Reflection for Sunday September 13 – Deni Mack, D.Min.

Isaiah 50:5-9a, James 2:14-18 and Mark 8:27-35

Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”   Peter answers, “You are the Christ!”   This Gospel and today’s reading from James remind us that, followers of Jesus do not just say who he is but act like him!  Peter missed that.

And Peter did not want Jesus to suffer.  None of us wants our loved one to suffer.

Jesus, knowing the risks, is bent on going to Jerusalem.  He is going head on into the dangers.  Peter tried to stand in the way of Jesus’ suffering and death.

Aren’t we like Peter?  We want to take Jesus and ourselves off the cross.  We want him pain free.

That Jesus did suffer and die for us shows us a love that is unfathomable.

Jesus’ suffering shows us how to suffer.  He gave mercy from the cross.  He forgave from the cross.

As we take up our cross and follow Jesus, God takes our sinful selves, our inadequacies and failures and moves in us with power.  And so we radiate something of God’s love here in this world.  Our crosses may be mighty hard to carry.  We may prefer a lighter cross or a pretty cross, mere decoration.

The families of those killed this summer in Rochester, Ferguson, Baltimore and all over the world carry crosses so heavy, so cruel that we cannot begin to imagine their horror and sorrow.  The migrants Pope Francis drew to our attention in the summer of 2013 keep coming into what our pope calls “a culture of indifference.” These desperate people are escaping war and starvation.  They are on the cross all humanity carries.  And personally our cross, too, is heavy—our son, Steve sustained traumatic brain injury six years ago and needs care 24/7.  Steve wants to die.  Our grandson, Blair, skied into a mountain to avoid ramming into a family; he did not even know he was dying as he spoke of Martin Luther King’s faith witness. The crosses Steve’s and Blair’s loved ones carry are ours as well.

We don’t see Jesus walking on the ash heaps of our suffering with us.  He does though.   He must.  How else can we put one foot in front of the other while bearing such crosses?  How else can we help one another carry crosses?  Hundreds of people placed flowers and candles to memorialize the young men killed in front of the Boys and Girls Club of Rochester.  People hold prayer vigils at every homicide site. Those acts of love are gifts to all of us and I pray they help the grieving families.  I have to believe such love supports Johnny Johnson’s mother and fuels her compassion for the family of her son’s killer.  I have to believe such love fuels the forgiveness we heard from several of the families of the 9 people killed in Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.  I am in awe.  We are privileged to learn of these extraordinarily merciful people.  They convince us that suffering can be school for compassion—if we let it be.

We may think we cannot have compassion like that.  We may think we cannot forgive like that.  We may think Jesus’ mercy comes only through the rarest of people.  We may think we cannot radiate God’s love beyond the ordinary.  We may think our love is too small to heal even one of the world’s gaping wounds.  Still we trust that simply doing what needs doing with a loving attitude  and doing what needs doing as well as we can does cooperate with God’s grace.   Jesus is loving people around us through even our smallest, unnoticed act and word.

Peter did learn from Jesus and so do we.  We are church, a community of faith helping one another take up our cross and follow Jesus.  On our own, we are not up to the suffering.  Baptized into Christ we share in Jesus’ healing ministry as we work with and listen to people who are poor or sick. We share in Jesus ministry of compassion as we pray and parent, and grandparent, teach or create or write or restore and repair; wherever we work and wherever we live we can share in Jesus’ life and love.  Our actions show the world who we follow.

Could we be convicted for being like him?  Dear God, help our actions clearly say who you are.

Denise Mack