text: Mark 8: 27-37
It usually takes me a while to arrive at how to begin these Sunday morning reflections. What would I say at the outset that would incline anyone who’s listening to come along for the ride? Well this week, it came to me on Thursday … a full 72 hours earlier that usual, thanks to Vanya, in our front office.
Vanya is the one who typically passes along the scripture reading for the day to whoever is the reader on the roster for that week. This week in preparing to do that, she went to a different on-line source to download the passage. Reading it through herself, she thought, “I don’t know about this … maybe it’s not the New Revised Standard Version we typically read from?” So I offered her my bible to double check it. A few moments later she returned the bible … “yup,” she said. “That was it. He just seemed kind of pushy,” she said! I roared. “Pushy!” I said, “that’s one word for it.”
Puzzling, might be another word-- at least on the face of it.
And demanding, as in asking a lot, refusing to pretend it otherwise.
Bold, transparent, putting it out there plainly even though it will surely be hard to hear.
Hardly invitational … in the way we/ I find myself graciously inviting people into this or that, even though what’s at stake may be big … the quality of our life for example! Wouldn’t want people to be turned off, made to feel uncomfortable, obliged … pushed, I guess.
“He just seemed kind of pushy” … YES! That’s right ! like something’s on the line--some thing called our lives and other’s lives and God’s own heart. Are some things not too valuable to be complacent about?!
Pushy. I think Vanya caught it … Jesus’ intensity … his eagerness that we set our feet on a path to abundant life -- that at least we could know there is a definite choice to be made.
Can we allow Jesus a little intensity? -- or a lot?!
The intensity picks up when Jesus begins to lay it out to the disciples what’s ahead for him: his impending suffering, his being killed, his rising --whatever that could mean. There’s no dressing it up, no cushioning the impact … he tells it plainly, we’re told. This is a sobering moment, to say the least, all around.
Peter’s the one who breaks the silence, taking Jesus aside. Whatever were his words, he was all about “No! Don’t say it … it’s not true.” We can probably hear Jesus’ reply in the spirit he spoke it if we allow ourselves to appreciate his full humanity in this moment. Dreading what’s coming he’d give anything to escape it … except that would mean betraying the fire in his heart to teach and be about the way of love no matter what. His “get behind me Satan” to Peter is not about calling Peter evil; it’s about being real in naming the temptation that hovers too close for comfort.
He doesn’t need Peter’s encouragement to be done with the fire.
He needs his reinforcement to let it burn brighter now than ever.
"If any want to become my followers" … he’s looking for company.
He’s looking for people who can walk this way with him.
He’s looking for people who will do what he’s endeavouring to do … forbid whatever it might be that would draw him away, quench the fire that compels him to embody God’s dream for the world.
Last Sunday afternoon I happened to be at home at 3 o’clock so I turned on the radio to hear what was coming on this week’s episode of Tapestry. With the mention of Sister Helen Prejean I sat myself down to listen. Maybe you heard it too, or since then. If you haven’t, you must!
Sister Helen has been known for accompanying prisoners on death row and her tireless work advocating for an end to the death penalty in the US. She’s the sister portrayed in the movie Dead Man Walking. But that’s not what got her the interview on Tapestry. What got her the interview was what she got up to this summer. She put it out there on various social media platforms, a question:
Are you feeling beaten down by recent events, dispirited, despairing, numb … did something happen in the last couple of weeks feel like the last straw? I’d like to take the time to answer any questions you might have about how to survive, how to continue to strive for a better world when it all feels too much.”
In no time at all she was flooded with responses … people getting in touch from so many circumstances -- personal sorrow, the weight of national and international and environmental tragedy, fires, shootings, the political scene. With each person who contacted her, Sister Helen made an audio recording of her response and with the help of her on-line techie crew, each person received back her voice, speaking with them, connecting with them. This is what she knows: people need to know they are not alone, that someone cares. This is about helping people in their pain rise out of that deadly isolation.
This has been her work these many years. Reaching out … reaching across divides … through prison bars … to accompany … to connect soul to soul … to come alongside people in their suffering with care … and in the case of people being executed, being deeply present in such a way that the last thing they see as they die is the face of love.
Somewhere along the way she got it … this knowing that her life is made for reaching out, for connecting with people in pain, knowing that connecting brings life and healing and hope. Of course it hasn’t been easy. Of course it has been costly. And yet, you get the sense she wouldn’t trade it for anything. In fact we hear her say “I work on death row and I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so alive!”
Drawing from her own experience of waking up to life and her part in it, she says something happens to us that sets us on fire … it might be someone we meet, something we’ve seen or heard about … it can happen in so many ways. Whatever it might be, that fire gets kindled in us when that something connects with that part in us that knows we were made for more -- made to do something significant in life for justice, for good.
If any want to become my followers, Jesus says, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will save it.
To deny yourself is not to punish yourself, and not to live in denial, to turn your back on who you are, but the opposite. It is to tend the fire that calls you into life with others, the fire that compels us to move toward not away, the fire that would have us burn with God’s love, God’s passion for abundant life for all. To deny ourselves is to tend that fire in such a way that we are alert to the fear and temptations that would have us turn away from that part of ourselves that knows we were made for more.
What is that fire … how have you known that fire? How is it now? … still burning brightly? or perhaps reduced to smouldering embers? Or only recently ignited?
For some of us perhaps we’ve never felt it. What if we’ve never felt it?
That fire has everything to do with us experiencing the fullness of life.
No wonder Jesus is kind of pushy … he so desires for us what he has known in his own life … that powerful impetus to be in life for the sake of life for others … how that is the key to abundant life.
Sister Helen in our own time bears witness to the truth of it.
What about us? … in our own lives … in our own time?
We couldn’t do better than invite --even be a bit pushy ourselves-- in calling on the Holy Spirit, God’s breath of life, that Holy Wind of Change, to ignite new energy, renewed passion in us that we might burn and shine with a love that reaches across divides, that brings healing, that engenders hope.
And so we pray Stir up your power … come and lift your people.
 Tapestry, I've never felt more alive: Sister Helen Prejean. CBC Radio, September 9, 2018
 Steve Garnaas Holmes, "Deny Yourself," posted on Unfolding Light www.unfoldinglight.net September 2015.