Thursday, March 12, 2009

Take This Cross And ...

Good morning, PDX!

There was that country song back when. "Take this job and shove it. I ain't workin' here no more." That's what people could say back in those now remote 90's when our economy couldn't fill all the jobs out there. Back when, as a Texas CEO once told me, "This economy is amazing. We're producing all we can, and that's not enough so we have to get the rest produced overseas."

Interesting way to look at it. Seems like another world now. It was.

But back to that title. Mark 8:31-38 was the gospel text for last Sunday. In context, Jesus has taken the boys (probably what most of his disciples actually were, not white-haired old men) to Caesarea Philippi and asked, "Who do people say I am? More importantly, who do you say that I am?" Caesarea Philippi was like the Las Vegas strip of the day. Or maybe like the strip clubs on Columbia Boulevard, or practically any boulevard, in Portland. Or maybe like the sex industry hub of Bangkok. Peter blurts the right answer, but it's shallow.

When Jesus goes on to explain that his job here will put him crosswise with the religious leaders of the day, will involve rejection, suffering and death, Peter will have none of it. He thinks he gets it and that Jesus doesn't. Jesus needs to be straightened out. Obviously. Jesus goes on to straighten Peter out, says that the followers will need to take up their crosses and follow. But the cross wasn't a piece of jewelry or a ubiquitous grave marker or roadside memorial with flowers and teddy bears around it.

It was like being waterboarded, drawn and quartered, hung and electrocuted all at once. For hours. And Rome did it to dissidents and misfits. Jerusalem would do it too if they felt threatened.

But hold it! Didn't Jesus say that he would be rejected by the church leaders of his day? Hmmm.

Last Sunday night at Operation Nightwatch worship I asked the folks who they would want to spend a day with if they had their choice. Could be anyone, living or dead. I got the best range of answers I've ever had to that question. In churches people always say Jesus first. At ONW worship, I heard the prophet Amos. Then Leonardo da Vinci. More. Jesus was fourth or fifth on the list.

We always assume that we would recognize the person we idolize or admire and would want to spend time with. Maybe they would be very different from our expectations. Maybe it would be a big disappointment and we'd come away confused or angry rather than enlightened. Because maybe the person we got to know didn't turn out to be the person that we had wanted to know.

Jesus is saying that the church leaders of his day would get it very wrong and would press for the death sentence because of it. And of all people on earth, they should have been the ones to instantly recognize Jesus for whom and what he was. They should have seen God at work, but they didn't. They wouldn't. They couldn't. They'd say, "Take this Messiah and shove it!"

That should give us great pause, especially if we are some kind of Big Shot or even a Little Shot in the church of our day. Do we actually know the Jesus that we preach? Have we even met yet? What would happen if we did?

Are we about doing God's work, or are we about institutional preservation? Can we see what God needs and what people need or only what our budget and building and program need? Is our church trying to face 2009 with a worldview from the 90's?

Perhaps it's time we and the real Jesus met.

If we were asked to turn our church building into a greenhouse and plow up the parking lot to make a community garden in order to feed our neighbors--to actually create a COMMUNITY of neighbors--what would we say?

Would we say, "Here I am, Lord. Let's get started!"

Could we follow Christ without our temple?

Or would we say, "Take this cross and shove it!"


Pastor Roger

P.S. The gospel text for this coming Sunday cuts us no slack.

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