018
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Psalm 22:22-30, Romans 4:13-25, Mark 8:31-38
Several summers ago in Maine, the adults in our family are sitting around the table after dinner when Stephanie and my daughter in law Kristin start sharing their stories about what it was like to give birth. It doesn’t take long before my son and I realize this is not going to be a discussion we can enter, even though we both have been at our children’s births and carry our own memories of pain and mystery. Though Stephanie’s and Kristin’s stories were different in many respects, in each story there are two elements that are the same: there is suffering and there is new creation.
I am reminded of this today when I hear Jesus describe what is going to happen to him, when he says “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
What happens if we think of this, not as just a story of death and dying, but as a story of birth and New Creation?
Peter doesn’t like what Jesus says, because it goes against the primary narrative of his world and ours, that says the solution to our problems comes when we have the power to make others do what we want them to do. Power and control are presented as the secret to a happy life and these come to us when we move into positions of economic, social, and political power.
Of course, the ultimate expression of this power is the ability to build crosses for your enemies.
Caesar uses the cross to kill those who rebel against his rule, when lesser forms of violence don’t work: things like intimidation, incarceration, exile, and bombing a village in order to save it, like we did in Vietnam and Syria is doing now to its own people.
Because this is the dominate narrative Peter can’t help but think that Jesus the Messiah will wipe out the Romans and exchange the Pax Romano for the Peace of God, which will be enforced by the power of God.
Yet today is Jesus offers a counter-narrative that comes out of the heart of his Abba!
He says, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
Jesus plans to save the world, not by building crosses, but by bearing crosses. Not by killing his enemies but by praying for and loving and suffering for his enemies.
Jesus says this is also the path for his disciples. He tells them: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
To us it sounds like utter madness, yet for Jesus it is the only sane way forward, because “those who want to save their life through power, control, and violence will lose their life to someone with more power, control and violence.”
But those who surrender their lives to Jesus and the good news will find their true life.”
The disciples have to endure the horror of the cross before they will ever understand what God is doing on it.
Paul writes to the church in Corinth 20 years later: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God….For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
I want to suggest Christ crucified is a birthing story. This means that if an Evangelical friend asks if you have been born again, you can say with complete confidence, “I was born again on the birthing table of the cross.”
The point of giving birth is not suffering for its own sake, but to bring into the world a new creation. So too for Jesus: Some atonement theories see the suffering as a sign that God the Father is punishing his Son in our place. This must be rejected completely. Rejected because it creates a split in God between Father and Son and it turns God the Father into a violent child abuser. And it must be rejected because this theology has provided cover for violent followers of Jesus when they abuse their wives, children, and enemies.
Jesus, with Abba and Holy Spirit, suffers on the cross at the hands of sin and death in order to reveal those powers for what they are and to show solidarity with every person who has ever been oppressed and abused, thus reconciling all things to God.
Jurgen Moltmann was a German soldier in the Second World War and ended up as an Allied prisoner of war. He becomes a theologian who is compelled to make sense of all the suffering and evil he witnessed.
He writes in his book The Crucified God: “All human history, however much it may be determined by guilt and death, is taken up into [the] ‘history of God’, i.e. into the Trinity, and integrated into the future of the ‘history of God’. There is no suffering which… is not God’s suffering; no death which has not been God’s death in the history of Golgotha. Therefore there is no life, no fortune and no joy which have not been integrated by God’s history, into eternal life, the eternal joy of God.” Page 246
Even the most painful birth stories which end with the death of the child, the death of the mother, are taken up into the suffering heart of God.
Peter rejects all this talk of Jesus suffering. He can only imagine the story that the one with the most power and control wins. I suspect the women following Jesus have an easier time understanding what Jesus is doing on the cross. Maybe this is why Jesus’s first appearance on the day of resurrection is to a woman, Mary Magdalene.
After the resurrection they hear Jesus with new understanding when he says, “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”
If your way of exercising power destroys who you are as a person, you may build a life, but there will be no one left to live it.
It’s like that scene in the 2004 movie The Aviator, staring Leonardo DiCaprio as millionaire Howard Hughes, who at the end is too afraid to leave one small room of his mansion, because of his fear of the germs that lie beyond the door.
In our time of social fracture Jesus calls us to follow his path, to bear witness to those who imagine it is better to build crosses than to bear them. To bear witness by standing with those who suffer.
In Jesus the cross becomes the birthing table of new creation. This is a God’s doing and it is marvelous in our sight to see that God the Father is also God the Mother.