Saturday, February 24, 2018

Year B, Lent 2, Mark 8:31-38, Today is a good day to die.

Peace Lutheran Church, Otis Orchards, WA

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Our nation is still reeling after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, and trying to deal with the information as it comes out.
One of the most disturbing pieces of news to come out this last week, was that there was a uniformed, armed, police officer on duty at the school, but when the shooting broke out, he chose to take a defensive position outside of the school where he remained.
The officer, Scot Peterson, was forced to resign and will retire.  But not without becoming a symbol of everything that went wrong there.
President Donald Trump weighed in on the matter, saying during a White House news conference that Scot Peterson "doesn't love the children, probably doesn't know the children."
I personally had two reactions:
1.       One, giving a man a badge and a gun doesn’t make him a hero;
2.       And, I imagined, that our finest and best people probably don’t sign up to be school cops.
And then there is the other side to the story.
Perhaps, if we knew what was going on in the officer’s head at the time, we’d be more gracious toward him.
It would not be unheard of in that situation, to call for, and wait for, reinforcements to arrive before confronting the shooter.
But even if we try to explain the officer’s actions in the kindest possible way, there remains a simple fact that while the shooter was inside killing one person after another, this officer was outside, and chose not to go in and defend the students and staff he was hired to protect.
Did he love them?
That’s the question Trump raised.
Did he love them?
The most important moment in his life came, and he came up short. 
Alright, so what is the measure of love in such a situation?
Aaron Feis, an assistant football coach, was killed when he threw himself in front of students to protect them from oncoming bullets. Feis, 37, suffered a gunshot wound and died after he was rushed into surgery. 
"He died the same way he lived -- he put himself second," a spokeswoman said, "He was a very kind soul, a very nice man. He died a hero."
He was not the only teacher to be a hero.
Others, such as Scott Beigel, a geography teacher, was killed as he tried to usher students back into his classroom when the shooting broke out.
Jesus said:  "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
Also, in today’s Gospel lesson, we read:  “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Another quote, attributed either to Crazy Horse, or another Oglala Chief, Low Dog, on the day of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, is:
“Today is a good day to die.”

“Today is a good day to die.”
Whether one is an Oglala chief, or an army soldier, a law enforcement officer, or a teacher, these are the words of a hero.
Today is a good day to die.
Underlying those words is the conviction that there are some things in life worth dying for.
Protecting the one’s we love is one of those things.

Scot Peterson will be judged harshly by many critics.
It was reported, that he had previously received glowing reviews for his service, and is eligible for retirement.
But everything that he did with his life up to that point will be forgotten, because in the heat of the moment he did NOT say “Today is a good day to die” and put his life on the line.
Would we?
That’s a tough question.
When Devin Kelly opened fire and killed 26 people in that rural church in Texas last year, I wondered what I would do.
If I saw a gunman walking up that hallway into our sanctuary, would I charge him, hoping to prevent him from shooting YOU, even if it meant dying myself?
Or would I thank God that I’m the closest one to the emergency exit, right there, and run?
I’ve never been faced with that choice.
I have had a number of situations where I’ve tried to help women in abusive relationships break free.
That’s risky business.
I tried to dismiss the danger, but the truth is that both the woman’s life and the life of those who try to help her are most at risk at that moment that they try to leave.
“Today is a good day to die.”
Is freeing a woman from an abusive relationship worth dying for?
I was too young to serve in Vietnam.  I’ve always been a bit thankful for that.
During the sixties, when I was growing up I wondered if I would be willing to put my life on the line for my country and die in a Southeast Asia jungle.
Had I been drafted, I probably would have gone, and I might have died, but the truth is, I’ll never know because I was spared that choice.
Thankfully, throughout our family’s life we’ve lived in communities where we were safe.
There have never been any threats against my family.
I’ve never had to decide whether I’d die for the sake of my family.
Would I?
The bottom line is that in such critical moments we are confronted with a choice, would we rather die or grieve?
That, my friends, is the choice that Jesus had to make.
Would he rather die, or grieve?
I love the song from Jesus Christ Superstar where Jesus faces his choice, and wrestles with it in the Garden of Gethsemane:
“I only want to say
If there is a way
Take this cup away from me
For I don't want to taste its poison
Feel it burn me,
I have changed I'm not as sure
As when we started
Then I was inspired
Now I'm sad and tired
Listen surely I've exceeded
Tried for three years
Seems like thirty
Could you ask as much
From any other man?”
The songs final words are:
“Then I was inspired
Now I'm sad and tired
After all I've tried for three years
Seems like ninety
Why then am I scared
To finish what I started
What you started
I didn't start it
God thy will is hard
But you hold every card
I will drink your cup of poison
Nail me to your cross and break me
Bleed me, beat me
Kill me, take me now
Before I change my mind”
Even for Jesus, the choice was not easy.
He sweat drops of blood, the Bible says.
And yet the love he had for us, led him to lay down his life that we might live.
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends.”
Actually, there is a greater love than that.
It is to be willing to lay down one’s life even for one’s enemies.
And isn’t that what Jesus did.
He gave his life to save the very people whose sins had nailed him to the cross.
It was my sinfulness that put him there, and my sins that were forgiven there.
“Today is a good day to die.”
Finally, those were Jesus’ words, a hero’s words, that led him to take up his cross and die for us.
The alternative was for him to do nothing and grieve our deaths instead.
Aaron Fies shielded his students from the gunman’s bullets, giving his life for them.
I’d like to know what those students are thinking, who stood behind him that day.
What does it mean to them, that their lives were saved by the selfless love of this man.
And what will they do with their lives knowing that because he died, they are alive.
Isn’t that the question for us as well.
How will we live our lives, knowing that we live because Christ died?
One of the responses of the survivors of that  shooting in Parkland is to try and do something to change the world we live in so that it never happens again.  I hope they succeed.
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Jesus died, that we might live, and that we might love.
Love one another as Christ first loved us.
Love wins, in the end.
Love, not hate, wins.


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