February 28, 2021
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Sometimes what we hope for, when it comes, isn’t quite what we’ve imagined. For most of my twenties, I wanted, more than anything, to live connected to the earth, to creation in a deep way. I spent my summers, as much as I could, working and living in wild places, in the Cascade Mountains, a rough Scottish island, at a farm in Japan. I wanted to be hiking and camping, working in the fields, living in a community but away from people, surrounded by wilderness, seeing Mountains rising from the horizon. Leaving the Pacific Northwest to move back East to go to Grad School was difficult for me. The forests of New Jersey and Pennsylvania felt different, unknown. In Seminary I used to travel up to Maine with friends to go to Acadia or fly to Oregon and Washington for hiking adventures. But slowly, something began to change within me. This congregation taught me to stop and look around at the plants, insects, and animals here, in a way I had never had the patience for before. Slowly you started to teach me about native plants, and the ways in which they support native insects, bees that burrow into the ground, taught me to see birds, how they interact with the life of the soil, how they support a wild ecosystem, right in folks’ backyards, in parks, and community gardens can lead to a flourishing of life. You opened my eyes to an abundance of ecological diversity that is absolutely stunning, all around us, if we live in relationship with where we are. Thanks to this community, as our worlds have shrunk, I have found myself in wilderness in my backyard. If you had told me that the hoped-for relationship with creation could happen in the yard of a house north of Loch Raven Reservoir, or in the woods behind our church, I don’t know if in my twenties I would have believed you. But the longing within me to be in relationship with creation, that starting place that motivated me, it found a new way to come into existence that is lifegiving. I let go of certain parts of my life, so that something new could grow. I freed myself from the expectations I and others had put on my life of what it meant to be fulfilled, so that new life could emerge.
Reading this morning’s Scripture Passage, I found that same sense of surprise for Jesus’ disciples. They have longed for the Messiah to come, for God to remake the world around them, to bring Heaven to Earth. And for centuries, there had been interpretations of scripture that had imagined what that would look like; that the Jewish People would be free to create a new society built around God’s presence in all their lives, free from the oppression of occupation. Dreams arose of peace, lasting peace, the establishment of justice, of wholeness for all of creation. And this coming Messiah would be with the people forever, a reign of love that would never end. These dreams, this abiding hope, in our reading are suddenly disappointed when Jesus shares how he will overcome oppression and death with life and liberation. But Jesus’ interpretation of what it means for the Messiah to come, it is not what they have imagined. His interpretation of Scripture, it starts from a different place than their readings, searching for hope, and it ends with a different vision for the world, for the Messiah. They are invited to let go of parts of their lives, so that something new could grow. Jesus invited them to be freed from expectations they and others had put on my God, of what it meant to be fulfilled, so that new life could emerge.
Sometimes what we hope for, when it comes, isn’t quite what we’ve imagined. And this isn’t because we hoped or dreamed wrong. It’s not settling for lesser dreams. Sometimes we are invited to begin our dreams from a different starting point. For years I wanted to live in wild places, to be in relationship with creation, but I assumed that the kind of relationship with the earth was only possible by living away from society, living in remote places. But as I fell in love, as I found myself in relationship with this community, as I dug into ministry and being a part of what God is doing in Baltimore and the County, I found my dreams took on a different starting point. I had new relationships. But the dream of living in concert with the earth, that didn’t change. It just found a new expression, new possibilities that revealed a deeper truth.
This week, we began our Lenten book study, immersing ourselves in the world of Womanist Theology. The Womanist movement came into existence out of the experiences of Black Women who didn’t find their experiences honored and lifted in White Feminism or Black Liberationist Theology. They held within themselves dreams, a vision, that wasn’t quite what others imagined for them. But now, they were writing and dreaming for themselves. They dreamed of a world of God Talk where the starting point was the survival of Black Women. Interpreting scripture from this foundational dream, hope, and commitment, was surprising to some. For white feminist theologians, for Black Liberationists, who hoped their worldviews would be bolstered by the Womanist movement, this probably wasn’t quite what they had imagined. And yet, sometimes what we hope for, when it comes isn’t quite what we’ve imagined. But our God is a Living God, who makes all things new, even our expectations, our dreams, our hope. Because God had a Word, a dream, of survival for Black Women, a starting point planted within them, brought to life through scripture, to bless their lives, and our world. They invited Black Women to let go of parts of outside expectations of what it meant to be a Christian, what it meant to be a part of what Jesus was up to in the world, so that something new could grow. Jesus invited them to be freed from expectations they and others had put on God, of what it meant to be fulfilled, so that new life could emerge.
Jesus had, planted within him, a dream from God, that was brought to life through scripture in surprising ways, to bless his life, our lives, our world. It was surprising and disappointing to some, but he wouldn’t let that stand in the way of what God was doing through him.
Beloved, as I have grown firmly into adulthood, into middle age, that desire to be in relationship with creation, and with God’s work in the world, to be a husband and a friend, a dream has grown, that isn’t what I expected. When I go to scripture to encounter God, starting from a place of desire to love our neighbors, to love Eric, to be in relationship with creation as a responsible steward, new dreams emerge.
I wonder for you, when you dig down, what is your starting point for your dreams? When you encounter God through scripture, through worship, what would that overarching goal be? I’ve heard from some of you that you seek to know God through nature, seeking guidance of how to be in right relationships with creation and your neighbors. Some of us are survivors of abuse, assault, and domestic violence, and come to scripture searching for empowerment, for a community where you can survive, a connection to God that holds space for questions, your trauma, and a new sense of wholeness. For others, we come to Scripture searching for freedom from white supremacy, so that Black Liberation and Power can emerge, others LGBTQ+ liberation. We come from different starting points, many of us from multiple ones all at once. As Dr. Nicole Reibe shared this week in our study, there is a surplus of meaning within Scripture. This Lenten Season, may we be open to surprises, and risk identifying where we start from. Sometimes we’re being held back by the dreams we’ve had, the ways we’ve imagined God’s wholeness for us in the past, while all the while the Holy Spirit stands before us whispering “this is the way. Won’t you walk in it a while?” May we set down what isn’t working, be it our expectations of ourselves, this world, of Jesus, to lose the lives we think we’re supposed to live, so that we can encounter the surprising dreams God has for us all.