“Becoming a Follower”
Second Sunday in Lent, Year B, February 25, 2018
Romans 4:13-25 Mark 8:31-38
First Presbyterian Church of Sandpoint, Idaho
Pastor Andy Kennaly
When Shawna teaches skiing on Schweitzer, many times she is assigned to groups of kids or a collection of children from the Kinder-Camp program. She’s even taught two and three year old’s in private lessons. Little kids on the mountain eventually have to ride up the chairlift, and they need an adult to ride with them. Sometimes, when the chair is slow, or stops a lot, or the kids are in a bad mood, Shawna tries to find ways to keep them distracted, to change the mood by focusing on something fun. Sometimes she sings, or has the kid sing; other times she pulls out a stuffed animal from her pocket. One of the more effective ways happens when she pulls out the bubbles.
Blowing bubbles from the chairlift catches kids by surprise, and those people skiing under the chair get in on it too. Bubbles become a community event, and are usually pretty fun. Sometimes people like to make big ones, or blow a whole bunch of little ones. If it’s windy, you just hold out the wand and the bubbles come by themselves as they launch into a flight of temporary life. Seeing how long a bubbles can drift is pretty cool, but much of the time, rather than let these amazing spheres of soapy rainbows linger through the air, people try and pop them. Chasing and poking the bubbles is also fun, and a natural response, part of human nature; but it destroys the bubbles in the process.
Bubbles are things. You can point to them, describe them, and make them. But bubbles at their best are in action: moving, floating, held in tension, interacting with their context, allowing the wind to move them. The surface of a bubble is in constant motion as the soapy film adjusts and gravity has an effect. But while they are in existence, bubbles catch peoples’ attention and very often elicit a response. People may smile, or they might pop the bubble.
You’ve heard that saying, “I hate to burst your bubble,” when someone challenges a typical way of thinking or understanding the world. Living in a bubble is how we describe living in such a way that we don’t let outside thought or influences or realities to pierce our own conceptions. Inside a bubble life is protected, sheltered, a certain way, and yet vulnerable.
This morning’s scripture readings talk about the promise of God, and whether it’s Abram’s faith and trust giving God the glory, or in Jesus challenging the disciples’ understanding of what it means to embody God in this world, at the core of these readings is nothing less than love. The love of God. The love God has for the world. The love we share with others.
Blowing bubbles in the mountains is a metaphor for love. No two bubbles are alike, each is a different size, lasts a different length of time, floats on its trajectory, and contains a different batch of air. Like love, bubbles are less of a thing and more of an action: they exist as bubbles by doing what bubbles do. Even Jesus doesn’t describe love, but commands it, as an action. Love is actually not describable, and words just do not capture it’s fullness or essence; only by sharing in relational ways does love find expression. This is a mix of beauty, strength, and vulnerability.
Jesus shares these effects of deep love. Jesus is describing the extent of suffering love will undergo as he predicts his own death at the hands of society’s violence. As his disciples hear this they are disturbed, and Peter takes him aside and rebukes him. Notice this action, as Peter separates Jesus from the others, isolates Jesus on his own, and how this echoes the temptation in the wilderness where Jesus is tempted by Satan to do anything but what love commands. Jesus calls the others to gather around through the power of love, which unites, connects, claims relationship, and intends people to live in community with one another and not in isolation. No one lives in isolation. But again, just like people chase down bubbles only to pop them, so too people deny the very living core of love that unites us with all things and reminds us that we are never isolated.
In the winter edition newsletter from the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we read an article that reminds us that “To talk about love is to talk about what Plato calls ‘holy madness.’” Love cannot be captured by psychological definitions. And yet, Jesus commands us to love, that we “must love, [we] you absolutely must enter into this unnamable mystery if [we] you are to know God and know [ourselves] yourself!” (https://cac.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/theMendicant_Vol8No1.pdf, Richard Rohr).
The article goes on to talk about a mirror and a mask. Love is like a mirror in that it has no ego agenda. Love simply reflects things as they are, and because a mirror in itself is empty, it is always ready to receive the other with “no preconditions for entry or acceptance. It receives and reflects back what is there, nothing more and nothing less. The mirror is the perfect lover and the perfect contemplative. It does not evaluate, judge, or [pretend].” But here’s how love as mirror does that; here’s what needs to happen for that to take place. “If we are to be a continuation of God’s way of seeing, […] we must be liberated from ourselves. We need to be saved from the tyranny of our own judgments, opinions, and feelings about everything […]. In God, our self is no longer its own center. There is a death of the self-centered and self-sufficient ego. In its place is awakened a new and liberated self which loves and acts in the Spirit.”
With that in mind, hear Jesus saying, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” If you want to cling to your self-centered and self-sufficient ego, then you cannot hold a cross. Taking up a cross invites that death. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of good news, will save it.” Through Christ, we find our center in God’s Spirit and we are awakened to new life which loves and allows the Spirit to fill and blow and send. (like a bubble)
Along with a mirror that article mentions a mask. Back in the days of Jesus, actors sometimes wore masks. They did not have microphones, so the masks were designed in a way that helped project their voice. We are God’s masks, used to project God’s voice, to share God’s image and likeness. “My personhood is therefore in direct continuity with the Divine Personhood. I am created in the “image” of God (see Genesis 1:26–27). My “I am” is a further breathing forth of the eternal and perfect “I Am Who I Am” (see Exodus 3:14) of the Creator. All love is a living out of that being, a being that precedes and perfects all doing. […] Love is, quite simply, Who-We-Are-In-Christ. Love is our objective identity as sons and daughters of God. […]We are just a mask, a fragment, an unbelievably blessed part of the Whole. From that true identity, Love can happen.
You see the dynamic, and how it’s echoed in these scriptures? Losing your life and finding it takes place through love! We are like a mirror, in that we are nothing. That’s the death of our false self. We are like a mask, in that we are everything, because “love is our objective identity as” children of God. In losing our life we find life. That’s why Jesus calls Peter, Satan, and tells him to get behind him, while we also know that Jesus calls Peter the rock upon which he would build the Church. Peter, like us, is learning love’s command to be mirror and a mask.
How far do you take this? Can we just keep the image of blowing bubbles with kids on the chairlift as a light and family-friendly metaphor for letting God love the world through us? I wish the death of the ego was that tame. But even on Schweitzer, sometimes the storms rage, even to the point where the lifts shut down and you have to seek shelter inside.
Life involves struggle, and discomfort, and pain. Carrying a cross is not an easy challenge. Learning the art of letting go can be agonizing, and yet there really is no substitute for this passage, this movement, this deepening in faith as love grows and God’s righteousness develops. Inviting and allowing God’s loving Presence to fill your heart implies that your life will change, your politics will change, your understanding of religious devotion will change as your grip loosens and your awareness widens. The way you perceive reality changes.
But change is something also implied when we are invited by Jesus to become followers. ‘Following’ means there is motion involved, discovery and learning, mission and a quality of attention directed toward the One whom we follow. Following Christ, we are invited on the Way into the heart of relationship itself as we reflect and project God’s love in this world that is blessed beyond belief.
As Christ rebukes and calls, may we too look beyond dualism and conflicts to claim wholeness and grace. May love grow in us, helping us trust the Jesus Way. And may God be glorified, now and forever. Amen.