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.
  • Back to School, Not Back to Church…

    …at least not all the way. Some ministries of the church are in action, others are not.

    Ministry is Continuing!

    To date we have shared around $7,000 with our local community to help relieve those affected by coronavirus, and we have another $2,000 we will be distributing now. This has gone toward food, diapers for families in need, rent & mortgage relief, and other purposes.

    Thank you for continuing to worship with us—our YouTube videos get around a hundred views each week, and in some cases, there are multiple people watching one screen. Thank you for listening. And thank you for your continued financial support.

    We are going to be doing some new things in the interest of our own spiritual health, fellowship, and the ministry of the church. The first is drive-through communion (or drive-thru, as it is frequently written).

    Drive-Through Communion — Sept 6th, 9:15-9:45am

    If you wish, you’re invited to drive through our parking lot on Sunday, September 6th from 9:15-9:45am and I will serve communion to you. You are just as welcome to partake of communion from home, as we’ve done the last few months.

    Fellowship Bike Ride — Sept 13th, beginning at 1pm

    On Sunday, September 13th we will have an FPC Bike Ride. We will meet at FPC and go on a 10-mile bike ride led by John and Jean Stewart. Maps of the route will be provided, and a shorter route will be available if needed. Some of the route will be on streets and some on dedicated bike paths. Meet us in the parking lot at 1pm, and we will depart by 1:15.

    Zoom Bible Study — every Tuesday morning from 8-9am

    If you’d like to join us for Bible Study we will begin on Tuesday, Sept 8th, from 8-9am. We will meet via Zoom so you can enjoy breakfast and coffee from home. The zoom link will be available on our First Pres Logan Facebook page each Tuesday morning.

    My role as pastor is to be a spiritual guide, someone who helps each of you on your faith journey (and as you might imagine, you help me just as much). I confess to you that feeling like we are connected and in touch these months has been a struggle. Continuing to not meet in person remains one of the more challenging decisions of my career in ministry. I want to see all of you each week. Worshiping at home via YouTube is certainly just as pleasing to God as when we gather and sing, but it doesn’t feel the same to me, and I’m sure it doesn’t feel the same to you. Hopefully, some of the above activities will help us with that.

    In the Presbyterian system the pastor does not make decisions about all of the activities and happenings around a church. The pastor leads worship, teaches through Bible Study and similar endeavors, provides pastoral care, and participates in many other diverse activities around the church and community. We have Elders and Deacons who take on other responsibilities, including making decisions about church activities (reserved for Elders, who serve on Session). Who does what around a church (and how we do it) is outlined in the Book of Order, which covers all kinds of things. But as you can imagine, there isn’t a chapter titled What To Do in Case of Worldwide Pandemic.

    The Elders that we elect as a congregation (you elect them, Pastor Meg and I do not vote) make many important decisions for each congregation, although pastors frequently share their thoughts and offer guidance for any vote that is taken. The Session of FPC Logan met on Wednesday, August 19 and voted unanimously to continue with online worship for at least the next month (until the next Session meeting, on September 16th).  At that meeting we will reassess the situation and take another vote for the coming month (or months). Session made this decision because we don’t feel it is safe for us to be in the same room for an hour together. Some people may be willing to take the risk. I am not, and neither are your FPC Elders. Of particular interest is the effect that the return to school will have on coronavirus numbers. Public schools and the Utah State University are back in class now, with both online and in-person classes. Also, of great interest is progress in vaccine trials. We are praying that one (or several) of these vaccine trials provides good news in the next few months.

    May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ be with you all,

    Derek

  • Pages