Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lent 2B, 2012: Following with no exceptions

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

En el nombre del Dios, Padre, Hiho, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

I was having a conversation this week with my daughter who was talking with another member of a symphony she has recently joined. Not to sound like a proud Mama (which I am), but they love her and are looking forward to her playing with them for a long time to come.

This other member of the symphony asked Jessica about the other ways she uses her musical gifts to earn a living. One of those ways is as Site Director for the Atlanta Music Project, a non-profit group that brings classical music instruction to under-privileged children.

The site my daughter manages is in a depressed neighborhood where violence is a constant threat. In fact, one of the teachers at AMP was recently mugged while leaving the building.

The symphony colleague, upon learning this, bemoaned that now she would worry about Jessica going to and from her work there at AMP. The colleague asked Jessica why she didn’t just carry a gun, to which my daughter replied, “I don’t carry a gun because I wouldn’t use it. How can I teach these children that violence is never an appropriate response, and hold out an exception for myself?”

She is sooo my daughter! During my years working with abused families, my friends in law enforcement were constantly trying to get me to learn to shoot so that I could carry a gun. I refused every time it came up, saying exactly the same thing: “I won’t carry a gun because I wouldn’t use it. I cannot kill another human being – no exceptions.”

“What if someone wants to kill you for sheltering their wife? Or what if someone were to threaten to kill your child?” my law enforcement friends would ask. All of the above actually did happen, yet I never gave myself the exception to use violence in response to violence, or to value my life over the life of another – even one I would label a ‘bad guy.’ That isn’t my call.

My approach was and still is driven by what Jesus said to Peter and the other disciples in today’s gospel which I have always heard like this: ‘You can’t be my follower if you are in front of me telling me how it ought to go. Get back behind me and follow me. I am God. I will lead. Remember precious one, you can only see from an earthly perspective. I can see with the eyes of heaven. Trust me. Follow me. That means, get behind back in line behind me.’

For the people who first heard Jesus say these words to Peter and the other disciples, the cross was a real tool of death, and it was used liberally against those who disrupted the status quo. The cross was the “gun” of that time. Even the religious leadership used it to stop Jesus from disrupting their status quo.

Jesus could have “fired back” in response (metaphorically of course), but he didn’t. He let them kill him,knowing that the plan of salvation and redemption was being accomplished by his giving up life.

This seems like a tough path to follow – and in some ways it is. But in many ways it isn’t. Following Jesus means being willing to sacrifice whatever is asked of us so that the redeeming work of God can continue to be accomplished now, in our time, through us.

As we journey deeper into Lent, deeper into the wilderness where the wild beasts of temptation lead us to dare to tell God how to proceed according to our plan, this call to get behind Jesus and follow him isn’t a call to death. It’s a call to life!

What life is there besides life in the eternal presence of God? Who would want anything besides that? Besides, what “gun” can we construct to save us from death? And who could we shoot with it having determined that their life should end so that ours could be saved? What if our encounter with that person was the means by which God would finally reach their hearts and lead them out of error into truth, out of death into life – and we killed them instead?

Jesus had no exceptions, no “gun.” He went willingly and peacefully to the cross, giving of himself totally for our sake. Now he asks us to do the same.

In our time, we aren’t likely to be asked to give up our actual lives. It’s more likely that we will be asked to give up our exceptions, exceptions that lead us astray, exceptions like: ‘I will love my neighbor, as long as they aren’t disagreeable, or gay or breakers of the law.’ …or…’I will attend to the cries of the poor and needy as long as I get to stop when I’m tired, frustrated, or feel threatened’… or… ‘I will offer my gifts, time, and money in service to God’s kingdom as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rest of my calendar or inconvenience my current spending habits.’

What are the exceptions we are called to give up this Lent? We all have them, and this is our time to get honest and humble and acknowledge them, so that we can discover the times and ways we are out front telling God how it ought to be.

Lent is when we get clear, and get back behind Jesus, which is the only option for those of us who call ourselves his followers. Thankfully, God is gracious and merciful to us when we have gone astray.

God has redeeming work to do in and through us. All we have to do is get back in line and be a follower with no exceptions.

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