To Take Up the Cross

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Mark 8:34-38
34 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? 37 For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

This passage in Mark, is one of my favorites. I have mulled it over for many years, coming to different interpretations as I have grown in my ability to understand scripture and matured in my spiritual life. As a result, I have come to the belief it is an important passage because in it lies a key to understanding our veneration of the cross and what Jesus has called us to be.

I am a member of the Westar Institute, a group of theology scholars who study the scripture to find our theological history and discover the true words of Jesus, often called the Jesus Seminar. Not that I do any of that, but I do attend meetings and follow the findings of those who are much better scholars than I am. This past March I attended a lecture by Dr. Arthur J. Dewey at Westar’s Spring Meeting. Dr. Dewey’s lecture was on how the Death of Jesus was remembered. His studies of the crucifixion added a new piece to my understanding of the paradox of the cross. In fact, it changed the way I interpret Jesus’ death on the cross.

First, we must remember Jesus was Jewish, he was not Christian, he was not a Roman, and he wasn’t a gentile of any kind. What He was, was a good, a very good, practicing Jew. And, he knew the meaning of the cross. In the Roman world the cross was a tool of execution for those who defied Rome in some way. It was an instrument of humiliation, torture, and a means to wipe the condemned-out of memory, out of history. After all who would want to admit they knew or were related to someone who died on the cross.

Jesus knew all that, because wherever he went he would have seen the cross with its victims hanging from its arms, big billboards that said; ‘stay in line or this will happen to you.’ Jesus knew if he preached a radicle way of life, a life that would completely change how we live in the world, he would die on that cross. Oh yes, Jesus understood. The Gospel writers knew because they wrote their Gospels to give courage to those who risked their lives by following The Way.

Throughout our church history we have been taught Jesus’ death on the cross is our salvation. We are saved from sin if we believe Jesus died for us on the Roman cross. We are told if we bear our troubles with bravery, confess our sins, and accept that Jesus took those sins away by dying on the cross we will be saved from Hell and its horrors. It is in the power of the cross to save us. What if I told you that is most likely not what Jesus meant?

It is believed Mark was the first Gospel written and that Matthew and Luke copied Mark for their Gospels. What I first found interesting in each of the versions is that Jesus is telling the disciples and the crowd if they want to follow him they must take up a cross, embrace the cross. And, if they denied him and tried to save their lives, they would end up losing their life.

My first inkling that there is more to the scripture than we have normally understood was when I realized that in the synoptic Gospels Jesus doesn’t carry his cross to Golgotha, Simon of Cyrene is pressed into service the minute Jesus is escorted out of the Roman Garrison. In addition, there is a fifth Gospel not included in our cannon, which we have only fragments of, the Gospel of Peter. Fortunately, what did survive was the Passion of Jesus. Dewy and John Dominic Crossan both believe that the Gospel of Peter was written before Mark and represents the earliest beliefs of Jesus’ death and resurrection. They also believe Mark used the Gospel of Peter in writing his Gospel. As the Gospel of Peter tells it, when Jesus is led from the Garrison he is made to ‘run’ to the place of the cross and if he is running he could not have been carrying the heavy beam he was to be nailed to. Mark, and subsequently in Matthew and Luke, follow Peter by not having Jesus carry the cross. So, if in these 4 gospels Jesus doesn’t actually “take up” his own cross what are we supposed to do with the cross? What is the meaning Jesus is trying to make?

Jesus was a teaching a radicle way of life, one that had the power to transform peoples lives and the entire world, if only his disciples were brave enough to follow him. Charles Hambrick-Stowe says:” There is no great theological meaning in martyrdom for an ideal or in death that otherwise results from force, injustice, misunderstanding, or accident.” If the cross doesn’t mean, we will be saved because we carry our burdens like a cross or die because we believe it brings our salvation then it must mean something else.
Ched Myers, in Binding the Strong Man, a political reading of Mark’s story of Jesus, offers 3 meanings that have changed how I understand the cross.

1) “deny yourself;” This isn’t a call to spiritual reflection, this is a call to stand in court, accused of sedition, and not saving yourself from death. It is not denying Jesus, but our own self-denial, we willingly risk our own lives. And, to save our lives we must lose it in the name of Jesus and the Gospel.

