Sermon Archives

Keeping It 100 ~ Mark 8: 31-38

I am one of the millions of fans of John Stewart, host of the Daily Show, who was heartbroken to hear that Stewart is going off the air sometime this year. I am not sure how I am going to get through the upcoming primary season and next election without him!

So I have started watching one of Stewart’s protégé’s shows, Larry Wilmore’s “The Nightly Show.”

Each night Wilmore takes a topic of national interest and has a panel with a couple of “experts” representing different views and one or two comedians who then comment on the topic: from Giuliani’s comment about President Obama’s patriotism, to vaccinations, to the state of the African American family in America (Wilmore is black).

Near the end of the show he asks each commentator to respond to a personal question. His admonition is “Keep it 100!” Which means: “tell the truth 100%.” You can see the folks squirming in their seats when they get to this part of the show. If Wilmore thinks the person is telling the truth he gives out a round sticker that proclaims “100%.” If Wilmore believes the person is fudging her or his answer – he hands over a teabag and proclaims “Weak tea!”

This morning I want to invite Jesus of Nazareth and Saint Peter to the table.

“Now Jesus I am going to ask you a question and I want you to keep it 100. If you don’t I have this tea bag for you – the people will know if you are keeping it 100.”

“Jesus, you have just come off the mountain top. You walk on water, you heal the sick, you cast out demons, you feed 4,000 hungry people with some fish and a seven loaves of bread, you give sight to the blind and to you stand up to the MAN! Your disciples call you the Messiah. So, what are you going to do now? Go to Disney World?”

“Remember, Jesus keep it 100 or I will give you some weak tea!”

“Well, Larry. I am heading to Jerusalem to go through great suffering. I will be rejected by the religious leaders, and killed… but in three days rise again.”

“Saint Peter, what do you think of this startling statement from Jesus, who have called the Messiah?”

“Larry, I think he is nuts – I thought he would kick out the Romans I was going to get rich following him! At least get a book or movie contract. At least be saved from sickness, a few wars settled. Jesus– where did you get this grotesque idea that you are going to go through all of that?”

“Peter – you are the one who is completely wrong – you too will suffer and anyone who wants to be my disciples will suffer too. In fact they have to take up their cross, and lose their life too in order to find it.”

Larry: Well that’s all for now Jesus and Peter – you take this outside and we will take a commercial break!

We don’t like to hear this but Jesus is certainly keeping it 100. We don’t, I don’t want to read these words or hear this passage because suffering is not something that I want to experience. I want my faith to makes things better, protect me, solve my problems for me not make things worse. I like the imagery of the “green pastures” and “still waters.” I like the miracles, and abundance and prosperity.

In fact if I have to take up a cross – and we know what happened to Jesus on a cross – if I have to take up a cross in order to follow… perhaps there are other masters, other gurus, other spiritual leaders out there who can give me what I am looking for.

THIS passage – THIS one separates the sheep from the goats… SUFFERING the great conundrum of our faith. The very thing that causes most of us to doubt the reality of God is, in fact, the very thing (and I know this is going to sound funny – but not funny “ha-ha” but funny strange and peculiar) that proves God’s imminence, closeness, reality, power…even.

As William Butler Yeats wrote about God’s incarnation – God’s becoming one of us:

But love has pitched her mansion in the place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole, or whole that has not been rent.”
Now that is keeping it 100!

As Frederich Nietzsche once wrote: “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” That is no weak tea.

Or as C.S. Lewis once wrote: “The real problem is not why some pious, humble, believing people suffer, but why some do not.”

For Jesus to suffer means that according to Christian faith there is no cover-up for the reality in life… NOTHING is outside of God’s experience too. We Christians claim that whatever you and I experience – God has been there – NOTHING is outside of God’s knowledge, presence and potential to redeem.

So whatever you are currently facing, what you are going through (which is really the definition of suffering – ‘going through’) you are not alone – the Creator of the Universe has been there. If Jesus on the cross means anything – it means that suffering and death are part of life, full life, full of divine possibility, divine presence.

And we in the church, this church in particular, recognize that as the body of Christ we truly are together in one another’s suffering.

Now that doesn’t take away the reality of the horror of whatever suffering you face, but it does mean and can mean for you something powerful. I have heard countless times: “I don’t know how I got through that except for the casseroles, and the phone calls, and the prayers and that one person who called me every single day just to let me know that I was not alone.”

There is a friend who says she doesn’t believe in God anymore. But guess what she wanted when something bad happened to her child? Who did she reach out to?

You see suffering alone in silence leads to despair and violence even – pockets of people across this nation who suffer the ravages of poverty, hunger and homelessness – who have no advocates or voice – well, you know what happens in this world.

But suffering in community leads to power, to shared honest, keeping it 100 honest – leads to transformation. AA and Al Anon are proof. Grief support groups don’t always work for everybody; but they work for most.

You do not suffer alone. St. Paul talks about the church as the body – and if one suffers all suffers.

I love our faith for this one fact – we don’t, at our best, try to cover up or explain away the reality of life; both the joys and the tears, the triumphs and the tragedies. The sooner we keep it 100 the better.

Parents know – Children don’t grow up in an over protective environment; you have to learn to fail. Adults don’t grow up either. Richard Rohr in his book Falling Upward knows that we all must “go through” something in order to live fully. We don’t even know happiness except in relations to its opposite. You know that is true.

I love that in this passage Jesus adds something of great importance: “after three days rise again.” Even in the midst – the reality of the excrement (as Yeats says) there is hope – another day is going to come. “Tears may tarry through the night, but JOY in the morning.”

Again we are asked to cast our lot, and fling ourselves toward the other shore – that comes after the heart of darkness – that yearns to see the dawn.

God has experienced all – and God through Jesus Christ – holds out the hope that something is coming – and all is taken up into a promise.

So suffering is real. But knowing that you are not alone, being part of a community that has, from its beginning, when the first scribe wrote: “In the beginning” claimed something more – at least claims my attention, and makes we wonder.

The shadow of suffering always clings to every moment – but for a shadow to fall it needs a light behind it – and that is the promise of the glory of the angels, that is the promise of the present active community – and that is keeping it 100!