Good Friday and self-serving sin.
What do you do when everything that you have put your faith in comes to naught? What do you do when that very thing that you have put your time and energy into, fails?
That is the situation that the followers of Jesus found themselves in on Good Friday. Soon after the triumphant feelings of Palm Sunday had settled down, Jesus was betrayed, arrested, beaten, and humiliated. The crowd that had only days before praised him and shouted “Hosanna!”, now turned against him with stark, horrifying, brutal brutality.
And while we may now know that Jesus’ crucifixion was undone by his resurrection. While we may now know that the disciples doubt and despair will be turned to believing joy. While we may now know that Peter’s denial will be forgiven and that Jesus will instruct the penitent Peter to “Feed My sheep.” While we may now know all that, they did not. We may know the end of their story, but we are much less knowledgeable and confident about the end of our own story. Like the disciples, we have heard the proclamation of God’s love and forgiveness announced by the one who is crucified. But the brutal reality of our own lives is that things simply do not always work out the way that we would have them work out. Our life stories just do not follow the kind of script we would have preferred to have written for them. I know for a fact that mine hasn’t.
And in the midst of the brutal reality the words of God’s forgiveness, and the promise of a more abundant life may sound rather empty to some. They might sound rather empty, just pious words and wishful thinking. The once Christian nations of Europe and North America have become nations where the more educated members of society regarded religious conviction as unsophisticated, and maybe even foolish. At the other end of the cultural spectrum, one can find those who, calling themselves Christians, who spend a great deal of their time demonizing those who are different from them, and who cannot recognize as a fellow Christian anyone who does not entirely share their conclusions about politics, or science. Many of the more radical individuals on either side of this cultural divide, between secular or religious, would be more than happy to impose their beliefs on us by force, if they thought that they could get away with it. As the rhetoric between the two becomes more heated, we all find that we are living in a world that is becoming less friendly and less understandable by the day.
But I would like to suggest to you that a large part of our problem is that we have confused the promised Messiah with the rulers of this world. Professed Christian’s have been conquering, and killing, and oppressing others, and quite often doing it in God’s name. We have confused the message of the Gospel with self-help psychology, political ideolgies, economic philosophies, and get-rich-quick schemes.
We have allowed our relationship to God to become confused with the kind fo relationships we experience in this world. We have assumed happiness to be the goal of our lives, and believed that if we work to please God, God will reciprocate. And then when life fails to conform to our desires and assumptions, we find that we are questioning our faith in Him, much as did the disciples on that Good Friday.
But if we had been paying attention, we would have learned that Jesus Christ has not promised us that we will have power, or wealth, or or better sex, or even happiness. What God promises is that we will be restored to communion with Him. We will be restored to life lived as it was meant to be lived, true life that is open to God and to one another, life that seeks to serve rather than to be served, to love rather than to be loved, life that willingly gives itself away.
He has not promised us that our life will be exempt from suffering. Instead he has said that those who follow him can expect both suffering and death. Following Jesus is bound to make enemies of those who cling to their own desires, whether they pursue those desires under the guise of secular or religious cover stories. Self-serving sin is always lurking just below the surface of just about everyone’s inner life. Jesus says that any who would be his disciple must take up their own cross and follow him.