August 31, 2014
12th Sunday after Pentecost
Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
One of my favorite times of the day being a camp counselor was ‘devos’ or devotions. As we settled in the cabin or tent at night, there would be time for a story (no matter what the campers’ age) and a time for reflection and prayer. For the younger ones, it was just a story and a prayer….and some of them dozed off during the story, but we still took the time to close each day in prayer. For many, many summers at camp I shared a story entitled Barrington Bunny as part of the end of the day devotions.
Barrington is a bunny who is very good at hopping and is very furry. He is a very good bunny. Those are his gifts…he realizes on a Christmas Eve….that he can’t make it to the beaver’s house because he can’t swim. He can’t make it to the squirrels’ home because he can’t climb the tree….so he sits and is sad because he is on his own.
He ends up providing warmth and shelter for the night for a lost, cold field mouse.
In the morning, the mouse family finds their lost family member under Barrington’s cold body. In the midst of the storm, the decision he made meant he would lose his life….because he gave it for the sake of someone else.
This story leads us right into today’s gospel lesson. Because the call that Barrington responded to, is the same one that Jesus extends to his disciples….and to us today.
Just after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah (just after our reading from last week) Jesus starts to explain what is to happen. Peter is adamant that this must not happen. No way….Jesus, we know you are the Messiah, you’re not supposed to die!
This is just one of the moments that I love about Peter. He seemed so firm in his faith, just moments ago…and now he’s not so sure about this plan. He’s so human. Just like you, just like me.
And Jesus calls him right out as a stumbling block….and says get behind me Satan. Because again, just like you and me….he’s focusing on human things, not divine things. It’s great to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, but Peter wants it his way, not through the way of the cross.
Jesus continues…those who want to become my followers, take up their cross and follow me.
And this, then, is the call for Peter, and for you and for me….this is the path we, too, must travel. The disciples are not just witnesses of Jesus’ suffering, but participants in it. (Barreto)
To truly be a disciple doesn’t just mean telling people about Jesus life, suffering, death and resurrection but living it in our own bodies, as well.
But to take up one’s cross….it had a different meaning for the people of Jesus’ time….it meant death. The cross was a symbol of death.
Sometimes the phrase “that’s my cross to bear” gets slightly misinterpreted in our day and age. When the phrase is used, it’s more of a burden, it’s something that we take on as silent sufferers, rather than seeing it as a symbol of death.
Does this make sense? That when we talk about having a cross to bear, we don’t think of it as carrying the symbol of Jesus’ death, but more so as a responsibility that is a burden in our day to day lives.
I’m not trying to call anyone out for using this phrase, I just think it’s important to think about what Jesus is actually calling us to do.
A colleague of mine, Brian Stoffregen puts it this way,
“To "take up the cross" then is not an invitation, for disciples then or now, to start going around looking for crosses to bear. The logic of the kingdom does not have to do with plotting the way to success. Instead, disciples are called to an obediently humble giving of self for the neighbor in which hearing and doing are brought into conformity and the whole of the law is fulfilled.”
We’re not called to look for crosses to bear….to do things that will garner jewels for our crowns or better our own selves in any way. It’s about being humble, loving the Lord our God and in serving others.
It’s about losing our lives…and letting our lives be lived for others.
It’s all about the first commandment. You shall have no other gods.
Pretty simple, right? I mean, it’s the first commandment.
Luther says this means that we are to fear, love and trust God above all things.
In the moment that Peter says, no Lord, that’s not how it’s supposed to be! Jesus shouts right back…by telling him that he’s lost sight of the first commandment once again. He has forgotten to put God first and have faith that this plan is the right plan.
Maybe Peter is the stumbling block in that moment because he cannot really see what the cross means. He is blinded by his own wants and needs that he wants the kingdom, and a savior, but he doesn’t want the savior to die in the process.
Yet Jesus points him and us, back to the first commandment. It’s all about putting God first. It’s all about having faith. Maybe we could just rewrite that first commandment, it could just say, have faith. It would be just as hard for us to follow, but it would sound nicer….
No seriously…that’s the toughest thing about this commandment, right? That we know we’re supposed to have faith and put God first….but in a way, we’ll never hold this commandment at all times.
Ready: Have faith. Got it? Got faith?
It’s just not that simple, you see, faith drives us to call upon God, to listen to God’s Word, to obey God’s representatives, to love and care for our neighbor.
Let me say that again, faith drives us to call upon God, to listen to God’s Word, to obey God’s representatives, to love and care for our neighbor.
Having faith is more than just saying I believe. It’s the life you live, growing out of that belief that is bearing the cross of Christ.
"Barrington lay on top of the little mouse and hugged him tight. The tiny fellow felt himself surrounded by warm fur. He cried for awhile but soon, snug and warm, fell asleep.
Barrington had only two thoughts that long, cold night. First he thought, 'It's good to be a bunny. Bunnies are very furry and worm.' And then, when he felt the heart of the tiny mouse beneath him beating regularly, he thought, 'All of the animals in the forest are my family.'
Next morning, the field mice found their little boy, asleep in the snow, warm and snug beneath the furry carcass of a dead bunny. Their relief and excitement was so great that they didn't even think to question where the bunny had come from." (The Way of the Wolf, p. 8)
And there it is…the opportunity to save one’s life, by deciding what is safe and what is in one’s own self-interest. Or the opportunity to lose one’s life for Jesus sake, by living not just for yourself but living for others.
It’s following the first commandment…. To have faith.
It’s having faith enough that you can see beyond yourself and know that God is there to help and guide you.
It’s having faith enough to call out, “Lord, save me!” when you don’t feel strong enough.
It’s having faith enough…to doubt….to ask questions…to struggle with issues of the day.
It’s having faith enough…to see a community of people that gathers around you to love and support you, and that seeks your love and support.
So even on those days, when you struggle the most with this one commandment….to have faith, know this. God is by your side. God will not leave you. God’s arms are open to embrace you…..have faith.
And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen.