Sunday, March 1, 2015

2 Lent

March 1, 2015

Mark 8.31-38

+ On Friday, the Episcopal Church lost a very great man. Canon Malcolm Boyd died in Los Angeles. If you do not know who Malcolm Boyd was, you should. He was, to say the least,  a well-known Episcopal priest and writer and poet. He was most famous for his best-selling book of prayers, Are You Running With Me, Jesus? which was published fifty years ago this year.

I met Malcom Boyd once. He was the co-editor (along with Bishop Chester Talton) of an anthology of prayers, Race and Prayers, in which was included one of my poem/prayers “A Prayer on the Feast Day of Jonathan Myrick Daniels.”  One time when I was in Los Angeles for a meeting, I got to meet him.  I remember being impressed with the life and light that he had in his eyes.  He was a man not only fully alive, but was also one who spiritually charged, shall we say.

Malcom was a true prophet in the Church. As a gay man and a priest, he spoke out as far back as the 1960s on the issue of full-equality of Gay and Lesbian people in the Episcopal Church.

But, in his most famous book, Are You Running With Me, Jesus—and in fact in all of his writing—he spoke honestly of what it means to follow Christ. And it was clear from those prayers and from his other writing that, for him, following Christ was not some easy thing. It was hard. And it meant following him into places he didn’t want to go.  It meant being brutally honest with himself and about himself.  It meant, for him, not compromising.  It meant standing up strongly and firmly and speaking out loudly and clearly.  Malcolm Boyd was a true disciple of Jesus.

And in today’s Gospel, we find Jesus explaining to us in very blunt words what it means to be a disciple.  For him, being a disciple, means being a follower.  A follower of him.  And Malcolm Boyd was a definitely a follower of Jesus. As we all are, as Christians.

Hopefully, those of us who have gained any sort of maturity as Christians have come to the realization that being a Christian—being a follower of Jesus—means that we are being led into a unique life. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean closing ourselves up intellectually.  It doesn’t mean we get to stop thinking.  Trust me.  I know too many of these kind of Christians.  These are the people who think being a Christian means not having to think anymore.  Just believing that all will be well and there aren’t any problems.

I think we all, at times, found ourselves lulled into a false sense of what it means to be followers. We think that being a follower of Jesus means that everything was going to be happy-go-lucky and wonderful all the time.  We think that  following means not really having to think about things anymore. It’s easy, after all, a lemming.

But that isn’t the kind of following Jesus wants us to do.  The kind of follower Jesus wants us to be is hard.  

For me, personally, I am not a comfortable follower.  It’s hard to have someone else’s standards essentially be my standards, even if it is Jesus’ standards. It can be depressing. Now that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be joyful in our following of Jesus.

Yes, we should be filled with a deep and sincere joy. But, as the old song goes, no one promised us a rose garden. Nowhere in scripture have we been promised that life is going rosy and sweet all the time. Being a follower is not always so much fun.  Being a Christian means not always strolling around in comfort and joy in a rose garden.

As we are reminded in this season of Lent and especially in that week preceding Easter, being a Christian means following Jesus wherever he goes.  And where he goes is not to the rose garden.  It is to the garden of Gethsemane—to that place where he too would be feeling anguish, where too would sweat blood, where he too would cry out to God. Following Jesus means essentially being like him. And being like him, means having the same relationships he had.

And when we look at the relationships he had, we realize they were not normal relationships. His relationship with God was intense. For Jesus, God was a parent. God was “Father.” But the relationship was even more than that. It was also almost like lovers. Jesus loved God. God loved Jesus. And that, too, is what our relationship with God should be like, as followers of Jesus. We should love God. Because God loves us. Deeply and intensely.

But it doesn’t end there. There is also the relationship Jesus had, because of his intense and deep love of God, with others.  Jesus loved others.  Intensely. Deeply. He cared for them.  And because he did, so should we.

In everything we do as followers of Jesus, we should let love always be our driving force. It is that love that makes us feel the anguish he feels.  It is that love that makes us suffer with him.  It is that love that makes us bleed with him.  It means following Jesus not just through the moments of teaching ministry, not just through the miracles he performed.  It means following him through the dark days of his last week, through the blood and excruciating moments of his dying.  It means that, like him, our love for him causes us take up our crosses and follow him wherever he might go.

Jesus knew, as we find in our Gospel reading for today, that there were certain things he had to do.  He had to “undergo great suffering,” He had to be killed.  He understood that fully. He in turn tells us that we too must realize that we will have to bear our share of suffering in this life.  We too will have to take up our own crosses.

Now, to be fair, this statement about taking up our crosses needs to be examined a bit.  The cross being referenced here might not be what we instantly think it is. Reginald Fuller, the great Anglican theologian, believed that the Greek word used for cross here—stauros—actually might not necessarily have meant the cross on which one was
executed. Rather, he believed that it might actually mean the tau (the T) and chi (the X) that was used as a sign of ownership to brand cattle. This adds a very interesting dimension to this scripture.  The brand of the cross that we must bear becomes God’s seal upon us.  And when we look beyond the events of Good Friday, we realize that the cross on which Jesus died truly does become the brand we must bear upon ourselves as followers of Jesus.

Even the thought of a brand is not a pleasant thought.  Brands are painful, after all.  Brands really hurt. And brands cannot be undone.  They mark us forever.

That is exactly what the cross does to us. The cross is the reminder to us that following Jesus doesn’t just mean following him through the rose gardens of our lives.  It means, following him all the way to that cross.  It means taking up our own crosses and staggering with him along that path.  It means sweating with him in the garden of Gethsemane.  It means crying out with him in anguish.  It means feeling with him the humiliation and loneliness of being betrayed—yes, even by one’s friends or own followers.

But, it also means following him to the very end.  Just as the cross is a symbol of death and torture and pain—it is, for us Christians, also the symbol of the temporal nature of those things.  The cross is the doorway through those awful things, to the glory that awaits us beyond the cross.  The cross is the way we must travel, it is what we must carry, it is what we must be marked with, if we wish to share in the glory that awaits us beyond the cross.

I said earlier that no one promised us a rose garden in scripture.  I should revise that.  While we might not have been promised a rose garden, we have been offered glory.  Glory comes to us, when we follow Jesus.  It comes to us when we let our love for God and others lead us through the dark and frightening places this world can throw at us.  If we let that love guide us, if we let ourselves be led by Jesus, we will find true and unending glory awaiting us.

So, as we encounter the crosses of our lives—and we will—as we allow ourselves to branded with the cross, as we allow our love for God and others to lead us into places we might not want to go, let us do so with the realization that glory has been offered to us.  Just because we have been branded with the cross, we know that, in our branding,  there will be no shame for us. But that, one day, was seems to be a brand, what seems to us a symbol of pain and loss and failure, will be transformed.  It will be transformed into jewels, into a crown upon our heads. And, on that day, there will be joy replacing our pain and sorrows.




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