February 24, 2013
Second Sunday in Lent
"The Lenten Fork"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A family invites friends over for dinner. When they arrived, dinner preparations were almost finished, and the host’s young daughter was just finishing her task of setting the table. When they sat down to eat, the young girl's mother said with surprise, "Why didn't you give Mr. Smith a knife and fork dear?" The little girl replied "I heard you saying he eats like a horse."
A vacuum sales man appeared at the door of an old woman's cottage and, without allowing her to speak, he rushed into the living room and threw a large bag of dirt all over her clean carpet. He said,"If this new vacuum doesn't pick up every bit of dirt then I'll eat all the dirt." The woman, who by this time was losing her patience, said, "Sir, if I had enough money to buy that thing, I would have paid my electricity bill before they cut it off. Now, what would you prefer, a spoon or a knife and fork?"
As some of you may have deduced, there is an eating utensil theme running through this morning's service. It's in part because of the sermon title for this morning's message. When I saw it, I wondered - hmm. The Lenten Fork. So is there a Christmas Fork? Or a Pentecost Fork? It was when I started reading Scott Hoezee's sermon with the same title that I was reminded of the story I used years ago, and deserves another spin around the block.
A woman was diagnosed with a terminal illness and given three months to live. She asked her Pastor to come to her home to discuss her final wishes. (By the way, you don't have to wait for your impending death to talk to your pastor about your final wishes.) She told him which songs she wanted sung at her funeral, and what scriptures she wanted read, and which outfit she wanted to be buried in. (By the way, unless you have some very strong ideas about what you want, don't get all excited about details. Working out "details" is helpful in families being able to process an individual's death.) Then she said, “One more thing… I want to be buried with a fork in my hand.” The pastor was surprised.
The woman explained, “In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably say to everyone, ‘Keep your fork.’ It was my favorite time of the dinner, because I knew something better was coming, like velvety chocolate cake or deep dish apple pie – something wonderful. So, I want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and wonder, “What’s with the fork?” Then, I want you to tell them, “Keep your fork, because the best is yet to come.”
Originally, I had planned on forks being taped to the bulletins. But just to keep you all on your feet, I think spoons are almost more appropriate, because then you can scrape the plate or bowl more and get all the incredible taste you can. (By the way, if you wish to leave your spoon at the doors of the sanctuary, that would be fine - or you can take them home.)
This story was one that also taught me - and maybe some of you - that no one has the market on understanding what heaven will be like. That is especially true when it comes to our scripture passage for this morning.
Mark 8:31-38 Scripted For Five Voices
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
According to the great baseball catcher, outfielder, manager, 8th grade dropout, and fount of clever quips - Yogi Berra, "If you come to a fork in the road, take it." The 8th chapter of Mark is a kind of theological fork in the road. The chapter is like the hinge of Mark's gospel. Not only is this the exact middle of Mark in terms of chapters and verses, it is also theologically the center-point at which the ministry of Jesus takes a decisive turn toward the cross.
Up to this point - as Mark wrote - Jesus was healing various folks, sending out the twelve disciples, grieving the loss of his cousin, John, feeding several thousand people fish sandwiches, walking on water, all the usual Messiah stuff. And after the pericope - to use a great crossword puzzle term - scenario - from our passage, Jesus goes back to healing and teaching and taking some time for the children.
Jesus seems to know what he is doing and also where he is going (or, better said, where he must go - whether he wants to go that direction or not). But Mark 8 is also a fork in the road for the disciples. Like Yogi Berra, as they look at the fork in the road, they want to take it. Well, sort of.
This whole episode took place in the region of Caesarea, "Caesarville." The very name reminded the Jewish people of their status as an occupied land. The Romans were everywhere as were reminders that the Jewish folks ultimately lived in the shadow of the Caesar.
Once upon a time, Caesarville had been called the region of Naphtali near the city of Dan in the foothills of Mount Hermon. All those were names that pointed back to the glory days of freedom under Kings David and Solomon. But now the disciples believed that with Jesus on the scene, maybe the day was not far off when those Hebrew names could make a comeback, the way Leningrad got changed back to St. Petersburg after the Soviet Union collapsed. Out with the godless secular names, in with the godly, sacred names. Adieu "Caesarville!" Welcome back, "Naphtali!"
That is just a small glimpse of the political scene that fueled the fire of thinking that Jesus was going to be a new king on a throne. They had the right understanding, just the wrong place. They didn't realize Jesus was talking about the throne of eternity - a much greater throne than a mere physical one of this world. But the people couldn't get their heads around such a concept.
So the disciples' fork in the road was in following Jesus, but also wanting him to follow them down the political path they wanted to take. What they didn't understand is that one path led to power and the other lead away from the cross.
So our passage this morning invites us to hear what Jesus had to say to the people back then. It's not the message of whipping up enthusiasm to attend the most miraculous, stunning sermon ever written, or the most wonderful worship experience ever. The message Jesus has for all people is one of cross-bearing, losing of life and turning away from diversions in order to keep on toward the goal. Oh, and it's also going to involve sacrifice, hard work and death.
Those are not new concepts. A person cannot say "Yes" to new business opportunities, to this or that chance to climb up the next rung on the corporate ladder, without simultaneously having to say "No" to any number of other things. Family time gets sacrificed, involvement in church gets cut back, problem areas in a marriage go unattended because, after all, as we might say to ourselves, "I just don't have time for everything." True enough. No one has time for everything. Life is all about making choices, and sooner or later we reveal ourselves in our choices.
So here's the great thing. In Lent we more pointedly ponder the choice Jesus made. And we get to more pointedly ponder the choices we make as followers of Christ. We get to think back on our lives to this point, and with wonderful hindsight, we can see where God has lead us and carried us and guided us in and out of trouble, to green pastures that maybe didn't seem so green back then, to still waters that were remarkably much calmer than we thought they were at the time.
This season - that can seem to have so many drawbacks - is a time we can remind ourselves of our favorite place in the world, and then go there - if not physically then mentally - and remember again how much greater that place is when Jesus is there with us. And if we can get our heads around such reflections and understanding, then we can begin to envision how much greater our eternal life will be in its magnified glory with Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit and all those who have gone before us and who knows who all else? When we begin to grasp the whole of our spiritual lives, what a symbol the Lenten fork - or spoon - becomes. So we begin to grasp what a big thing it is - to ponder what it means to be a people who live under the sign of the cross. So shall we humbly stand or sit before God in prayer.
God of grace and God of overwhelming love, we thank you for the little things in life that remind us of our greater life in you. So as we are reminded of our future life with you, and all the decadence that it will involve, so are we reminded that our present life will have forks in the road and we, like Jesus, will have a cross to bear.
Remind us in this season that ours are not customized crosses with labels like arthritis or dysfunction or pain, but that it is your cross that we are under. Remind us that taking the road less traveled, dying to our self-desires, is so that we can live life with a fundamental orientation toward others, of serving you in serving others, of preaching the gospel at all times and if necessary, to use words. Help us to realize the gift of coming to a cross in the road and taking it. For your guidance, promises, surprises and all your gifts, all your people thank you in saying, Amen.