Lent 2b A & C

Lent 2b A & C 1-3-2015 Mk 8.31-38: 34bIf you want to become my follower, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me

Deny yourself: what might that mean? Maybe it means deny yourself something you can normally have? In the season of Lent, people often deny themselves luxuries—usually food and drinks, like chocolate, meat, sweet drinks and alcohol—except on Sundays, of course. Other people deny themselves things they enjoy doing. Concerts, films: I’ve known some give up computer and smart-phone games; even Facebook!

Often giving these things up isn’t the hard part. But the way people treat you when you can’t eat the same things they do can be pretty hard to cope with; especially if they’ve invited you to dinner! No, denying yourself isn’t the hard bit. The hard part is dealing with the people around you who think you’re being anti-social or just silly. What would your friends say if you told them you were taking 6½ weeks off Facebook for Lent? Exactly!

But why deny yourself something you can normally have anyway? You might want to give the money you’d have spent on these things to someone who’s not as fortunate as you. If our parish Lenten offering to ABM projects was 400 households worth of money normally spent on chocolate, alcohol and meat over 6½ weeks, it would add up to quite a bit, wouldn’t it. Or if we could give our time. Imagine 6½ weeks’ worth of the time we might all have spent staring at screens—all that time donated to volunteering. That could make a big difference somewhere, couldn’t it.

But we need to ask the question, Was this what Jesus actually meant when he said Deny yourself? Did he mean give up chocolate or screen games? Or did he call us to do something deeper than that.

Did he mean perhaps deny myself—deny who I think I am, so that he can give me a new self? Would he really want to do that? What’s wrong with our old selves? We’re not perfect, of course. But God loves us the way we are, so what’s wrong with keeping our old selves? Why change?

Yes, God loves us as we are. But are we necessarily the way God wants us to be? Isn’t there any room for improvement? Our Lenten studies on Romans already tell us there most certainly is room for improvement—particularly in our attitudes to other people. … The chapter after this morning’s reading from Romans has a very special sentence in it: Rom 5.8 God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That means everyone. We Church-goers aren’t any different from anyone else. And it only takes a glance at the news headlines to confirm that there’s massive room for improvement right across the human race.

If you want to become my follower, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. Deny myself. What exactly about myself does Jesus want me to deny? I got one unexpected answer to this question last week; deny myself the benefits of institutionalised racism. Where did that come from?

Betty Argent and I spent Tues and Wed at Tauondi College, Port Adelaide for a Cultural Respect Training Programme run by Anglicare. I imagined we’d be learning about Aboriginal customs and how to avoid accidentally offending people. But it wasn’t like that at all. Pretty early on, we were discussing racism; trying to define it and how to deal with it. Some of us wanted to define it as a product of ignorance: you fear what you’re not familiar with. Easily fixed, we thought. Mix. Once you meet people of another race, your ignorance dissolves, and so do your negative feelings.

Not so; we were challenged about that head on. Negative racial attitudes don’t come from ignorance. They’re learned—and they’re shared. We also learned that people get disadvantaged on account of their race when white people get advantaged or privileged on account of our race. Our privilege —our advantage—takes up space and resources that should be shared equally among all people. We learned about this through stories.

One of the leaders of the programme—an Aboriginal man—told us the story of the first time he flew to Darwin for his work. He got out to the airport taxi rank and joined the queue. When he got to the front of the queue, and the next taxi arrived, it was given to the white man behind him. Then the same thing happened again. And when the third taxi came, the next white man in the queue tried to insist that the Aboriginal man take it. But the response was, No you take it mate; he’s only goin’ to the bottle-o.

Two taxi drivers, two passengers and whoever was controlling the taxi rank all agreed that white people should go first; that the taxis were firstly the right of white people. White privilege is invisible to us, and yet we carry it everywhere we go.
from Peggy McIntosh’s White privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time. (ie without being harassed by suspicious police)

3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

7. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

26. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” colour that more or less match my skin.
… on and on until no. 50 http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html

Jesus said, If you want to become my follower, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. It seems to me that the self Jesus wants me to deny is one I never even knew existed until last week; the self that unthinkingly lives with all these privileges which push people outside my whiteness behind me in the taxi queue of life—as if I’m some sort of higher being!?

My job this Lent is to follow Jesus who denied himself his own glory—unimaginable heights—to come down to you and me, and raise all of us—whatever our race—raise all of us up from the dust of which he made us.