Praying the Wilderness: Confession and Challenge 3-4-12

 

Right in the middle of the Gospel of Mark, the writer places this key passage that expresses the main scandalous point of the gospel, the central importance of the cross and taking on suffering for the kin-dom of God. We are talking and practicing praying in the wilderness during Lent as we prepare ourselves to follow Jesus this season and beyond.Mark 8:31-38 He then began explaining things to them: “It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive.” He said this simply and clearly so they couldn’t miss it.32-33But Peter grabbed him in protest. Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. “Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works.” 34-37 Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for? 38″If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I’m leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you’ll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendour of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels.”

March 4, 2012

Praying the Wilderness: Confession and Challenge

As of today we have the cross back in the middle of our altar area – getting in the way of the musicians and the choir. It’s kind of a pain really. Don’t you think it would be better to leave it downstairs out of the way?  We have that nice lit up cross up above the altar.  Seems like that should be enough. I heard this week, about a nice convenient “inflatable cross” that you can blow up and use and then put away when you don’t need it.  That might be a little better. Or a fold-away cross. That would be a lot better than lugging this thing around.

But no, we need this reminder in our sanctuary. Every year, I consider it a sacred duty to carry it from the basement and set it up in the sanctuary. It’s a very small thing to do, really. I don’t consider it my cross to bear.  Just about every Christian sanctuary in the world has one. It is the central symbol of our faith. The cross is always there for us to think about, to meditate on, to take with us in some way as part of our faith. For some of us it’s kind of a confusing symbol, and sometimes I think, if it doesn’t confuse or frustrate you, you’re not totally getting what it is. If it’s not in the way, if we have an inflatable or foldaway cross in our lives, we might not actually be hearing Jesus when he says, “Take up your cross, and follow me.”

Most of think that when Jesus says “Take up your cross and follow me,” he must be talking about the individual difficulties of our lives. “I have my own cross to bear,” we say. One of us is having an operation; one of us has an addiction; one of us has a kid who’s driving us to distraction. We think that is our personal cross to bear; that’s what we take up to follow Jesus. I may be wrong, but I don’t think that’s exactly what Jesus meant. I still think that is domesticating his message a bit and making it too much about our own personal struggle, our own pain and our own need.

Tackling our own difficulties can be part of taking up the cross, but it really is bigger than that. It’s kind of like the difference between focusing on membership or focusing on discipleship. We in our small congregation could say our cross that we need to pick up is that we are small and we need new members – so we do everything we can to get new members – we aim to have new music pleasing to new members, we advertise, we are nice to new people.  Again, those things might be important for us to do, but it’s not quite what Jesus is calling us to do when he says, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

Jesus is calling us not just to find new members, but to become faithful disciples, to take up our cross and follow, to live our life with Christ in the lead, to live our lives with God showing the way. Jesus is not saying, “You are suffering and that’s just your cross to bear;” he says when you become my disciple, when you follow me on the way, it’s not going to be easy. You are going to have some trouble with it, people who give you a hard time. When you take up the cross, you too might suffer and risk your life for the authentic gospel of Jesus.

This is a harder message to preach than “take up your own burden” and everything will be fine. When Jesus says, “Deny yourself,” he’s saying remove yourself from the center of your concern – it’s not about your cross, it’s not about your particular pain and problems. Denying yourself, taking up your cross is giving up your status and pride of place at the center of your life and moving God into the place, serving God’s people, and following God’s calling no matter where it leads you or what you have to face. It involves getting rid of your false self, and your false concerns for yourself, and living toward God’s authentic self within and beyond you.

That’s why I’m challenged and excited about our time of praying in the wilderness during the season of Lent and our focus on praying about poverty. I think it is an answer to the call of God to take up our cross, to move ourselves out of the center, so we can follow the way of Christ. Last week we talked about the first part of our prayer about poverty being the address, the focus on God and the moment of praise and recognition of God’s power and place in your life.

Today, I want to suggest that the second part of our prayer about poverty will often be a time of confession, of denying our false selves, confessing how we fall short in our discipleship, realizing that we always want to put ourselves first, even when we are trying really hard to be about service to others.  In fact, I find in my life, that when I am really trying to be good, that’s when I make the most mistakes. That’s when I’m putting up a fence between me and reality, and acting as though I’m something special. When we are trying to serve others and thinking we are really good, we can really get caught.

For instance, when we go down to serve food at Mary Jane Center, we pat ourselves on the back and I spend a lot of time taking pictures of what a good job we’re doing, rather than spending time with the people who we are there to be with. We put ourselves above them by not eating with them, by being the good people who serve them, rather than the friends who are with them.  When we confess how tempting that is for us, we begin to recognize our own racism, and our own classism, our own struggle with putting ourselves at the center of our lives. When we confess how much we want to be good, we may find that fence between us and reality disappearing, that fence between us and the people we are with.

We will have a lot of confessing prayers to say before we are through. I’ve been confessing for years, and saying these prayers for years, and I still find myself struggling with racism and my desire to be good, and to be recognized as good, rather than to be a disciple, a real disciple of the Living God.

If we are really going to take on praying for poverty, we will have to do some deep confessional praying. We will learn a lot about ourselves and our lives will be changed. We may even take up our cross and become real disciples of Jesus Christ.

As we come to the table this morning, we bring that fervent hope and prayer; we bring our authentic selves to the altar and we offer t all that is false to God; we offer our confession and we receive God’s love and sustenance for our continuing journey through the wilderness.

This is God’s good news.  After the ushers come forward to receive the offering, let’s sing and give thanks for God’s faithful guidance and love on the journey.  Will the ushers please come forward?

 

Communion hymn  2036  Give Thanks