Texts: Exodus 3:1-15, Matthew 16:21-28
So, I had lunch with the Aberdeen police chief this past week, along with Pastor Marc from next door. On my way there, Pastor Marc joked; “I hope they don’t arrest you!” They didn’t, of course. Actually, we had a really good conversation about poverty in Aberdeen.
But Marc’s comment reminded me that, sometimes, it can be dangerous to follow Jesus. Now, I have no particular intention of being arrested and I doubt the Aberdeen police department has any intention of arresting me.
But, these past few weeks, others have been in harm’s way. An African American Baptist pastor, who I knew of when I was in Boston, Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, has been in harm’s way this past month. I was particularly drawn to his story because he also grew up in a rural area and also ended up in Boston. He spent his teen years in St Louis County and this past month, he decided, like me, to go home. He went home, of course, at the worst possible time—since we all have seen the news in Ferguson. The place Michael Brown was shot by police.
He’s been posting on facebook regularly, as he has stood with the young black men and women of Ferguson and listened to them, listened to their pain, listened to the pain of a community. Now I know that Ferguson seems very far away from us. A whole world and a whole culture away. We see little news snippets here and there, but it still seems pretty far away. I was struck as Rev Sekou talked about the situation in Ferguson, particularly because the economic situation in Ferguson is almost exactly the same as it is here on the harbor, in Aberdeen. Both towns have the same poverty rate—25%. Both have similar rates of unemployment, the same median income (36,000), and the same atmosphere of hopelessness and violence, especially for young people. We might have more in common than we think with our brothers and sisters in Ferguson.
I’ve been struck especially because Rev. Sekou has put himself in a lot of danger; he talks about facing violence and the fear of having guns pointed at him and his community. He had a radio conversation this past week where he said; “We want to celebrate these young people who will not bow down. I and the clergy here will defend them, even with our lives.” In other words, Rev. Sekou loves his people, loves his town enough to risk his life on the streets to stand with and work for the healing of his people.
That is the message Jesus confronts his disciples with in our text this morning. It comes at a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. He has ministered in Galilee—the place he grew up—the home of his people. He has preached good news to the poor and he has healed the sick and he has proclaimed the coming kingdom of God. Now, he makes the decision to go up to Jerusalem, along with his Galilean followers for Passover.
He knows what that means. He knows what he is up against. And he begins gently preparing his disciples for it. Peter is clearly terrified.
Jesus knows that, when he enters Jerusalem, the center of power, the center of Roman authority in the region, he will be arrested. And everyone knows what happens next to revolutionary Galileans. As Jesus contemplates Jerusalem, he sees in his mind’s eye what every single Galilean would have known at that time. There were times when the roads leading from Galilee to Jerusalem were lined with crosses. Jesus knows he is going to die.
When Peter begs him to reconsider, begs him to be safe, begs him to take care for his own life—Jesus turns to him and tells him; “Actually, if you are going to follow me, if you want to see this all the way to the end, you’re going to have to be ready to “take up your cross” too.”
Now, when you hear “take up your cross”, what do you think? It has become popular in Christian circles to say “take up your cross” and bear your suffering. That to take up your cross is to be patient and deal with hard stuff in life.
That is not what Jesus is saying at all. Every single person who heard him would have immediately thought—darn, Jesus is asking us to be ready to die. Jesus is saying—be ready to die.
We live in a world, Jesus says, where people who are powerless are dying all the time. Rome kills our people, my people all the time. If I am going to join them, if I am going to stand on their side, I will have to be willing to die as well.
We live in a world where kids like Michael Brown die all the time on the streets of our towns and cities. On the streets of Grays Harbor, I listen to stories of death all the time—high suicide rates, people dying far too young because they don’t have access to medical care, so much death.
Why is Jesus willing to die? Jesus is willing to die because Jesus loves his people. Loves us.
Were you listening to our first reading? Moses is visited by God who tells him; “I have heard my people’s cry.” I have seen their suffering. I have seen their slavery. I have heard their cry. And I am sending you to risk your life, to set my people free.
Jesus, God in human flesh, God with us, comes to us and he hears our cry. Jesus is God’s response to the cry of God’s people.
He hears the cry of the Galileans who suffer under Rome. He hears the cry of desperate and heartbroken people in Ferguson. He hears the cry of a world suffering so much.
I want to tell you a little about the cries that I hear on the streets of Aberdeen and the harbor, in my ministry. I sat down with a group of folks, telling them that I was meeting with the police chief and was there something they wanted me to say. To a person, they said; “We just want a home. Where are we supposed to go?” I spoke to a young man who spoke of his longing for a job so that he could keep his housing and build a stable life. I spoke to an elderly man who cried over all of the people in his family who have died young—of desperation or despair or untreated health issues.
Over and over, people say; “We once helped build this community; we once had jobs here. But now all of these buildings and homes stand empty and we camp along the river.” Over and over, people say; “How can I help? How can I find work so that I can pay for electricity and running water in my apartment?”
And God has heard their cry. Because I believe the gospel, because I believe in the God of liberation and freedom, I believe that God has heard their cry.
And so our calling is to stand with them. To stand together as a community. To listen to each other’s cries. Our cries for healing and for belonging and for love. Our cries for community and homes and stability. Our cries for hope and for a future.
We all cry to God at one point or another. As we face health problems or the loss of those we love. As we face job loss or can’t find a job. As we face all of the things that this world throws at us.
And God hears our cries, my brothers and sisters. And Jesus loves us. Loves us enough to die for us. Loves us enough to put his body, his life on the line for us.
And this is how we show love for one another.
Because, when we come together, when we stand together, when we cry out together—liberation is a coming, my brothers and sisters.
When we cry out together, God hears, and we find hope and a future. Hope for our lives, hope for our kids and grandkids, hope for our land, hope for our towns, hope for the harbor.
Jesus—willing to die on behalf of his people—calling us to be willing to die for each other, this is how freedom comes. And we dream, my brothers and sisters, we dream—of people having enough to eat, of streams in the desert and our land coming alive again—we dream of beautiful homes and enough work, we dream of healed people. We dream because Jesus says that, if we are willing to lose our lives for the ones we love, we will truly find LIFE together. We will LIVE.