The elephant in the sanctuary

IMG_20130606_133609Mark 9:30-32

“But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.” v. 32

I’m a coward when it comes to difficult conversations. Whether it’s confronting a friend, facing needed criticism, or unpacking an uncomfortable problem, these things rank right up there with having a root canal, unclogging toilets or walking barefoot through a dark room covered in Legos…ouch! I really have to work at this. To me it’s much easier to gloss over tough conversations, focus on the positives and hope the hard truth disappears. It never does. The hard truth never goes away. The elephant in the room will sit patiently reading magazines, drinking coffee and listening to all my clever diversions. He will smile nicely at my vain attempts to ignore him, just waiting to be noticed. I try the old, “ignore him and he’ll go away” trick, but it never works. He simply will not leave. If I avoid him too long he will eventually raise his trunk, walk around knocking things over and doing whatever it takes to make his presence known, until I face him. Eventually I shed my fears and pretenses and force myself to deal with him. Then while I attempt to clean up the mess he made–and let me tell you an elephant in the room can be pretty messy–I kick myself for letting my fears keep me hostage to the elephant in the room for so long. Difficult truth creates fear in me. It also creates confusion. I’m going along nicely through life, enjoying the ride and can’t understand why I can’t just ignore that weird sound the car is making. Why now? Why the detour? Why can’t things just work out? Why can’t everyone just get along, be happy, and work together? I hate facing hard truth because it creates fear and uncertainty in my soul. Maybe the apostles of our Lord felt the same way every time the Lord mentioned the cross that loomed ahead.

“The Son of man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”

The scripture tells us that they, “didn’t understand the saying and were afraid to ask him.”

I don’t blame them. If my miracle working, storm calming, demon chasing teacher kept telling me he was going to be killed by a group of mortals, I wouldn’t understand it and I would be afraid to ask. I would just nod my head in fake acknowledgement, the way you do to any story you don’t want to believe or don’t really understand.  First, I wouldn’t understand why anyone so filled with love would have any enemies wanting to kill him. Second, I wouldn’t be able to understand how someone so powerful could fall victim to anyone. Finally, I would be afraid of what that meant for his cause and for me. And “After three days he will rise.”? What’s up with that? I would be filled with fear and confusion. Just like they were. Just like you and I are when Jesus starts talking to us about crosses and sacrifice and giving up and even dying to yourself. We don’t understand why, just when everything is fun and convenient and we’re becoming comfortable with our cozy Christianity he brings it up. Just when we thought following Jesus was all about us he tells us to take up our cross and follow him. There’s a tendency to imagine that following Jesus is just one big party. We want to follow the miracle working sage who tells us not to worry about tomorrow, and just believe. We want to believe that our calling is simply to be nice to people and go to church once in awhile. Our Christianity becomes some kind of fantasy we use to escape reality. But the elephant in the sanctuary keeps getting in our way. He keeps trying to remind us that there’s a cross to carry, and a lost world to reach. We’re afraid and don’t understand. We’d rather sleep in the light of grace than face the darkness with faith and love. I don’t want to bum you out. There’s a great deal of joy and peace that comes with following Jesus. But we have to face the hard truth that not everyone is going to heaven. Not everyone is walking in your peace. Not everyone has the hope you live in. There’s an elephant in the sanctuary. He’s knocking over your cushioned pews, and interrupting your Christian elevator music with his loud trumpet blast. He’s reminding us we have a cross to carry. Today you will meet people who are facing eternity without God. Don’t panic and get all weird. Just be prayerful and open to the leading of the Spirit. Be ready to love, and care and give so they can have the life you have in Christ. Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow Jesus. There came a day when the disciples finally got it. They endured his death and witnessed his resurrection. Then they went out and changed the world. Now it’s our turn to do the same.

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