The text this week has a very popular phrase that many of us might have heard if we grew up Christian which is "Take up your Cross and Follow me." It is easy to forgot what the cross stood for in Jesus' time, which was death and social stigma. If you had a family member who was crucified, it put the whole family to shame. This is different from today, where many people view the cross as a fashion accessory. What this saying reminds us about is that following Jesus is hard work and can put us into situations, were we are derided, shamed, physically assaulted, or even killed. Many of our African, Asian, and Middle Eastern brothers and sisters, know about these threats all too well. In America where there is freedom of religion as well as a Christian underpinning, we don't experience this as much. This doesn't mean that we don't ever experiences this.
I have many friends, who have worked to help people with drug and alcohol abuse. They have told me stories about in their quest to help them, get these people other resources, and to be there support network they have been ridiculed by others for helping these people out. "Why help out that scum bag, don't you realize how awful of a person they are?" "What is wrong with you helping out somebody who is just using you?" "Why bother, they will never quit!" These are some of the questions they hear all the time, from friends, coworkers, and even family members of the people they are helping.
This doesn't even cover the times when the people they are trying to help, get physical or verbal with them about trying to help them. They say stuff like "You drink, how can you be a hypocrite and tell me not too?" "I hate you!" "Why are you trying to ruin my life?" However, these fine folks feel God's pull to be in this field to help people as nurses, social workers, and counselors. They remember that Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus didn't just say love the likable neighbors, no he said all the neighbors even the ones who are struggling.
So when you pick up your cross this week and follow Jesus this week, what is that going to look like? How do you put your faith on the line to follow Jesus? How do you begin to follow Jesus command to love your neighbor, yes even the neighbors who are struggling; the neighbors that nobody else loves; and the neighbors who are all out of hope? This is hard work but this is what Jesus commands us to do when he asks us to pick up his cross and follow him.
Ahhh...February, this is the time of year that I experience my first time walking on water. I know it is frozen but I still walked on top of it! A friend of mine, wanted to take me out to his uncle ice shack so that we could do a little fishing. I had never done this before, and I was a little hesitate when we got to the lake because I had visions of falling through the ice. I put one foot on the ice and then quickly retracted it. My friend turned to see what the hold up was and sighed as he saw me at the shore paralyzed by fear. "Yo Paul, look" he yelled and then proceeded to jump up and down on the ice. "Stop it! You are going to die," I remember hollering back in a panic as I waited for him to fall through the ice. Nothing happened. He came back, took my hand and then suddenly we were on the ice. All the hair on my neck stood up as we walked across the ice to the shack. When we got there my friend just grinned at me "See silly, we are just fine." We were just fine and I felt a little foolish for not taking his word for it.
I wonder if I felt some of the same emotions that Peter did when Christ invited him out of the boat, onto the very non frozen Sea of Galilee? I bet he was nervous. I bet he was a little scared. Peter did take those first steps onto water and started moving toward Jesus. Then he realized what he was doing and he forgot who he was walking toward. Peter began to sink and cried out to Jesus, who prompted came over to him and helped him back onto his feet and then back into the boat. When they got back into the boat Jesus told Peter, "See silly, we are just fine."
Acting out our faith can be a scary thing. It is hard to go against the grain of many things in our current society. It is hard to help people that others have said we shouldn't help. It is hard to not react to people instead of listening to them. When we look around we feel that our faith can't help us, that the world is just that way, and that we may be drowning in all the business of what we "really need to do." Jesus reminds us that trusting in him, we are able to do extraordinary things. We are able to feed the hunger. We are able to help broker peace. We are able to make a difference in this world.
So what are you nervous about this week? Where have you felt your faith calling to you to act instead of staying on the side lines? Where do you feel yourself drowning in? Look up and throw your hand up to Jesus. With Jesus at your side, nothing is impossible. "See silly, we are just fine." When we listen to those worlds we change and so does the world. How does this change how you will behave this week? How will this affect how you will live?
The cold and snowy weather has made my Sundays a little more exciting as I navigate the roads between church and home. I apologize for not getting up a blog for last week, but due to the weather I had to leave the office earlier than I had hoped to which cuts down on my blog writing time.
So this week, we are in the midst of a couple of Parables. When I went to seminary, I took a course from Arland Hultgren on the the Parables. It was an awesome class and it made me understand a lot more about their unique teaching method that Jesus employed. One of the things I came away from this class was Jesus' Parables were really up for interpretation based on where we were as person.
Case in point, if we look at the parable about the woman and the leaven bread, we have to ask ourselves what does has to do with the kingdom of God? Leaven is an agent used for bread to rise. However, Jewish families during the Passover are required to take the leaven out of their bread. So is the leaven bad? 40 pounds of bread which would be the weight for 3 measures of flour, is the amount of flour that Sarah used for the three heavenly visitors that came to see her and Abraham. So does the parable talk about the woman waiting to have a divine visit?
These parables force us to grapple with ambivalent signs. Apparently, the coming reign of God is good news for some, but not for others. It brings both judgment and salvation. These parables also remind us life is not always black and white but shades of grey. What we do know is that God loves us and God wants us to live a Godly life which means we need to say we are sorry (repent) when we screw up. So what do these parables do for you? How do you see this ambivalent teachings? Do you feel they are good news or not so good news? Why?
Pastor Paul. I hope you find these reflections insightful and help you in your faith journey!