Call it what it is.
A version of this sermon manuscript was preached by Rev. Erin Counihan at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, MO on 3/1/15.
Texts: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 and Mark 8:31-38
As part of my training for ministry, I served as a hospital chaplain for three months one summer during seminary. It’s a standard requirement for all pastors in our denomination, and serves a bit like a pastoral care bootcamp. And I learned a whole lot during those three short months in the hospital, but there were two big take-aways that stick with me today.
First, no one in the whole hospital expects chaplains to be funny. They expect you to be nice and holy and boring and sweet but certainly not funny. Not one bit. So when you crack the smallest, corniest, most rehearsed joke ever, they think you’re hilarious. I’m telling you, hospital patients are my people! With a pocket full of stale grandpa jokes, I killed like a comedian on the late night circuit. It got so I had a whole routine. And I had an entire set full of jokes just about hospital socks. I’m telling ya, there wasn’t a room I couldn’t get into by asking if they knew they had to give the socks back (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).
The second thing I learned working as a hospital chaplain was that people in hospitals love them some theology of glory. The theology of glory is what I like to call the 15th Century reformer Martin Luther’s fancy term for spin. Putting a bright spin on dark times. People in the hospital love to do this for the chaplain. “Oh, it’s alright, Chaplain, I mean, it’s been tough, but whatever doesn’t kill ya makes you stronger, right?” “I’m sure learning a lot about who my friends really are.” “I am blessed to be in the care of such great staff.” “It’s been good for me to learn to lean on my faith.” And on and on with this stuff.
Oh, and this isn’t just for hospitals. No, we all do it. It’s easier to look ahead to the glory when we’re in the hard times. To make the best of it. To see the silver lining.
But Martin Luther thinks that’s a bunch of hooey. In those famous theses he wrote, he offers a couple that hit on his theology of glory and his theology of the cross. He writes in theses #21: “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the things what it actually is.”
At the hospital, working as a student chaplain, I felt I only had two jobs.
- Tell a silly sock joke to get myself into the room.
- Sit beside someone in pain and name it. Tell them it sucks. It’s unfair. It’s frustrating. It’s terrible. It’s painful. It’s horrible. And it just sucks. Be the person who walks in the room and looks them in the eye and doesn’t poke or prod, but sits and names it and allows them to feel whatever they’re feeling; calling it what it actually is.
Oh, how I wish Peter could have done that. I wish Peter could have heard Jesus’ story and said, “Whoa… this is terrible. It’s going to be awful to watch you suffer like that. I just can’t believe this has to happen.”
But Peter couldn’t do that. He couldn’t sit in that dark space. Peter wanted to jump to the glory. Peter didn’t want a suffering, bloody, on the cross Messiah. Peter wanted the healer, the miracle worker, the leader, the glory Messiah.
As modern day followers of Jesus, we want that too. We want to come to worship, and to Sunday school, and to this table and we want to receive the hope of Christ’s resurrection. We want to receive the grace of forgiveness. We want to bask in the risen Lord’s glory. And we should. We totally, absolutely should.
But we also need to remember that it came at the expense of suffering and death on the cross. And that the one who called us to follow, the one who invited us to the table, the one who promises to forgive and pray for us, is the one who suffered so greatly on the cross and called us to carry our own crosses.
Not just to give up chocolate, or deny ourselves facebook for 40 days, but to lose our lives for his sake, for the sake of the gospel.
There’s enough evil and suffering in our world, in our community, in our families and schools and jobs, that I don’t think we have to look too hard to find places where we might be called to pick up our crosses, to drop our own self-interests and carry the needs of a neighbor. Maybe it can be as simple as dropping our own opinions and arguments and listening to the opinions of a neighbor. Maybe we don’t work to win an argument and we just listen to make another feel heard. Maybe it’s letting go of our own political and social agendas, and listening with open ears to Christ’s agenda, sitting before us right here. And maybe it’s just naming the reality of the things that are painful, hard, and evil, and deciding to live in that suffering, not for the glory it will bring, but because that’s what’s real. And knowing that Christ is in that, too.
And here’s some good news: you guys are already doing this! You are here today. You could be home, in warm beds. You could be snuggled up in jammies with warm cups of cocoa. You could be eating breakfast in bed. You could be sledding on Art Hill. You could be at brunch. Do you remember brunch? You gave up BRUNCH. You give up brunch every Sunday!
You shovel, you clean, you wash dishes, you cook, you host mission teams, you give money to the poor, you give food to the hungry. We’ve got a good start.
So this Lent, let us try to see if we can stand it to stand in the suffering and call it what it is. To hold ourselves in such a place where we might be able to recognize the suffering in its full reality, and to recognize Christ in that suffering; to submit to a lifestyle of sacrifice and to recognizing Christ in that sacrifice.
In the name of the Creator, the Sustainer, and the Redeemer, Amen.