13 Pentecost Proper 17: Jeremiah 15:15-21; Psalm 26:1-8; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, September 3, 2017
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer
“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” Matthew 16:25-26
The events of the last several weeks are disturbing in their hate and indifference, challenging in their suffering, and inspiring in their love. It wasn’t so long ago that our televisions were filled with images of racism and prejudice acted out in Charlottesville and dominating our social media streams. We were a country embroiled in debate over statues and monuments that glorified and honored a time of division in our country. Then Hurricane Harvey hit and, though warned, none of us knew what kind of devastation and destruction it would bring. Where our screens had been filled with hate, now they were filled with heroism; where we had been pulling apart, now we came together.
When people are in danger or under threat, there is something in us that cries out to save them. We saw that this past week as everyday, ordinary citizens did extraordinary things. Some came with their boats to rescue neighbor and stranger alike. Some formed human chains—black hand grasping white hand grasping brown hand—to pull victims caught in rushing torrents of water to safety. Some dressed up like Spiderman and visited shelters to bring a little cheer and inspire a sense of courage. Some sang gospel hymns to encourage hope. Some opened their mattress stores, mosques, and homes to house people who had lost everything. Many risked their lives and some lost their lives in trying to save others. Both literally and figuratively, Jesus’s words hold true—“Those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
When you find yourself in a dangerous current, you no longer care about the citizenship status of the man on the end of the rope pulling you to safety. When you find yourself crammed into the bed of a dump truck with other survivors, you aren’t thinking about how much better you are then the person standing next to you. Mother Nature has the tremendous power to equalize a situation and human nature finds its true perspective—love your neighbor as yourself. Christian, Muslim, Citizen, Immigrant, Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal all put aside their labels in the face of life threatening and life changing circumstances this past week. They came together as one, as a great body and in so doing found life.
Jesus defines discipleship as denying self, bearing your cross, and following him. In so doing, he calls attention to the reality of suffering, to stepping out of one’s self, and opening our being to neighbor and stranger alike. Though the example of suffering that has brought this reality into sharp focus this past week is extreme, suffering is real and infects our daily life and world. Though the images of self-sacrifice we have seen played out this week are extraordinary, we are called to live such a life everyday. Though the reaching out and drawing in of others in the face of life threatening circumstances is not the norm, shouldn’t it be?
There is a cost to being a disciple of Jesus. To follow him means we put ourselves last, we are willing to be counted as the enemy, we are willing to be humiliated by the powers to be—that is how we lose our life. To follow Jesus is to stand against empire. If we are not fighting for righteousness, if we are not confronting injustice then we are simply saving our life. We might be looking at the cross but we are not taking it up. We cannot rely on platitudes or empty words like, “God’s got this” or “don’t drift into doubt and fear…stay anchored to hope” or even, “God helps those who help themselves.” Those words ring hollow in the face of images like a three-year-old clinging to her mother as they are washed down a swift current or a family of six who die trying to escape the torrents of destruction headed their way. Imagine one of the comments being “God’s got this” when Aishia, who relocated to Houston after living through the terrible flooding of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, went live on social media to plead for help.
If God didn’t want us to be a part of his work of salvation and redemption of humanity, then there is no need for a cross, no need for disciples, no need for incarnation. True discipleship is more than facing suffering, it is about putting one’s self out there, standing up for the wrongs and injustice of this world even if that means we are stripped naked and left exposed hanging on a cross. God’s got this because God’s got us. We are the body of Christ—the hands and feet, legs and arms, biceps and triceps, heart and lungs to Christ, the head of the church.
Our work will not always be easy and it will mean accepting truths that are hard to bear. Jesus calling Peter “Satan” and a “stumbling block” are hard to hear even if you aren’t Peter. But Jesus knows how much he’s got riding on this, how much he’s got riding on us. It’s not that God needs us to be a part of his work of redemption, its that God wants us to be a part of that work. He invites us in and clearly defines what it means to follow him. It is not an easy task especially as we are distracted by the many opportunities and advantages of this world. Sometimes I wonder if it doesn’t take a natural disaster to help us correct our course. What does the world look like if we operate the next ten years the way we have the last ten days?
Courage, hope, inspiration, love are the major themes that have come out of this tragedy not because Harvey taught people that but because they already knew it, those things already resided within them. God knows that about each of us because God created us in his image and that is the best part of us. That is the part he calls forward in inviting us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.