Second Sunday in Lent 2015

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church

March 1, 2015

Mark 8:27-38

 

We didn’t talk about Lent last week as we were busy with the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans.  Thanks to everyone who made that service special.   Today is the second Sunday of Lent.  This is a season set aside in the ancient church for preparation for Easter, especially preparation for those who were considering baptism and joining the faith.   In time, Lent has become a season of repentance as we confess our unworthiness of and thankfulness for God’s grace.  My passage this morning is from the 8th Chapter of Mark.  It reminds us that we can easily mess up and that God’s ways are not our ways.  Read Mark 8:27-38

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We all wanna be like Jesus, right?  We’re in church so I expect your answer is in the affirmative.  But do we really want to be like Jesus?  And if we’re sincere, do we have what it takes?  Peter must have thought he had what it took.  After all, he’s the one who hits the nail on the head, boldly proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah.  This is the climax of Mark’s gospel.  Peter reveals Jesus’ true identity and if you look at the gospel as a whole, you’ll see that the story quickly shifts.

The first half of Mark’s gospel is about Jesus’ preaching and teaching, his healings and exorcisms as he travels the countryside.  Anticipation builds as to just who this guy is that is known as the “Son of Man?”  Jesus has a purpose and maybe he’s afraid if the word gets out too soon, he won’t get things done.  So Jesus tells the disciples not to say anything about him being the Messiah and then he changes subject.  From this point on in Mark’s gospel, Jesus focuses on his upcoming passion, his suffering and death.  Peter, however, doesn’t want to hear any of this.  Jesus’ talk shatters his image of the Messiah.

You know, Spring Training is now underway, so it’s time to talk baseball.  Did any of you see the movie, Eight Men Out?  It’s been out a while and was about the 1919 Chicago White Sox, a team dubbed as the Black Soxs for throwing the World Series.  One of the most memorable movements in the movie is of a kid about ten years old.  The scandal has just broken and the kid runs up to Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the best all time players of the game who, when he first started playing, was so poor that he played barefooted.  At this point in the movie, he’s about to be banned from baseball for good.  The kid runs up to his hero and pulls on his pants, crying, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!  Say it ain’t so.”

It’s hard when our hero turns out differently than we expect.  Yet, that is often what happens which is why it seems that people in high places often fall from grace, because they cannot live up to their own expectations.  Jesus, however, is perfect.  It’s just that he sets a new standard, one that Peter doesn’t expect.  Peter has grand visions for the Messiah, the one who will restore Israel to her rightful place of prominence.  He wants Jesus to be a tough Super-hero.  When Jesus talks about his upcoming death, Peter is just like that little kid, “Say it ain’t so, Jesus!  Say it ain’t so.”

Jesus then does something that catches everyone off guard.  Turning to Peter, he rebukes him, “Get behind me, Satan.”  In a matter of minutes, Peter has gone from being on Cloud Nine to having his parade rained out.  Jesus calls Peter, the guy who has been beside Jesus for some time, Satan.  Jesus goes on to show Peter his fault.  The Rock, as his name implies, is thinking like any other man.  Peter’s thought process is no different than yours and mine and other humans.  Jesus’ plans don’t make sense to our way of thinking.  We understand power.  Like Peter, we could understand if Jesus picked up a sword and lead a campaign again the Romans.  But that’s not what happens.  God’s ways are not our ways.  With God, the weak and the meek inherit the earth. [1] Face it, that’s not the way things generally work out on our planet.

Like Peter, we understand an arm’s race; we understand the power of money and guns, tanks and ships, politics and coalitions.  Like Peter, we’d all be there saying to Jesus, “Say it ain’t so!”  Like Peter, we’d be rebuked.  We’d hear Jesus’ words, “Get behind me, Satan.”  Yes, like Peter, our hero won’t measure up to our standard, but more importantly we won’t measure up to his.

At least Peter’s rebuke was in a semi-private setting (just the disciples).  After these words, Jesus calls the crowd over and continues to teach.  “If you want to be my followers,” he says, “you’re going to have to pick up your cross.”  I envision those following Jesus being a troubled by what they are hearing.  These are the hardcore supporters, who have followed Jesus to Caesarea Philippi, a good hike from where Jesus has been teaching.  These are the Jesus’ groupies who’ve taken off work to follow Jesus for a few days and now they’re in a town named after the Roman Emperor (who they hope to overthrow). Hearing Jesus talk some kind of nonsense about picking up a cross, I’m sure, caused some of them to say, I’m out of here.”  They knew what it meant to pick up a cross; they’d seen those who had taken up arms again Rome wither on the cross.

