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.

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  • Affirmations of Faith

    On the last Sunday of October, ‘Mission Sunday,’ many of you helped us pack more than two hundred bags for a local school food distribution program.  Those bags of food went out to local schoolchildren, who live in food insecure settings, to keep their bellies full. The food we provided has the potential to ensure the schoolchildren are more successful in life and in their education.  In worship we sometimes use the phrase ‘Affirmation of Faith’ and then repeat a longstanding confession of the church, such as the Apostles’ Creed or the Brief Statement of Faith. I value reciting these affirmations, because they remind us of the core values we hold as Christians. But as I was thinking about this over the last few months, I believe that such mission work to the community around us is an even deeper affirmation of our faith by acknowledging Jesus’ call upon our lives, and then living out that ministry.

    I want to share information with you this month about another ministry which I believe is an affirmation of our faith. You have heard us talk about it quite a bit but may not know the details. For years now the Deacon’s Fund at First Presbyterian Church has provided financial assistance to those in our community facing immediate financial need that impacts their ability to live a healthy and productive life.

    There are social services around town, which provide supportive and meaningful resources, but there can be qualifications and restrictions associated with the access of those services. The Deacon’s Fund strives to offer judgment-free ministry to those who are facing financial challenges in life and helps people access these services.

    Barbara Troisi and Beth MacDonald are currently our two Deacon’s Fund facilitators.  They spend time each month looking at applications for assistance, and then distribute funds, which may involve multiple phone calls, trips to the store for Smith’s gift cards (useful for food or fuel), and various other tasks.  Prior to Beth and Barbara, other wonderful people contributed their efforts to this ministry: Linda Roberts, Tina Purintun, Kelly Rhea, Terry Brennand, Barbara Lutz (I am sure I have left a name or two off, please forgive me). Pam Riffe also makes contributions and supports people applying for these funds in her role as our office administrator.

    These are some of the ‘saints’ of the church. These are angels among us – superheroes, one might say – who make time in their lives to help others.

    The Deacon’s Fund recently received a large contribution from a couple in our community.  They are not part of our church, but they learned of our efforts to help local people through some friends who are church members.  They made this contribution to help those who are struggling to find sustainable and affordable housing. They wanted to make a significant contribution to help with housing issues and knew that First Presbyterian Church would be a wonderful avenue for those efforts. I am thankful for everyone who makes contributions to the Deacon’s Fund, small or large (most offerings to this ministry come in $10, $20, or $100 increments). Over the decades these dollars have helped hundreds of people in our community in moments of great need. This is truly part of the mission of the church, and one of the callings Jesus has placed upon us.

    Beth MacDonald is transitioning out of her role as a Deacon’s Fund facilitator at the end of the year (she will be plenty busy helping to organize and lead the Westminster Bell Choir). Thank you, Beth, for your efforts. This means we are looking for a new Deacon’s Fund coordinator to work alongside Barbara Troisi. If any of you would like to help, please let me know. If you have questions about this ministry, please talk to Beth, Barbara, or me. Beth has set up a nice spreadsheet to help keep track of funds received and funds dispersed. You don’t need to be a financial expert or math whiz to fill this role, only to have a caring heart.

    The ministry efforts of Mission Sunday and through the Deacon’s Fund are two of the wonderful aspects of First Presbyterian Church. Our calling as a faith community is certainly to worship and praise the Lord, but also to share the good news and make helpful, life-affirming contributions to the community and world around us. I pray that our ministry together continues to be vigorous.

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

    Pastor Derek

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