This isn’t a self-emptying, this isn’t a spiritual awakening, it is taking up the “cross” and walking to yours and my crucifixion to right injustice. This is not a theological understanding, rather this is a radicle political stand where we put ourselves between the other and danger. It is being in a court of law and given the choice of saving your life or going to the gallows in the name of Jesus. Jesus puts this in economic terms. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but loses his soul.” To renounce Jesus in or to try to redeem one’s life would be a “bad investment”; for even if it showed a ‘return’ of the whole world, it wouldn’t represent a profit; rather it would be a dead loss; double-jeopardy; fidelity to Jesus has no price.; Everyone has a ‘price,’ everyone that is except Jesus. Jesus revealed that his messiahship means political confrontation with, not rehabilitation of, the imperial state. Those who wish to follow Jesus will risk the test of loyalty under interrogation by state authorities. If self is denied, the cross will be taken up, a metaphor for capital punishment on grounds of insurgency.

2) “take up the cross;” “here Mark’s subversive narrative bursts into the open.” This is a political statement, there is only one purpose for the cross and that is public execution and the total humiliation of its victims. The way Mark writes this phrase is to invite the disciples and those who follow Jesus to share the consequences of the audacity of challenging Roman authority. The Cross symbolizes shame for the convicted and his family. It served the purpose of wiping out the person from memory. Mark’s readers would have understood the implication of Jesus’ words. They would have seen people on the cross, some, if not most, would have had family members or acquaintances crucified. The cross isn’t a representation of salvation, it is symbol of resistance.

3) “follow me;” To follow Jesus means a self-denial that puts our earth-bound lives at risk while saving our souls. This isn’t by being pious, rather it is by getting down and dirty in the trenches of Justice. When we take up a cross it only appears to be a defeat, a triumph of government and their supporters, but actually it is our vindication and their Judgment. We either stand with Jesus, deny ourselves and loose our lives for his sake and the gospel’s or we stand “ashamed” before Jesus and “the angels.” By resisting our fear of losing our lives and pursuing the kingdom of God even at the cost of death, we are contributing to the shattering of the powers’ who reign death over us.

The faith we profess is not a faith of inaction, Jesus told his disciples he didn’t come to bring peace he came to bring a sword. That sword is our bodies standing for the defenseless and speaking and writing for speechless.

These passages in Mark, Matthew, and Luke are not calls of salvation, they are calls to action. We are called to stand between the victims and victimizer. We are called to defend what is right and resist injustice, hate, and cruelty all in the name of Jesus. Jesus knew death on the cross was inevitable, but he did not deny his Father, he refused to back down when it came to overcoming injustice. That is what the call of the cross means. We hold the cross up as a symbol of fighting against injustice, stand for compassion, love, and mercy. The symbol of the cross in today’s world is not passé nor is standing between the voiceless and accuser. Today people are arrested for trying to protect immigrant children and their parents. They are defending women, immigrants, members of LBGTQ community and people of color who are under attack. People are lifting up their voices in a chorus demanding that our rights be preserved. You are those people, I know many of you have marched, spoken up, and cared, for the defenseless. We are a community that has heard the call and have responded, young or old we stand up to be counted.

Today, our world continues to be torn apart by those who would have us believe that the defenseless have no rights, we must continue to choose to take up our own crosses, in whatever way we are able to. We must be willing to defend the undefended, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, provide homes for the homeless, and welcome the strangers who come to us. To spread the word that injustice has no part in our world by writing, speaking, marching, and screaming if we must. We must act despite opposition by those who in denying Jesus and his call continue to harm the defenseless and the voiceless and dismember the freedoms we have gained over in 250 years.

Jesus did not teach us a faith of only contemplation, it is also a faith of rebellion. None of this is an easy choice to make, but choosing the radicle life Jesus lays out for us has never been easy, otherwise our world would be a very different place. In the last 2000 years only a few have had the courage to accept that challenge. All of them met death knowing they were faithful to Jesus’ teachings.

We too have challenges to accept and while we won’t me hung on a cross, and hopefully not face physical death, we could be destroyed financially or socially. The good news is every time someone accepts that challenge we get closer to be the community we were meant to be. Yes, contemplation is very important, without it we would be unable to hear God and Christ give us the strength to carry on. But contemplation without action is a withdrawal from the world, of saving only ourselves and a denial of the ministry given to us.