Of course, we’ve sanitized the cross to the point that it is safe to wear around our necks.  We have crosses on the lapels of coats.  We put crosses on the windows and bumpers.

Will Campbell, who refers to himself as a bootleg preacher (he’s an ordained Southern Baptist), has harshly criticized the church in America for teaching essentially, “Pick up you cross and relax.”[2]  We don’t know what it means to pick up our cross today.  A decade ago, Mel Gipson tried to get us to consider it in his movie, The Passion of the Christ, but did it stick?

When Jesus says, “Pick up your cross,” he is providing a vivid analogy to something those gathered around him knew all too well.  Rome freely employed the cross as a way to terrorize slaves and citizens of conquered lands.  The cross was the ultimate deterrent—you challenge Rome and you pay dearly.  Those Galileans following Jesus had seen it in action.  They lived in a brutal world.  When Jesus began to talk about crosses, they didn’t have any romantic allusions to some fashion accessory.

Jesus then continues by giving one of his paradoxical proverbs:  “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.”  Like “the last being first,”[3] this proverb makes no sense to the economy of the world.  But God’s economy is different.  Winning isn’t what counts the most; its faithfulness, faithfulness to the one who was willing to give his life for the life of the world.

What’s most important?  Where are our commitments?  Are we committed first and foremost to our Savior Jesus Christ?    Now, this passage implies martyrdom, which isn’t an option any of us would willingly choose.  Yet, when we accept Christ’s call, according to Paul, we’re called to allow our old selves to die as we receive new life in Christ.[4]  In a spiritual sense, we all die as we leave our past behind and seek to become more Christ-like.

Is Christ calling us to face martyrdom as this passage is sometimes interpreted?  We don’t think about martyrs much anymore, or at least we didn’t until ISIS started their atrocities such as murdering the Egyptian Coptic Christians two weeks ago.

Brian Blount, a New Testament scholar and now the President of Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, has spent a lot of time working with the gospel of Mark.  Brian suggests that martyrdom isn’t exactly what our Lord is calling us to.  Instead, he’s calling us to be his followers or to join him on “the way.”  This way has already been outlined in Jesus’ teachings.  It’s the way of healing, of confronting the demons of the world, of being merciful and proclaiming God’s kingdom.  All disciples are called to share in this work.  We’re to follow Jesus, doing what he commands, which doesn’t necessarily mean death by the cross (even though it’s always a remote possibility, as some of the disciples experienced).  After all, we’ve aligned ourselves with Christ and in doing so we’ve shunned the values of the world.[5]  This can be threatening, but the most any worldly power can do is to kill us. However, as disciples, we are not living for today.[6]  We’re living for eternity and in the everlasting realms, the powers on earth are weak.

This understanding of picking up your cross as a call to follow Christ helps us make sense out of Jesus’ rebuke of Peter.  “Get behind me, Satan,” is a command for Peter to take his rightful place as a follower.  Instead, Peter tempts Christ to deviate from his mission.  As a tempter, Peter does the work of Satan, hence the reference

In light of being followers of Christ, do you recall the old bumper sticker that read, “God is my copilot?”  It’s wrong.  God, through Christ, is to be our pilot and navigator.  We can be the flight attendants.

Do we want to be like Jesus?  Then we must be willing to follow him.  Following requires commitment.  We dedicate ourselves to something bigger than us.  We put away our worldly ways of thinking.  Like Peter, we must conform our mind to the mind of Christ.  We can’t try to change Christ mind to reflect our values.  We have to be willing to put Jesus and his kingdom ahead of our own little kingdoms.  Do we wanna be like Jesus?  It is a difficult road; it’s the way of the cross.  Amen.

 

©2015

[1] Matthew 5:5

[2] Will D. Campbell, Souls among Lions (Louisville; Westminster/John Knox press, 1999), 37.

[3] Matthew 20:16.

[4] Romans 6:1-6.

[5] Brian K. Blount, Go Preach!  Mark’s Kingdom Message and the Black Church Today (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998).  See especially Chapter 9.

[6] Matthew 10:18, Luke 12:4.


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