Sophia says, "Hi, Everybody, Welcome in."
Jeremiah 20, 7-9, You duped me, Lord, and I let myself be duped
Psalm 63, My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Roman s 12, 1-2, Do not conform yourselves to this age.
Matthew 16, 21-27, Whoever wishes to come after me, must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.
And Harper, too, says, "Come in, Folks. Take this chair."
What: I think Jeremiah is my second favorite O.T. prophet, behind Isaiah, mostly because he makes whining and complaining into an art form. I need to take lessons from him. Not that he did not have enough to complain about. Jeremiah is one of the Big 3 with Isaiah and Ezekiel. He is called the ‘broken hearted prophet.’ Here is why.
Time: Jeremiah lived and prophesied in Jerusalem around 600 before Christ. Why is this important? It is some 50 years before the Babylonian Captivity. Jeremiah had a heart rending life predicting punishment of death and destruction for the Hebrews for their sinful, selfish ways. Jeremiah predicted disaster, and disaster came in the person of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon-Bagdad.
Jeremiah wore a wooden yoke as a visual aid to his message. He may have been ultimately killed by the Hebrews.
Today: Jeremiah is in top form.
The Best Music, even though they are slacking off, Wendy & Ben.
Deny Yourself, Take up Your Cross, and Follow Me
I want to talk this morning, folks, about the line in Matthew, Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. I confess right off, I hate this line. Can you imagine a loving God creating people to deny themselves and take up a life of suffering?
Matthew’s line can be very tricky. It can be approached healthily or in a rather sick way. I can witness to the latter in my own life. I have already described how as a young Jesuit I was expected to do penance and deny myself in various ways, like the practice of using little whips to scourge our backs and little chains with points to wear around our thighs. This was supposed to bring me closer to God.
Two Very Special People, Wendy & Brandon
I can laugh at this now, but I am humbled at how easily I can be snookered. When I read this line and others like it in the Bible and remember my experiences, I now see the presence of an ancient philosophy that still influences a lot of religious activity today. The philosophy: dualism.
The idea is simple. Reality comes in pairs, hot & cold, dark & light, order & chaos, and, in particular for this discussion, body & soul or flesh & spirit. So far so good.
Our Candle Lighter of The Week, Sophia (Ben's daughter).
The trouble enters with a judgment about the flesh & spirit. Specifically, flesh is bad, spirit is good, superior. Consequently, so that my spirit may reach an elevated plane of purity & perfection, and ultimately closer union with God, I attempt to subdue my flesh by disregarding the body's needs, ultimately aiming to live without it. Do not give in to pleasure. How about that!
A couple of facts. Dualism is identified as far back as 1000 years B.C. and came out of Zoroastrianism, a religion that worshiped one god and believed in an afterlife. Did it come from Egypt as so much did at that time? No, from Persia, the area we call Iran today. Zoroastrianism was widespread until Muhammad arrived on the scene around 650 and established Islam. Through the ages lots of people picked up on dualism, for example, Plato, Augustine, Descartes, and the early Christians, like Matthew.
However, there is a healthy approach to the line. A story to exemplify the healthy.
Welcome back Vivi, Quera, & Mikala, Teresa and Tom's grandkids.
Way back when I was living at Jesuit and working as a psychotherapist, a single, divorced mother came with her son, Michael, one day and basically said, “help!” She had a really active boy about 3rd grade. He and his neighbor buddy, a black kid, used to race around our neighborhood and the high school on their bikes. Great kids.
The years passed and I got to know Michael really well. One afternoon when Michael was in 7th grade at St. Monica, we were watering trees with the white truck and the old red water trailer. I don’t remember who was driving us along the medians, but at one point I can remember to this day, he said to me that if he did not make the entrance exam at Jesuit, his life was no good.
Let me not ask what these 3 are up to.
I did not say anything at the moment. But later I told him that thinking was baloney. I said Jesuit did not want kids who said their lives were no good. If he made it, Jesuit would be a better place. If he did not, another school would be a better place because they had a tremendous gift in their school.
He did not get in.
So Michael went to Bishop Dunne. He played sports, worked hard to make good grades, and kept in contact with a neat guy who was the admissions director at Jesuit.
He got in as a sophomore. He did excellently.
The Offertory with Louis & Sandra, John & Mary Jane
Next Michael wanted to go to A&M and join the corps. He did not get in. He does not test well. So he went to Tech and joined the Air Force ROTC. After 4 years there he invited me to the ceremony where he was to get his lieutenant bars.
The ceremony was in a big auditorium. Michael was the last. On the stage with him were his mom and his girl friend, Lydia. At one point in his personal ceremony Michael turns to the whole auditorium, asks their patience for a moment, turns back to Lydia, drops on a knee, and asks her to marry him.
Talk about blowing the roof off of the auditorium. Everybody went crazy. She said yes.
It does not get better than this, Vivi, Quera, and Mikala.
Now, Michael has long finished his flight training, part of which took place right up at the scene of the Hotter N’ Hell, Wichita Falls. He has been stationed all over the world, like Aviano, Italy, where we got the name of our dog, Aviana, after a visit there. He has a little boy and a girl, a beautiful wife in Lydia, and a platinum career as a jet pilot.
Michael has denied himself a lot of quite legitimate pleasures to achieve some healthy goals. Even now he continues to keep himself in good physical and intellectual shape.
So, how do you deny yourself and take up a cross?
Best buddies, Sophia and Emma.