The Clear Challenge of the Cross
Clarity is kindness. Let me say that one more time – Clarity is kindness. (Brené Brown)
I learned this phrase several years ago with the work I do understanding and teaching the connection between vulnerability, shame and courage. Being clear is kind and sometimes it’s also hard.
Clarity requires directness. It requires doing the work to understand what you need, what you hope for, what matters, maybe where it hurts - so you can communicate those things explicitly – and make space so they can communicate explicitly to me.
Truly reciprocal speaking and listening usually requires more dialogue-time than we believe we have time for, or want to spend. There are more questions, more “let me be sure I get it”, more relationship-building – to get to a place where there is understanding and agreement.
In fact I wonder if I have become so wedded to this phrase as a lifeline of the lack of clarity in local and national and worldwide communications continues to be a very difficult reality we are moving through. “Clarity is kindness” has become a mantra as a value that informs how I move through the responsibilities of my days.
This morning, Jesus is being very clear but it does not feel kind.
He asks Peter a straightforward question – who do you say that I am?
Peter gives a straightforward answer – you are the Messiah. In Greek “Christ”
Because Jesus wants to do Peter a kindness and make sure Peter, and everyone in earshot understands exactly what that title means – he goes on to explain it.
Jesus teaches– yes I am the Messiah – and the fact that I am a human being, the Son of Humanity as he says in Mark’s gospel who embodies the divine capacity within each of us that models the dream of God. Because I live into do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8) –I will come into conflict with the systems of the world – the systems of government – of authority – of economic interest.
The Messiah calls it likes he sees it – so there is no getting around the inevitable intersection between the ways of the world (mammon) – and the ways of God.
So let me be clear, Jesus says – I will suffer, I will die – but that will not be the last word. For I will rise again. Resurrection – renewal – new life – will come.
Twenty years ago yesterday – in the afternoon or evening of 9/11 – I imagine many of you – just like me – wanted to be in a church. Maybe you were.
I got to mine on the upper east side – late afternoon – our church was having ceiling repairs – just like we are now. But on a bigger scale – the nave was filled with scaffolding. On Sundays we were in the parish hall and on Wednesdays there was a Holy Eucharist with healing in the chapel. You could maybe seat 30 in there.
On 9/11 when I got there, that chapel was packed. People spilled out into the hall.
When communities experience a tragic event – one of unexplainable or unimaginable suffering people go to church. I’m not unique, but I can’t for other people’s reasons – my reason is that I want to feel close to God.
God who tells me the light shines and the darkness cannot overcome it.
God who bears all my sorrows even knowing all my sins. A Jesus who spoke clearly to women as he walked to the cross – saying daughters weep not for me, but for yourself and your children’s children. Because its gonna get hard. (Luke 23:28)
I want a Messiah I can relate to – not a king or queen. (when I want that, I’ll watch “The Crown”) And I want to be in church because I want to feel the goodness that is palpable when people come together in sacred space – even when its because we’re all overwhelmed and unbelievably sad.
I think I understand why Peter freaks out when Jesus is direct and clear about what Messiah actually means. It’s not only out of a love for a friend. I also think it’s out of his own disappointment.
Peter’s expectation is a Messiah King. A Messiah whose been casting out demons up until this point – will go to the roman empire and cast out demons too. A king who will do what kings do – rule, govern, execute justice and power, and unite everyone under a single authority.
This is who Peter thought he’s been following.
And this is what Jesus wants Peter to deny. His self-fulfilling idea of what’s supposed to happen in the end – his own expectations.
“If any want to become my followers let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
It’s not an invitation for just Peter, or the disciples, despite the many sacrifices they have already made. It’s an invitation for all – through time. An invitation to put on the mind of Christ – embody the gospel day in and day out – and when that comes into conflict with the ways of the world which is invevitable – to keep going.
Going to church on that Tuesday twenty years ago – I have no memory of what we prayed, sang, or what was said. But I do remember the conflicts that immediately arose the following Sunday and the Sunday after that when it came time to praying for our enemies.
I remember the conflict that came on a Sunday when a priest gave a sermon on just war theory – this priest had been a lawyer in his first vocation. He made a case a lot of people didn’t agree with.
I always want church to a sanctuary. I want church to be a place where we come to get a respite from all the conflict in the world.
But this morning Jesus reminds clearly and out of kindness during a hard time what discipleship means – what it means to follow – he is telling us he knows where it will lead. It takes courage – it takes vulnerability – it takes never being ashamed of the all-inclusive love proclaimed in the gospel – no matter the cost.
In our church I think we have a poignant and visible reminder of this reality– something we can always gaze upon – when we’re worried or scared about following Jesus.
At the foot of the cross – we see a symbol of sacrifice and our call to do the same -– to consider where our self-interest – self-fulfilling expectations might be in conflict with God dream for the human family.
But above that is the assurance you and I will never be abandoned – for the good shepherd will always lead us beside still waters and everflowing streams – the good shepherd is with us even in the valleys and the shadows – the good shepherd we follow – and when we do we are promised that goodness and mercy will follow us – all the days of our life. (Psalm 23) Amen.