Friday, September 2, 2011

The Moses Choice

     From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
     Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, 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 will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

     ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.                          – Matthew 16:21-27
      In April 2010, thousands of shoppers unknowingly signed their souls over to a computer game store after failing to read the "Terms and Conditions" on their website.  To make a point about how none of us reads the "Terms and Conditions" of any website or software we install, GameStation in England had added an "immortal soul clause" to online purchases that read:
     “By placing an order via this Website on the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini, you agree to grant Us a non-transferable option to claim, for now and for evermore, your immortal soul. Should We wish to exercise this option, you agree to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 working days of receiving written notification from or one of its duly authorized minions.”
      GameStation representatives later generously stated they will not be enforcing their rights and will now E-mail customers nullifying any claim on their souls. For all I know, I’ve sold my soul hundreds of times over to the iTunes Store. 

     Wouldn't life be so much easier if losing your soul was just something that you had to watch out for when you signed a contract?  I sometimes think that's why people love laundry list religion:  Don't do these twenty things; do these three or four things, and you're home free!  Although, to be honest, I've always wondered why the "do not" list is always so much longer than the "do" list.

     Jesus says it isn't as easy as a simple check-off list.  Instead, it's a lot harder and more complicated to keep our souls... to not lose who you really are... who God meant you to be.  He said, "Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

     Jesus challenges our natural human inclination to be self-centered – have it be all about us – and asks us to accept the only way to avoid getting lost along our way in this world... the only way to save our souls... is to let go. 

     Unfortunately, losing your way in this world... your soul... your life... happens to people for so many reasons.  The book of Exodus describes God's people as losing their souls in Egypt – what it meant to be human, their very being was undermined by the crushing cruelty of their enslavement.  God heard their cry and sent Moses.  Now, despite the burning bush, Moses had his own ideas about his future:  He was herding sheep in Midian, he had a wife, and he wasn't interested at all in going back to Egypt to help God's people get free.  But Scripture tells us Moses was a humble man.  He set aside his own life and instead, chose to save the lives of others. 

     Some people lose their way in this world, their souls, for a lot of reasons.  Paul mentions some of them in Romans 12.  Some people loose who they are because they are consumed with wanting to get vengeance on another.  In Oct. 2006, Charles Roberts went into an Amish school in West Nickel Mines, PA, shot ten girls, killing five before committing suicide.  He wasn't Amish, but Amish families knew him as the milk truck driver who made deliveries. Since the tragedy, people around the world have been inspired by the way the Amish expressed forgiveness toward the killer and his family.  According to an article on NPR (10/2/07) members of the Amish community went to the killer's burial service at the cemetery.  "Several families, Amish families who had buried their own daughters just the day before were in attendance, and they hugged the widow of the gunman, and hugged other members of the killer's family."  The Amish community also donated money to the killer's widow and her three young children.  One counselor later said that while their acts of forgiveness were inspiring, they also caused a misperception that the Amish had quickly gotten over the tragedy.  He said, however, that because the Amish can express that forgiveness, and because they hold no grudges, they are better able to concentrate on the work of their own healing.  I have two daughters – It certainly made me examine my own ability to forgive.

     Some people lose their way – who they are – because of grief.  Grief over missed opportunities, past mistakes; grief over the essential unfairness of life; grief over the end of a relationship or when, because of death, you've had to say goodbye to the person you love most in this world.  That's why I think Paul encourages us to "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep."  I don't believe any of us are meant to get through this world on our own... we need each other.  That's why we have families, friends, and one another here in the church.

     It's so tempting to do it our own way instead of Jesus' way.  That's what happened to Peter in our Gospel reading.  He loved Jesus, and didn't want him to suffer.  No, Peter had his own ideas about how Jesus should be the Messiah.  Jesus would go to Jerusalem on a white charger with trumpets blaring and crush those in political, economic, and religious power.  Jesus used the harshest words ever directed toward one of his disciples: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me."  It would never have occurred to Peter that instead of a white charger, Jesus would be riding a donkey... instead of trumpets blaring, there would only be the voices of children crying "Hosanna".  Peter was echoing the same temptation to choose the easy way that the voice of Satan had tried with Jesus during his temptation in the wilderness.
In Luke 4: "Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, 'If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you," and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone."'"
      Just a note here: Even Satan can quote Scripture. 

Trinity with the courthouse in the background
     Herod's Temple was one of the larger construction projects of the 1st century BCE.  It was the equivalent of a nine to twelve story building – Twice as tall as the new courthouse next door to our church.  I don't like heights.  Hanging my Christmas lights every year from the pinnacle of my little one-story house is an adventure in the wonders of the Christmas spirit, punctuated by moments of sheer terror.  It makes my palms sweat to think of standing on the pinnacle of something twice as tall as the courthouse.  Priests, court officials, Roman guards, attendants, the entire nation of Israel came to the temple!  It was the center of their universe.  Oh, yeah.  That would have been sweet!  All Jesus would have had to do is... step off... and he would float gently to the ground upheld by angels, as everyone watched, and all bowed.  Hey!  Beats the heck out of three years on the road preaching and teaching, getting rejected, and eventually crucified.

     But, for your sake, and for my sake... for the world's sake, Jesus made the hard choice instead of the easy one.  He made the hard choice for himself to help us find our way, to not lose ourselves, our souls... to set us free.  He taught that if we are to follow him, we too must be ready to make hard choices instead of easy ones so we can help others find their way; to set others free.  Jesus never expected you or me to be him... he only asked that we try to be like him... make just a few more of those hard choices to look outside ourselves and see all the people who are hurting... losing their way in this world, losing who they are, forgetting how very precious and beloved of God they are.  There are so many people we encounter every day of our lives, who are discouraged, beat down, hurting; enslaved every bit as much as were Moses' people in Egypt.  And if we can make that Moses choice... that hard choice to forget our own busyness and problems and see, truly see others... and allow our hearts to be open to them.    By a kind word, by our forgiveness, by a gentle touch of faith, we can lighten their load, we can help set them free.  And little by little, day by day as we practice losing our own lives, letting go, and instead, focusing on freeing others, we’ll wake up one morning surprised to discover that, just as Jesus promised, we have gained the best life of all.

     I think Demetrius Dumm, a Benedictine monk, said it best: “Sometimes,” he said, “I think the only question we will be asked at the Last Judgment will be, quite simply, 'Were you a Pharaoh or a Moses... did you leave others in slavery, or... Did you let my people go?”


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