Emmanuel Baptist Church

275 State St.  Albany, NY 12210
(518) 465-5161

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A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation

Minister:  Rev. Kathy J. Donley

Foolish Love:  Cross Purposes

Rev. Kathy Donley

 3/18/18

 

Scripture Lesson:  Mark 8:31-38

 

I have lost track of the number of sermons in the last year that dealt with the subject of fear.  Our Advent theme was Angels Among Us:  Do Not Be Afraid.  You might have noticed that even now deep into Lent, a few angel feathers may show up on the communion table as a way of saying “still not afraid.”  That’s good because quite possibly what we need more than anything right now is courage.

The reading from Mark’s gospel represents a turning point in Jesus’ ministry, a time when he extends a second, deeper call to his disciples.  We remember that when they started out together, he called them from their fishing nets or other places of employment and simply said, “Follow me.”  Now they have been following him for a few years.  They understand more of who he is and what he is about.  In fact, just before our reading, Peter has made the grand declaration that Jesus is the Messiah. 

Immediately after being called Messiah, Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man or the Human One.  The Human One is a figure from  the book of Daniel which was written two hundred years earlier, at another point in history when Israel was resisting the oppression of a foreign power.  The Human One is someone who opposes injustice, but does so without violence or destruction.  To the Human One, God grants an everlasting dominion.

Jesus identifies with this Human One in the book of Daniel because he wants to get past the disciples’ preconceptions about the term Messiah.  The way they understand it, Messiah necessarily means royal triumph, the overthrow of Rome and the restoration of Israel’s collective honor.[1]  It took a certain courage to leave their homes to follow Jesus. Somewhere along the way they have come to trust in him, to believe that he could even be the Messiah.  Now he is telling them that continuing to follow is going to take even more courage.  He wants them to be prepared and so he chips away at their preconceptions. 

I wonder what preconceptions block our understanding of what Jesus wants from us.  Maybe we are carrying an idealized picture of a Jesus who was spiritual but not political.  Or a Jesus who fixed everything for us, so we don’t have to do anything.  Maybe we have slipped into believing that being an obedient American citizen is being a good Christian and vis-versa. 

Jesus wants his disciples to be prepared and so he says that anyone who wants to follow him will have to take up a cross.  The cross had only one meaning in the Roman empire.  It meant a painful, torturous execution.  Fear of the cross was the way that Rome maintained its power.  The paradox of the Gospel is this:  when people resist that fear and pursue the Kingdom of God, even at the cost of their lives, they work on shattering of the power of Empire.[2]

This is what Fannie Lou Hamer understood, when as an African American woman, she decided to register to vote in Mississippi in 1962.  She was rightfully afraid, but she said, “. . . what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember.”[3]

Jesus tells the disciples that following him will mean bearing a cross.  He is being as blunt as he can be.  They will try to kill you, but they have been trying to do that a little bit at a time for forever.   So find the courage to follow me anyway.

The idea of taking up a cross has come to mean something very different in recent times.  People say “That’s just my cross to bear” to describe any kind of suffering, like putting up with a cantankerous relative or dealing with cancer.  You might call on your faith to cope with those instances of suffering or many others, but that it is not what Jesus was talking about.

Baptist scholar Alan Culpepper says, “Taking up the cross means being at work where God is at work in the world to relieve suffering and injustice, to rescue the weak, and to bring peace and justice to bear in the human community.”[4]

Our preconceptions might keep us from taking up the cross.  We might think that being obedient citizens is the same thing as being Christian; we would be wrong.  Were you inspired by the students who walked out of their schools on Wednesday?  Most of them are the same students who respect their teachers and submit to the school’s authority every single day.  In fact, in many places, they participated in the walk-out and also took the consequences their schools required for that action.  Did you see the students who found the courage to walk out even though they were the only ones in their school who did so?  That is the kind of courage Jesus is calling for.

Fifty years ago this week, American troops were at war in Vietnam.  A 25-year-old helicopter pilot named Hugh Thompson was flying over the village of My Lai when he saw a massacre in progress. American soldiers had killed hundreds of unarmed civilians and all that he could see were bodies.  Then he saw some Vietnamese people running from some soldiers.  He put his helicopter down between the troops and the civilians.  He ordered his tail-gunner to train the helicopter guns on the American soldiers, and to shoot them if they shot at the villagers.  He got out of the helicopter to personally intervene. He had the Vietnamese people evacuated to safety.   He radioed in a report and put an end to the killing. 

For this act of courage, he was vilified.  The Army covered up the atrocities.  When he was summoned to testify before Congress, they unsuccessfully tried to have him court-martialed. When news got out, Thompson got hate mail and death threats. 

For thirty years he was considered insubordinate and maybe traitorous.  It wasn’t until 1998, that he and his crew were awarded the Soldier’s Medal for bravery. In 2002, Emory University presented him with an honorary degree.  Speaking to the graduates who were only a bit younger than he had been at My Lai, he said, “I’m a country boy and I can only tell you one thing.  My parents taught me what Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  That’s all I can say.”[5]

  What does it mean to follow Jesus?  It means to remember what he taught, to do what he said, even when  no one else is.  It means being at work where God is at work in the world.

