Monday, March 12, 2012

Shame as a Obstacle to Life

Mark 8: 31-38
Title: Shame as an Obstacle to Life
The Reverend Timothy A. Mentzer


To bind a Roman citizen is a crime; to flog him, an abomination. To slay him is virtually an act of murder. To crucify him is--what? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe a deed so horrible? Cicero, in Against Verses.

God's will was that Jesus would die in that way, on the cross, for our salvation.

We love the cross of Christ, for what it accomplishes for us. We are also called to love our own crosses. That is much more difficult for us.

The Need To Be Offended
Until this point, the 8th chapter of the Gospel of Mark, we have seen little conversation between Jesus and his disciples. We have heard about their calls, and being set apart from the crowd. That changes in Chapter 8. In this chapter Jesus begins to ask them questions. First, he asks the disciples who other people are saying that he is. The disciples answer with a recitation of public opinion. Then, Jesus asks a more pointed question of them, "Who do YOU say that I am?" At that point, Peter shows a moment of brilliance. YOU are the messiah. As with any of us, moments of brilliance are typically followed by moments of stupidity.

After Peter's acknowledgment of Jesus as messiah, Jesus describes the nature of messiah--one who is rejoiced by the religious elite, one who suffers, one who is arrested, crucified, and is raised from the dead on the 3rd day.

Peter' moment of lucidity is followed by rejection of the definition of messiah that Jesus provides. Peter needs to defend his notion of God's one from Jesus' claim. And indeed, do we each have a notion of God and ourselves that we need to protect?

Let us speak about this in terms of needs. I need shelter. This need grows, however, as I live with the shelter that I have. So my need for shelter includes a growing number of square feet. I need water when I am thirsty, however, soon the taste of water is not exciting enough, so I require lemonade, iced tea, or even soda. I need food, however, what meets my body's requirements is not the most exciting, so the need for steak and a baked potato soon evolves.

And, I need to be offended. Each of us has a chink in our armor, an Achilles Heel, a vulnerable spot. At some moment in our lives, either by serendipity or on purpose, another person will speak a truth that cuts right to our vulnerability. That truth is painful to bear. My defense against that truth is being offended. I hold the speaker of the truth accountable for lacking sensitivity to the needs of others, and am offended by what he or she speaks.

The messiah is the one who endures suffering, is rejected by others, arrested, crucified, and will be raised from the dead. It is his death on the cross that brings our salvation. As we love his cross, we are also called to love our own crosses.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in A Testament to Freedom, writes "There are many Christians who bend their knees before the cross of Jesus Christ well enough, but who do noting but resist and struggle against every affliction in their own lives. They believe that they love Christ's cross, but they hate the cross in their own lives...They needed the cross, but did not love it....Whoever loves the cross of Jesus Christ, whoever has found peace in him, the begin to love even the sufferings in their life, and in the end, they will be able to say with Scripture, "We also rejoice in our sufferings."

Claiming the Wrong Authority
This text from Mark 8 would better be performed on stage, as there is some fascinating blocking happening. Jesus is facing the crowd, defining the role of Messiah (rejection, suffering, arrest, death, resurrection). Peter is standing behind Jesus. At Jesus' words, Peter turns Jesus around to face him, with Jesus now having his back to the crowds. He rebukes Jesus. Jesus, having been rebuked by Peter, first turns his back to Peter, to face the crowd again, rebukes Peter in front of the entire crowd.

It is at this point that Jesus teaches, If any want to be my followers, let them take up their cross and follow me.

A point of authority is conveyed here. Peter is claiming an authority that is not his--not denying himself, but instead defining the role of Messiah--and not claiming the authority that is his--taking up his cross and following Jesus. Jesus defines his authority, as he has been doing frequently in the earlier sections of Mark.

Jesus' positioning to Peter is both a rebuke, in that his back is to Peter but also an invitation, Peter is already behind Jesus, and in the right place/position to follow.

Chaos is when a person takes responsibility for something for she has no authority and is not held accountable. This happens in families, when children want to be parents and not children. This happens in the classroom, when students want to be the teacher, instead of the student. This happens in places of employment, where people want to be the boss, and not the employee.

Shame loves chaos, as it loves to muddy the waters. If shame involves hiding from the painful spots in one's life, it also avoids accountability--not capable of owning one's own mistakes or failures. Muddying the waters, as to not be discovered. It is much easier on my soul to tell another person what he has done wrong, than to claim my own failures.

Loving the cross of Christ, and loving our own crosses is self-denial and action. It is giving Jesus authority to be the Messiah, and it is taking action on our own part to be faithful to him. This journey starts at the point of suffering, and requires perseverance.

A Systems Cosmology
The cosmology of antiquity, that is, the world view of Jesus' time, differs significantly from the cosmology or world view of today. In Jesus' day, there were believed to be 3 levels of the world. Heaven was the top layer, where God dwelt and reigned. Earth was he center--the place where humanity and creation dwelt. Hell, or the underworld, was below--the realm of Satan and his demonic forces. Earth was the battle ground between the powers of God and of Satan. This battle was shown forth in demon possession--used to explain many types of physical and mental maladies and to explain acts that destroyed the lives of others and to explain natural calamity.

In our modern, scientific world, we have a different cosmology or world view. Our world view is empirical and is commonly communicated in terms of systems. We speak of bodily systems such as the immune system, respiratory system, or the nervous system. We speak of social systems such as the legal system, the political system, or the educational system. And, there is growing interest in the emotional system. In addition, we study the interaction of each system.

When there is a physical malady, a breakdown in the social system, or a natural disaster, we turn to one or more of the systems to make sense of what happened and trust them to implement a process, set of policies, or laws that will keep the breakdown from reoccurring.

We find ourselves at a loss when our systems do not have the capacity to perform the function we desire of them. There is no system in to stop E4 tornadoes from ravaging complete towns in the mid-west. There appear to be no systems in place to stop a young man in Chardon, Ohio, from killing high school classmates. No system appears to have the authority to demand a stop to the destruction and death in this world.

We have faith. We have faith to trust in the one who all authority in heaven and on earth. One who announces that life comes from him, and nothing can separate us from his love and power to save. Salvation is more than being taken to heaven if we are good enough when we die. Salvation is the setting right of all creation.

For that reason, we love the cross of Christ, and we love our own cross. In the cross of Christ, we have life.


Let us pray. Lord Jesus Christ, who didst stretch out thine arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of thy saving embrace: So clothe us in thy Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know thee to the knowledge and love of thee; for the honor of thy Name. Amen.

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