Cut and Paste

Mark 8:31-38

I ran across an interesting podcast recently (Podcasts are like articles in a newspaper or magazine, just in audio form that you can download to your computer or iPod or other listening device of choice). Well the podcast is a series called, “Stuff you missed in history class,” and this particular podcast dealt with Thomas Jefferson’s Bible.

Jefferson was indeed a man of faith, but his faith differed from traditional or orthodox Christianity. Jefferson, a product of his Age, was shaped by the Enlightenment, and his faith was, at the very least, strongly influenced by Deism, the idea that God created the universe like a clockmaker creates a clock. The clockmaker creates the clock and then steps back to let the clock runs on its own. In the same way, God, according to Deism, created the universe to run on its own, and doesn’t intervene in human affairs or world affairs. It is a hands off portrayal of the divine. Reason discerns how the clock runs, and is the best way to order human life.

Well, if you believe that, then you are going to have a problem with much of the Bible. In fact, though Jefferson respected Jesus as the greatest philosopher who ever lived, he had a big problem with the gospel writers–those unenlightened, uneducated fishermen whom he believed had remembered things all wrong, and added all sorts of extra stuff after Jesus’ death.

Well, Jefferson literally sat down with a couple copies of the bible and a pair of scissors. Sitting at a table, he literally cut out the verses that he thought were legitimate, and pasted them into what would become his own version of the Bible.

Left behind on the table were all of the miracles, all of the extraneous doctrine, and all of the stories of God breaking into the natural order and changing things–like the virgin birth, all the miraculous healings and feedings, and, oh ya, the resurrection. What was left in Jefferson’s bible was Jesus the philosopher, Jesus the moralist. What do you know? Jesus ended up looking a lot like Thomas Jefferson!

It’s easy to judge Tom on this, but as I reflected on our verses from Scripture in light of that podcast, I realized that Peter, in this morning’s text, tries to do the same thing. Just before our verses, in a flash of insight Peter understands that Jesus is the messiah. Wow, that’s great. Messiah is here! Glory! Victory! Kicking the Romans out of Israel, bringing justice and peace! And I’m in on it! This is how Peter sees Jesus as messiah

But Jesus has other ideas.

As soon as the disciples begin to understand that Jesus is indeed the messiah, he begins to tell them and show them the kind of messiah he came to be: not the kind that would lead an army to victory, not the kind that would sit on Herod’s throne and wield great power, but the kind who would ride into the capital on a donkey, who would give himself up to his enemies, and who would die in defeat and humiliation, before rising again.

This didn’t match Peter’s image of messiah. This didn’t fit with his love for Jesus. He wanted to leave that last part out, the part about suffering and dieing. Like Thomas Jefferson did with a pair of scissors, Peter tried to do with a rebuke. Shhh! Jesus. What are you nuts? Don’t talk like that Jesus. It can’t happen that way.

But Jesus has other ideas. He came to heal and bring change in God’s way and not our way.

It’s easy to judge Peter and Tom for this, but you know what, I do the same thing, and maybe you do too. I’ll even go further than that. While many of us would feel funny about actually cutting up a bible, I would suggest that we all do the same thing, whether we are orthodox or progressive, conservative or liberal. In fact, with computers, cutting and pasting is a lot easier these days.

Truth is, we all do that. In our humanness, we cannot grasp the complete picture, so we cut and paste as best we can to create a workable, reasonable, doable, beneficial faith.
When we go to the Bible, when we go to church, when we think about our approach to life and faith, we tend to pick and choose the things we like, the things we agree with, the things that fit. We cut them out and paste them into our faith, and we leave the rest of the stuff lying on the table. I like that part! I don’t like that. I will participate in that, but not that. That church is bible believing, and that church is not. We cut and paste away.

You know, if I had a pair of scissors on the gospel, I would cut out the cross and the suffering. Let me be a little more precise. Perhaps I would leave in the cross for Jesus, along with the resurrection. But when it comes to picking up my own cross: snip, snip, snip.

I don’t want to include that. I can include what Jesus does for me in my faith, and in fact this is the foundation of everything that follows, but when it comes to what I have to do for him, when it comes to losing my life for the sake of the gospel, when it comes to my cross, those scissors start a cuttin’.

