9/4/17 – STUMBLING BLOCK OR CORNERSTONE by Samantha Crossley+

Proper 17, A
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

Christianity has been accused of many things: sometimes with justification and sometimes without. It deserves the credit for great acts of courage, and self sacrifice and love; for hospitals, shelters, soup kitchens, and charities. It bears the blame for horrific acts of hatred exemplified in the crusades, pogroms, support of slavery and white supremacy, and shaming of non-conformers of whatever stripe. Christianity stands accused of being unreasonably optimistic, disgracefully intolerant and even, particularly among certain age groups, of being mind bogglingly boring. Christianity has never, so far as I know, never, ever, in all the charges leveled been accused of being logical.

One writer kept a list… (Debie Thomas, Journey with Jesus – edited list)
God is One, and God is Three….
Jesus is God and Jesus is human…
He’s the beginning and he’s the end.
The Bible is God’s Word, …[the Bible is] a library authored by humans.
Creation is good, and creation is broken.
We bear God’s image, and we carry deep flaws.
To give is to receive.
To die is to live.
To pardon is to be pardoned.
The weak are strong.
The foolish are wise….
The kingdom of God is coming, and the kingdom of God is already here.”

“The messiah will save the nation; the messiah will die humiliated.”

Rocks are not known for being flexible and Simon, newly christened Peter the Rock is no exception. You are the Messiah, Peter said. And Jesus gave him great kudos for that insight. The cornerstone of the church. Except for Peter “Messiah” meant something quite specific. Something involving horses and swords and armies and vanquished enemies and well, winning. Jesus’s sudden illogical paradox caught him by surprise – suffering and torture and death had no part in his salvation plans.

Occasionally, in the labor room (if you’re someone who has the opportunity to hang out in labor rooms), you see a woman, doing what needs doing – coping as she can, in pain and sounding like it. A sweet, supportive partner comes to her, gently holds her hand and softly says, “It’s ok, honey. It’s not that bad. Just breathe, it’ll be ok”. “This.is.not.ok. It’s not going to be ok. NOT.OK”. The poor partner’s face at that point is much as I would imagine the face of the well-meaning but somewhat oblivious Peter’s as he tried to redirect Jesus – Jesus who knew well what his own labor of love would require, and that it would not be OK – not the way Peter meant.

Suffering comes. Suffering happens. Ask the people of Houston, where at least 50 people have died and 30,000 or more are displaced from their homes due to flooding. Ask the people of Southeast Asia where flooding has claimed over 1,000 lives and countless homes. Ask the people of East Africa (South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia) who are starving due to drought. Ask the woman laboring. Ask families watching a loved one die. Ask a parent unable financially to care for her children.

Suffering – our own, other peoples’ – it is overwhelming and every instinct in us says to avoid it, protect ourselves against it, deny it. Just as Peter did. Just as the world does.

Jesus calls us to a different way. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” To be clear, Jesus does not enjoin us to search out, to embrace, or to welcome suffering for the sake of suffering. His invitation to take up the cross does not mean to accept or condone abuse of any kind. His entire life and Good News was based in protecting the vulnerable. His call to deny self and take up the cross bids us follow him in the way of freedom and peace.

Barbara Brown Taylor expresses it thus: “The deep secret of Jesus’ hard words to us, is that our fear of suffering and death robs us of life, because fear of death always turns into fear of life, into a stingy, cautious way of living that is not living at all. The deep secret of Jesus’ hard words is that the way to have abundant life is not to save it but to spend it, to give it away, because life cannot be shut up and saved.”

Paul lays it out in our epistle: Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

According to NPR, when Houston started to flood a furniture store owner, Jim McIngvale, known as Mattress Mack, posted a video online: “Come on over.” He gave out his personal phone number. When some storm victims couldn’t make it across flooded streets, McIngvale’s drivers went to collect them in his delivery trucks. McIngvale also has food for the evacuees – and he invited them to bring their pets, too. (Condensed from David Shearman, A Community Covenant, Midrash, personal communication)

One pastor shares this:

In the flood that is this life
some waters will sweep your home away
and others stop at your doorstep.
There is no choosing, no deserving
in their rising or receding.
On any given day one of us is picnicking,
another swimming for our lives.
For all of us some day waters will rise,
and with them,
beside us in the water a reaching out,
above the swirling flood a reaching out.
So many reaching out.
This is what we have to stand on.
Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes

One piece I read preparing for this Sunday suggested that a very real problem with Christianity these days is that Christians are too inclined to leave Christianity to Jesus. All the suffering in the world, all the messiness, and tears, and hate and anger and Christians fall into the trap of gazing at the cross murmuring “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you for suffering for me – so I don’t have to.”
Guess what. You have to. We must become cornerstone or stumbling block. We cannot abstain. “Deny yourself”, He said. “Take up their cross and follow me.” Teresa of Avila wrote:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

We gather together in Christ’s name. Holy God, deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.