Have human beings always been so egocentric, so self-focused, often to the point of narcissism? Last week 17 people died in a school at the hands of one gunman. This week some schools are auctioning off guns as fundraiser, one of which is an AR-15 – the gun used in the school shooting in Florida. The worst of this, the school calls itself Christian. How is it that God would want anything to do with raffling/auctioning guns to raise money for schools? How is it that anyone following Christ could think this is a good idea?
Let’s take a moment to consider Abraham. No, Abraham did not own any guns since he walked the earth long before guns were invented. However, Abraham’s story tells us something about what it means to follow God, to live in covenant with the One who created all that is. God called Abram when he was 99 years old. Surely, an old man would have better things to do with his time and energy than pack up all he owned and follow God out in the wilderness. Abram chose to do as God asked, though. Abram changed his name and grabbed hold of the promise God offered. God would give him and Sarah a child, a child who would be the first of many nations, of many kings. To an old man without children, this probably sounded pretty good.
There was a catch, though. Abraham had to agree to walk blameless before God. This is tricky business. Abraham had to avoid sin. He had to think about God, neighbor, Creation, and self, taking care not to bruise, break, or otherwise damage, his relationship with any of them. This was Abrahams part in the covenant. Yes, God would give Abraham and Sarah offspring more numerous than the stars, but Abraham had to agree to walk before God with the intention of honoring God, neighbor, Creation, and self. That’s a significant commitment!
We like to hide under the covenant that God has made with us, like it’s a security blanket keeping us separate from the evils of the world. Jesus is the New Covenant which somehow makes it stronger and better, right? Yes and not exactly. If Abraham had to keep up his end of the covenant, then we, too must keep up our end of the New Covenant. The new one does not negate the old one.
If God covenanted with Noah (and all living flesh) not to destroy the world, then Noah (and all living flesh) were meant to hold up their end of the bargain and not be forces of destruction in Creation, either. This covenant didn’t end with subsequent covenants; each is built on the last. If Abraham had to walk blameless before God to keep his end of the covenant, to ensure that his heirs would give rise to nations and kings, then Abraham’s heirs were meant to do the same. Because we humans are terrible at holding onto and living into God’s covenants, God keeps renewing and reshaping them, but, at no point does the new one negate the previous one.
So, we come to the New Covenant made in Jesus. This is a covenant made in Love, to show us how to Love one another, and to remind us that death and destruction does not have the last word. What’s our end of this? What must we do to participate in this covenantal promise? We must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus. Not all that unlike walking blameless or avoiding destruction… We just don’t particularly like that bit. We want to think about how God loves us no matter what. While this true, shouldn’t we be more active in our participating in the Covenant? Why do we expect God’s steadfast love to continue to endure when we aren’t even willing to try a little self-denial?
You know, like realizing that sometimes what is needed for the good of all is more important that what I might want in the moment. I’m not anti-gun. However, not everyone who wants a gun should be able to have one. Not everyone who wants one needs one. Not everyone who owns a gun for sport needs a semi-automatic rifle. And a school, a Christian school at that, who wants to raise money ought to think twice about raffling off AR-15 in this moment (or ever, really). We tend to think that denying ourselves is a bad thing. In many cases, a little self-denial is a good thing, maybe even a life-saving thing.
Self-denial in the age of self-care is not denying who we are and it’s not denying our status as God’s beloved. It simply says that we think about the greater good and make sacrifices accordingly. You know, lack of gun control is a problem in this country. Are you willing to deny yourself the right to have a gun like an AR-15 if that means keeping children in schools safer? Another example, the use of plastic water bottles and drinking straws is a problem globally. Are you willing to deny yourself this convenience and use reusable bottles and straws? You get the idea. Self-denial and carrying one’s cross is the Christian version of walking blameless before God, you know, living where all the world can see without shame and mindful of one’s relationships with God, neighbors, Creation, and self.
Isn’t it time we start putting the needs of the many, particularly the vulnerable among us, ahead of the needs of the few? Denying myself some of the things I want sounds a whole lot better than children dying or contributing even more to the destruction of the planet. I’ll try to be more intentional about carrying the cross of my self-focused tendency if that means I take a couple of blameless steps before God. How ‘bout you? Crosses don’t weigh much when you think about the cost of not picking it up… Death and destruction aren’t supposed to have the last world. Isn’t it time we tip the odds in favor of Love?
RCL – Year B – Second Sunday in Lent – February 25, 2018
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Mark 8:31-38 or Mark 9:2-9