You might know the name of Clarence Jordan.  He and his wife Florence started Koinonia Farms outside Americus, Georgia in 1942.  It was an intentional community patterned after the descriptions of the early Christians in the book of Acts.  They shared their lives and resources and called it a “demonstration plot for the kingdom of God.”  Black and white Christians shared equally in this community; they received equal wages and ate meals together.  The KKK responded with bombs and bullets. 

The town responded in other hateful ways.  Jan Jordan, their daughter, ended up sitting in the bleachers of her own high school graduation, rather than graduating with her class because an African-American friend was not allowed to attend. Clarence commented:  “An honors student made a speech on moral responsibility, and another student made a speech on reverence for God and man, and Jan was sitting up there in the stands in her cap and gown.  Her name was never called.  . . I must confess that night, I was real proud of her.” [6]

In 1950, the local Baptist church where the Jordans were members called a business meeting to consider the motion to kick them out of the church.  Clarence was out of town at a speaking engagement, but Florence attended the meeting.   In fact, she sat on the front row.  When the motion was made to dis-fellowship the entire Jordan family because of their work to promote racial integration and equality, Florence Jordan raised her hand and seconded the motion.  If the crime was loving her neighbor and working to protect their God-given human rights, she stood guilty as charged. Sometimes that's what carrying the cross looks like.[7]

Friends, I share these stories to encourage us, to inspire us, to remind us that many who came before us have found the courage to take up their crosses and follow Jesus.  I share them because it seems to me that what we need more than anything right now is the courage to act in costly ways in the name of Jesus Christ. 

A few weeks ago, we heard the story of Gilles Binkindou, a Baptist man in North Carolina.  He was a member of the Greenwood Forest Baptist Church in Cary, NC.  His church worked hard, but unsuccessfully,  to stop his deportation.  He was put on a plane to the Congo on a Friday.  On the following Sunday, associate pastor Stephen Sacks preached a powerful sermon from the text we read today.   

Rev. Sacks said, “This has been a difficult week for our family here at Green Forest Baptist, to say the least. The powers of this land deported our brother Gilles—despite the fact that he did everything right, despite the fact that he faces political persecution where they have sent him, despite the fact that he cannot receive the medical care he needs to live in the Congo. It was an evil thing to do, plain and simple. Throughout this whole process, ICE has trafficked in deception, obfuscation, cruelty, and indifference. ICE has revealed itself to be a half-human, half-beast monster straight out of the book of Daniel, bent on doing violence to God’s beloved children like Gilles.”

“The great surprise of the gospel is that crucifixion, the worst that the powers could do to Jesus, is not the end of the story. ICE may think they can just deport Gilles and that will be the end of it. But I have some news for them. This is just the beginning of what God is doing through Gilles and through [us]  because of Gilles’ witness. . . .Before this happened, we may have been able to bury our heads in the sand about what is happening to our immigrant brothers and sisters in our country, but Gilles has made sure we have heard the gospel call. We can no longer ignore that God’s children are being rounded and sent to concentration camps on our own shores. ”

He goes on, “I don’t know about you, but I have decided to follow Jesus and there’s no turning back. I have experienced the abundant life and freedom that the way of Jesus offers in this fight we have engaged in together. I am not interested in gaining the whole world and forfeiting that life that I have seen is possible. I will continue to do everything in my power to fight for Gilles and for a world where all of us can live in God’s peace and abundance. I hope you will join me. We will probably get in trouble. We may have to take up our crosses because the powers of this world don’t like it when people refuse to accept their authority and their version of reality. We will certainly have to lose the quiet lives we had planned for ourselves for the sake of the gospel. But we will discover together the life that God intends for us and for all people ...”[8]

Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Sisters and brothers, . . . you with ears, . . .  listen . . . and take courage.  Amen.

  



[1] Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 1988, 2008), p. 244. 

[2] Ched Myers, p. 247.

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2017/10/06/civil-rights-crusader-fannie-lou-hamer-defied-men-and-presidents-who-tried-to-silence-her/?utm_term=.caad64d548c1

[4] Alan Culpepper, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Mark, (Macon, GA:  Smyth and Helwys Publishing, 2007), p. 288

[5] From a sermon by Rev. Dr. Tom Long, delivered at the Festival of Homiletics, 2002 

[6] Roots in the Cotton Patch, The Clarence Jordan Symposium 2012,  Volume 1 Kirk and Cori Lyman-Barner, eds, (Eugene, OR:  Wipf and Stock, 2014), p. 20

[7] This story is told by the Rev. Dr. J Bennett Guess in his sermon “The Cost and Joy of Discipleship”  http://day1.org/526-the_cost_and_joy_of_discipleship.print 

[8] http://www.gfbccary.org/worship/sermons/2018/02/25/setting-our-minds-on-divine-things.3046555

 

 

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