Lent 2, B
Have you heard about the dress? It’s this odd internet phenomenon – there’s a picture of a dress circulating. It’s a perfectly ordinary looking dress, but talk shows are discussing it, news segments have been dedicated to it, family feuds have erupted over it and heaven knows how many bytes of information have been dedicated to the question – What color is this dress? To some it is very clearly, inarguably gold and white. To others, looking at the same picture at the same time, the dress is just as clearly black and blue – the same picture.
“You are the messiah” said Peter, in our lesson last week.
“Jesus is the Christ” we confess on a weekly, if not more frequent basis.
We say the same thing. What do we really mean?
Some say Jesus was simply a man, a good one. A teacher, compassionate and kind. This is a non-committal approach – recognition of “goodness” without any requirements.
Some view Jesus as the gatekeeper, the judge that will open the gates of heaven for them in the end times, or not. This is a guilt/fear based approach – a way of taking some form of control in a frightening world.
Some see Jesus as an insurance policy against their sins – always forgiving, there to save us from ourselves, save us from evil. This, like any other approach, can have merit. We could do far worse than holding an example of un-ending love and forgiveness always before us. But this perception also can encourage license to do what we will, when we will – secure in the knowledge of forgiveness.
What color is the dress?
Peter blurted out the truth as he knew it. You are the Messiah! For a first century Jew that meant the one who would break the yoke of Roman control on Judaism. The mighty conquerer. The one who would restore Israel to all her former glory. Peter and the other disciples pinned all their hopes on Jesus to be the one who led that charge. Peter was so convinced of this reality that he rebuked Jesus when Jesus tried to tell him that life was going to take on a very different color that what Peter had in mind. Peter tried to fit Jesus into the mold Peter preferred. Jesus tried to reshape Peter’s thinking into a Jesus mindset. Jesus’s formulary is simple – but counter-intuitive if salvation is what we seek.
Take up your cross
Jesus doesn’t describe himself – he doesn’t care what color the dress is. He shows us who he is, how to follow, how to be, how to love. He shows us who He is. It is not something we always want to see.
“The truth about who God is contradicts what we expect on the basis of our own feelings about divinity. The truth is that God’s mercy is given to sinners, not reserved for the righteous; Gods’s strength is exposed in weakness, not displayed in power; God’s wisdom is veiled in parable and paradox, not set out in self-help maxims; God’s life is disclosed in death.” (Joseph Small, Feasting on the Word)
To follow God, to follow Jesus is not a matter of saying the right words, going to services – those are good things. They are tools to help us serve God and each other. As Alice Walker said, “Anybody can observe the Sabbath. It takes the rest of the week to make it holy.”
Kayla Mueller was was an American prisoner held by ISIS, and died in captivity. She went to Syria as an aid worker helping innocent victims of the Syrian civil war. In a 2013 address to the Kiwanis Club in her hometown of Prescott, Arizona as reported by Prescott’s Daily Courier newspaper, she said, “For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal. (I will not let this be) something we just accept.” That mindset led the young woman to put herself in danger and to serve on God’s behalf. She gave of herself to change the world.
We are fortunate. We live in a society where we can pray and eat and dress as we would choose (for the most part). In general we know where our next meal is coming from and do not suffer the threat of violence on a day to day basis. Many of our brothers and sisters cannot say the same.
We have daily opportunities to give ourselves in the service of love, compassion, justice, peace. You had a chance last week to serve a wonderful soup supper to benefit the hungry. You had a chance last week to stop some ugly gossip, or to call your congressperson about an unjust practice. You had a chance to pray, when you might have preferred a good mystery novel. You had a chance to lend a listening ear, or to hold an angry tongue. You had a chance to turn off the TV of an evening and call someone who would otherwise be lonely. You will have those chances again. It may mean giving up status, or wealth, or time, or security, or more. Jesus does not promise us easy, he promises us life.
As we ask ourselves during this 40 day Lenten journey what it means to be Christian, may God grant us the strength and courage to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Christ in our daily lives.
Thanks be to God.
Thanks to Pam Laing (Midrash, personal communication) for her insights on which many of the thoughts here are based.