Ruth Jewell, ©August 8, 2018, To Take Up The Cross is adapted from a Sermon I preached at Queen Anne Christian Church, July 15, 2018

Dewey, Arthur J.; Inventing the Passion, how the death of Jesus was Remembered, Polebridge Press, Salem OR, 2017
Myers, Ched; Binding the Strong Man, a Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2008, 20th anniversary edition

Lectio Divina: August 3, 2018, Ordinary Time 1 Corinthians 13 (NRSV)

13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrong doing but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Meditation:

This passage from 1 Corinthians is probably one of the most well-known writings of Paul, yet no one understands or follows the simple mandate, love each other. Love, everyone knows what it is, everyone wants it, and it is probably the most hoarded grace of all time. Oscar Hammerstein II, wrote:

“A bell’s not a bell ’til you ring it –
A song’s not a song ’til you sing it –
Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay –
Love isn’t love ’til you give it away!”

Love isn’t something you say, it’s something you do, you must express love in some way for it to have any meaning. To give it away is to hold someone when they hurt, offer the essentials of survival to those in desperate need, or sit and listen when no one will, that is love.

It sounds so simple and it is so hard to do. We humans just can’t get the idea of love right. The author of 1st Peter said: “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” (4:8) Or, if you love enough you will let the irritations of life go. Unfortunately letting go is the farthest from many of our minds or behavior. God loved the Hebrews and as a result forgave them their sins repeatedly, and then he sent prophet after prophet to remind them of that love. God sent Jesus to tell the gentiles (that’s you and me) divine love was there for the asking. Trouble is we don’t ask, and we don’t give, we hoard.

All too often our lives are filled with the endings of love and compassion what we need are the beginnings, the constant expression of love, our eyes are dimmed to the graciousness that surrounds us and all creation. Love comes in many forms and, sadly, the only way we observe it is when we are hit over the head with compassion, kindness, and mercy. Yes I know there are those who say the word love and believe it’s good enough or they believe love only applies to those who think like they do, but saying is not enough, loving only those who love you is not enough. You must put love into action and when love is freely given away to all, it multiplies hundreds, thousands of times over and over.

Today our government promotes hate, greed, and racism as part of the evangelical cult that’s taken over our politicians’ lives. Love has no place in their world view, they love only those who see the world in their own twisted way. We see the result of their twisted understanding of love every time a person of color is killed, a law officer is killed, hate groups such as Nazis are allowed, encouraged, to harass and hurt people different from them. We see the hording of love every time we see injustice and when we keep silent and do nothing we become part of that cult of hatred and hoarding.

If we are to be faithful to Paul’s words and the teachings of each prophet God has sent, then we must put ourselves between those who do not show or share love with those in need. When we do not act we are just as guilty of hording love, compassion, justice, mercy and peace. It is our responsibility, our ministry, our job to act and pass the grace of love on multiplying it into infinity.

Ruth Jewell, ©August 3, 2018

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Women’s March, January 21, 2017 Seattle WA, Photo by Ruth Jewell

A Small, Sad, Little Man

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Virginia December 2, 2015. Salon.com

 

I have a confession to make, I pity Donald Trump.  I have gone through several stages regarding “the Donald” in the last few years, from repulsion to dislike, to anger, to downright hate.  But in the last couple of days I have surprised myself by realizing I simply pity a sad little man.  A small, sad, unlikable man who wants to be liked.  Yes, I have compassion for this spoiled, paranoid, mentally ill man who has gotten himself into a position he has no idea how to handle and has put us all at risk.  That surprised me.

I have taught tolerance and compassion on this page for several years and now I realize that I need to practice what I teach.  Despite his sexual misconduct, his spoiled little rich boy tantrums, his lies, his bully boy swagger I am called to love this man. Not like, and certainly not support, his behavior or his lies, but, love as Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospels would.  Not the love being taught by those who pervert the Gospel, and there are too many of those in the press right now, but with compassion for someone who is in mental pain, and ill.  I am called to understand that this small little man is unable to understand what being a human being entails because he was never taught how to be a human being.  His examples in life were as broken as he is and he has perpetuated that brokenness within his own family.  That is sad.

Now, Donald Trump is not an easy person to have compassion for.  His mental illness keeps him from recognizing how much damage his lies and actions cause.  His self-centeredness and ego keep him focused only on himself and that prevents him from seeing the world around him as worthwhile and valued, unless it is feeding him.  Unfortunately, he has landed himself in a position he doesn’t understand, making him easily manipulated by foreign powers and those in the GOP who want power.  However, as my mother would say, “you made your bed, now lie in it.”  It is not that I will ever support him or the GOP when they put people, our country, and our world at risk but I will at least try to understand that what he does comes from a background that was devoid of compassion for others.  He may have grown up monetarily wealthy but his life has no richness to it.  He is one of the poorest people on earth.  That is the reason he strikes out at those who have found life with meaning that doesn’t encompass only gold.  That is reason he strikes at President Obama, because he is loved and Donald isn’t, not even by his family.  That makes his heart small, his life small, and that deserves our, my, compassion.

