Thursday, February 26, 2015

March 1, Lent 2, The Walk to the Cross # 2, The Chicken and the Pig

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Psalm 22:22-30, Romans 4:13-25, Mark 8:31-38

This morning we get the very first prediction by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark that he’s going to be killed. But he doesn’t say how. He doesn’t specifically say he’s going to be crucified. It’s only after his argument with Peter that he turns to the crowd and issues his challenge that anyone who would follow him must take up his own cross. But he does not actually say that he’s going to die on one. It’s because we know how the story ends that we make the connection between these two statements, but his disciples did not know it yet. We can’t assume they would have made the connection.

The obvious thing to expect was that the Lord Jesus would be stoned to death, because it was the Jewish leaders who opposed him, not the Romans. The Romans would certainly despise him, but they did not consider him a criminal, not even at the end.

Maybe Our Lord had worked it out for himself that the Jewish leaders, in the manner of oppressed people working from the underside, would try to manipulate the Roman government to kill him, and if the Romans were to kill him that would be on a cross. But if Jesus had already worked that out, he doesn’t actually say so here.

I think it’s important to keep the two things clear at this point. Because when Jesus mentions that if you want to follow him you must take up your cross, he means exactly that, that you take it up and carry it, and there the metaphor stops, and he doesn’t say that you must die on it. That he might die on it does not mean you should. You just carry it.

Jesus doesn’t want his disciples to die with him. He doesn’t want them dead, not yet. He doesn’t want them to be crucified with him. That would be a waste, because if they died, they would stay dead. They would not rise again, not yet, as that was for Jesus alone. The resurrection which the Jews believed in had completely to be refashioned by the rising of Jesus ahead of everybody else. It would be only him, and he would want his disciples still alive after his death so that he could empower them with his Holy Spirit. And even then, they would still be carrying their crosses. To carry your cross is a kind of living, not dying.

"But Pastor, if a cross is a sign of anything, it’s a sign of death." Yes, but what Jesus says is that you carry it — you bear it, you hold up, you keep on going under it, you keep on living but with a sign of death on you. You live under the cross, not on it. It’s a subtle difference but significant.

Do you know that joke about the chicken and the pig? When it comes to a breakfast of eggs and bacon, the pig and the chicken feel quite differently. The chicken’s a donor, but the pig’s committed. Or as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “If you haven’t found something worth dying for, you aren’t fit to be living.”

Did you see the movie Selma? The movie wonderfully depicts the earnest and heated arguments among the Civil Rights leaders over strategy and outcomes, and opposition and threats and dangers, and the constant, looming potential for death. Right from the start of the movie Orville and I were crying for those little Sunday School girls who were murdered in church. And we know how the story ends for Dr. King himself, although the characters in the movie don’t know it yet.

So Peter and the Lord Jesus are having themselves an argument. They rebuke each other. Just as the Lord Jesus had rebuked the evil spirits and rebuked the storm upon the sea, so now he rebukes Peter. But Peter had rebuked him first. “Jesus, we didn’t sign up for you to lose. And even if you do rise from the dead for a second time around, what good will that do? Nothing will have changed, and they’ll just kill you again! And we all go back home in shame, like Viet Nam vets.”

“Don’t you talk to me like that. You satan. I was already tempted by your words when I was in the wilderness for forty days. You think I haven’t thought this through? Shame on you. This is not about me, Peter, this is about you. You don’t want me to die because you want me to fix all this for you. You don’t want me to die because you want me to make the change and carry you along.  You want to be a chicken and contribute. Well, if you’re not ready to be a pig, don’t follow me.”

To take up your cross means that you live your life as if it is worth dying for. You totally invest yourself, but you have no control of the result. You bet your life on what you believe in, although you don’t control the ending. You can’t protect the results of what you do. You can’t preserve what you’ve put into it. You can’t save it, and you can’t save your life. But you live it anyway, and hard.

I don’t know how much uncertainty the Lord Jesus lived with in his own mind. I know what he believed, but belief is always ahead of certainty. (I have a mental image of Our Lord reciting the Apostles Creed to himself when he was down. I know, I know.) We know from the lesson that he believed in his resurrection, and we know that he believed in his ascension into heaven, which he mentions at the end of our lesson, his coming “into the glory of the Father with the holy angels.”

And then he says that he will be ashamed of us when he is there, whenever we are ashamed of him and his words. He’ll be ashamed of the very people he’s pleading for, like a very good lawyer with a very good conscience. When he intercedes for us his face might be red. Because he loves us and yet he is ashamed of us. Don’t misread this that he will then reject us or abandon us. He doesn’t say that. He did not abandon Peter when he was ashamed of him.

How often has the Lord Jesus been ashamed of the church that he loves. Our racism. Our greed. Our classism. Our corruption. Our child abuse. Our divisions. Our subservience to reputation and money and wealth and the blessings of the government. Our self-absorption. Our fear. Our lack of faith.

He suffers that. From love. That’s part of the suffering he brings with him into heaven. Yes, his suffering has a final victory, but it’s suffering nonetheless.

In him God suffers too. God suffers the shame of how the world which God created has turned out, the shame of God for putting this world under the stewardship of our stupid species, the shame of God for the relentless disobedience of the children of Abraham, and the shame of God for the relentless scandal of the Christian church.

But God has borne the shame. God does not reject the species God breathed into. God does not abandon the children of Abraham or discard the sinful church. God stays with us. God continues to invest in us. That’s what love does, and God would not be ashamed of us if God did not love us so.

God’s committed. God is not a chicken. Dare I say that God’s a pig? Yes, in my second parish, my farmer’s church in rural Ontario, I had three families who raised pigs, and for all those beautiful and very intelligent little piglets and for their very loving mothers, let me say that God’s the pig, God is totally committed. And in God’s honor you can bear your cross. Because God has done the miracle of turning this sign of death, this instrument of execution, this symbol of hatred, God has turned this cross into a badge of love.

Copyright © 2015 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.

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