Beach Erosion, Mortality and Discipleship

SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 116:1-9
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

Prayer of the Day: O God, through suffering and rejection you bring forth our salvation, and by the glory of the cross you transform our lives. Grant that for the sake of the gospel we may turn from the lure of evil, take up our cross, and follow your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“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.”  Mark 8:35.

“[W]e were never meant to survive.” Audre Lorde, A Litany for Survival

If you look closely at the above image, you will see the active erosion of a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at LeCount Hollow beach on Cape Cod where I now live. It’s a constant reminder to us that the land on which we live is being consumed at the average rate of about three feet per year. The Cape is a relatively young body of land, having existed in its current form for approximately 25,000 years. That is hardly a minute in geological time, but from the standpoint of those who call the Cape home, it might as well be forever. It is unsettling to walk along the beach and view homes once safely inland now on the verge of falling into the ocean. We don’t need poet Audre Lorde to tell us that “we were never meant to survive.” Nor do we need Jesus to tell us that, no matter how hard we might try to save ourselves from the sea and everything else threatening us, we are fighting a losing battle. Though we live in denial of this fact most of the time, we know deep down that everyone dies as do the civilizations, nations and families through which they hope to perpetuate their memories. In time, our planet will become a cold, lifeless rock circling a dying star. There will be no sign that any of us ever lived here, nor anyone to see it even if such a sign did exist. And there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.

But Jesus goes on to tell us something more, something extraordinary, something that isn’t at all self-evident: “Those who lose their lives for my sake and for the gospel will save it.” Mark 8:35. It didn’t make much sense to Jesus’ disciples then. It still doesn’t make much sense-except for the fact that God raised Jesus from death. If you believe that, then you have got to believe that God’s love for the world and God’s stubborn determination to save it from itself is stronger than the world’s hatred for God and its resistance to his gracious intent for it. If you believe that God raised Jesus, then you have got to believe that death is not the last word: not for the universe, not for the earth and not for you. If you believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, then you have got to believe that God is at work in the midst of our dying to forge a new creation. If the future belongs to Jesus, then the place to be is with him among the poor, the persecuted, the hungry and the hated. The option of saving your life does not exist. You can lose it to Jesus and trust him to transform and return it to you, or you can cling to it until death finally pries it from your cold dead fingers.

I have often pondered what “losing” my life to Jesus might mean for me. For the New Testament church, this was not an abstract hypothetical. One could die then for acknowledging Jesus (not Caesar) as Lord. Though I can hardly imagine such a thing happening in this country, I have seen a great many things in my lifetime that I once thought unimaginable. What I have no need to imagine is the hatefulness, the spite and often violence directed against disciples of Jesus who stand with “undocumented” persons, black victims of police brutality, gay, lesbian and transgendered persons. I know people whose jobs have been jeopardized, whose families have turned on them and whose friends have deserted them for speaking the hard truths Jesus would have us speak, for doing the works of justice and mercy Jesus would have us do and placing loyalty to God’s reign of peace over all other claims of sovereignty. I cannot honestly say that I am among even these martyrs. I am therefore compelled to ask myself whether this is because the occasion for losing my life has never arisen or whether I am too much blinded by my survival instincts to recognize Jesus’ lifegiving call to lose myself in him.

For all the uncomfortable questions this gospel lesson raises for us, it is finally good news. As I witness the erosion of our land, the disintegration of our democracy and the degeneration of my own aging body, it becomes clearer each day that “we are not meant for survival.” However hard we may try to save ourselves, we will finally lose everything in the end. That much we can see for ourselves. What we often cannot see, but what Jesus promises is that the bonds of love formed by our association with him are eternal and that our life in him is the stuff out of which God is even now fashioning a new heaven and earth. A life poured out in love for God and for our neighbor is not wasted. What appear to be the death throws of life as we know it are, in reality, the birth pangs of a new creation under the gentle reign of our gracious God.

Here is the Audre Lorde poem referenced above.

A Litany for Survival

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraidof indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive.

Source: The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde, (c. 1997 by the Audre Lorde Estate, pub. by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.) Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was born in New York City to West Indian immigrant parents. She published her first poem in Seventeen magazine while still in high school. She describes herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” Lorde dedicated her considerable literary talent to addressing the evils of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Hunter College and a masters from Columbia University. Lorde taught English literature at John Jay College and Hunter College. She was poet laureate of New York from 1991-1992. Lorde’s other honors and awards included a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. You can read more about Audre Lorde and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

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