To love someone that is unlovable is hard and I can only say this new practice of compassion and love is a work in progress.  So, expect backsliding. I will continue to resist, protest, letter write, and even tweet at “the Donald.” However, I will temper my statements with as much kindness I can muster at the moment and I will add this man to my prayer list. Jesus said to love the unlovable, the sick, the poor, and the imprisoned and Donald is unlovable, poor, and imprisoned in walls of his own making and the making of his family. But he is one of God’s beloveds and that is all that matters. I am not sure how successful I will be but I will try, so, help me Holy Spirit.

Ruth Jewell, ©March 13, 2017

 

 

2017, A NEW YEAR?

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A new year has begun and I am not sure what it will bring. Usually I have a sense of new beginnings, or I have excited expectations and hope as I pick up from where I left off and start over again. Not this year though. There has been too much acrimony, too much hate, too many lies, too much racism, and too little justice, mercy, kindness, and peace for me to look forward to the coming year. Sad really, because it seems 2017 is already defeated before it is a week old. I am afraid 2017 will just be a year of more hateful speech, more injustice, more discrimination, and more violence.

There is no one person to blame, we all are responsible for the atmosphere of distrust and hate we see every day, in the news, from our politicians, from our neighbors. Let me make this clear, you and I are to blame from the people who fear the changes created in the last 30 years. We forgot that people might not understand, might not be willing to accept those changes. We assumed they would go along “when the discovered how much better they had it.” But they didn’t. No, they felt left out of the process, unasked, and left behind, and they felt their concerns and issues weren’t being addressed.

Yes, they could have become involved and worked with those of us who believed we were working to better the lives of everyone, and the environment. But somehow, they didn’t feel as if they could. Maybe they didn’t believe as we did, maybe they needed to be given more information, maybe they just needed more time to assimilate all the information being thrown at them. Whatever the reason some people became alienated and open to manipulation by those whose agenda is to turn back the clock to a time when only the few profited from the bounty of this country.

Maybe the reason for the divide is that those of us who want to see us progress broke into interest groups who fought over what issue was most important when, in reality, all of it is. No one has ever bothered to look at the larger picture. To try developing a program that would have given equal emphasis to each issue. To bring together the disparate interest groups formulate a policy that would have benefited each area of interest. The modernization of each issue, environment, inclusivity, racism, woman’s rights, children’s right, poverty, immigration, all of them, each is dependent on the other.

What do we do now that we have a president whose only interest is his own personal gain, a congress dominated by old white men bent on preserving white privilege, and the hate and racism propagated during the last eight years by has let loose violence and terror in our communities. Well, to start we work together, all interest groups working together to keep what has been achieved from being lost. Our job now is to stand up when we see abuse or harassment and protect the victims, stopping hate speech when we hear it, and working to prevent injustice wherever we see it. None of this is easy. It isn’t easy to do and it isn’t easy to work up the courage to take a stand. But that is what we are called to do.

I am a person of faith, and 2016 sorely tested that faith. Yet I still believe in what I was taught that we are to act justly and to love kindness, mercy, and compassion. We as a people of many faiths and beliefs are called to care for the disinherited, the lost, the incarcerated, elderly, young, and the stranger. That doesn’t change even though it has become much more difficult at the moment. History moves in many ways and we repeat our mistakes over and over again. We have the possibility to achieve great heights or astounding lows. The choice is ours. Do we repeat history or do we show that we can change history.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 3, 2017

A Prayer for 11/13/2016

Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness: for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. Romans 8:26

Bing Image, A Woman at Prayer
Bing Image, A Woman at Prayer

Holy Spirit, this past week has been one of disappointment, fear, confusion and, yes, hate. You, Gracious Spirit have taught us to be more than any of that so we ask that you, in your grace and wisdom, guide us towards a future that loves, shows compassion and stands up for justice.  In our faith community, our local, state, national, and world communities we are in need of your guidance and strength, help us to be the people of light chasing out darkness.

