Saturday, September 2, 2017

2017/09/03 God Wants us to be Happy

 Jeremiah 20:7–9
  Psalm 63:2, 3–4, 5–6, 8–9 (2b)
 Romans 12:1–2
 Matthew 16:21–27

Mark and Sara got the bad news one Tuesday morning in February 1973.  The ultrasound had shown some abnormalities in the baby in Sara’s womb and subsequent testing confirmed… their daughter would be born with Down’s syndrome.  They were devastated.  It seemed all their hopes and dreams had evaporated in that one doctor’s visit.  The nurse asked them to come back the next day to meet with some of the hospital staff to “discuss options”.  Numbed by the news, they stumbled home and came back the next day… hoping that “options” meant there was some hope that the test was wrong or some new treatment was available for their baby.  They were shocked when the doctor and nurse started the conversation by bringing up the Roe vs Wade decision which just a year prior had made it a legal option to end this pregnancy. 

They were very convincing in their arguments… this child would suffer horribly… never leading a normal life – always being a social outcast…and she would place an ENORMOUS UNNECESSARY BURDEN on Mark and Sara, since their daughter would require constant care for her entire life.  As distraught as they were by the news about their daughter, the thought of ending her life was abhorrent to them.  When they objected, the nurse explained that termination was really the only humane option to avoid suffering – and to avoid “placing this burden on society”.

What!?  Mark and Sara walked out of that doctor’s office never to return.  What had the world come to that anyone would seriously consider ending the life of their child?  And what’s worse, it made it sound like THEY were being irresponsible and selfish NOT to have the abortion.  What’s the world coming to??

Abby was born 4 months later…and is now 44 years old – still living at home with Mark and Sara – and she is the JOY of their lives.  In talking with Mark one night over dinner, he was explaining some of the difficulties they’ve had to deal with to take care of Abby – but he also talked about the unconditional love that Abby gave every day.  When asked whether they considered Abby to be a blessing or a curse, Mark didn’t hesitate… with a tear in his eye and a lump in his throat, he immediately said, ‘blessing’.

That tear in his eye was because he remembered sitting there listening to the logical reasons for abortion, and feeling the temptation to accept what the world was telling him to do… how for just a moment he actually had even considered killing what had become the best source of joy in his life.

The world will tell us to get rid of anything that makes our lives difficult.  If your wife no longer thrills you, discard her and get a new one.  If your religion asks too much of you, find a different church that doesn’t’ require so much.  If life gets hard, kill the pain with drugs or alcohol.  We shouldn’t have to suffer!  God would not WANT us to suffer!  Pain is unnecessary.  Suffering is just stupid… God WANTS us to be Happy!  Right?  What’s Jesus say to that?

“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Peter had bought into the world’s view that suffering was un-necessary.  And you can’t blame him really… from the Jewish perspective, God BLESSED those who lived holy lives… and you don’t get more holy than Jesus, so He SHOULDN’T have to suffer.  All this talk of the cross is nonsense, Jesus…

But Jesus says “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me”.  Notice that he said to take up our cross… there’s no if/and/or but in that… he doesn’t say, take up your cross if you have one… it’s a given.  We ALL have a cross.

There’s a classic, well-known book called “The Imitation of Christ” – written by Thomas a’ Kempis.
I couldn’t find the exact quote, but he basically says, Structure your life however you want…and sooner or later you’ll be face to face with the cross.  In other words, fill your life with whatever you THINK will make you happy:  job, family, house, power, whatever… no matter how you fill your life, you WILL run into the cross.  We ALL have a cross.  Kempis writes that if we carry the cross willingly, it will lead us to our desired goal, but on the other hand if we carry our cross grudgingly, then we  turn it into a heavy burden and if we should throw off one cross, we will surely find another, which is perhaps heavier. By ourselves we cannot bear the cross, but if we put our trust in the Lord, He will send us strength from heaven.(Chap. 12)

Think about your cross.  You have one – maybe more than one.  Would you get rid of it if you could?  Think hard about that… because like Kempis says, if you drop one, you WILL find another.  Is there another cross you would LIKE to have?  Look around at the people around you… think about the crosses THEY have.  Is it possible their cross is lighter than yours? 

The thing is, the heavier your cross, the greater the blessings that flow from it.  It doesn’t feel like it when the cross is digging into your shoulder.  Life can be SO hard – and our cross can feel impossible to carry.  That’s when our Church family steps up to help each other carry the really heavy crosses.  God provides strength both through prayer and through the Church.

We all have a cross…If we try to discard it, we WILL find a heavier cross... we cannot avoid it, so embrace it and follow Jesus. What's that look like…to “embrace” your cross?

A good friend of mine is in federal prison because he was framed for a crime and the justice system failed him.  We are all still in shock that this could have happened – especially to this man.  But watching him has taught everyone who knows him a lot about life.  He could have become bitter... he has every RIGHT to lash out at the world... he'd be totally excused if he fell into a deep depression... instead he embraced his cross.  He's been given 8.5 years. At his age, he'll get out after age 70. Yet, this man knows God has him there for a reason. He has a spirituality about him which leaves the rest of us in awe.  He approached prison as a man entering a monastery... when someone enters a monastery, there is a set of rules they need to live by – so my friend adopted the rules of St. John of the Cross.  I don’t have time to discuss each one, but an example is to “Choose the more difficult task to ease the burden of co-workers.”
He lives this rule every day:  he avoided volunteering to work in the kitchen, because so much theft takes place and he wanted to avoid that culture.  Instead he volunteered to work in the vegetable garden and go to the place where the weeds are tallest where nobody wants to go.  On one hand, that’s great – he gets to be outside a lot.  On the other hand, it is often 100 degrees and very humid there, so he has lost a lot of weight from sweating…and from the nasty, unhealthy food they’re fed.  He doesn’t even eat the produce out of the garden… in case it could be considered stealing.  That food is intended for the inmates, so it’s not his.  My jaw dropped hearing that…. I mean, this is a matter of self-preservation… nobody would blame him for munching on a handful of lettuce as he picks it!  But he’s not willing to risk any action that might lengthen his stay in prison.  This gave me a new appreciation for what Jesus said - What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?  He doesn’t want to do anything which could make him spend one more day in prison – away from his REAL life.  Likewise WE should do nothing that would risk our eternal life.

His integrity has caught the eye of others in prison.  His fellow inmates and even the guards recognize a peace in him that most people never attain.  He doesn't let the culture change him, but his very presence IS changing the culture in that prison – even if it is so slightly.

That's you and me everyday. Sometimes our job feels like a prison... our marriage feels like torture... our financial situation seems unfair... every day we have the choice to act like the rest of the world: We could become bitter or mad or mean.   We could lose our integrity.

But Paul exhorts us to renew our mind... don't think like rest of world. The world thinks like Peter... ‘there’s no need to suffer’... in fact if you just have enough faith you will always be happy!  That is garbage. It's called a prosperity gospel, where suffering is not only unnecessary but a sign of your lack of faith. GARBAGE.  Jesus says pick up your cross... not choose your cross, not push it off on someone else,... not drink your self into a stupor to numb yourself to the pain... but embrace that cross. Whatever prison you are in... know that once you pick up that cross you'll find you are free. Even with four walls and barbed wire surrounding you, you can live a joyful life and show the rest of the world how to live.

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