Sunday, September 16, 2018

Discerning the Way of the Cross

PROPERS:         PROPER 19, YEAR B   
TEXT:                 MARK 8:27-38

ONE SENTENCE:        To take up the cross in Jesus’ name requires an                                                  examination of conscience.

            Jesus is talking with his chosen band of friends – his small group of disciples – in the gospel lesson today.  It is in such quiet, sacred conversations that deep truths are shared.

            Some years ago, I was a deputy to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  The convention is like congress – divided between an upper chamber, the House of Bishops, and a lower chamber, the House of Deputies.

            The House of Deputies, of which I was a part, was approaching a momentous vote. The choice was not simple or easy. There was great tension for those wrestling with their consciences.

            I was feeling somewhat righteous and flippant.  I had told myself, “There is no wrong time to do the right thing.” Damn the torpedoes!  Full speed ahead!

            My Bishop was a man of integrity and insight, and a dear friend – Duncan Gray III. I trusted him explicitly.  I shared with him my leanings on the vote, and added these words: “At least that is what my conscience is telling me to do.”

            He looked me in the eye, and speaking words which showed the depth of his wisdom, said, “Remember, your conscience can be fallen, too.”

            Your conscience can be fallen, too.  All elements of human nature have the potential to be subject to the fallenness of creation – touched by human pride, mistake, or sin.

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            Jesus tells Peter and the others – and he tells us – to take up your cross and follow him.But it is not easy. It should not be approached flippantly. It will seldom be our default response. It may demand a price – a heavy one.

            I am reminded of that scene from the movie Mashwhen Major Frank Burns and Major Margaret O’Houlihan are drawn toward each other in lusty temptation and give in with the words, “God’s will be done!”

            That oversimplifies but characterizes the temptation to view our wayas God’s way. Following the way of the crossis not automatic. It requires sacrifice and is frequently very difficult.

            I have recently read a book, D-Day,by the late historian Stephen Ambrose. The moment-by-moment, pounding-heart tension of the Allied troops landing on Omaha Beach is palpable.  Many of those young men knew that they would never see another sunrise, but they gave their last full measure of devotion.  That was their way of the cross.

            Likewise, is the young seminarian who entered into sainthood on August 20, 1965, Jonathan Myrick Daniels.  He stepped into the way of a truck driver-sheriff’s deputy’s shotgun blast to save the life of a young girl in Hayneville, Alabama. 

            Those are dramatic examples.  However, seldom are our choices so dramatic or clear-cut.  So, it is necessary for us to examine our consciences, deeply, to see if we are serving selfor serving the God of our worship.

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            I was a young college sophomore at Ole Miss when I first encountered Professor Goberdahn Baghat.  I was politically active and thought I had the world figured out.  The options we considered in his course, International Relations,were simple and straightforward – at least in my mind.

            On our first essay test, he disabused me of those notions.  My grade reflected my superficiality of reasoning. The world is much more complex, he seemed to be telling me. You need to give it more thought.

            Dr. Baghat started me on a pathway that would continue for years to come. That pathway could be named critical reasoning.  It is the thoughtful, measured evaluation of situations, and the resulting course of action, which is usually more complex than merely saying, God’s will be done.

            An aside:  Have you ever noticed how often your easy perception of God’s will happens to coincide with your wishes?

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            Take up your cross and follow me. A commentator on this passage wrote: “Jesus is not talking about the suffering that is simply part of life in a broken world -- everything from annoying neighbors to serious illness to natural disasters. Neither is he telling us to seek out suffering or martyrdom. Jesus himself did not seek it, but he foresaw that it would be the inevitable outcome of his mission.”

            This all means that we are to do two things, in taking up our cross and following Jesus:

·     First, we are to discernwhat we are called to do – recognizing that our human tendency is going to be different from the way of the crosswhich we are called to follow.  That means looking past the superficial, tempting, easy answers which are so alluring. Discern.

·     Second, we are to act with commitment– taking Robert Frost’s Road Less Traveled. Seldom will that mean that we will storm Omaha Beach, step in the way of a shotgun blast, or literally carry a cross along the Via Dolorosa.  But it may well mean that we pay a price.

What we receive – and what we are called to live – is notcheap grace.  Jesus paid a high priceand he calls on us to follow the same path.