The cross, you see, was an instrument of death, and a particularly cruel form of death — because it was slow and agonizing. The one hanging from the cross died of suffocation.

The cross was also an instrument of oppression and power. It was a way of utterly humiliating and shaming the victim and showing the world who was really in charge.

Those who were put up on the cross did not survive. The cross meant the end — the end of their ability to determine their own future, the end of their power to control their destiny, the end of whatever they thought they would be able to accomplish on their own. Do you see why I would want to leave that out?

Then we come to Lent, and Lent invites us to discover the truth that you can’t have resurrection without dying first. We discover that to pick up our cross means to let go of everything else.

It invites us to pick up our cross, that is to say, to let go of the illusion that we can go it alone, to let go of the fiction that we can make everything ok on our own, to let go of the pride that seeks to control our days, our relationships, our careers, our environment, our purchasing habits, and anything else we can get our hands on. The invitation to pick up our cross is the invitation to put our lives completely in God’s hands.

It is when we face our own limitations, our own fears and brokenness, our own powerlessness, that we can begin to discover the power of God–who turns defeat into victory, suffering into redemption, and death into life.

Lent invites us to the discovery that a life of following Jesus is not about cutting and pasting our faith. It is about the hard, hard task, of allowing God to shape and change us.

We celebrate Lent every year, over and over again because we have a tendency to resist. We lash out. We struggle to retain control. Even when we are suffering because we are alone, we resist giving God control, and allowing God to love us. We don’t want a cross.

Rather than pick up our cross, we’d rather cling tightly to our own agendas, our own ideologies, our own defense mechanisms. We’d rather control our relationships, our resources, and hold on for dear life even to our grief, our addiction, our deep hurts.

The good news is that Jesus comes anyway, even though we resist. The good news is that God continues to love and care for us until that time as we are all healed and whole.

I am not talking about interpretations of this text or that. I am not talking about one issue or perspective over another. I am not talking about allowing God to help us be better versions of the people we want to be. I am talking about putting our lives wholly, completely in God’s hands. And then seeing what happens.

Let me tell you a story. I think this story originated with that great story-telling preacher, Dr. Fred Craddock.

A family is out for a Sunday afternoon drive, and, suddenly, the two children in the back seat begin to beat their father on the back. “Daddy, stop the car. There’s a kitten on the side of the road.” “So?” said the father. “Well, if we don’t pick it up, it might die.” “Well, then it will just have to die. We don’t have room for another animal. Our house is already like a zoo.” And the father kept on driving as the children murmur to each other in the back seat: “We never thought our daddy would be so mean and cruel and let a kitten die.”

The mother finally intervenes. “Dear, you will have to stop the car.” He turns the car around and goes back to the spot and pulls off the road. “You kids stay in the car now.” And he goes to pick up the kitten. The poor creature is just skin and bones, sore-eyed, and full of fleas; but when he reaches down to pick it up, with its last bit of energy the kitten bristles, baring tooth and claw. Sst! It scratches the Father’s hands. He picks up the kitten by the loose skin at the neck, brings it over to the car and says, “Don’t touch it; its probably got leprosy.” Back home they go. When they get to the house, the children give the kitten several baths, warm milk, and intercede: “Can we let it stay in the house just for tonight? Tomorrow we’ll fix a place in the garage.” The father says, “Sure, take my bedroom; the whole house is already a zoo.” The children fix a comfortable bed fit for a pharaoh.
Several weeks pass. Then one day the father walks in the back door and feels something rub against his leg. He looks down and there is the kitten. He reaches down toward the cat, carefully checking to see that nobody is watching. When the cat sees his hand, it does not bare its claws and hiss; instead it arches its back to receive a caress.

Is that the same cat? Not really. It’s not the same frightened and hurt kitten on the side of the road. When you place yourself completely in God’s hands, you are never the same cat.

We have all known times when we were wild, dirty, angry, or unlovely, and God reached down and blessed us any way. I will not try to name the ways in which God has reached down to touch us. There are too many. But, there is one thing we have all seen if we looked closely when God reached down to us. There were scratches on God’s hands.

