Sunday, February 25, 2024

The Bush, the Professor, and the Cross

I walk our dogs Pip and Peggy, usually early in the morning. We are taking the same route daily at the moment.

On the walk I pass the same things each day - people on their way to wherever; fellow dog walkers; immovables like street lights, bus stops and houses. I pass a coniferous bush on this route. It is pretty unremarkable as bushes go - it marks the boundary between the garden and pavement. Somehow on Thursday’s walk, it emitted a scent that was the essence of conifer - the dictionary definition of lively green freshness. It was so vivid an experience, that I was dragged from my audiobook, back into the present moment, to look at and marvel at it. The experience was arresting. Here was a bush somehow being the most perfect version of that bush that it could be at that moment - and all I could do was wonder.

I would love to be like that bush. Even for a moment - the most perfect version of myself - the way God longs for me to be - that I can. Perhaps you feel the same? I hope it doesn’t shock you at all that I am far from Christlike sometimes. All too often I succombe to living out versions of myself that I willingly put on like a favourite jumper, but that aren’t necessarily the best version of me. I sometimes live and minister from a place of the expectations that are put on me or that others say about me, or based on the images I have of myself from my past. We all do it. The cross that Jesus invites me and each of us to take up again this morning is both a sign post and a milestone - a signpost pointing us on from the decision that we each need to make about which version of ourselves we are going to live out today towards Christlikeness; and a milestone that starkly reminds us of that decision - marking that place or moment of change. Both direction and decision are Christ.

Throughout this chapter of Mark’s account of Jesus’ life, Jesus encounters hungry people: the crowd of four thousand, hungry to hear Jesus but without food; the Pharisees, hungry to discredit Jesus and to be right, demanding a sign; the disciples in the boat with Jesus crossing the lake, hungry to understand; the blind man hungry to have his sight restored. And Jesus meets us here this morning - part way through Lent, hungry to understand, hungry for a deeper knowledge, hungry that this gospel good news is true. Jesus points out that miraculous feeding, deeper knowledge, power, understanding and healing and restoration are all good but they are not a means to an end. They all encourage us to make an assessment of who Jesus is and the truth of what he teaches about God and the ways of the Kingdom - and then it’s about what we do as a result. We are called to follow To walk behind him, as was the traditon, and to do as he does, to speak as he speaks, to behave as he behaves. It is about a decision and a direction.

‘...‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it….

I heard a story about an American English professor from his student days - his own English professor had been an inspiring teacher. He wanted his professor to know how deeply his lectures had affected him so he went to his office one day to tell him. The professor asked the student whether he liked his classes, to which he replied with an emphatic yes! Well, why? asked his professor. There was powerful question. The student went on to speak of how his professor’s classes on Kafka has enabled more self discovery in him than three years in high school. The professor asked him what he had learned. He wanted to know how the lectures had deeply changed this student - it was a real question which deserved a real answer. ‘I guess the main thing I learned is that I am a complete idiot’ the student replied. Don’t feel bad, the preofessor relied, our country manufactures idiots. There’s no way you could have escaped it.’ So what do I do now, the student asked. How do I stop being an idiot? Just stop being one the professor replied.

That story and Jesus’ teaching and healing up to this point feel similar to me. What have you learned from my classes? I'm an idiot. What should I do? Stop being an idiot. What have you learned from my feeding of hungry people? You’re the messiah. So what should I do now, now that I know that? Follow me.

The thing is - stopping being an idiot isn’t an easy end goal, but you can do it with practise. Following Jesus isn’t an easy end goal, because it hit me as I read this this week. We haven’t listened to Jesus here at all have we? We haven’t practised.

Jesus tells his disciples, the crowd and us that to follow him in the Way, we need to deny ourselves. The issue is that that’s tough. Denying ourselves involves putting the needs and wants of others before our own. What we are good at is denying others. We catagorise people by their difference to the majority. We deny people who are different the rights and access available to the majority. We deny others their politics, their creed, their race, their gender, their sexuality, their age all too easily instead of denying ourselves to ensure their need to be in the reach of the love of God is met.

We all too often we take up the cross seeking to faithfully follow Jesus but instead we use it to crucify all those we deny. Instead of remembering God loves all - and so should we - we make the cross, a barrier not a bridge to God’s unconditional love for all. Come to join us we say - but I can’t because my wheelchair can't get in the building; I need large print orders of service; I am gay; I’m an ex con;  I don’t feel good enough; I’m not worthy; my child will be a distraction. We continually  try to make our buildings and resources physically accessible, but as someone once said - crossing the threshold of the door of the church is harder than climbing Mt Everest - especially if you feel you are not welcome the outside of it by the local or even the national church.

Oh, and one more thing. Notice, what Jesus says about the ownership of the cross we are to take up… not His, ours…

So I wonder what Jesus is asking of us as we take up our cross this morning? What am I denying in myself and putting to death on the cross, that will ensure that someone else’s needs are met? How am I using that cross as a bridge - to enable others to see and experience God’s love for them in my actions and words; is the cross I carry being twisted to keep some out - who is not here this morning from our wider community who could be but is excluded by me and my words and actions, or by us and our words and actions?

There's a thought. It's our cross. If we are serious about Jesus the miracle worker, teacher and healer and are convinced that God is accessible in a new way through Him - how can I go out of my way this week to use my cross to deny my need, and include someone. How can I use my cross this week as a bridge not a barrier to invite someone to join us. How can I ensure that as I carry my cross, others see Jesus in me and not just me.

Let us pray - this week - teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve; to give, and not to count the cost, to fight, and not to heed the wounds, to toil, and not to seek for rest, to labor, and not to ask for reward, except that of knowing that we are doing your will.


Anonymous said...

Listen to the sermon by the Primus of the SEC that Richard posted

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous" who made the first posting is otherwise known as 'Mrs Anne Peat'.