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Meditation on the Trinity

The readings for Sunday, May 27, 2018: First Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8 Psalm: Psalm 29 Second Reading: Romans 8:12-17 Gospel: John 3:1-17 Ah, Ho...

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Mark 8:31–38
31Then 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. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But 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."

34He 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. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those 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."

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.”

The words of Jesus are still ringing in our hearts from last Sunday’s gospel.

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.”

Now is the time. Now is the moment of Kairos, the opportune time. God’s time. Now is the time to change direction. To reverse course and go back the way that we have come, the path that we have chosen, and instead turn and follow God. Go God’s way. To accept as the truest truth that our way and God’s way and not synonymous. That just because we are Christians does not de facto mean that our way and God’s way are one – that our will and God’s will are one and the same. Jesus calls us to repentance, to change direction.

Good Lutherans, when faced with profound questions of faith, ask themselves simply: “What does this mean?” And then, of course, the work begins to faithfully seek the answers. So perhaps we left last Sunday asking ourselves: “What does this repentance, this change of direction means for us?” What does it mean to stop stubbornly following our own path and instead to follow Jesus?
Walter Ciszek was born in a land of beauty and Mrs. T’s Pierogies in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. In 1939, he was serving as a Jesuit priest in eastern Poland when the Red Army troops invaded and to the outside world he disappeared from off the face of the earth. For the next 16 years he was presumed dead. What happened during those 16 years and in the 8 more that followed until he was exchanged for two Soviets accused of espionage and allowed to return to the United States may help us to begin to for an answer to our question: What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to walk his path, in his footsteps, to deny ourselves and to take up our cross and follow him.

Jesus declares to us in today’s gospel that following him involves that trinity of actions: To deny oneself, to take up one’s cross and to follow him. Of those three, the idea of carrying one’s cross has always been a bit problematic. It’s a problem because we fail to grasp that these three actions can’t be separated from each other without their meaning becoming distorted at best or corrupted at worst, especially bearing ones cross. If I’m making a banana split and I take away the bananas, I have a sundae, which is quite a different thing. If I try to understand take up my cross apart from denying myself and following Jesus, then I open the door to boasting, pride, or even self-pity. Let’s try a totally made up example: Taking care of Grandma in her ill health, some might say, is their cross to bear. They may turn to us and say: “Yes, it is difficult. Yes, I don’t get to do the things that I want to do, but she is my burden, my cross to bear.” We are tempted to declare the things in our life that are hard and bring us suffering as our crosses. We label them, complain about them and even brag about them. And in doing so, by drawing attention to ourselves instead of Christ, we may find that what we are carrying isn’t a cross at all.

As Polish refugees were being marched across thousands of miles into Soviet labor camps, Walter Ciszek saw an opportunity to enter the Soviet Union which had been closed to outside missionaries. Working in a lumber camp, he was discovered by the Soviet Secret police, who had learned that he was a priest. Held in solitary confinement for five years and tortured in the infamous Lubianka prison, he signed a confession declaring himself to be a spy, and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in Siberia. While there, he came to realize that as long as he resisted his call to serve the prisoners there as priest, he was exhausted and miserable. But to the extent that he abandoned himself, denied himself and sought to follow Christ in every situation and circumstance, he felt a sense of freedom and peace. Bread and wine were smuggled in and he celebrated mass for the prisoners, finding the grace to carry on and convinced that it was possible with faith to redeem these terrible circumstances. Even non-believers sought him out for counsel and encouragement and he could not help but see in each encounter with every prisoner an opportunity to do the work of God. Simply by refusing to succumb to bitterness or despair, Father Ciszek became a vital witness who offered up his sufferings to help others discover and preserve their faith.

To deny oneself, take up ones cross and follow Jesus means that in the ordinary and sometimes even extraordinary circumstances of our life, that we seek to serve and bear witness to the one in and through whom true life is given and preserved. To bear witness to the gospel is to be an instrument of the Holy Spirit to bring the very Word of life to the world. Few of us likely will be called by God to do that in a prison where we are tortured or unjustly held or in the frozen work camps of Siberia like Father Ciszek, but in the ordinary and sometimes extraordinary circumstances of our lives, the opportunities are continuously present.

Each Sunday as we open our worship we declare our mission to one another: To Teach Christ, Live by Loving, Care by Serving, and See Christ in all! What if seized that moment to ask you how you how that mission has been manifested in your life for the past week. What would you share? Would you tell about a shawl shared last week with a friend? Of encircling someone in need with the tender prayer of friends and strangers? Would you mention a phone call? A visit? A meal cooked for someone hungry? Driving someone to the doctor? Sitting down with a stranger after church and sharing a cup of coffee with them? So often we do not even think that our simple actions bear witness to Christ. We don’t have to – we just do them – because Christ has given us such grace that we just can’t help it. It is who we are. And as lose ourselves in serving Christ, in denying ourselves, picking up our cross and following Jesus, we live each day in the promise of Salvation.
Thanks be to God! Amen!

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