“Stumbling Blocks in the Mind”

“You can do anything you want to if you just put your mind to it…”   That’s the old adage, spoken in many a classroom.   I can remember Mrs. Elliot drilling us on our multiplication and division tables, over and over again.   “You just need to put your mind to it, once again, 7×7 is….”

            Generally, we agree with this.  We do have a sense that if you put your mind to something, you can do it, but therein lies the problem.  

            Our minds, you see, are prone to wander.

            It is often the case that we have a difficult time concentrating our efforts in the precise direction that we need them to placed.    The world is full of distractions.  While we would like the optimistic viewpoint that all we have to do is “buckle down” or “get our head in the game,” we know that it’s often not that simple.

            The Apollo Mission Control Director Gene Kranz was made famous in the Ron Howard film “Apollo 13.”  As it turns out, he never actually said that famous line, “Failure is not an option” in the midst of the Apollo 13 crisis.   He did rally his engineers to problem solve, but as it turns out there is more to the story than a one time rally.

            Kranz had been in charge of Mission Control since the start of the program, and it was on his watch that the launch pad accident of Apollo 1 claimed the lives of three astronauts.   Following that incident, Gene Kranz did speak some words which came to be known as the “Kranz Dictum.”  

      “Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been in design, build, or test. Whatever it was, we should have caught it. We were too gung ho about the schedule and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work….  From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: ‘Tough’ and ‘Competent.’ 

   Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. …

    Competent means we will never take anything for granted.

    We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect. When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write ‘Tough and Competent’ on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.”

            What we have in the Gospel today, a kind of “Kranz Dictum” coming from Jesus. 

            Peter’s great confession of last week, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” is followed straightaway by this most dismal and disappointing turn of events.   From the height of last week’s commendation, we plunge into this rebuke.  

            Peter is so close, so close to the breakthrough, and then his mind shifts.   It is set not “on divine things, but on human things.”   When Peter sees the direction that Jesus is taking, he is convinced that such a fate as suffering, and death should never befall Jesus.   He blurts out a “God forbid! This must never happen to you.”  

            And that, as it turns out, is a completely natural response!

            Think about it, isn’t that what you would have said?    Haven’t you said this? 

            Surely there has been some time in your life when you were listening to a friend outline what he or she intended to do, and exclaimed, “God forbid!”

            Surely you’ve watched a friend or loved one plunge head long into a direction that you knew would be dangerous, or just plain a mistake, and felt yourself compelled to point that out, to try to dissuade them. 

            I remember sitting in my office in a previous congregation with a husband and wife, marriage in tatters, plenty of blame to go around, abuse woven like a spider’s web between them, strangling them both slowly, and the husband looking at me with pleading eyes, “Aren’t you going to tell her not to leave me?”   I wanted so much to reassure him, but I could also see the resolution in the eyes of his wife, the burning coals of “I can do this no longer.”   God Forbid!  I whispered under my breath, there is no way out of the direction they are set upon.

            I remember sitting in more than one hospital room, as the doctor delivers the news that there is no hope of recovery, and does the family have any directives, any wishes.. about organ or tissue donation, or the withdrawal of certain unusual life supports.   “God forbid!” I whispered under my breath as I thought of the hard decisions about to be made.

            It is completely natural, what Peter says here.   It is what you or I would say, so there is no sense in painting Peter as faithless, or a bumbler, or criticizing him. 

            This is the way with our minds, try as we might to think we’d be ready when this matter of cross bearing comes up, we are always prone to stumble over it.   It does not come natural to us, and Jesus knows that.

            That is why, in Matthew’s Gospel, there is an intentional choice of words about this.

            “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem…”               It is an intentional choice of words.  Matthew’s Gospel has up to this point in time been all about Jesus teaching.  He teaches crowds, teaches in synagogues, teaches about the kingdom… but when it comes to the matter of cross and suffering, of this way that must be chosen, it’s not a matter of intellectual pursuit.   No teaching here, let me show you.

            And if this is really about being shown the way to Jerusalem, that also means there is no watching this from a ways off.  We are on the journey now, to suffering, death, taking up our own cross, whatever that may be.  

            That’s what makes Jesus’ words to Peter’s rebuke a kind of “Kranz Dictum.”  

            Tough and Competent…. These are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.”

            “If any want to become my followers,” Jesus said, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

            These words are the price of admission to the ranks of the Kingdom of God.

When Martin Luther talked about what Jesus means when he says “Take up your cross and follow me”, he said; “No man ought to lay a cross upon himself, or adopt a tribulation, as is done in popedom, but if a cross or tribulation come upon him, then let him suffer it patiently, and let him know that it is good and profitable for him.”

You don’t need to go looking for some cross to bear, some holy task.  This world will supply you with a cross to bear readily.   He spoke of how anyone who has been a husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter has known what it is to bear a cross.   It comes in the midst of relationship.  It comes with choosing to be involved in the daily life of this world.  It will come as life changes, circumstances take place, as this broken and sinful world unfolds before you.

This is price of admission to the Kingdom of God; living.   It is taking up the cross of circumstances in which you find yourself, where this world is taking you, and following in the steps of Jesus as he leads you through it. 

Jesus has promised to walk with you every step of the way.

Jesus has promised that at the end of suffering and death, there is life as you can’t imagine it in this world.

He does not call you to be tough or competent even.  There is no call to be perfect, except the perfection that comes as a gift from the Father.  

What Jesus does call you to do is to not stand in is way, and that is well advised, for he is interested in living to the full.   He is going to Jerusalem, where he will experience everything this life has to offer, the bad along with the good.    He is going to bring in the Kingdom by walking in this way, and he will do so with or without you.   But this day, you are invited to walk along, to follow.

There is from Jesus no call to “buckle down.”

There is from Jesus no call to “get your head in the game.”

There is from him always, just one call.  “Follow me.”   I will show you what to do, as we walk the way of the Cross together.  Amen.