February 18, 2018: Saved: It’s Not a Dirty Word by Rev. Beth Hayward (Mark 1)

“What if one morning you looked at yourself in the bathroom mirror and said Let’s get lost?”[1]

British musician and writer Penny Rimbaud recalls waiting for the Manchester train at Rochdale Station. As he stood there he was overcome by what he describes as a most magnificent experience, more enthralling than all of the mountain climbing he had done in younger years and not nearly as much effort. It was a profoundly beautiful experience because of its grandeur. It was the first time he had been confronted with anything he couldn’t manage or control.

That magnificent experience turned out to be a heart attack. Rimbaud says that from the ambulance that day as the tsunami of pain became completely engulfing he could hear the train leave the station. He’s certain that a huge part of his material self, got onto that train because his ego wouldn’t want to put up with that sort of pain. Rimbaud says that the ego is very unkind and is in fact no friend at all.

Sent home with a stent in his heart and a new lease on life the get-well cards started flowing through his mail slot. Every one of them it seems wished him a full and speedy recovery. The word recover kept creeping into his psyche. Recover, recover, re-cover. “Why on earth,” he asks, “would I want to recover?” For the first time in his life Rimbaud had become uncovered, something had been torn away from him. He had been liberated from “a covering, an egotistical outfit.” He insists “I don’t want to re-cover: this vulnerability is it, not really knowing is it, I have become part of the temporal world.” Rimbaud ends his reflection on this experience by asserting: “Nothing’s gonna save me and I don’t need saving.”[2]

I wonder if that is perhaps what Jesus was getting at? Do we need to invert that word, turn it on its head? We don’t need to be saved to assure ourselves of some permanency in some after realm. We need to be saved from our own egos, the constructs we put in place, the things we worry about. Maybe we need to be saved from the lies we tell ourselves, the lies the world tells us in 140 characters or less, the lie that an ego is more important than a heart.

Father Richard Rohr speaks about the ego dying that the true self might be born. He insists we get there through the discipline of spiritual practice, attention to this moment, a lifetime of letting go. We must be emptied of all the trappings of ego if we are to be filled with the spirit of Christ.

To a bewildered crowd Jesus said, you need to die to live; to save your life you must first lose it. How do we make sense of this in a world where death is to be avoided at all cost, brushed aside, covered up? How do we begin to comprehend this in a world where we have all but forgotten what it means to be lost? Everything we need to know is at our fingertips. Unless you spend time in the deep back woods the likelihood of getting lost, if you own a smart phone, is slim to none. From birth we begin accumulating baggage that tells us who we are and where we belong. We are defined by our gender, our geography and a whole lot of generalizations: the pretty little girl, the student who doesn’t apply herself, the middle age woman with the accent from that place. It’s hard to lose all of this, to lift ourselves from the coverings of the world that weigh heavy on us.

Whether in First Century Palestine or Twenty First Century North America, it’s hard for us to believe that we are saved by losing, that life comes from death. When seventeen teenagers and teachers are shot dead while at school, we see the power of weapons, the power of fear and anger. We see the destructive, life shattering power that a broken and angry individual, enabled by a robust gun lobby, can wield on the lives of so many. It’s hard to imagine that there is anything more powerful.

For Peter and the other disciples, for the crowds that gathered around Jesus it would have been unthinkable that anything but sheer force could stand in the face of the oppressive and tyrannical Roman Empire. Messianic expectations differed among first century Jews but the idea that the Messiah would deliver them from Roman oppression was prevalent, and Galilee was the hotbed of revolutionary activity.”[3] The only definition of a saviour conceivable was one modeled after the type of power that society knew well, robust military, authoritarian, decisive power.

Being a Christian continues to be a counter cultural identity. The way of the cross is one of rejection, death and rising again. And so when Peter rightly guesses that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus immediately goes into this rant about how he will suffer, be rejected, die and rise again, Peter will hear none of it. He didn’t sign up for a cross; he was in pursuit of a crown. He wanted to be a winner, a just and compassionate winner but a winner none the less. He says to Jesus: Don’t you dare go there! Just do not go there. Don’t shy away from your power to save us all, just when we’ve figured out who you are! The text actually says that Peter “rebukes him,” but it’s pretty much the same thing as saying “don’t go there!”

Jesus holds firm pointing a finger right back at Peter, “No… don’t you go there!” Don’t back away from the struggle; don’t tell me it’s too soon to talk politics.

When your first reaction is to rebuke take it as a sign to pay attention. If you find a voice welling up inside whispering: don’t go there, don’t make that change, don’t dare to believe that is possible, it’s likely a moment to which you need to pay attention.

Michelle Obama speaking to a hungry crowd of three thousand in our city this week; many of whom were young women of colour and their allies, hungry for something that will save them and all of us, ravenous for a story that offers real promise that there is something bigger than force and retaliation that can save us all. She told the crowd that in the ten years she travelled the country meeting people she found that people were mostly getting along. [4] And she didn’t once trounce the current president. We don’t tell that story so much, the one about the beauty and the love and things that connect us one to another. We find it difficult to let the old story die.

Somehow, little has changed in a couple thousand years. Peter and the others throughout the entirety of Mark’s gospel keep falling short of grasping the full scope of what it means to follow this Messiah. They can’t quite let go of the way things have always been.

Sometimes, even now, there are those like Cameron Kasky who dare to envision a different future, one where there are not winners and losers but life for all. Kasky’s name may not yet to familiar but his cause is gaining momentum. A student at the school in Parkland Florida where the shooting took place, Kasky has begun the #NEVERAGAIN movement. When asked what he has to say to those who insist it is too soon to politicize this issue, Kasky responds: “It’s too late. It’s never too soon. The second this happened it became too late.”[5]

This is the first Sunday of Lent, the beginning of a short season where we narrow in on the question: what does it mean to me to follow Jesus? It is a season when we remember that being saved in not a one-time event, it is a moment by moment commitment to the journey of discipleship. Being saved is a commitment to holding our faith and our fears before us, a time of uncovering all that holds us back. Think of Lent as denial of the self in the best way. Denying the self that refuses community, that thinks it can survive on its own, that rejects the deep need of all to belong.

So don’t give up chocolate this year. In fact be careful not to give up anything for Lent that brings you joy. Because you’ll need all the joy you can muster for the journey of getting lost that lies ahead. Nourish body and soul with connection and community and conviction.  And each morning you wake in this season peer into the bathroom mirror say boldlt: “Let’s get lost!”

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b081ldd6

[2] ibid Find Rimbaud’s full story at this BBC link

[3] Feasting on the Word. Eds. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Year B Volume 2, p69.

[4] https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/michelle-obama-tells-vancouver-crowd-a-life-looking-into-your-phone-is-not-a-life-1.3805867

[5] https://www.npr.org/2018/02/16/586616026/students-who-survived-florida-shooting-want-politicians-to-know-theyre-angry