Lent 2, Year B

 

Last week in Zoom Family Worship we talked about the start of Lent. We noted that we are using different prayers. That my stole is now a different color. That this is a season for us to live differently, to walk closely with Jesus in the wilderness as we fast, pray and give. To take stock of things that may be distracting us from God so that we can deepen our bonds with God.

When we arrived at our beloved sharing time, a time to share with one another our thoughts on the scripture, or perhaps make our stuffed animals dance, or show folks a balloon, one of our younger parishioners quickly unmuted to share what they thought their grown up should fast for Lent saying, “I know what distracts my mom, her phone… she should really fast from her phone this season”. As you can imagine we had a good chuckle. I think our laughter was in part because it was so real! We all know what it is like to have things that distract us. Things that we should perhaps spend a bit less time on. I know I too could spend a little less time on my phone. One of the things that keeps me so connected to the world and the empire. And I can imagine how parts of me might be transformed in doing so.

Theologian and writer Rachel Held Evans once posed this Lenten question, How will you be transformed come Easter? Transformation is something that both our Genesis and Mark readings have in common. Through covenant, our promises and devotion to God, and God’s promises and devotion to us, it is impossible to escape being transformed. Abraham is transformed when he comes before God and claims the promise that indeed his and Sarah’s ancestors will be a multitude of nations. There is transformation not just in the changing of their names, but in answering this call to come into a deeper relationship with God. In Mark, Jesus invites the crowd with the disciples into transformation with the notion of taking up the cross. Being willing to let go of the life they know and step into a life of following Jesus. A life that calls us to take risks, push against the status quo, and be blessed beyond measure.

Just before this invitation to taking up the cross we have this somewhat uncomfortable rebuke of Peter. Jesus very plainly describes his fate to the disciples, who were likely shocked, as they would have been expecting a messiah who would defeat the empire, the oppressor, not be killed at the hand of the empire (TBC, 318). Maybe Peter is indeed distracted by his perception of the power of a messiah who would conqueror. Perhaps, he is thinking about power in a human way and not in God’s way (WBC, 486). The human way of understanding that liberation comes by defeating the empire. He had hoped for a crown and is being pointed to a cross.

When being instructed to take up their cross, the disciples and crowd gathered would have known what Jesus was saying in their context of people who understood the Roman cross to be a device of torute and death reserved for those who threatened the power of the empire. They would have known this image of the cross, especially folks from or around Galilee which was a known hot bed of revolutionaries who would have been crucified as they stood up to the Roman empire.

Jesus naming this connection to the cross is an explicit statement that he does and will stand up to the oppressor, counter the status quo, and he will die because of it. Throughout Mark and especially in this passage,  “Mark’s Gospel rules out a Christology built on a romanticized portrait of a tolerant Jesus who only helps and heals and welcomes” (FOTW, 72). Here we clearly see Jesus, and a call to those who would follow him, to live beyond the status quo. I recall a recent conversation with a Quaker friend in my racial justice affinity group who said, “we are living in the empire while dreaming wildly and pushing fiercely for the kin-dom that God calls us to”.

By asking us to deny ourselves and take up our cross, Jesus raises the stakes on discipleship (FOTW, 70).  “The link between denying oneself and taking up one’s cross makes it clear that denying oneself does not mean subordinating oneself to those with power over one in the existing hierarchy, but, rather, subverting that hierarchy by serving those over whom one could possibly exert some power” (WBC, 486). We must be willing to shed our privilege to take the risk to put ourselves in harm’s way for the sake of “the other”.

Let me speak plainly, Jesus asked his followers then, and asks us now, to never back down from the oppressor. To deny the self, “your family, your status”, is to say yes to the invitation to confront the stark reality of not just the blessings of following Jesus, but risks we must take and the cost of it (TBC, 318). We know what this looks like in our own modern narrative through folks who have stood up to the status quo. Yes, the well known folks like Oscar Romero or Martin Luther King, and also the folks history has not told the stories of… Fred Hampton, Sandra Bland.

So, how do we do this? How do we take up our cross and stand against the status quo? Surely everyone is not called to martyrdom in the process. When we begin examining our relationship to the systems of oppression, of empire, that we participate in daily, racism, capitalism, we can begin the journey. In the words of Hessidic reggae singer, Matisyahu, “Strip away the layers and reveal your soul, Got to give yourself up and then you become whole”. Strip away the things that distract us from God and uphold the status quo. This is a big statement and for me I feel that it is something to be worked on in my daily life.

I was reminded of this recently when reading “Having and Being Had”. In her book, Eula Biss wrestles with her relationship to various systems, mainly capitalism in her daily life. She writes this segment about global leaders meeting to consider sustainability: “Air conditioning is where the economist Mariana Mazzucato turned her attention when she was among a group of experts advising the United Nations on sustainability. They were meeting in an over-cooled room, so she asked for the air-conditioning to be turned off. How can we hope to change anything, she asked, “If we don’t rebel in the every day?” (HABH, 182) Turning the air conditioner off… a transformative act of rebellion. One of many examples of how this is possible in our everyday lives.

Jesus, the rebel who so strongly opposed the empire in his daily life it led to his death and our salvation said, “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”. Embracing the “world’s standards”, the status quo, brings shame upon us (FOTW, 73). We must take seriously this call to not just take up our crosses but to closely examine the things in our life that are distracting us from God, and keeping us from doing this sacred work of dreaming widely, and pushing fiercely for the kin-dom of God. So… how will you be transformed? What will you examine in your own life? How will you take up your cross, live differently, and confront the empire, the status quo, in the everyday?

 

 

Resources:

Feasting on the Word

Having and Being Had

Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints

Theological Bible Commentary

Women’s Bible Commentary