Psalm 22: 23-31
Mark 8: 31-38
A Communion Meditation by the Reverend Odette Lockwood-Stewart
Epworth United Methodist Church, Berkeley
March 4, 2012
I’ve been giving some thought to giving up giving things up… for Lent. Now some people I know who have given up giving up for Lent… take something on instead. But I can tell you right now, if I took something on… without giving something up…… I’d lose it.
Losing it… is what our Gospel lesson today is about. Losing, letting go, setting loose, surrendering, giving up… expectations and images of God, of ourselves, and of life itself….
Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” and then, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah!”
Then Jesus “begins to teach” them what being the Messiah means. He says that the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Christos must undergo great suffering and rejection, be killed, but then rise again. In this first prediction of his Passion Jesus describes a crucified Messiah, a God who suffers.
Peter stops him right away. He takes Jesus aside and says, “You can’t suffer, Lord! Don’t even go there! You are supposed to save us from suffering! You are the one to restore Israel! I’ve given up everything to follow you and now you tell us that where you are going is suffering, rejection, and death? Absolutely not.”
Jesus turns and looks at all the disciples and then says to Peter: “Get thee behind me Satan.” Peter knows Jesus is God’s anointed, but his mind is set on God in human terms. He limits God’s way to the ways of the world – and limits Jesus to the role of worldly hero. Refusing to accept God who suffers is to refuse to accept God-With-Us. Denying the cross is denying the place where the world’s suffering meets God’s infinite compassion.
During Lent may we give up this way of thinking about who God is.
It is human to try to avoid suffering, and to ignore the cross. But when we do not see Christ’s suffering and the suffering of God’s children in every generation, we lack the imagination needed to live God’s new creation! As George Bernard Shaw asked in his play St. Joan: “Must then a Christ perish in every age to save those who have no imagination?”
Pain is part of human being. Do we believe that we alone will be spared suffering? Instead, Jesus invites us to take up our cross, to take up our passion and compassion, to take up our own moral and political agency by losing the illusion of life without suffering.
During Lent may we give up this way of thinking about who we are.
In 2005 Steve Jobs was Commencement speaker at Stanford. He said: When I was 17, I read a quote that went … “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.”…
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.
Losing it to find it.
Those who want to save their life will lose it.
Those who lose their life (for the sake of the Gospel) will save it.
Another example of losing and finding is – forgiveness.
Forgiveness is about giving up revenge and resentment to find freedom and healing.
Lewis B. Smedes writes: When we forgive, we ignore the normal laws that strap us to the natural law of getting even and, by the alchemy of love, we release ourselves from our own painful pasts… When you forgive the person who hurt you deeply and unfairly, you perform a miracle that has no equal. (Forgive and Forget)
There are powerful examples of such miracles. Do you remember when 10 Amish schoolgirls were shot, 5 died, in Nickel Mines, PA? The Amish people, well practiced in the socio-theology of letting go, embraced the perpetrator’s widow in community, and even forgave the man at the funerals of the murdered children. What a miracle.
Yet there are miracles of forgiveness every day life when we give up resentments.
I heard a great definition of resentment. Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
Another example of losing and finding is: Humility.
God knows it is hard to find right now in the public and political sphere today. Christ transforms lives through paradox and parables (not self-help certitude and condemnatory legislation). God is interested in our questions, not our answers… our searching, not our security,…. our humility, not our hubris…
A great deal of attention has been paid of late to efforts to control women’s health care under the banner of religious freedom. If you have wondered if the United Methodist Church has a stance on a woman’s choice, we do. Our Book of Discipline itself states, “Governmental laws and regulations do not provide the guidance required by the informed Christian conscience.” It is the moral agency of the woman in thoughtful and prayerful consideration with medical, family, spiritual counsel that is the location of decision-making regarding that woman’s health.
Following Christ frees us from prisons of self-protection, resentment and judgment. The world gets bigger and more complex even as trust and response-ability grow deeper.
Much within us resists God’s love.
Dr. Howard Thurman wrote:
My ego is like a fortress
I have built its walls stone by stone
To hold out the invasion of the love of God
Then he continued, and as we come to the communion table this morning, may this be our prayer:
My dearest human relationships,
My most precious dreams,
I surrender to (God’s) care.
All that I have called my own I give back.
I let go.
I give myself
Unto (you) O my God. Amen.