As a people of many faiths and cultures we are facing new challenges, fears, and frustration we pray that we will be strong, and stand together in faith and love just as we have been instructed by the wise.  Help us to be the doorway into tomorrow.  Amen

Ruth Jewell, ©November 13, 2016

An Election Prayer

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Tomorrow, November 8th, is election day and I am becoming increasingly concerned about what will happen tomorrow and in the days and months that follow. This campaign has been so very divisive, hateful, and acrimonious that I fear for the safety of whoever wins and for our own. The name calling on both sides and the call to kill a candidate, the call to commit treason, and murder goes beyond anything we have seen before. We are in a difficult time where we need to step back and rethink our and way forward.

It will not be easy to heal the wounds opened in this election cycle to much hatred and anger has been spewed into our air to make this a comfortable process but we must begin to forgive each other if we are to be the people we profess to be. The spiritual practice of prayer, individual and corporate, helps us focus on each other rather our own selfish interests. Prayer can awaken our concern for the welfare of all and quiet our fears that we are threatened by forces we cannot control. Prayer gives us the courage and strength to take control of who we are as spiritual beings.

To begin I offer a prayer written by the Rev. Kara Markel, a pastor friend of mine, for the Council on Christian Unity, to begin our election day and post-election spiritual practice. As we offer our prayers may we remember Jesus cared for all of us; poor and rich, Christian and non-Christian, Male, female, and differently gendered, and peoples from all cultures and ethnicities. Let us open our hearts to reconciling with each other in prayer.

An Election Prayer
11/5/2016

Let us be a people at prayer in these days of waiting:

We pray for our president elect, that they will lead our country with strength and compassion; that they may represent the very best of the United States around the globe; that they may be committed to justice and peace, and bringing our nation together to address our challenges.

Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for our governors and legislators, that they will be responsive to their whole constituency and enact laws that ensure the wellbeing of all the people they represent.

Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for all others elected to public office, that their service to their people would be just and beyond reproach; that where ever they serve in local government, schools, or law enforcement, they would treat all people with dignity and serve the common good.

Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for our nation, our cities, and our neighborhoods, that together we can create a place where all people are respected and safe, where difference of opinion does not lead to violence, and where our combined creativity heals brokenness of all kinds.

Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray also that regardless of the outcome of this Election Day, we would remember that we are called by Christ to care for our neighbor, pursue peace and work for justice in our communities. Inspire us to work together, across divisions and difference, to create beloved community where ever we can.

Lord, hear our prayer.

From the Council on Christian Unity
written by The Rev. Kara Markell, Pastor
Lake Washington Christian Church
Kirkland, Washington

Ruth Jewell, ©November 7, 2016

Random Acts of Kindness – Prayerful Tuesday

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments,
show kindness and mercy each to his brother.”
–Zechariah, 7:9

“You have heard it said love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
–Matthew 5:43-44

JPG-Single-Act-of-Kindness-Quote-Amelia-Earharthttpwww.uniqueteachingresources.com Quotes-About-Kindness.html
http://www.uniqueteachingresources.com/Quotes-About-Kindness.html

 

Thursday I am taking part in the Face book event 24 Hours of Random Acts of Kindness.  I don’t have to DO anything specific, or travel anywhere.  The only thing I am asked to do is perform some act of kindness for someone who doesn’t expect it.  Sounds simple, I guess I will see.

I have been trying to decide what I would do, help a little old lady across the street, well I am a little old lady so I will leave that for someone else to do.  Maybe take cookies and give them a way, Now that I could do.  Wait a minute; I do believe I am trying to plan for something for a random event now that can’t’ be right.

My favorite Biblical verse comes is Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice,  and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Nowhere in this small verse does it say we are to plan to do any of that. Rather when we see injustice we do something to correct it. When we see the embodiment of God we are to walk together.  When we see someone, be it human or otherwise, in need of kindness we are to offer it freely with no expectation of being acknowledged or of a being paid back.  We are to show kindness where it is least expected, recognizing the blessedness of the recipient. Even if the freely given gift is refused or unacknowledged we have done what is right in the eyes, heart and mind of the Spirit.

Oscar Hammerstein wrote: “A bell’s not a bell ’til you ring it – A song’s not a song ’til you sing it – Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay – Love isn’t love ’til you give it away!” To give the gift of kindness is to put your love into action.  What a better way to express God’s great gift of love, the Teachings of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, than by giving it away.

So this week I am going to challenge you to practice the spiritual practice of a “Random Act of Kindness.”  Sometime this week do kind act for someone or some creature when they least expect it.  If you want to up this challenge a notch, try doing it anonymously and let your heart warm with the thought of the gift being received.

May your week be filled with kindness; kindness received and kindness gifted.

Ruth Jewell, ©May 17, 2016