1st Scripture Reading: Exodus 3:1-15 and Psalm 105
Have you ever gone into your fridge looking for stir-fry veggies, and found blackened, wizened-up carrots fit only for the compost bin? So if you want carrots in that stir-fry you have to go to the grocery store and buy some fresh ones – plump, juicy colourful carrots with lots of vitality.
When I was a kid of 10 or 11 years old, I went to a CGIT meeting with my older cousins. We were shown a movie about the burning bush of Moses. We didn’t have the inundation of media in those days that we have now. My family had no TV and we didn’t go to movies. I was terrified, and had nightmares that night – it was a frightening experience for me.
But as an adult I view this story differently. I see the fire in the bush more as life energy, the vitality of the healthy, living carrot, the glow of a healthy, energetic person, the beauty and vibrancy of nature all around me. This goodness, this beauty, this vitality is one of the ways I experience the Divine Presence. This evidence of a Life Force, which lives in me also, and in each of us, this Life Force we can call (and Moses was told to call)“I am who I am”. Fear of God no longer motivates me – but I am in awe of the power that has created all the beauty and magnificence that is around us, and I know that wherever I am in God’s world I am standing on sacred ground.
And so we celebrate God’s presence with us here and now – light and fire, working through each one of us, working in nature and in worlds beyond our ken.
Hymn # 87 VU “I am the Light of the World”
2nd Scripture Reading: Romans 12:9-21 and Matthew 16:21-26
In the Gospel reading this morning we hear Jesus beginning to try to prepare his disciples for his death and resurrection. Just like us they know not much about death and so they fear it, and they certainly have no concept of resurrection other than a vague belief in reincarnation.
So Jesus is taking them far beyond the norms of accepted “common sense” of the time. First of all, he is foretelling his death, and how it will happen. He’s not supposed to know that. And when Peter tries to argue with him about it, Jesus makes a distinction they didn’t even really know existed: the distinction between divine or spiritual things, and human things.
Jesus, who is the Light of the World, a great and gifted spiritual teacher, has a mission to show humanity a different way – a path that recognizes and honours our spiritual nature – a path that hasn’t really been explored yet, and the potential power of which humans are woefully ignorant.
In this reading from Matthew, Jesus talks about the path of discipleship – what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? “Take up your cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” This is not easy stuff. Jesus was not all “love and good vibes” – he was very challenging. His teachings demanded much mental stretching from his disciples. “Take up your cross.” What are you called to do in this life? What is your mission? And “those who would save their life will lose it”....those who are not willing to change anything about their life? They probably forfeit the opportunity to be awakened spiritually. And those who lose their life (their old life, family, friends, livelihoods – maybe even their physical life) trying to follow my teachings – those people will find new, more spiritual life, is how I read it.
The Apostle Paul, great teacher/preacher that he was, fleshes out this idea of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. And this is where the problems start to develop. This is where the rules begin to be formulated, and expectations are put in place about what and who a “true Christian” is – rules and expectations that were never put into words by Jesus himself. But these rules and expectations are very comforting to ordinary people who have difficulty with the tremendous freedom that Jesus offered to people.
Jesus was no ordinary man. Yes, he gave us some teachings that offered us guidelines for living – but he came to give us so much more. He opened windows onto realms we know nothing or very little about. He showed us that our little human limitations are self-imposed. We can be so much more with a little faith and a lot of courage.
We could heal each other like he did and his apostles did. We could walk on water like he did and Peter did (until he lost faith). We could transcend even death if only we could recognize that we are so much more than this banana skin we call our bodies. And maybe it is true that all this is already true, and we just need to open our eyes to see it!
Jesus great love for humanity “coloured outside the lines” of social and religious beliefs and customs of the day. He still challenges us today to stretch our spiritual muscle, to become who we really are by growing into the divine inheritance that is already ours.
Hymn #138 MV “My Love Colours Outside the Lines”