The priest's face crumpled.
"My parents tell me you did it," she said.
"But I was not consulted. So
Now, undo it."
The priest's eyes asked why.
"If it were just about belonging to
This religion and being forgiven,
Then I would stay. If it were just
This list of doctrines and upholding
This list of rituals,
I'd be OK. But
Your sermon Sunday made
It clear it's
About more. More
Than I bargained for. So, please,
The priest looked down, said
Nothing. She continued:
"You said baptism sends
Me into the
Love enemies. I don't. Nor
Do I plan to. You said it means
Being willing to stand
Against the flow. I like the flow.
You described it like rethinking
Everything, like joining a
I'm not rethinking or moving anywhere.
So un-baptize me. Please."
The priest began to weep. Soon
Great sobs rose from his deepest heart.
He took off his glasses, blew his nose, took
Three tissues to dry his eyes.
"These are tears of joy," he said.
"I think you
Are the first person who ever
Truly listened or understood."
"So," she said,
"Will you? Please?" – Brian McLaren
Strange how a last minute glance at Facebook this morning says so much! Brian McLaren's words this morning ring especially true – there are times I wish I could be “de-baptized” too. This morning’s Gospel about the real cost of discipleship, taking up your cross, denying yourself, losing your life and all is just one of those moments when de-baptizing might just seem like an option.Last week we heard the reading of Peter declaring Jesus as the Christ of God and being commended for getting that right. Immediately following getting it right, he gets it all wrong in projecting onto Jesus his vision of what the Messiah would be. Jesus rebukes Peter with some pretty harsh words and continues on to speak about denying yourself, taking up your cross and following him. He speaks of losing your life for his sake, in essence laying down your life for Christ, in order to gain real life.
This whole idea of taking up our cross is admittedly a bit alien in 21st century America. We do not execute criminals by crucifixion like the Romans did. The cross has become a fashion statement – many of us wear crosses around our necks and we see them in our homes and churches. It’s almost as if the cross has lost its offensive meaning.
What also troubles me is how the cross is used to legitimize our own suffering. I think this comes, in part, from atonement theories that case suffering as redemptive by using Jesus as the example. This is rooted in the idea that Christ “suffered for our sake” and died for our sins. Yes, this is in scripture, but I often find the meaning can get quite twisted as people equate their own suffering as somehow necessary because Christ suffered for them. This often gets couched in language of “it’s my cross to bear.”
That may well be. There are times when we suffer in life because of something we absolutely cannot control. However, people often take on crosses that are not their own. In essence, they act as Simon of Cyrene – the one who carried Jesus’ cross for him. When an abused spouse/partner thinks their suffering at the hands of their loved one is their cross to bear, that is not true – they are taking on the cross of violence another puts on them. When the spouse/partner of an addict suffers because of the active addiction of their loved one, they are taking on the cross of their addicted loved one and acting as Simon of Cyrene. Remember, there was a point where Simon put down Jesus’ cross because it was not his to bear to the end in death. I don’t believe that taking on a cross of suffering that someone else forces on you is what Jesus is talking about in this passage. I do not believe in a God who requires your suffering abuse at the hands and actions of another. Jesus died for that, you don't have to!
So what does this mean then, to lose your life for Christ’s sake and take up your cross and not someone else’s? I suggest it begins in identifying what in your life is standing in the way of your living fully and freely for God and others. There are plenty of attachments we have which can get in the way of our relationships with God and others. Some of these are truly addictions – and I’m not just talking about drugs or alcohol. Addiction to money and possessions is probably one of the most insidious and powerful addictions in our culture. Remember, addiction requires habituation and an increased desire of more of whatever we are addicted to. Think about that with respect to money. No matter how much money we have, don’t we all think we need more? No matter how many possessions we have, wouldn't that new iPhone or tablet computer or big screen TV be really nice? Another addiction we have is to being busy because it makes us feel important because we know the busier you are, the more important you must be. Or how about the obsession many of us who are parents have over making sure our kids are enrolled in all the right classes, playing all the right sports, involved in all the right activities so they can get into all the right colleges? If you have been playing Simon of Cyrene to another person and on the receiving end of abuse, maybe the relationship has become an obsession all its own.
These are the individual attachments and obsessions we have … but there are also the communal ones which lead to deep systemic sin and oppression of others. What about our obsession to get the absolute lowest price on everything? How many jobs have been shipped overseas to third world countries with oppressive working conditions and child labor so that we can get our clothing at rock bottom prices? How many people in our own country earn much less than a living wage because we demand things like cheap fast food? How many immigrant workers get exploited because employers know they can pay them substandard wages, if they get paid at all? Our addiction to cheap goods causes us to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others precisely because it is out of our immediate sight.
What if we were to take a close and honest look at our obsessions, attachments and addictions and be willing to deny ourselves those things we think we cannot live without so that we might lose our life for the sake of Christ and the Kingdom of God? If you've been carrying a cross that doesn't belong to you, it may be time to put it down and leave that relationship so you can free yourself to live for the Kingdom of God. If you see yourself in those attachments and addictions I've mentioned … and there are many more than what I've stated … perhaps this would be a starting point to lose that life.
When we let go of obsessions, attachments and addictions, it is a way we take up our cross to follow Christ. It demands we die to our way of living so that we can find a fuller life in God. When we do, it will feel like death – make no mistake. Giving up obsessions and addictions always feels like dying because it is. But we are a people not just of losing life, but of transformed resurrected life too. When we hand over our life to God by denying our obsessions and addictions, we open a way for the Spirit to resurrect us and transform us into a totally new creation – both individually and collectively. Christ invites you today, in this community, to lose your life for his sake, take up your cross and follow him into a resurrected life. He awaits your reply ... the response is up to you.