Well, I suppose I should say something now, because it has begun already. If it was up to me, we wouldn’t start for another six months at least. But the stakes are high, and people feel strongly, so I suppose folks are going to go ahead and get to it.
I am speaking, of course, about the presidential campaign. Already, people are ignoring the guidance of the book of James in our second lesson for today, to bridle our tongues, and instead are whipping them out from their proper and good places to lash and stab at each other. Media focuses, as usual on the most outrageous and the most conflictual, rather than the reasoned and insightful because the outrageous and conflictual attracts the our attention so that we will watch their ads for toothpaste, for which they get paid.
I bring it up now because I think that, just as it is the job of a physician to point out that eating three pounds of Cheetos for supper is unhealthy physically, this is not healthy spiritually.
I would therefore remind us that it is possible to have conversation based on reasoned argument, backed up by true facts. We are capable of speaking clearly and passionately and still be respectful, even learn from one another. We can come to different conclusions and vote for different people, and still grow as individuals and as a community.
That is spiritually healthy.
Presidential campaigns in the past have often lifted candidates above the level of human. I have heard candidates and presidents spoken of as the manifestation of everything that is bad about America, the ultimate in stupidity. Folks have also been described as extremely intelligent, smooth and deceitful but evil, like the antichrist.
People have been spoken of as if they were an icon of freedom, the picture of integrity and honor. They have been presented as the source of vision, the person who brings hope.
It’s not healthy. So I would like to remind us that these people are human. They are broken and fallen and they smell bad when they don’t take a bath. They are also created in the image of God. Even if you can’t stand to see their simpering faces on the TV screen or listen to their smarmy whiney little voices, Jesus still died for them too.
To remember this is spiritually healthy.
I would also lift up for you our real leader. In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter says “You are the Messiah,” the leader.
Peter is probably thinking of the Messiah in the same way many Jewish people thought, riding at the head of a vast Jewish army, which might even include some battalions of angels. They would drive out the Romans and put the people of Israel in their place as dictatorial rulers of the world. At last, there would be peace and justice. People might even be raised from the dead, the good to be rewarded for their righteousness, the bad to be punished for their evil.
Wonderful vision. Not much room for mercy in it, but especially for an oppressed people, it can be a lot of fun to think about.
It is not surprising that Peter would name Jesus the Messiah, the one to bring God’s great victory, because up till this point, Jesus has shown an unimaginably deep ability to unbind people. Just one small example, from back in the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark.
Peter’s mother in law lies in bed with a fever. It says she is burning up. Have you ever seen someone burning with fever, how the sweat runs down the sides of her face, drenching her hair and pillow? You ever seen how it glistens on her neck as her head moves back and forth with moaning. When you put the palm of your hand up close to her flushed cheek you can feel the heat pounding off of her.
Jesus comes, takes her by her hand and lifts her up. The fever draws out of her. Her body eases back into its natural state of peace.
And she then does the same thing that the angels do earlier in that first chapter of the Gospel of Mark. In that earlier part, the angels serve Jesus. Now, so does she. She does the work of angels.
It’s what we do as well.
Not at all surprising that Peter would name Jesus the Messiah, the leader.
But then, as usual, Jesus turns things upside down. As usual, he disorients us in the direction of hope. He says “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise.”
Wait, the Messiah does not suffer. The Messiah is a strong leader, a winner. The Messiah is not killed. The Messiah is a hero. He leaps from victory to victory.
And yet this is precisely what Jesus does. He suffers. He dies with us and for us, we who are not righteous but unrighteous, who are not winners but losers.
Have you ever felt like you were burning up? Perhaps in your body, perhaps in your soul, the sweat pouring off your face into your hair and pillow. You ever feel like, if you put your palm up close to the world, if you ever actually touch and connect with the things you see on the news, then you will feel the heat pounding off the world’s illness?
Jesus comes, puts his cool hand on our forehead, on the forehead of the world, draws the fever out, and raises us up.
This is our leader. This is the one who stands at the core of who we are, the root of our souls, that part of ourselves that opens out into God’s infinite brightness.
This is the messiah who loves us, who has mercy.
And then we get up, and we serve. Jesus says “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
It means we are aware that we might lose our lives for our faith. People die for Christ across history and in our world today. Unlikely for us in this time and place, but we need to understand that it happens.
It also means that we serve. For example, after 11:00 service we are going to carry a little cross. Here’s the situation: If you are a veteran and you go to the VA for care, and you don’t happen to have a toothbrush and toothpaste or anything like that, the VA can’t provide you one.
So we are going to sacrifice a little bit of time and work to put toothbrush and toothpaste and stuff like that into a packet so that some of the vets that go to the VA can have one.
A little sacrifice. But also, let’s keep in mind that to do this, we have to feel a glimpse of what a vet might feel. How would it feel to serve your country and go to have some of the medical care that has been promised you, and you don’t have a toothbrush and toothpaste, and they can’t give one to you. How would you feel? Disappointed? Abandoned?
As we serve, we share a touch of people’s suffering, as well, like Jesus.
Sharing a touch of people’s suffering, in turn, calls forth questions. Like why is it that a veteran goes to the VA and can’t get a toothbrush and toothpaste? What’s that about? What’s the problem?
That’s a part of carrying the cross too.
Jesus sweeps us into this work of redemption. Jesus reaches through our hands to touch the world. So come on, let’s go. Let’s take up our cross, and follow Jesus.