This year, I am preaching a sermon series for Lent and Easter titled “Renounce and Affirm.” Though many of my series often depart from the RCL (lectionary), this one actually follows it from the First Sunday in Lent through Pentecost. Podcasts of these sermons can be found here. This past Sunday, however, we did not get an audio recording to post, so I thought I would blog-post the sermon for those who have requested it. Feel free to leave a comment if you desire.
Shortcuts. I like them. I am going to go out on a limb here and postulate that you like them. Most of us like them. Most of us want them. Most of us try to use them when we can. Why? Because shortcuts are timesavers; they are efficient; they attempt to take something that is long, tedious and difficult – and make it quick, effortless, and easy. Or so we think. So give us shortcuts! Give us shortcuts whenever and wherever we can have them! Why? Because we live in a society that is in a hurry. We live in a culture that places supreme value on getting more done, in less time, with less effort, less money, less commitment, and less adversity and hardship.
Shortcuts are enticing. They are seductive. They are compelling. In fact, the U.S. patent office is filled with inventions that amounted to some kind of shortcut or other, many of them that made record profits and massive technological or industrial advances. But here is something to consider on this second Sunday in Lent: shortcuts are almost always faster – but they are not always better. I know I am not telling you something you don’t already know, but sometimes we are so busy scurrying around at break-neck-speeds that we forget to even consider the costs of our obsession with cutting corners, saving time, and expediting results.
Speaking of patents – let me give you a new word for this Sunday (and it is not Greek or Hebrew, even though it does sound like another language) – Qnexa. Anyone heard of it? It is the first new weight-loss pill to come out in about 13 years, and it appears to be near to reaching approval by the Food and Drug Administration. It is a combination of two older drugs, and promises to both suppress appetite and help a person feel satiated. Of course, I said it is near approval. What is the hold up? Side effects; testing to determine possible adverse effects on the heart; possible increased risk of birth defects in pregnant women. But according to one doctor on the FDA advisory panel: “The potential benefits of this medication seem to trump the side effects. But in truth, only time will tell.” It is that last part that is a bit scary. Time will tell – and unfortunately for too many Americans, taking-our-time is not something we want to do when it comes to losing weight.
Here is another word for you – Ponzi. Ever hear of that one? “Ponzi-scheme” has now become a household word; a phrase that now refers to any fraudulent investment scheme that entices new investors by offering higher returns than anyone else, in the form of short-term returns that are abnormally high and unbelievably consistent. “Unbelievably.” That is perhaps the key word. What did most of our mamas or papas teach us? “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
Get-rich-quick schemes are everywhere, on the internet, in our mailboxes, and flying over the airways and along the cable lines filling the wee hours of the morning with infomercials that promise easy answers to difficult problems. They prey on the likes of people like you and me – people who want a quick answer to financial troubles, a rapid way out of debt, or an overnight cure for little or no money. I have mentioned before that I am a fan of Dave Ramsey, in part, because his financial advice is just common sense: don’t spend more than you make; don’t pay for something with money you don’t have; if you are in debt, work like crazy to get out of it; save and invest instead of spend and borrow. It is all advice that recommends slowing down, saving, and working hard over speeding up, acquiring stuff quickly, and for everything else, there’s MasterCard.
I’ve got one more word for you – actually it is a name – or even more accurately, it is several names: Obama – Romney – Santorum – Gingrich. Ever hear of these folks? I don’t want to make anyone too nervous here – as I make a passing reference to politics and as I acknowledge that there is probably a lot of political and ideological diversity in the house this morning – but I want to point out how our love for short-cuts affects our political hopes and often road-blocks and inhibits shared political solutions. We all know things are rough. The economy is doing a little better, thanks be to God, but we are still limping along like someone who got jumped by Wall-Street thugs in a back alley. And our debt – as of March 1st this past week – was 15,442,120,983,663.88. Now I don’t want to get sidetracked this morning on what we are doing wrong and how we need to fix it – but I do hope we can all agree that one name, or one man, or one woman, or one election, cannot solve all our country’s problems once and for all, cannot be the overnight fix for national security, cannot be the magic pill that trims the fat from our excess spending, cannot be the instantaneous remedy for America’s unchecked greed, unbridled lust for war, or unrestrained willingness to borrow for that house (or boat or car) just because a bank or a mortgage company says we can.
