Date: March 1, 2018 ()

Bible Text: Isaiah 55:8-9, Mark 8:31 - 38, Romans 4:13 - 25, Psalm 22:22 - 31, Genesis 17:1 - 7, Genesis 17:15 - 16 |

Series:

We know that the ways of God are different from the ways of the world, the disciples learned this in what must have been for them the most shocking thing Jesus had ever told them until now. We are so accustomed to the message of Jesus’ crucifixion that it is easy to overlook how jarring that prospect would have been for the disciples to hear this for the first time. The great hope of the Israelite people at that time was freedom from Roman overlords. Having seen Jesus’ miracles, experienced his magnetic personality as they following him, and watched him draw enthusiastic crowds, it would have been totally natural for them to assume that Jesus would somehow challenge the condition they lived under the Romans. Everything they had seen Jesus do and heard him say until this time had been impressive and had no doubt built within them big hopes for the future for a different future…
But now this… Jesus astonished and dismayed them with the news that, contrary to all their hopes and expectations, he would undergo suffering, be rejected by the religious leaders and killed. It was the worst possible thing Jesus could have said…. Peter, always the impetuous one, rebuked him. We can only imagine that it was something like, “We have seen what power you have and thought you would free us from the Romans and restore the kingdom of Israel to its previous glory.” Jesus lashes back against Peter, and puts him and all followers back in their proper place. It’s what we all would have thought had we been among those first disciples. Jesus not only rebukes Peter, but then shocks them even more deeply by telling him and the rest of the disciples, that his way of the cross may well be their future too. Those who would follow him will ‘deny themselves’, take up their crosses and follow him.” And if that’s not enough, Jesus continues with even more unexpected news… To save your life you must lose it. You may lose your lives for Jesus’ sake. Self-denial implies taking one’s stand ‘on the side of God’, not of men.’

Peter needed this reminder—and so do we. Otherwise Lent is nothing more than being left with our own devices of denial, our own practices of self-sacrifice, our own plots, and schemes that muster up a kind of fortitude we really don’t have—as if any of that can save us. Otherwise, being a Christian is nothing more than thoughts and prayers that never actually anticipate action…

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”
Thoughts and prayers??? Well, that’s not what Jesus suggests as an answer. They have their place and time. I say this… maybe you too? They mean the world—truly—in many places and time. I have no doubt when it comes to thoughts and prayers, and the power of thoughts and prayers. I’ve seen them at work, maybe you have too. At the same time, there is something deeply hypocritical about praying for a problem you’re unwilling to resolve…

And so Jesus says to his disciples, to us, “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 will save it.” Because that’s what happens when you are willing to take on the powers of this world. That’s what happens when you are determined to show the world that God’s love is greater than any human show of might. That’s what happens when you say, ‘the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news’, and then you live as if you believe it… The cross is Jesus’ destination. There his followers must follow him. The twelve do not want to hear this. They continue to bumble… Listening to Jesus talk of this ending for himself must have been the worst three days of the disciple’s time with Jesus. It was Jesus’ way of helping them begin to understand that “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways, your ways.” It was a bitter pill for them to swallow… but it was necessary that they understand, otherwise they would miss the whole point of Jesus’ ministry, that he came to give his life for salvation of all humanity…

Christian faith is not a life-style choice: it is a vocation to never-ending struggle. By doing like Peter did and lie about Jesus and the truth of the gospel, we deny the truth about ourselves. Rejecting the Son of Man, desperately trying to save our own lives, we lose ourselves—just as he assured us we would. Only by giving ourselves to others as Jesus gave himself for us, will we ever find ourselves… Jesus did some big time ‘open preaching’ here… Gospel preaching is open speaking—about us, about the sins of our society, about the sins of our communal, national and global world—and about how God wants it to be different. These last two weeks, we have heard from youth; friends and comrades of those gunned down, and on behalf of those involved in past violent shootings. And, I got to thinking more and more about this these past few weeks as I heard and witnessed the ‘open speech’ these voices: If we don’t speak openly, just as Jesus did, who will? Will you allow those who have the loudest voices to determine the direction of Christianity? Or, will you take up YOUR cross and embody God’s presence in the world through Christ Jesus, our Lord?

While challenging us to consider the caliber of our discipleship, today’s gospel invites us to pray both for ourselves and for Christians in parts of the world who have taken this command of Jesus seriously, and are paying dearly for their faithfulness. Persecutions of Christians because they are Christians did not end in the fourth century. North Korea, Somalia, and Afghanistan are only some of the countries where Christian worship is criminal today. Those arrested may be jailed, raped, sold into slavery or murdered. They are our most credible witnesses on this day. For Christ, they have given up everything. In so doing they are totally free to receive God’s guardianship and peace which surpasses all understanding… At the end of the day, when Jesus speaks openly of who he is, we can be like Peter and duck our heads down in denial. Or… we better be ready to speak openly in return. “Indeed”, said Jesus, “what can they give in return for their life? Those ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. Amen.