This is the story of Lent. This is the story of God’s love that will never let us go. Amen.

This entry was posted in Sermons. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Courageous Ministry

    Dear Friends,

    I hope this month’s edition of the Pulse finds you and your loved ones navigating life and faith with as much grace and self-compassion as possible. I know that some in our community have welcomed summer as a time to travel with family and friends, and to be reunited with loved ones. Others continue to struggle with health issues, isolation, and anxiety about the resurgence of Covid with the Delta variant. In the immortal words of Paul to the Romans, as a community, we “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” There is a chair or pew here on Sunday mornings for people in all seasons of life, and an open door to my office for any burdens (or celebrations) to be shared. I hope that you will join us or tune in via livestream on August 8th when I incorporate a compassion ritual in our worship services, to mark the lingering impact of Covid on the lives of God’s people everywhere. 

    Whether you have been in Bruner Hall often this summer, or it has been some time since you’ve walked through the doors of FPC, I want to share with you some happenings that I celebrate as we continue to serve faithfully as an inclusive community of faith and compassion at FPC Logan. Since the beginning of Pastor Derek’s sabbatical on June 1st, we welcomed four guest preachers who shared the Good News with us, from Scriptures ranging from Genesis to the Gospels, from Ezekiel to Ephesians. Two of these preachers are women who I’ve had the privilege of mentoring as ministers in the ordination process with the Presbyterian Church in Utah. At summer’s end, we will welcome two additional preachers to share in our worship life, and I will conclude my ongoing spiritual disciplines sermon series later this month. 

    This summer, FPC has been home to Loaves & Fishes and a series of Red Cross Blood Drives. In June, our middle schoolers organized and delivered a supplies drive for Cache Humane Society, with two middle schoolers traveling to American Fork Canyon for a reservoir clean-up with presbytery peers. Eight high schoolers from FPC Logan traveled with me to Denver, where we served with Habitat for Humanity for four days, offering a total of 22 hours of service each. In two weeks, we will gather at Stokes Nature Center for earth care efforts. The Mission Committee is gearing up to prepare us for another Mission Sunday at FPC this fall. I learned that just this week, the Sew n’ Sews prepared a large shipment of homemade sanitary pads to benefit our neighbors in Ethiopia. Beth MacDonald and Barbara Troisi have been busy processing Deacon’s Fund applications to provide for the safety and welfare of neighbors here in Cache Valley. Barbara and Dorothy Jones visited our neighbors at Williamsburg with Cache Ministries in early July. Truly, there is no summer break in the ministry of FPC Logan! 

    In their meetings in June and July, your session has thoughtfully and prayerfully navigated decisions about worship safety precautions, knowing that there is no “right answer” about how to be the Church in a pandemic. Even among our Presbyterian churches in Utah, there is no uniform approach to worship in these strange days. We are discerning together, and the updated policy you received this week is the session’s most current discernment of how FPC Logan can be both a welcoming and safe house of worship for every beloved child of God, from the under 12 to the most senior among us. In electing the elders to serve on session, you covenant to pray for them and to abide by their decision-making. I hope and pray that you will continue to do both in the coming days and weeks.  

    Earlier this week, acknowledging the presence and concern of the Delta variant, the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, challenged us, the people of the Church, to “wait on the Lord and be of good courage.” Courage has many faces in Scripture and in our society today, but I am drawn to this Sunday’s passage from John in which the crowd went looking for Jesus. When they find him, Jesus instructs them to work for the food that endures for eternal life and reminds them that he is the bread of life. As we take up the charge to be of good courage, I hope that together, as a church community, we will be on the lookout for Jesus, the bread of life. I expect him to surprise us and challenge us, as he always does with his faithful followers in Scripture, the disciples and friends who want to do as Jesus does in the world. You will find him here at FPC Logan, whether we worship in Bruner or the Sanctuary, with or without masks, and you will find him in the community to which we are called as partners in ministry. Come and behold that God is doing a new thing in this place, if we only have the courage to answer the call, to work for the food that endures, and to fix our sight on Jesus, the bread of life. 

    In Christ’s promises,

    Pastor Meg

  • Pages