Sunday, March 25, 2007

Take Up Your Cross

Meditation for EVENSONG: Lent 5
(I Corinthians 9:19-27; Mark 8:31-9:1)

"If any want to become my followers let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."

It's a timely gospel to be preaching this evening – this passage from the eighth chapter of Mark. And I'm not talking about the timely-ness of our having arrived at the fifth Sunday in Lent -- the eve of the week-before-Holy Week with Good Friday and Easter Day just around the corner. Maybe it's just me but those 40-days-of-Lent seem to go just a little bit faster every year and while I'll admit to a little bit of shock that we're here at taking-up-cross time already the liturgical calendar is not the timeline I'm talking about.
I'm talking about the timely-ness of considering what it means to "take up our cross" – what it means to "follow Jesus" – at a time when what it means to BE THE CHURCH is a question that's getting a lot of press.

Actual press. New York Times, PBS, NPR, USA Today kind of press. Of course the headlines are about sex and schism …but for all the media attention to "the sex wars" in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion I suggest to you this evening that it is not a sex war at all but a mission war. Generally "Church disagrees about mission and ministry" will not get you booked on the News Hour or quoted in the New York Times or Los Angeles Times or even USA Today!

But when you get past the headlines – when you read the interviews and the profiles – the statement and, yes, even some of the blogs – the issue isn't the gender of the Presiding Bishop or the sex life of the Bishop of New Hampshire it's the mission of the church.

For some it is very simple: the mission of the church is to bring people to Jesus in order to get them into heaven. Here's an example of that perspective from a recent NPR interview with an Oceanside priest who has left the Episcopal Church for the Anglican Church of Bolivia: Life on earth is a preparation for heaven and I want to see my congregation fully prepared for heaven – not concerned about things of this world.

For others, the concerns with the things of this world are integral to the mission of the church. This other view of the mission of the church is the proclamation of the Kingdom of God that has less to do with getting to heaven than it does getting heaven to earth – with "thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven."

Here's an example of that perspective from the recent statement by the House of Bishops: We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion, and peace. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences, often in the name of God.

At All Saints Church we call it "turning the human race into the human family."

Yes, we're getting a lot of attention right now in the media and I'm convinced that's good news for the church. I am convinced that there are those who receive as very good news INDEED that there is a church where a woman can be a Presiding Bishop, where children are taught values of tolerance and inclusion, where gay and lesbian people are fully included and peace is preached in a time of war and unjust economic systems that oppress and marginalize are challenged.

And just because it is good news doesn't mean it isn't hard work. As we follow Jesus into the days and weeks and months ahead we carry with us the cross of inclusive love that we know is not received as good news by all who hear it. There is no denying to ourselves or to anybody else – in or out of the Anglican Communion – that there are costs involved in continuing to proclaim as our bishops proclaimed last week that we will not step back from the full inclusion of all people in this Body of Christ. "If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done," said the bishops last week, "we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision."

That is the Episcopal Church taking up its cross and following Jesus.

"I do not run like one who loses sight of the finish line," said Paul in tonight's reading from his letter to the church in Corinth. It is a quote that might have been part of the bishop's letter to the church in Canterbury – for we do not run this race … carry this cross … follow this Lord … without keeping always in sight the finish line. For at the end of that race … on the other side of that finish line … is nothing less than God's Kingdom come and God's will being done: God's abundant and inclusive love available to all.

So let us tonight – on this Fifth Sunday in Lent with Holy Week on the horizon join our bishops in taking up the cross we have been given to bear into God's future committed to the mission of this gospel we have been given to proclaim. Let us claim for ourselves their closing words in their Statement to the Church from Camp Allen:

"With this affirmation both of our identity as a Church and our affection and commitment to the Anglican Communion, we find new hope that we can turn our attention to the essence of Christ's own mission in the world, to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (Luke 4:18-19). It is to that mission that we now determinedly turn."

And as we press onward we do so with the sure and certain knowledge that the God who created us in love and calls us to love each other in God's name waits for us at that finish line along with the saints who have gone ahead of us – saints like Oscar Romero -- martyred bishop of El Salvador – urging us onward to the prize he has already claimed in these words of hope and promise: “Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world. Let us not tire of preaching love. Though we see that waves of violence succeed in drowning the fire of Christian love, love must win out; it is the only thing that can.”

And let the people say, Amen.


Jared Cramer said...

really good sermon. thanks mtr. susan.

Anonymous said...

Another beautiful sermon Susan, thank you. I think we do what Jesus would want us to do, welcome everyone to the table, love each other, remember everyone and carry our cross.