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13 Pentecost - Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

I think I'm currently the only pastor in my family, but I'm not the best theologian.

That would be Caroline, my niece who turned three last week.

Some of you may remember her from her baptism at Shepherd last year on Easter Sunday.

She was the charming little curly-haired angel with the opera level lungs who screamed

bloody murder the whole time.

Her Mom said she was teething, but I think she was just paying attention.

Like Peter before her, she was having no part of Jesus' take up your cross nonsense.

She saw the water, that powerful biblical symbol of chaos and danger and death.

From flood to exodus to Jonah to Jesus in the storm to John of Patmos, the sea has been

the primal, swirling face of death—which is why it is used in baptism.

Initiates into Judaism and then Christianity had their identity drowned before being raised a new and different person.

Paul spelled it out for the Romans: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death...but Caroline wanted to live.

Can you blame her?

Yes, I omitted some of the Romans reading about being raised to walk in newness of life.

Yes, Jesus said, on the third day be raised.

Yes, there is a joyous end game, but you won't get there if you try to go too quickly.

There is no shortcut or detour to glory.

You cannot find yourself before you lose yourself.

You cannot save your life until you have lost it.

Caroline didn't like that, and neither did Peter, and neither do I – who does?

Franciscan priest Richard Rohr reflects:

To grow toward love, union, salvation, or enlightenment, we must be moved from Order to Disorder and then ultimately to Reorder.

We could point to the classic “Hero’s Journey” charted by Joseph Campbell; the Four Seasons or Four Directions of most Native religions; the epic accounts of exodus, exile, and Promised Land of the Jewish people, followed by the cross, death, and resurrection narrative of Christianity.

Sooner or later, if we are on any classic “spiritual schedule,” some event, person, death, idea, or relationship will enter our lives that we simply cannot deal with using our present skill set, our acquired knowledge, or our strong willpower.

It will probably have to do with one of what I call the Big Six: love, death, suffering, sexuality, infinity, and God.

Spiritually speaking, we will be led to the edge of our own private resources.

At that point we will stumble over a necessary stumbling stone, as Isaiah calls it (8:14).

We will and must “lose” at something.

This is the only way that Life–Fate–God–Grace–Mystery can get us to change, let go of our egocentric preoccupations, and go on the further and larger journey.

This journey from Order to Disorder must happen for all of us.

We all come to wisdom at the major price of both our innocence and our control.

There is no nonstop flight from Order to Reorder, or from Disorder to Reorder.

Few of us go there willingly; it must normally be thrust upon us.

[But we] only become enlightened as the ego dies to its pretenses, and we begin to be led by soul and Spirit.

That dying to ourselves is something we are led through by the grace of God.

2020 has thrust us into Disorder.

Have you stopped to thank God for this?

Racism, which is not a feeling in anyone's heart or bias in anyone's head as much as it is the toxic air in our skies and lungs, is being attacked with new and overdue vigor.

Have you stopped to thank God for this?

COVID-19 has created economic and political havoc.

Have you stopped to thank God for this?

Conflict and chaos rage in the streets like wildfires in California.

Have you stopped to thank God for this?

Or have your prayers, like mine, sounded like Peter—This must never happen!

Make it stop, Jesus!

But Jesus doesn't make it stop, or let us stop his progress to the cross.

I loved Caroline too much to put her down or keep her dry.

Jesus won't let go of us either, and he won't change his itinerary, which is saving us.

When Peter denies him and runs away, Jesus rises from the dead and runs him down, feeding him breakfast on the lakeshore and saying to him:

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go

wherever you wished.

But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt

around you and take you where you do not wish to go.

Follow me.

The present Disorder is so real and raw and awful and promising—God must be leading us

somewhere we do not wish to go.

Maybe it is a hard but necessary conversation.

Maybe it is listening more and speaking less; maybe it is speaking up.

Maybe it is admission of our own complicity in or benefit from the injustice of the world.

Maybe it is a change of mind or heart or loyalty.

Maybe it is letting go of money or stuff or safety or something else we hold dear because we

worked hard to earn it—just like others whose homes have just been swallowed in

hurricane or fire.

Maybe it is taking up non-violent resistance and truth-telling in a lying, violent world.

Maybe it is telling the bully in your home No.

Maybe it is telling your impractical conscience Yes.

We usually don't choose our crosses until after they have chosen us.

Scream all you want, but Jesus is determined to raise you from a death you can't wiggle out of.

The question is not whether you will die, but how, and how often, and how well.

What will your loss gain?

What success will your perceived failure achieve?

How will you overcome evil with good?

What vengeance will you relinquish into God's hands?

What enemy will you feed, what threat will you love?

Where is God calling you to go?

Follow that frightening voice, because it loves you.

My brothers and sisters, James writes, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

Suffering, it turns out, is the rocky road to real joy.

Wildfires cleanse and renew nature.

Death is the secret passage to life.

Take up your cross and follow me home.

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