Tree in the Great Smokey Mountain National Forest, Tennessee, USA. (c) 2015 My Spiritual Advisor, all rights reserved.

Tree in the Great Smokey Mountain National Forest, Tennessee, USA. (c) 2015 My Spiritual Advisor, all rights reserved.

#TakeAShower is the reflection for March 29, 2015. Self hatred in a world of the famous and popular is common.  What does it do to our spirituality? How does Christianity, when observing the sinfulness of humanity and the sacrifice of God on the Cross, inform our compunction to hate the self?  Find out in “Take A Shower”, the podcast for this week, Palm/Passion Sunday.  Available on itunes and android.   #MSAWordfortheDay #MySpiritualAdvisor #Sermon #Homily #Sacrifice, #Unworthy #Worthy #BeingHuman #GodsLove

For MySpiritualAdvisor.com, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday,   3/29/2015 Palm/Passion Sunday.

 Please pause this audio and read Mark 14:1-15:47.

          After 13 years of giving spiritual direction to people on four continents, numerous countries and in nearly 30 states, I can tell you that the single most baffling concept for people to embrace is that God loves them. The second most baffling concept is that holiness is not about all of our actions, it is about our disposition toward God. As we enter our worship this weekend on Palm/Passion Sunday, we need to be aware of the complexity of following Jesus. Today’s reflection is not an easy one. It is not meant to uplift as much as it is meant to make us ponder, look at our motives, and then just stew in our relationship with Jesus until next week, when we can sing praises to our Lord.

          When I invite my clients to, and I quote myself, “sit in prayer and let the love of God just wash over you like a shower of love…” it is almost always reported back to me that they can’t do it at first. In fact, it takes many people weeks and months of practice of stopping their unceasing talk in prayer to let God’s love wash over them. It is the most uncomfortable of situations, it seems.

          It is amazing to me, but the words of Henri Nouwen, which I have quoted before, ring so true in our culture of the famous and beautiful. He says,

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection….When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions….As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking: “Well that proves once again that I am a nobody.”

          Believe me, the people who come to me for spiritual direction are not people who take being holy and serving God lightly. In fact, most everyone comes to me because they want to be good. They want to be closer to God. They want God. Yet, even they struggle with the concept of God’s love.

          So, rather than beat you up today, I am going to help us all with the thought that when we follow Jesus and fall short, it is tempting to beat ourselves with mental whips and say, “We are unworthy! We are unworthy!” There is truth in that statement, but whenever someone approaches a being as holy, pure and amazing as God, then there really isn’t anyone who is worthy. Why do we think that somehow, we are the exception to the worthiness rule? We are all unworthy to approach God.

          Look, in this long passage that we should hear on Palm/Passion Sunday about Jesus’ journey from preaching to instituting the Eucharist, from praying in the Garden to being betrayed and deserted, from being tried in a predetermined judicial hearing to being whipped, beaten, and then nailed to a cross, there are many people whose weakness is exposed.

          Very soon after the 14th Chapter of Mark starts, Jesus announces in the Upper Room that he will be betrayed by one of the 12. When he does, the response is telling. The 12 are not entirely sure if they will be the one. They protest in defense, “Surely, it is not I?” they all ask him. It could be a protest, but why those words? Wouldn’t it be more likely for people sure of their faith to say, “It won’t be me.”

In fact, we have Peter who boldly says so: “Even though all become deserters, I will not,” says the lone holdout of faith. We can read on to find out that Peter will indeed desert Jesus. To make matters worse, he not only deserts Jesus, but he follows Jesus’ journey to Jesus’ trial as a spectator to watch from afar as the one he promised he would not desert get convicted of a nebulous crime that apparently deserves death.

Can’t we all relate to the idea of wondering if we would truly be faithful when called on to stand firm? In the work place, among family, on our facebook page, would we be strong? Would we stand firm? Would we put our faith in Jesus Christ over, say, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the hard and fast rule of capitalism that the bottom line is what counts? Would we even stand firm for Jesus in our position with kindness at a family gathering even if it caused others to feel uncomfortable?

If we have times where we abandon Jesus Christ, where we wonder if we are up to the task of being faithful at just the moment we should, we are not alone. The very founders of the Church were exactly like us. These were weak people like us. They weren’t people who immediately stood for faith and died for it. Mostly, they were folks who were common people, with no standing in the community, with no power, who were persecuted for four hundred years before they were recognized and given a reprieve. Yet, in their sinfulness and unworthiness, they still persevered. They did better next time. They felt the sting of their betrayal and stayed true the next time. So can you.

We are all unworthy of being Christians. Not one of us is worthy, not one. None of us is perfect. None of us can do the holy things all the time. We all have our crass moments. We all sin. So, we can stop acting like we are so surprised when someone else sins? Can stop getting out the whips to beat ourselves when we sin? Or when someone else sins? Maybe sin is an occasion for mercy. We should recognize that we sin and others sin, but please(!), let’s not get stuck there.

This year, as I read Mark’s account of the Gospel story, I was struck by the fact that after the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus went to the mount of Olives to pray.   When he was there, he went away from everyone to pray three times. Each time, he went away, he came back to find the apostles unable to pull an all-nighter. When we read that, we who love to hate ourselves, we get fixated on the inability of the apostles to pray at 3 in the morning. What I found more incredible is that Jesus, in his humanity, prays the same gut wrenching prayer three times.

The prayer that Jesus prays is that the task of being betrayed, unfairly tried, ridiculed, spit on, beaten within an inch of his life and then having nails pounded through his hands and feet, be removed from him. Jesus, the God-man, inextricably God and inextricably human, prays that the task before him be removed. He prays this prayer, not once, but three times. The only one who is worthy, asked that the task set before him by God, be removed. It seems avoidance is a common condition of being a spiritual being in a human body.

Jesus came for the moment to accept the hard, unenviable task, of letting his body be mutilated for the sins of all humanity, yours and mine. He accepts the saving act. This week, this passage from Mark’s Gospel, drives home for us that God condescended from the heavens to become human like us in every way, even when we beg God to keep us from suffering.

Other religions understand God as transcendent, never experiencing the lives they are thought to create. Other gods are seen as expecting the burden of holiness to be carried by feeble humans who are expected to be great. Yet, this week, we Christians are brought face to face with a Savior who knows us, has experienced our lives, in every way he has been like us, even in our request to be excused from the suffering of being human. It is not a sin to ask God to relieve you of this burden, but it is an unreal expectation that God asks us not to do hard things.

For us, the Christian life is not about being perfect, it is about being forgiven. The Christian life is about being in love with God and loving others so that they know God loves them. The Christian life is staying connected to the Vine, Jesus, through the Eucharist, prayer and a life of service, so that we are transformed to be more and more like him, more perfect. It doesn’t mean we will get it right all the time. The Christian life means we accept who we are and what we are in relation to God and love him all the more for the amazing thing that is about to be observed and celebrated this week.

The condescencion of God coming as a human being should give us pause for the audacious act of love that stumped the holy people, stumped the political authorities and still stumps humanity in general. Just read the new, they just don’t get us and the God we serve.

The story of this week, Holy Week, should be consumed with the thought that we are indeed unworthy to approach God, but he loved us so much in our unworthiness that he was willing to die for us; he was willing to provide a way for us to approach him as we recognize and confess our feebleness. That way is the way of Jesus. It is the way of a sacrificial love given to the undeserving because of who God is, not because of who we are. Can we let that wash over us like a shower of God’s love? Amen.

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