Take up Your Cross -
Invest In the Future
March 15 & 16, 2003
Pastor Wesley White
Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church
323 Fifth Avenue, West Bend, WI
262.334.2059 - faumc.org
We have just heard one of the most dramatic moments in Jesus' interaction with his disciples. Peter has just yanked Jesus aside to demand that he stop talking about his own death. In response, Jesus yanked Peter further aside and told him to get out of the way and that Satan is to get behind him.
How did Satan get here all of a sudden? Well, let us listen in for a little.
Peter has just affirmed that Jesus is Messiah, Christ, Holy One of GOD. As we look back on that affirmation we understand that Peter didn't really understood what he had said. Unfortunately, as in the rest of Mark's gospel, Peter and the disciples don't know as much as they think they do.
It turns out that once you have said, Lord or Messiah or Christ or Holy One, you haven't said it all. In fact one can repeat, "Lord, Lord," until you are blue in the face and it won't make a bit of difference in your relationship to eternity. As Jesus said, "Not everyone who says, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter GOD's presence."
True, Peter said, "you are the Christ." However what he meant by that was pretty much the accumulated history of that word and didn't correspond to what Jesus meant by those words. For Peter it is the old image that the Messiah will come riding out of sky with an army of angels to set things right, once and for all.
It appears that, for Jesus, to be the Christ is to daily be the presence of GOD in the world, to live life so fully that life will be available to others for their own living. In this full life, the Christ or Messiah or Holy One or Jesus or you or I, will bump up against the powers that be and be so affrontive to them that it will cost our life (physical, economic, political).
For Peter, the Messiah puts everything of the past right and closes it in the present moment.
For Jesus, the Messiah invests everything in the future and opens that future through the present moment.
We do need both perspectives but they have different dynamics. To simply set everything right is to bring us to a static heaven where everything is peeled away to reveal some kernel of goodness.
On the other hand, to invest in the future images a dynamic heaven where goodness is piled upon goodness and we can't wait to get to that which is even better than the good of the moment.
To settle for Peter's Messiah is to pull in and divide up and set up win-lose situations.
To work at Jesus' Messiah is to push ahead and bring together and to set up a win-win situation.
It is here that the Satan comes in. You do remember the Satan part of this, don't you? Satan tempts us to take the easy way out, the comfortable way, to choose the smaller meaning in life instead of risking the larger meaning of life.
A way this shows up is to think about causes and effects and the way we sometimes get them confused. To pick up your cross is really more like, "You've made your bed, now lie in it." To pick up your cross is the outcome of other choices rather than a choice we make in and of itself.
For instance. Jesus talks a lot about going to Jerusalem and there dying and being raised three days later. But that is simply a result of his so living GOD's presence that it affronts the religious and political powers of his day. Jesus lives so openly in a closed system that the only way to keep the system in the hands of its current rulers is to do away with the one who opens life up by his very presence, whether he says or does something or nothing.
Caiaphas got it right when he said it was better for one person to be killed than for the whole religious structure to be done away with. Of course that is overstatement, but it gives you a sense that it is Jesus' way of living that is the issue, not any martyr talk about suffering and dying.
It seems to me that a far better translation of what it means to take up one's cross daily and follow Jesus is: so invest your living with the future that the present will have to change and a new heaven and a new earth will be able to be joined together.
My sense is that Peter doesn't see how to get out of the current battle between heaven and earth with heaven and religious leaders looking down on people, knowing they will never be good enough to join them, and earth and everyday people looking down on religious leaders for being so out-of-touch with their lives.
This dividing things up is Satan's way. This giving an excuse for keeping things the same is Satan's way.
One way of getting at this is to go back and ask a question about what we mean when we talk in generalities. What is meant by Messiah? What is meant by cross? Both of these need us to think afresh, to think more broadly, to think further into tomorrow.
Three other current images need to be looked at in this same way. What do we mean say, "Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church"? It is so easy for us to go yanking on one another and rebuking one another. What are we when only one-third of our members are in worship? What are we when we tend to focus only on spiritual things and are not affirming of the multitude of ways our members live the presence of GOD in their daily lives?
Just like when you say, "Christ" you haven't said it all (Christ, like GOD, is bigger than any formula we can come up with) so, when we've said "Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church" we've not said it all. How can that become a source of joy for us?
One of the other words we need to pay attention to and to work on is the current issue of "war." Is modern warfare (since World War 2 when more civilians than soldier were killed and we deliberately targeted civilian populations) still something we can think of as war? Has it not become organized slaughter or legitimate murder? When we've said "war" we've not said it all. How do we talk with one another about this without getting into setting up exclusions like, "You must be unpatriotic because you don't see things the way I see them."
Another of the words that needs much work in the modern day is that of "democracy." We think we know what we mean by that, but find that it keeps slipping away from us in practice. Can democracy be exported? What resources and systems need to be minimally in place for democracy to be nurtured into greater maturity? What freedom of expression has to be fostered, beyond simply being permitted, for democracy to thrive? What forms of behavior and education have to become second nature to anchor democracy so it is not here one day and gone the next?
In all of this, from interpreting the scriptures to interacting with the world around us, it is of the utmost importance to pay attention to deeper meanings and wider implications. Unlike Peter we need to not take our concepts for granted, but to be ready to be taught by the Holy Spirit about seemingly new things that we and our ancestors were not ready to learn at a previous time.
The best is yet to come We take steps toward that better future when we are open to learning more about inclusive frames of reference and investing ourselves in a better future, even if that means taking the consequences of stirring up those who are so invested in keeping things the way they are out of fear that things will get worse.
We are so committed to the better that we are willing to even take up a cross if it means staying true to participating in the presence of GOD that is building a new heaven and a new earth that will truly enhance one another. There is nothing more important for us as individuals, a congregation, and a world than to invest in the infrastructure of a better future.
This is obviously going to take more work than simply that of our current generations. I think Jesus would like to yank us all awake and say, "Invest in the future, no matter what cross it brings. Be on the look out for where Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church needs to grow beyond your own comfort zone. Pay attention to such teaching as are found in our Book of Discipline that says "...war is incompatible with Christian teaching." Understand that democracy is a precious gift, easily broken by being taken for granted.
Let's think together and find ways past our temptation to rebuke. Let us follow Jesus' way of investing everything we have into the presence of GOD right here, right now, and, by so doing, prepare for the better future GOD has in mind for us.