Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
The Rev’d Elizabeth R. Broyles
Proper 7 Year C, Sunday 24 June 2007
Who aren’t you?
We ask each other questions about who we are all the time.
We answer them with one degree of certainty or another,
one degree of truth or another.
Yet how often does someone ask us who we aren’t.
How often do we ask ourselves?
I am not a flawless, completely kind person. I also am not a louse.
I am not always an honest person. I am not a worthless person.
[There is, of course, much more that I am not.]
Who aren’t you?
This is precisely the question Jesus answers today in the Gospel. It looks, on the surface, as if he is asking a question and getting the “right” answer from Peter:
Who do you say that I am?
You are the Messiah of God.
Then Jesus commands them–sternly, to tell no one. Again, it looks like a reasonable follow up on Peter’s right answer.
It is not. What Peter would have meant by Messiah is not what we understand it to mean today. Peter would have expected a king or a great warrior, one who would have a huge impact in the political arena–like David. Messiah = Anointed One = King. Peter would have expected one who would concretely save Israel from all who would oppress her, but especially the Romans.
Jesus is saying to Peter “The Messiah is not what you have heard or have been talking about.” That Messiah I am not.
Who isn’t Jesus? Jesus isn’t a political leader or an earthly warrior or a King like David. He is the one who MUST undergo great suffering. He is the one who must be rejected. He is the one who must die and, thanks be to God, the one who must be raised.
P.S. You must be willing to go through this suffering and rejection and even death if you are to be my followers. There is an essential self-denial and a cross to be borne.
This is a bit daunting, to say the least.
Self denial? Yes. deny, let go of, your plans, insistences, demands of how live should be. Deny your will as separate from God’s will.
Surrender earthly safety: There is a cross to be borne. Your own cross. Taken up daily. Take up your cross may be synonymous with “Take up your life” for us as Christians. Live faithfully. Listen constantly to the inner and outer yearnings and callings. Listen for God speaking through the Holy Spirit in all we encounter.
And follow Jesus.
It occurs to me that Jesus was a follower too, right from the beginning. Led by the Spirit into the desert or driven, he lived by following the lead of the Holy Spirit, by praying to know the will of the Father, by connecting deeply with who he was and what he was called to do.
I would say Jesus was not a map carrier:
He did not have a map that outlined the way specifically.
He didn’t know exactly what would happen next.
Rather, he lived faithfully, stepping out faithfully, doing the next right, sacred, honest thing. Teaching, healing, casting out demons, feeding, praying, disturbing the religious leaders of his time, spending time with the outcast–each one was the next right step when he did it.
This is how we can take up and carry our cross daily: praying and listening and God willing, identifying the next right step. The next honest, faithful, and yes, grace-powered step. The invitation is to seek to live a life infused with the will of our loving, empowering, creative God.
The heart of taking up the cross is not only about dying. It is about living full out, following the Spirit, trusting in the one who leads us.
Mechtild of Magdeburg puts it this way:
How shall I live?
Live welcoming all.
Each step is another moment of welcoming all that is required of us in the journey. This is possible because the Lord of Life lives within us, bearing us up as we bear the weight of our cross.
Now there are some fine tuning points to this “one step at a time” way of living, of carrying the cross:
The step we take does not have to be the perfect one. We don’t have to wait until we are one hundred percent sure. If we did we might never put a foot out. One woman journeyer said that she does it like this. She discerns as best as she can, steps out, takes one step and kind of looks up to heaven and says “Is this OK, Lord?” Yes? Another step.
This can cause us to bristle with impatience–with the desire to move along at a better clip. Wisdom, though, advises against it. As we step ahead, we learn to wait, to walk, to wonder what will be next.
This call to patience also informs us that sometimes the steps are really very small ones. Like getting out of bed as the first step to facing a painful meeting with someone, or to face the day at all if depression is an aspect of your cross. Small steps are not only alright, they are sometimes necessary to move forward with prudence and compassion.
Then there is a caution: We must try not to be so focused on what step is next that we are not here, ever, not in the present. We meet God in the present. We meet others in this moment. We know who we are–and who we aren’t–in the now.
So we go. The danger of journeying this way–and the adventure–is that we never quite know where we will wind up. We can have an inkling, but not the certainty we often want. Sometimes the inkling is strong that if we take this step, this right step, and the next and the next we are going to find ourselves in very hot water.
Sometimes the awareness is that step by step we are being drawn into more beauty, delight and wonder.
Whichever is the case, Life and Love and Freedom are ultimately our end.
Now, who aren’t you?
May God bless us with the courage to keep stepping out, the wisdom to know how to proceed and the desire to be part of God’s step by step healing and freeing of all.