Note: What follows is mostly long hand notes for the sermon I preached this past Sunday August 31st, 2008. I am not going to try to reconstruct a manuscript, but thought the notes might be of interest and able to follow and give the gist of the sermon preached.
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
Paul is exhorting us on how those who are the church are to act as the body of Christ. This passage should probably be one we are meditating on as we as council and church reflect on how we are as a congregation and how and if we are desiring and being called into deeper aspects of being church together. The story of Moses and Jesus’ saying about taking up cross and loosing and finding our life are where we must begin if we are to find ourselves on our way to living out Paul’s exhortation to us. I our longings and desires are to truly find there rest in God and what God is calling us to then we must turn aside from our selves from our preferred or comfortable identities and stand before the one who will burn away all that is untrue without destroying who we are, and we will find that the way of the God of Moses is the way of the Cross. Paul in his exhortation is describing a community all of whom are on the journey with and to the cross, who have died to their selves. Today we are asked to turn aside; from the place we have brought ourselves and face God, in burning bush and upon the cross. We are called to turn aside from the merely human attempts at identity and community. We have examples of this turning that is the encounter with God:
I. Encountering God as burning through our identities to find our unique idenity
Moses at the Burning Bush Who is Moses? Murderer? Son of Pharaoh? Israelite? Leader of a Nation? Mystic?
Who are you? Who are we? Who is God?
II. Jesus and the Cross. Finding life through death.
Who does Peter think he is. Simply a fisherman Son of Abraham following the Messiah. Restorer of Israel. A holy politician possibly warrior. Future noble in the new Israel? Advisor to the Messiah. Peter has yet to embrace the divine identity the one that truly fits his unique self. In not yet having moved from the various human possibilities of his self he can’t see the divine plan of the cross, the self-sacrifice the divine one has always already undertaken, and his words where just a little before was the mouth piece of God becomes the mouth piece of Satan. Peter is holding on, he wants Jesus to preserve his life and let us be honest if the leader of a movement starts talking about being killed by the authorities lets be clear those closest to him are probably going to die as well, so Peter is also speaking out of self preservation. To which Jesus tells Peter and those around him and we who follow him now that the attempts to preserver our selves our lives, work against truly living and finding who we are.
III A community of those who all have taken up their cross and lost themselves in Christ.
Paul describing the life of a community that has turned aside and taken up the cross for the sake of Jesus.
Paul Says “Let Love be genuine” What is Love? Why do we love. Paul pairs genuine love with hating evil and holding fast to what is good. In ourselves, in the world in others. Love is shown in mutual affection, love is other directed. Then we are to serve the Lord, rejoice, be patient, pray.
Serve others both in the church and those who are strangers. Associate with the lowly, be at peace with all. Never avenge yourselves. And here we begin to clearly see that this is the way of Christ and the cross. What is the reason and purpose for vengeance? It is an act of self-preservation. Revenge seeks to right things to prevent a wrong to the self through either doing the same violence and wrong to another or another wrong in hopes that one will not be wronged again. Let me be clear this is not about being in an abusive relationship or marriage and finding ways to get out, or to bring the law to protect self and others. Vengeance in fact does not seek to remove ourselves from the situation, but in pride keeps us in the context from which we should remove ourselves. The way of the cross and self-denial is not being doormat but in fact is the way to be more truly and authentically oneself amongst others. What this exhortation of Paul assumes is a community all joined together in following the way of the cross all together taking up the cross and following Christ. Paul and Jesus do not envision this path as an isolated and lonely one. A personal path but not an individualistic path. In that sense we can not know truly what it means to take up the cross and follow Christ if we imagine it as a individualistic task I do on my own for Christ. Because the carrying of the cross has the need to be other directed and not solely focused upon the self.
Conclusiong: The Church as the community of encountering God and other in taking up ones Cross.
The community of the Church first requires that we have encountered God, who calls us to turn aside like Moses. Encountering God as the knowable but incomprehensible source of all life and being, whose self has not other source than itself and thus is always directed towards others, Creation, we as human beings, the other members of the trinity. This encounter calls us from the good and bad identifiers of self we have accumulated over the years and invites an encounter with the self God created us to be, who we are in our uniqueness before God. We confront God and ourselves when like Moses before the burning bush who confronts a self he does not know or understand in his encounter with God. But we may also find that like Peter and to some extent Moses, we simply add this unique identity before God to all the other senses of ourselves we may have, rather than taking it up as the true one. And if we have done this and I think we all have, then Jesus comes and says that no we are not simply to add following God and Jesus to things we do and Follower of Christ or Christian as some earthly and human identity, but are called as those who bear the name of Christ to die to all other identities, to die to the life we believe we need to preserve and hold on to, for only then will we truly find our lives preserved and our true selves before God. This is so because we can not be truly other directed if we are concerned for our own welfare our own status in a group preserving our own identity and place in the world or the church. In the end Paul exhortation brings home the reality that can only be our true selves before God if we are that self in the midst of others who follow Christ and in the world, where we must attend more to others than to ourselves. We can do this because as believers if we are all truly following the way of the cross will find that while we are not seeking to preserve our place and our rights and our identity others who are bound to Christ and have taken upon themselves the cross are in fact looking out for us in love, and seeking to up hold us in joy or sorrow, in tribulation or peace. And this, my friends is true community that only God initiates and creates and which we through the cross enter into. This is beyond friendship, which requires sameness; it is beyond the human desire for community and safety. It is the love of God poured out into our hearts that flows out towards others without thought of preserving ourselves for it rests in the knowledge that our true self is securely held in God’s loving embrace.