These are uncomfortable times in which we are living. There are tragic mass shootings at concerts and schools and churches that leave people mourning and which raise questions about guns and safety that make people uncomfortable. There is the revealing of racism lurking in the underbelly of our nation and our communities, like a poison in the veins of an otherwise healthy person, that makes us uncomfortable – or at least it should. There is a rollercoaster economy over the last several decades in this country that has left the wealthy wealthier and further marginalized the poorest of the poor – and this is an uncomfortable truth.
And into the midst of our discomfort in these uncomfortable times – in strides Jesus, declaring that he must suffer and die and rise again after three days in order to ensure his Father’s purpose of redemption. In strides Jesus to secure for us and for all living creatures the living promise and potential of new life in the kingdom of heaven, a new life that seeks even now to break in like waves upon the shore of this world and our own lives.
And it makes us uncomfortable – or at least it should. Yes, even though we long for this Jesus, this Son of God, Savior of the Universe, Jesus’ arrival and Jesus’ directing of his life and our lives to the cross, the truest source of God’s redemptive love, makes us uncomfortable. Yes, and chances are that if we are not being made at least a little bit uncomfortable as people of faith, we probably need to listen more closely to where and how God is calling us to live by the cross.
When Jesus speaks to the disciples of how he will have to suffer and be killed in order to accomplish God’s purposes of love Peter, who Jesus would name the “rock on whom he would found his Church,” is made so uncomfortable that he basically blurts out, “say it isn’t so Jesus!”
That’s what many of us probably want to cry out as well: “Say it isn’t so!”
Please, Jesus, please tell us that you won’t have to suffer to try and right all of these wrongs, these wrongs of the world and of our lives.
Please, tell us this pain of our families and communities, nation and world will go away again. Tell us, Jesus, please tell us that we have not contributed to these illnesses of heart, body, mind, and soul within families, community, nation, and world!
Please tell us that we have not contributed to the seven-year civil war in Syria that took another 500 lives this week. Tell us that we have not contributed to the overuse of this world’s resources that has lakes and oceans dangerously warming, fisheries emptying, and coral reefs dying. Tell us that we have not contributed to the vitriol and hatred that so often mark our political discussions by demonizing those who think differently than us.
And please, please tell us that you won’t have to die! Tell us everything will be ok, Jesus. Please, just tell us everything will be ok.
But Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus doesn’t say everything will be ok. Jesus doesn’t say we haven’t contributed to the ills of the world. Jesus just points to the cross and says, “This is where I’m going because this is where you and the world already are. You are suffering and broken and you have lost your way.”
The world is broken and Jesus knows it. The world is broken and Jesus shows it – this world and us - pity and love and mercy by giving the ultimate sacrifice of his own life - God’s own life on the cross - given for us. And if it is uncomfortable to consider the suffering of our lives and this world it is even more uncomfortable to think that God must suffer and die to bring about new life. It hurts to think that Jesus must hurt to heal our hurts.
Yet this struggling Jesus struggles willingly so that we can know God that labors alongside us. So that as we struggle to understand this pain-wracked, tear-stained world where children and parents fear to go to school and other public locations and as we struggle to even talk about these and other matters with respectful, intelligent discourse in the public square; as we struggle and labor and gasp for breath Jesus doesn’t just give us oxygen, Jesus steps into our bodies and hearts and minds and souls and by the cross gives us a full working-over-for-new-life.
“Stop setting your mind on earthly things,” Jesus says to Peter, “ and set them on heavenly things.” Yes! We must look to Jesus and set our minds of the stuff of heaven: the promises of God of which the apostle Paul speaks when he writes that we, too, are children of Abraham, grafted on to the promise of God’s faithfulness by Jesus on the cross.
The cross that painfully reveals our failings is also the cross that frees us from guilt and shame to see the blessings of God – the stuff of heaven, breaking in even here on earth. And there are signs of hope, even in this pain-wracked, weary world, sometimes emerging out of the darkest of times.
Out of WWII came world-wide peace-building efforts through the United Nations and organizations like American Field Service (AFS), which began as a relief agency giving aid to all who needed it on the battlefield, regardless of which “side” they were on, and after the war retooled themselves to organize international exchange among youth with the purpose of increasing understanding and tolerance around the world.
The way of the cross is uncomfortable to contemplate, but as people of faith this consideration is part of how God in Christ builds courage in us to face impossible odds and keep working away at life, working away at building peace, working away at - the way of God breaking down evil and destructive patterns reshaping earthly things in light to more closely reflect their heavenly mirror images.
We should never give up hope! After all, the promise of God in God’s faithfulness came to Abraham, as we hear in scripture, when he “reckoned himself as dead.” God showed up in the birth of a child to Sarah and Abraham and God continues to show up through Christ, who was born as a human baby and who died so that we might be daily freed from fear, or at least so that we might be given the courage to walk onward through our fear; walk onward with courage to confront our uncomfortable world with all the love God can muster through us.
If we do nothing then nothing will ever be done. Yet if God in Christ, the Author of all promises and of Originator of all that is good and true, can muster in us the courage to live uncomfortably, then relief agencies that help people on all sides of war will be born, and students and families and schools and governments will find solutions violence, and the earth will be cared for and we as people will grow in love and compassion.
But we must be willing to let God make us uncomfortable in all the right ways. Amen.