February 25, 2018

Second Sunday in Lent, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

Mark 8:31-38

One verse before today’s reading, Peter has just had the insight of his life.  “I get it.  I get it.  You’re the Messiah!”  And now, Jesus begins to explain how it works; what it means to be God’s anointed one.  But he does something really interesting. He doesn’t call himself, “The Messiah,” he calls himself the “Son of Man.”

This is the title that Jesus most often uses for himself.  It’s an interesting choice.  Not rabbi.  Not Lord.  Not King.  But Son of Man.  It comes from the Hebrew:  ben adam.  Son of Adam.  It’s not a special title at all.  It’s used most uniquely in the book of Daniel where “The Ancient of Days,”(another great title), God, says that at the end of times, the world will be given over to one “as a son of man,” or more accurately, “a human” who will represent all the hosts of heaven. (Daniel 7) This Human One will take authority away from beasts and violent powers and bring the world back to God’s gracious care.

In a sense, Jesus’ call is to be the Human One, at the side of God, charged with rescuing the creation.  His job is to be so fully Human that the world is saved.

Being a human with a capital H saves the world.

Pastor Andrea Roske Metcalf reported a conversation with her preschool daughter.  Her daughter is on the toilet in a public bathroom, and she’s standing against the wall with her hand covering the auto-flush sensor.

Daughter (sighing in a sad/dejected manner): I wish I was owd enough to wipe udder peopow’s bums.
Me: Really? And here I am just wishing you were old enough to wipe your *own* bum.
Daughter (in a whiny voice): But I wanna wipe *udder* peopow’s bums! Like *you* do!
Me: Like how I wipe *your* bum?
Daughter: Uh-huh.
Me: Well…good news. When you grow up, you can work at an old people’s home. There are lots of old people who need help wiping their bums.
Daughter (in a voice of amazement): …and I can *work* der? …and I can wipe der *bums* der?!?
Me: Yep!
Daughter (laughing): I’m gonna do dat, Mom! So now I’m gonna walk a dog and play a flute *and* wipe udder peopow’s *bums*!
Me: Good plan. Are you done?
Clem: Yep.
Me: Then bend over.[1]

She is the Christ figure. Being human with a capital H means dealing with human “stuff.” Jesus says that the Human One must undergo great suffering, be rejected the religious leaders, killed by the civil authorities, and then keep going, even beyond the killing.

That must has been problematic. It sounds like God’s plan is for Jesus to suffer.  Jesus dies.  We get saved.  Or said in a more dramatic way, “Someone’s got to pay for all the bad “stuff.”  Jesus death, especially since it was a terrible and painful death, paid God’s ransom.  God is satisfied, so we get forgiven instead of handed over to our punishment, which we, no doubt, deserve.

Recognize that thinking?  Suffering is required for salvation.  Pain is part of redemption.  A lot of us were taught to think that way about what the cross means.

But I think some of that idea is based on a misunderstanding.  Now here’s where I’m going to get Bible-wonky.  Hang in there. The Greek word for suffering is based in the word “pascho.”  It does mean suffering, particularly as something acts on you.  But it also means deep experience or profound feeling.  Pathos is derived from this word.  We get sympathy, which means literally to “suffer with.”  Suffering may come because something happens to you, as most of us know, but it also may come by choice.  It may come by allowing oneself to feel deeply, to touch the depth of humanity’s experience, even be overcome by it.

So I may be stepping in some “stuff” here, but I want to suggest that when Jesus says that the Human One must undergo suffering, he may not be saying God made it a requirement, but he is compelled by who he is, but what is in his heart, but what he knows of God’s character to enter fully by choice into the world’s experience, even to allow himself to be killed by it.

Maybe a better word is “solidarity.”  What this Human One does, as a consequence of being next to God, is to do what God always does:  stand in solidarity with human life, especially in its darkest and deepest pain. It is in this compassionate, sym-pathetic solidarity that we find God.  In a sense, it points us to what it means to be authentically and deeply human:  to be open and receptive to humanity’s depth.

It’s what Peter and so many of us want to avoid.  “No way, Jesus.  Let’s avoid the suffering that comes from being real.”  Jesus gives us a definition of Satan, a word that means “the adversary:”  anything that keeps us from being fully the Human One, being fully alive and in solidarity with other fully human ones.

The cross doesn’t represent suffering, per se, but God’s choice to be present with us in our suffering.  It’s God’s love that saves us.  It’s the love of Jesus that redeems all of human life.

To pick up the cross, to find your life, is to pick it up.  Pick up human life in all its glory and all its pain.  Sometimes that means picking up the joys and pains of another, even when the result is rejection and ridicule because it goes against the cultural and political norm. Sometimes maybe it means showing up to our own joy and pain, rather than pushing it under the rug, denying it, burying it under addiction, or work or pretense or anything that keeps us from touching our deepest life.

Nancy Agneberg, a wise human one, says that she has turned her bucket list into an open list:

Open to the Ongoing Presence of God
Open to the Beauty Around Me
Open to Gratefulness
Open to Enrichment of Relationships–New and Old
Open to My Own Life Lessons
Open to What Others Can Teach Me
Open to Opportunities for Service
Open to Whatever Is Next (http://clearingthespace.blogspot.com/2018/02/books-for-living-part-one-tuesdays.html)

I couldn’t help think about all this as I watched the students from the school in Parkland, Florida filling the statehouse and that CNN roundtable.  They have been moved by the suffering and death of their classmates and are doing the work of redemption.  They want change, not talk. Their passion (another word by the way that comes from the same Greek root) has power to redeem the nation if adults will show up and actually act like human beings..

The Human ones, with a capital H, show up.  And from what Jesus tells us, the logic of the cross– what we see in his story of suffering, rejection, and deaths—is that God shows up in the “stuff,” and the story goes on.  In it all, God is at work.  There is in all things and in all places and in all people: the sign of the cross.

[1] Facebook post used with permission.