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I missed Vespers this week, which was a huge bummer. But unlike a lot of us I didn’t miss it because of the snow storm I missed it because well, I spent the whole day in bed sick. There’s a reason why I tend to stay in bed when I have the stomach flu and it’s because about 12 years ago when I was studying at CU Boulder and was so driven to prove myself: to finish my thesis and impress all my professors and maintain my GPA all while having 2 pre-schoolers at home, well at that time, I didn’t choose to go home and go to bed when I was sick with the stomach flu and one day the result was that I actually passed out….while still behind the wheel of my car. Thank God it happened when I was near to our house and not while I was on the highway. So rather than plowing down other motorists, I just plowed down the neighbor’s mailboxes, before my car stopped in their flowerbed. I came to, opened the driver’s door, and then proceeded to pass out in a snow-bank in the neighbor’s yard right next to my Honda. The next time I came to, there were paramedics standing over me…and the first thing I said, was “I’m not drunk”. Meaning, I’m not in this horrible situation because of being addicted to alcohol.
At the hospital hours later when the ER Doc come in with the results from my blood test, he said there wasn’t anything wrong with me besides having the flu – but “Mrs Bolz-Weber” he added, “when you’re that sick…you should go home and lay down.” That little piece of advice cost us $1,000.
It might sound like perfectly reasonable advice, but I hated that idea of going home and going to bed because it was a disruption to my driven personality. See, I had a solution for the fact that I had spent years of my life being a complete screw up and that solution was to place my trust in my ability to perform. My solution to the problem of having squandered years of my to addiction was to then just become addicted to proving myself and then that solution turned into its own problem and that’s usually how the cycle goes.
I thought about that this this week while reading the Gospel text we just heard about how we are to deny ourselves and take up the cross. I struggle with how this idea of denying ourselves is good news. And not just because of how that verse about picking up your cross has been abused for so long and used as a way to keep powerless people powerless and to keep women in abusive relationships and any other number of scenarios that make it look like co-dependency is “God’s plan for your life”
The reason Deny yourself feels like bad news to me is because for much of my life I have relied on me-based solutions to my me-based problems.
And I thought about all of this this week, while also very much aware of how one of our own is in drug rehab right now. So many of you spent this week praying fervently for a man we love who is struggling with addiction and all the destruction and devastation that comes from that.
And I realized that perhaps there is a connection between addiction and the me-based solutions that fail us, and the cross we are called to take up.
And when I speak of addicts, I speak of us all, not just those of us who have bottomed out in such messy ways that end us up in detox –I mean all of us – any human being who has something in which they place their trust – anything that we mistakenly think will solve our problems: we can be addicted to control, to food, to garnering the admiration of others, to career advancement, to anger, to entertaining ourselves, to self-pity to any number of things just as much as we can be addicted to heroin or gin and tonics or valium or gambling.
See, I just don’t think it’s entirely avoidable. Humans will always place our trust in things that will fail us. We will always insist on giving pieces of our heart to things that simply cannot love us back.
So if making more money doesn’t manage to make you feel secure in the way you were sure it would – when finally being in a relationship doesn’t make you feel worthwhile in the way you thought it would, when the success of your children doesn’t make up for your own lack of success, when getting one more degree doesn’t make you feel valuable in the way you thought it would, that is to say, when your idol doesn’t love you back know this: there was never any chance that it would. But also know that you are not alone in this. I think all of us have placed our trust in something that failed us. And while it might be easy at this point as your preacher to suggest the solution to this is to just “trust Jesus more”, that feels perilously close to placing our trust in our ability to place our trust in Jesus and then we are right back where we started.
It just so happens that there is a solution, but there is good news and bad news about that. The bad news is that it’s not a me-based solution. The good news? It’s not a me-based solution. The solution isn’t me-shaped. It’s cruciform.
The solution isn’t to place our trust in our ability to place our trust in Christ – the solution IS Christ and that’s different. Because if the problem is that we place our trust in things that fail us, in things that can be taken away, then know this: there is and has always been and will always be something that cannot be taken away. That will not fail us. As the prophet Isaiah reminds us,
The grass withers, the flower fades: but the word of our God shall stand forever.
The word made flesh will stand forever.
So every time we bottom out – every time our own solutions to our own problems just create more problems, every time we find our selves in our own version of detox or passed out in our own version of a snow bank next to the neighbor’s flowerbed – every time our me-based solutions to our me-based problems fades away know that God will stand forever. God is there in the detox and in the snow-bank, our rock, our salvation, loving us back to life. Every time we fail and bottom out, remember that God resurrects the dead, that where 2 or more screw ups are gathered Jesus is with us, that the crucified and risen Lord of life came to same sinners, that the word of God made flesh that will stand forever and that he came not for the well but for the sick, that in him there is a power and a peace that passes our understanding, that passes the trust we put in idols, that passes our solutions to our problems, that passes our attempts to trust anything else as much.
So we offer no me-based solutions here. Not if we preach Christ and him crucified. Then you know what we have to offer instead? Divine foolishness. The kind that says that if you want to save your life you will lose it and if you lose your life you will find it.
Because as Paul (kind of) says, the cross is foolishness to those whose own solutions are still working for them, but to the weak and the cynical and the socially awkward and the gays and those injured by religion and the parentless and the unemployed and the alcoholics Christ crucified – the foolishness of God – is life in a way that our own solutions can never be. In a way that more status, and more degrees and more financial security can never be….in a way that pills and alcohol and gambling and people pleasing a carbohydrates and crossfit can never be. To preach the foolishness of Christ crucified is to say the cross is enough. *So we can let go of thinking ourselves and our solutions so wise. And we can also, however meagerly, let go of our idols to more and more feel the embrace of the one who calls us to come witness and taste the divine foolishness which is nothing more than this: love and mercy are stronger than fear and control. It is a foolish lesson we will spend this life and the life eternal learning. Because in the world according to God that’s how things work.
*I thank my friend Justin Nickel for these last lines. There are many sermons over the years that he has helped me figure out. Couldn’t ask for a better conversation partner/little brother.