Shortcuts. They are everywhere – and we love to use them, to find them, to employ them when we can. But as I said before, shortcuts are almost always faster – but they are not always better. And we don’t just like our shortcuts for weight loss, for quick cash, or for instantaneous solutions for complex, decades-long, national predicaments – we also like them in our spiritual life. Lord, have mercy.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus had the long view. He could see beyond the immediate. He knew that the road from his birth in Bethlehem to his seat at the right hand of the Father in heaven would take long, difficult detours – through the waters of the Jordan, through a waterless and food-less wilderness of temptation and trials, along the dusty roads of Galilee, taking alternate paths through Samaria, slipping between executioners’0 stones and their intended death-row victim, coming close to being thrown off a cliff, sailing several times across dangerous seas, and ultimately, taking a perilous, final, face-setting turn toward Jerusalem where, today, in Mark’s gospel, Jesus predicted quite openly: that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
I know it is obvious – but let me say it anyway – Jesus’ journey of love and redemption for the world did not take shortcuts. As one hymnist put it, He could have called ten thousand angels, but he died alone for you and me. The way of the cross was anything but a short-cut, and Peter knew it. Peter, the one Jesus would one day call the rock. But not today. Not in Mark chapter eight. Here Peter hears words about Jesus’ long, difficult journey of suffering, pain, and agony, and he calls the question, he objects to the motion, he hopes to submit his own, substitute motion that will most likely save time, avoid pain, and expedite the Jewish victory over the humiliating Roman occupation of God’s people: Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him. And as I mentioned last week, Jesus turns to Peter and says “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on the long-distance, divine view but on the human short-cut to salvation – well, not exactly, but you get my point – you are setting your mind not on divine things (said Jesus) but on human things.
So, on this second Sunday in Lent – I want to invite us again to heed Jesus’ Lenten call found in today’s gospel: “if any want to become my followers, let them take the long road, let them avoid any spiritual shortcuts to holiness, let them steer clear of any false promises of instant blessing, trouble-free faith or overnight glory … let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
The 40 days of Lent don’t just recall Jesus’ 40 days in the dessert, they also bring to mind Israel’s 40 years of wandering the the wilderness. But here is a question worth pondering. Does it really take forty years to journey the approximately 250 miles from Egypt to Canaan? At the most it would have been a month’s journey, not 40 years. But perhaps the real question was not how long does it take to travel from point A to point B. Perhaps the real question is how long does it take to transform a rag-tag band of ex-slaves and day laborers into a covenant people, a nation under God’s divine law, and community that is called to become a force for light, and hope, and love in the world? That – my friends – is likely to take a generation’s worth of time of shaping, fashioning, correcting, teaching, guiding, forgiving, and renewing.
Last week, I invited you to our first Lenten renunciation – to say NO to temptation. Today, I recommend a second – say NO to spiritual shortcuts. Church, this Lent, we need to unlearn speed. Let me say it again, slow it down for you, allow us to take our time with it – we need to unlearn speed. We live in a microwave culture that wants everything yesterday. We want health without the slow process of eating well and working out; we want money without the pain-staking process of working for it and learning to save it instead of spend it. We want overnight political solutions to political and social quagmires that took us 20-30-40-50 years to create. And in the church, we too often want grace without counting the costs; we want reconciliation without the hard work of repentance and forgiveness; we want the intimacy and sense of belonging in a community without the slow, pain-staking process of building friendships and trust over time; we want life without dying to our self and our selfishness; we want evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives without the dirty, knuckle-busting work of tending our spiritual garden with daily prayer, study, and service; in short – or in shortcut – we want Easter without Good Friday.
My word to you this Lord ’s Day? Just say NO – and join other followers of Jesus on the long, rewarding, difficult, but life-giving road of cross-bearing discipleship. Amen.
 Manufactured by Vivus, Inc.; full article here: http://blogs.indystar.com/fitforlife/2012/02/29/new-weight-loss-drug-good-idea-or-not, accessed on 3/2/2012
 Mark 8:31
 Hymn, “He could have called Ten Thousand Angels” by Ray Overholt; http://www.hymnalaccompanist.com/Story/Ten%20Thousand%20Angels.html