Good morning, Christ Church!
This past Sunday afternoon, Janie and I had the pleasure of gathering with other members of this diocese in front of St. John’s, Lafayette Square. We were there to represent that congregation’s several centuries of faithful presence in the heart of the city. Specifically, we were there to support the protesters with bottles of water, snacks, prayer, and words of encouragement. Please be assured that we were doubly masked and made liberal use of Purell about every thirty seconds.
The one thing that struck us most was the spirit of the gathering. There were people of every race and creed, very young alongside the much more mature, economically desperate to quite affluent, all gathered together in a unity I have rarely seen before. While there certainly was anger present, the overriding attitudes were those of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faith, gentleness, and commitment to self-control.
This is not to say that the sense of risk was absent. There were agitators working the edges of the demonstration, trying to create confrontation. And the memory of what had happened in this same spot a week before was very much on our minds. But none of that was able to diminish or take away from the beauty of the moment and the collective dedication to justice and reconciliation present in hearts and minds of those gathered.
That experience has been for me a powerful reminder of the central meaning of today’s passage from St. Matthew. To follow Jesus Christ is always to know first and foremost love, hope, and joy. But it is also laden with all kinds of risk, risk that can bring pain and suffering, rejection and sacrifice. To choose to pick up the cross and follow him may mean losing our very lives. It is also the only way that we will ever discover what this life is really all about.
Faithfully in Christ,
Friday, June 12, 2020 RCL Daily Office Readings, Year 2
In order to fully understand today’s reading from Matthew, we must recall the passage assigned for yesterday. In these preceding verses, Peter makes the first great confession as to the true identity of Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus is amazed by Peter’s declaration, realizing that only God could grant to Peter such divine insight, and immediately commissions him as the keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
But, as is too often the case, this “mountain top” experience quickly comes to a crashing halt. As soon as Jesus begins to explain to the disciples what his being Messiah is really all about, and how his earthly mission will come to an end, Peter is back on his feet rebuking the Son of the living God. Jesus’ response is one of the most profound and painful in all the Gospels. Having just named him keeper of the keys, Jesus now says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” Can we even begin to imagine the sorrow and the hurt that Jesus must have known in that moment? Yes, Peter’s intentions were good, for it is out of love that he is trying to protect Jesus. However, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It had been one thing dealing with Satan’s temptations directly in the wilderness at the outset of his ministry. It was something entirely other to have one of his best friends act in Satan’s stead at one of the most critical points in the journey.
Thankfully, Jesus does not shake the dust off his sandals and walk away. Instead, he uses the exchange with Peter to more fully explain to his disciples the true nature of his mission, a mission to which all his followers will be called in the centuries to come. There are three dimensions to this discipleship:
First, if we seek to follow Jesus, we must deny ourselves. This is not the restricted act of self-denial, as when we go on a diet, or give up chocolate for Lent, or reduce the number of channels on our cable contract for the sake of economy. This is the complete denial of our own wishes and desires in order to say “yes” to God’s wishes and desires in every moment of our lives. Make no mistake about it. In a world that constantly celebrates self-fulfillment and personal accomplishment, this teaching of Jesus is the ultimate contradiction and something few (none?) of us will ever fully realize. And yet, it is the life to which we are called, a life of constant self-denial in order to live a life that is a constant assent to God.
Secondly, we are to take up our crosses. Again, in a world that celebrates power and privilege embodied in both personal ambition and existing cultural structures, this is very difficult for us to comprehend, let alone internalize. We are open to making small sacrifices here and there, as we think we can afford to make them. But to make the sacrifice of the cross our very reason for being is not something I want to hear. Nonetheless, that is the message of the cross as presented in the Gospels. In the musical “Wicked”, Fiyero sings about the virtues of living “the unexamined life.” For those seeking to follow Jesus of Nazareth, it is always about living the sacrificial life.
Finally, we are called to follow Jesus wherever he may lead us. As we know his story, this should certainly cause us to pause and take a deep breath. This reminds me of another point of contact with our culture; that is, the robot in the 1960s TV series, “Lost in Space,” who was constantly crying out, “Danger! Danger! Warning! Warning!” I mean, look at what happened to Jesus. To truly follow him means that that could happen to us as well. In other words, to follow Jesus means we must accept all the risks that cross-bearing requires, embrace them fully, and move forward.
This is what I was reminded of last Sunday afternoon. Yes, life in Christ is all about love and joy, grace and peace. At the same time, life in Christ is all about self-denial, bearing crosses, and following him wherever he leads us despite all the dangers and risks we will encounter along the way. Discipleship really cannot be the one without the other.