Sermon- Lent 2B, March 4, 2012

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Mark 8:27-38

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

“They tried to make me go to rehab but I said ‘no, no, no’
Yes I’ve been black but when I come back you’ll know know know
I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine
He’s tried to make me go to rehab but I won’t go go go”

Before rumors get started, let me clarify, these words aren’t mine, but the catchy refrain from that soulful hit by Amy Winehouse. This song won her a Grammy for best song of the year in 2008 and last July, Amy died of an overdose. It was tragic and unsurprising and tragically unsurprising.

It seems like a common story among all sorts of addicts, famous and normal alike. Don’t get me wrong, rehab really works wonders for some, but for others, something in the process of fixing their addiction seems worse than the addiction itself and all its sever side effects. Somehow no matter how far, how low they sink, sobriety’s just not worth it. It’s perplexing.

This morning we heard Jesus called to both the crowds and the disciples about becoming one of his followers. He asks them to take up their cross. He probably knew about our tendencies as humans to avoid what is hard, what is painful, to grow comfortable with our dependencies. And he also knew that following him would at some point require simply getting over this. The Christian walk asks more for us.

So when I hear those stories of Amy Winehouse and other addicts and their struggles with rehab, I have to catch myself before I get a little smug or judgemental. I stop and remind myself, I’m not so different. None of us are so different. Maybe my dependencies aren’t chemical in nature, but I still struggle daily, and go to great lengths to resist looking my demons in the eye. I’m just as prone to run away from my cross instead of towards it.

Suffering is as much a part of the good news as resurrection is. Peter is the one who gives voice to how unjust this sounds. His indignant reaction speaks a little too well to my own heart. I like my grapes seedless, my chicken boneless, and my savior painless. They tried to make me take up my cross, but I said no, no, no.

Come this May, it will have been five years since I graduated college and as it turns out because of my vagabond tendencies, each of those 5 years marks a different community that I’ve come to love, worship with, share my heart with and then leave. The leaving part never gets easier and for me has resulted in a number of nights spent crying in my pillow, dealing with the grief. Leaving South Africa was especially hard, and I tell people my memories of my last month there are literally a blur because of the tears that seemed to well up in my eyes almost constantly.

Each time I’ve gone through this grief, there’s a brief moment of cynicism where I remember, “Cortney, you could’ve avoided this all together. You could’ve rejected whatever call or nudge it was that brought you here.”  It’s a fleeting thought, because I quickly realize that there’s nothing I would trade for the relationships and experiences these communities brought me.

This suffering isn’t for naught. Here in 2012 we get the luxury of hearing this gospel passage knowing good and well that the Jesus story doesn’t end on Good Friday. In fact, the story doesn’t end at all. Our suffering, our losing our lives in the name of the gospel, won’t be the end of us, either.

It’s a question we get to ask ourselves every day: “They tried to make me take up my cross but I said…”

Amen.

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