February 28, 2021   Holy Vessel: To Save a Life (Community Health)
by Pastor David

Mark 8:31-38  Then Jesus began to teach them that the Promised One had to suffer much, be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and religious scholars, be put to death, and rise again three days later. Jesus said these things quite openly. Peter then took him aside and began to take issue with him. At this, Jesus turned around and eyeing the disciples, reprimanded Peter. “Get out of my sight, you Satan!  You are judging by human standards rather than by God’s! Jesus summoned the crowd and the disciples and said, “If you wish to come after me, you must deny your very self, take up your cross and follow in my footsteps. If you would save your life, you’ll lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you’ll save it. What would you gain if you were to win the whole world but lose your self in the process? What can you offer in exchange for your soul? Whoever in this faithless and corrupt generation is ashamed of me and my words will find, in turn, that the promised One and the holy angels will be ashamed of that person, when all stand before our God in glory.

We take this time right after listening to scripture to center and quiet our mind to try to hear God’s word deep inside ourselves. Breathe deeply in this moment and reflect on what it means to take up your cross.

February 28, 2021       Holy Vessels: To Save a Life (Community Health)       Second Sunday of Lent

Lifesaving is a task we are called to as Christian disciples. Saving people’s lives, changing people’s lives. There are a number of us who can say that our lives have been changed because of our involvement with this particular community, many of us through  our relationship with the Living God. There are even a few of us who would say that our lives have been saved, that we wouldn’t be alive today or if we hadn’t connected with this community or that we found new life through the connections we have made with God here. These are dramatic things to say I know. In truth, it is how we live out the call of Jesus. 

When I get undressed at night, unbutton my shirt, I often involuntarily recall a class I took when I was about 13 years old. I know it sounds strange to have a class in how to get undressed, but I had a whole class dedicated to the subject.  (Here’s a picture of me as a lifesaver. And if you believe that, you might be more interested in thinking about me unbuttoning my shirt.)  The course was “Junior Lifesaving.” The class was how to get undressed in 30 seconds. I was taught to use my feet to get my shoes off, at the same time that I was unbuckling my belt with one hand and my shirt with the other, putting the shirt in my mouth, all without taking my eyes off a person theoretically drowning in the lake in front of me. 

I got it down to 30 seconds. I’ve never had to rescue someone in the water, thank God.
but it is still very handy for getting in bed quickly … with my shirt in my mouth… ready to save your life … or mine, in my dreams by going to sleep. I know - TMI. 

Jesus talks about saving lives in our reading this morning, and in all the Gospels. In fact, in our Thursday night Bible study, which I’ve been finding really powerful, we’ve been studying the Gospel of Mark and we learned in the last few weeks that this passage that Laura Woolston White read for us this morning, is right at the center of the gospel. There’s 16 chapters and we read from chapter 8 today. It starts with Jesus asking “who do people say that I am” then “who do you say that I am.” Then Peter answers correctly, “You are the Messiah, the Christ.” But when Jesus explains that the Promised One, the Son of Man will be rejected by the elders, priests and religious scholars and be put to death, Peter objects strenuously. 

That is not his idea of what the Messiah is supposed to be. The Messiah is supposed to save lives by taking over, ending the stranglehold of the Roman empire on Israel, and liberating the people. And you can’t do that by dying, says Peter. Jesus confronts Peter back, calls him the devil, for tempting him to be who everybody expected him to be, the king, the new ruler, who we still expect him to be, while we have trouble with his real message.

Then Jesus lays out a heavy expectation for this fickle disciple and for all of us weak disciples: “If you wish to come after me, you must deny your very self, take up your cross and follow in my footsteps. If you would save your life, you’ll lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you’ll save it. What would you gain if you were to win the whole world but lose your self in the process?” 

As folks in the Bible study say, “This is not comforting.” This is not the sweet welcoming -the-children, lamb-on-the-shoulder Jesus we grew up learning about in Sunday school. In fact, this is a demanding liberator — not a violent one, but a liberator nonetheless, a life-saver. The Jesus I follow is a dark-skinned Jewish Palestinian who advocated for self-denial and a risking of ourselves for others, with love at the core. This Jesus inspired Mahatma Gandhi, the non-violent Hindu leader in India who liberated the Indian people from Britain. This Jesus inspired Fannie Lou Hamer, and Martin Luther King and the Methodist minister Jim Lawson who trained most of the civil rights leaders in non-violent resistance. 

These people and hundreds and thousands of others saved people’s lives by being willing to risk their own, just like Jesus saved lives by risking his. In Black History month we especially celebrate these courageous people, because their witness lives on and their example is still moving among us, aiming to save our lives and calling us to save others, even if we too need to leave behind our comfort and our ease. 

  I saw a Christian write on Twitter this week in relation to COVID 19, “If you are upset about wearing a mask, wait until you hear about the cross that Jesus wants us to carry.” Our theme for this Lenten season is healing and recovery, and we need this healing time and the hope of recovery. Part of that healing, my friends is healing from our timidity and our fear, and remembering what Jesus called us to be - Life-savers.

There was a second part of the test in my Junior Lifesaving class was much harder than taking off my clothes. As someone grabbed my head from behind, I was supposed to immediately take a deep breath, then pull the person underwater with me two big strokes and pull them off my head and into a cross chest hold. Every time the guy grabbed my head from behind, I would panic and just try to get them off me, forgetting to go underwater which felt like risking my life. I was supposed to go underwater because then he would want to get off me on his own and it would be much easier to save him. 

I tried this test a few times and I couldn’t get past my panic about my own life and my own safety. As the end of the day neared, I noticed that my teachers were even colder than I was. Their lips were blue from being in the water so long. They still encouraged me to try one more time, but I said no. I failed the test. I never got my Junior Lifesaving certificate. 

Some churches teach that Jesus went to cross so no one else has to. I think Jesus went to the cross to show us that there are times when we have to be willing to risk our own lives to save others, to get past our fears, to move toward a new time. I also think that the Living God loves us as we are, even when we’re timid and unwilling to take those risks, and never stops expecting and nudging us toward courage and a life of fearless love. 
We all can be part of saving people’s lives during this time, moving past our fears to get a shot in our arm, to be there for people who are worried and isolated and scared, We all can be part of saving people’s lives by challenging the unfairness of the distribution of vaccine and care and PPE equipment, even if it means that they come a little slower to us. We all can be part of saving people’s lives as we spread the good news and hope of a time when all will be treated fairly and equitably. 

I had my first shot week before last and I feel hopeful that all of us are going to get it soon. Spring is coming. A new time is coming when we can all get back together again, and be there for each other in this great work of changing and saving lives. Thank you for being part of this work of healing, recovery and life-saving. During this season, we look to the cross with courage and hope. Jesus took it on and called us to follow, so that all might be healed, so all might be whole. This is God’s good news.