16 Pentecost—Proper 19-B
September 13, 2015
Fran Tarkenton, famous University of Georgia and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback once said “if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.”
We’ve all been to churches where it isn’t fun: sometimes it’s tedious, like when one of my vestries in North Carolina spent an hour arguing over $50 in a $500,000 budget.
Or like when the prayers and singing carry so little conviction and joy, that the worship is ponderous and feels like wading hip-deep in mud.
On the other hand, yesterday at Ed Gilbert’s funeral this place was full of men and women singing and praying like they meant every word. It was glorious fun!
Jesus is so successful early on because in his presence there is a joy and energy people have never experienced before. They feel a peace and purpose as Jesus heals, and preaches, and challenges the powers of this world with the incarnate love of the Triune God.
And can’t we see Peter lean over to his brother Andrew and say, “Following Jesus certainly beats struggling with those fishing nets day after day!”
Richard Rohr and Rob Bell led a conference in 2014 with the subtitle that bears thinking about: “If God is Trinity, and Jesus is the face of God, then we live in a benevolent universe”.
To believe this changes everything!
But then one day they’re in the region of Caesarea Philippi, an imperial city dedicated to the worship of Caesar, and Jesus starts talking about suffering, and being rejected by the leaders, and even dying.
So Peter pulls Jesus aside to tell the young rabbi whom he has just named as the Messiah that such talk is definitely going to hurt the movement he’s been trying to build all these months. It’s just not fun!
“You can’t talk that way Jesus!”
But then Jesus says if you want to follow me you must take up your cross too, Peter!
Peter knew that crucifixion was Rome’s way of treating anyone who challenged the power and authority of Caesar. Rome was expert at causing maximum pain with maximum exposure to others.
In fact, I’ve heard that there are no artistic drawings of a crucifixion until around 400 AD, which was about 100 years after Rome stopped the practice. Only those who had never seen it could think a cross would be something pretty to draw on a wall or to dangle from your ear or around your neck.
“Jesus, you have to stop talking about dying and crosses right now, otherwise no one will follow you and our movement will go down the tubes.
But, Jesus will have none of it: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
He’s saying, if you want to keep experiencing this joy and peace, this fun, then you have to learn how to get beyond your preoccupation with yourself. You can go to church for a 1000 years but if all you end up doing is worrying about what others think of you and how well you are performing the religious checklist of do’s and don’ts, then you will never experience the transformation Jesus Christ comes to bring.
The cross for Jesus means his refusal to worship Caesar and thus it is his sign of the glory and love of the Father, the one true God and the people God loves.
The cross for us means our refusal to worship Caesar and ourselves and instead to live to the glory and love of the Father, the one true God, and to allow God to break ourselves open for the well-being of the people God loves, which includes everyone.
Jesus asks us today, “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”
“If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.”
But if your just superficial fun, that is all shell and no peanut, we become people who are “big hat and no cattle, we end up with big house, but no home.
The fun starts, Jesus knows, each moment we decide to follow him and pour out our lives for others.
We see it acted out by Jesus every Sunday: He pours himself out to us in Eucharist.
Jesus tells us that every time you eat this bread and drink this cup—that is every time you receive my broken body and poured out blood, DO THIS in remembrance of me.
Usually we think when he says “do this” he is just telling us to take the bread and the wine and think of Jesus. But that doesn’t go deep enough: he is telling us to receive his presence so we can be broken open and poured out, we can be Eucharist, we can do this, for others.
As you see me be Eucharist for you, you now can be Eucharist for your spouse and kids and co-workers. Be Eucharist for the lonely man and the hungry woman—be Eucharist and you will find the secret of finding your life by losing your life.
Of course we have to be careful here, because those who are being abused by someone close to them might be told that it is a cross they need to bear.
So we need to hear John Howard Yoder, who said in paraphrase: Christ’s cross and the one we are called to bear is not some frustration of a vision we had for our fulfillment, nor is it carrying a crushing debt, or putting up with a nagging in-law. For Christ it was the expected result of taking on the ruling powers of society. From Commentary on Mark by William Placher
Our cross is not keeping a stiff upper lip against the abuse of another, because we do not heal our abuser by taking their abuse. Rather our cross is found in pouring out ourselves for the healing and help of others, according to the gifts given us by God.
When we ask who are we being called to be Eucharist for, some end up visiting prisons and some feeding the hungry and others training the young and others providing products through their business that increases the common good.
Some will find themselves called to confront the powers that be and tell them to stop doing those things that are making people sick in the first place.
It’s great fun to sing that we “love that dirty water, Boston your my home” but only because the Charles River is much cleaner today than it was then.
The Cosmic Christ continually breaking himself open and pouring himself out to us, for us—to faithful and unfaithful, to saint and sinner. He is Eucharist, so that we can be Eucharist too.
I pray each of as individuals and all of us as the community of All Saints gain a clearer vision this year of what our neighbors need and what we as Eucharistic people are being called to provide.
We can focus on “my, me, mine” forever, but ultimately that’s tedious and not much fun.