February 25, 2018
The Second Sunday in Lent
(Romans 8:31-39; Mark 8:31-38)
One of the latest trends among the misnamed "slacker generation" is the growth of "extreme sports." Any sport, any activity, it seems, is better if taken to some new "extreme." Snowboarding is great; air-boarding (riding your snow-board down to earth after jumping out of an airplane) is extremely better. Mountain-biking, roller blading, skiing--everything is being taken to new, more daring extremes.
Of course, the only place most of us ever see the performances of these "extreme athletes" is from the depths of the lounge chair, safely parked in front of the TV. We watch these "crazy kids," shake our heads and preach about what ridiculous risks they are taking just to have fun. Just look back at the winter Olympics this year and see how medals went out to snow-boarders!
But do you know who's really taking the biggest risk? The most risk-laden recreational sports in the world today are the "armchair Olympics" or the "couch-potato championships." While we just sit there watching "extreme athletes," our own blood pressure slowly rises; cholesterol starts piling up in our arteries; internalized stress mounts; our lungs take wimpy, inefficient breaths; and our muscle tone deteriorates.
Contrast that with the "crazy athlete." While apparently risking life and limb, the extreme athlete keeps his or her body fit, stress levels are lowered and there is that euphoric, endorphic rush that just generally makes us feel good. In the long run, hurtling through the air may be a lot less risky than sitting there in a chair!
The church, too, is increasingly being tempted to take a safe, armchair attitude. We are just now waking up to the fact that secular society in the early 21st century isn't only not church-friendly; it isn't even church-broken! In fact, the church as a witnessing body of Christ is finding itself insidiously undermined on nearly every social, economic and political front by those who claim the old labels "conservative" and "liberal" alike. Instead of facing up to this extreme situation and extreme threat, we've generally responded by "playing it safe"-- a kind of "let's- go-along-to-get-along" attitude. More and more Christians in the public square are finding themselves engaged in rear-guard apologetics instead of front-line proclamation.
Why is it we feel we must somehow "protect" God from attacks launched by this post-Christendom culture? If God is so wimpy that the divine reputation is dependent upon an out-of-shape, overweight, soft-in-the-belly church for protection and defense, then we really are in trouble.
Christians need to stop worrying about protecting God's good reputation and instead start taking a few risks for the sake of the gospel. Guess what? We really do have a big-enough God to deal with whatever human sinfulness may try to dish out.
--We have a big-enough God to reach through the Internet.
--We have a big-enough God to break through cynicism.
--We have a big-enough God to push through the barriers of race, nation and culture.
--We have a big-enough God to wade through hatred, despair and anxiety.
--We have a big-enough God to fly through the vastness of the universe.
--We have a big-enough God to enter through the expanding possibilities in medicine and science.
Feminist theologian/novelist/Roman Catholic convert/pastor's wife Sara Maitland has written wittily about our overprotectiveness of the divine reputation. In her collection of essays, she tells a story that illustrates how ridiculously petty our concerns have become. Here is one essay as an example:
A few years ago, just a day or so after York Minster was struck by lightning, I was on my way to the local post office near my home, which is in a wretchedly poor part of Hackney, when I met an elderly woman. She was most distressed by this bolt from the heavens, this "act of God" as the insurance people call it (which alone gives you pause for thought). She was very upset. Did I think, she asked, that God had done it on purpose, as some newspapers were speculating? The post was about to leave, and I was in a hurry, but how can anyone resist such a subject? No, I said, I didn't really think so, did she? No, she said, she didn't really think that God was like that. There was a pause, and I was poised to escape. Then she added, in what I can only describe as a tone of affectionate criticism, "But he should have been more careful; he should have known there'd be talk."
God really is big enough to take the heat.
When Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, he finally took a leap of faith, a genuine risk. He quit being an "armchair disciple," and for just a moment became an airborne "extreme disciple", risking everything for the thrill of claiming Jesus as Messiah totally and completely. But when Jesus followed Peter's big risk by revealing the God-sized risk He himself would undertake, Peter lost his nerve.
Peter had come to recognize Jesus as Messiah as a result of the "glory days" and good times of Jesus' Galilean ministry. Peter couldn't believe that his newly confessed Messiah was "big enough" to embrace the ignominy and defeat, the suffering and ridicule, the torture and death that Jesus predicted were to come. Peter thought he had to protect Jesus from this future, shield him from exposing the divine reputation to such a high-level risk. Despite his confession of faith, Peter's concept of the Messiah, his understanding of God's power and purpose, wasn't "big enough."
God took the biggest risk in all of history when God created men and women and gave us the freedom to choose or reject a relationship with our Creator. This divine risk was so huge that eventually it necessitated another God-ordained gamble--a crucified Christ. Jesus incarnated God's risk-taking love for humanity by offering us a new way back to the wholeness God intended for creation.
Peter's worries were ridiculous. With God's help, Jesus was big enough to shoulder the cross, big enough to bear the suffering of the world, big enough to endure the scorn and rejection, big enough to accept the judgment of death. Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messiah, was big enough to endure all this, to take this ultimate risk because he knew first-hand a God who was big enough--big enough to break through the hate with love, big enough to relieve the suffering forever, big enough to roll away the rock at the tomb's entrance, big enough to break the bonds of death itself and big enough to bring about the glory of the Resurrection.
Jesus' first formal lesson on discipleship taught that there was no risk we can take that is so great it could ever separate us from God's redemption and God's love. Our greatest risk, Jesus cautioned, comes when we try to "play it safe" and avoid any risk-taking ventures--"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."
Jesus wants us to be "extreme Christians." The body of Christ must become the "extreme church." We have a big- enough God, a big-enough Savior, to handle whatever risks may emerge from our extreme behavior. We have a God who risked loving us beyond all else.
Let us pray.
The whole world; that our days may truly become the acceptable time of grace, salvation, and peace. We pray to the Lord.
For sinners and the neglectful; that in this season of reconciliation they may return to Christ. We pray to the Lord.
That this season of Lent will be a time of deeper conversion for our parish and all churches. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are downhearted or are burdened with difficulties; that they may experience a transfiguring power of God. We pray to the Lord.
That terrorism and violence will be seen as a great evil and that all will work harder to curb all these senseless deaths. We pray to the Lord.
For the sick, the hungry, the lonely, the homeless, the unemployed, and the depressed; that the Lord will lift them up and give them strength and bring miraculous blessings to their lives. We pray to the Lord.
Most merciful Father, You did not spare Your own Son but handed Him over for us. We trust that You will always give us what we need. Keep us true to You. Redeemer Lord, as we prepare to celebrate the great mystery of Your dying and rising, send Your Holy Spirit to guide us this Lent. May we be led to a spirit of true repentance for our sins and failures, and gain a grateful appreciation for the gifts of salvation. May we forgive as we have been forgiven, love as we have been loved and serve as we have been served. May we trust in You at all times, confident that in Your mercy You have willed the redemption of the whole world. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA