Sunday, 1 March 2015

This is a picture of The chapel that served the fisher folk by the Episcopal church before St Magnus Church was built

What suffering is Good?

A sermon for second Sunday in Lent.

I found it really interesting working away on this one

This week I have found it moving to consider what it may mean to take up our cross and to follow Jesus, something which we may be encouraged to contemplate during Lent. We have the injunction in today’s gospel from Mark. It goes on to say that if we want to save our life we must first loose it.
This is hard for us to do because we seem biologically programmed to survive, and we interpret that as saving ourselves.
Let us consider then for a moment something quite interesting, and that is that the universe was born in perfect temperature, perfect balance and symmetry at the time of the Big Bang, and that it was only as things settled and cooled down afterwards that the possibility of life began to emerge and of course that also means human existence. It was the asymmetry and “out of balance ness  that made our life possible. Put simply, we live because of disorder and imperfection.
Apparently according to modern physics the universe has learnt to use the “negative” and the “imperfect” to make something good and larger.
The same can be argued for our own humanity and our own life of faith too… we acknowledge our imperfection and it is by God’s grace used to make us larger and better.
Biblical images of Refiners fire, and fullers soap, come to my mind, the sifting of the wheat and the gold passing through the assayers fire.
We mature in faith and grow in holiness, by precisely accepting the cross and not avoiding it. We grow with God when we suffer and find our redemption in it. We become changed from Glory to Glory by choosing what the world today counts as negative.
Not an easy ask!
Being honest about who we know we are, with the negative too, is what brings us to God’s kingdom. The way of the world suggests otherwise, it is more likely to imply striving for perfection, and climbing a ladder, and winning… reaching the goal so to speak.
Jesus implies the opposite, to loose oneself in order to gain it. And this is precisely what we believe he did too, as he died and was raised.
Should we think that for some reason Christ’s way is not one that we should also follow?
Mark has also made me notice something else interesting and thought provoking. When he says that we should take up our cross he uses exactly the same verb in the Greek as he uses earlier in the gospel   when we hear Jesus saying to the paralytic man “take up your bed and walk”.
For the paralytic the “illness” which somehow had defined the person, was precisely what was holding him back from being who God wanted him to be. Or from what God had created him to be.
His suffering was not life giving. That sort of suffering was diminishing him.
The paralytic had literally become bed bound and was going nowhere. Jesus speaks to him and simply invites him to take up his bed and walk.
What we may think defines us and keeps us back is what Jesus says we must walk away from. Stop being the victim now and begin to live again. Don’t let yourself be defined by your negativity.. your illness.. your imperfection.. but take up your bed and walk away from it.
So in today’s gospel he says to us to Take up our cross and follow. The same word is again used when Simon of Cyrene takes up Jesus Cross.
The cross though seen by the world as something which leads to destruction leads us to God himself.
Taking up the cross is “raising us up”, is to elevate us. It is weighing the anchor to sail away, it is loosing us from what binds us, it frees us.
The Bed and the cross are actually connected.
The suffering associated with both are quite different.
One, holds us back though it may be seen as giving us our character and defines who we are, the Other is precisely what we avoid picking up because in the worlds eyes it leads to death and destruction, but for us to carry it, it makes us who we are before God. (and brings us life).
It may make us think again about what we are saying when we say “we all have our crosses to bear”.
St Francis said “ we must bear patiently not being good … and not being thought good”

Jesus says blessed are the poor in Spirit for the kingdom of God is theirs…. Take up your cross and follow me”