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Lent 2B Sermon
Mark 8: 31-38

February 28, 2021

Sermon Archives


Mark 8:31-38

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are 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.’

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; Amen.

The Good News of Jesus Christ according to
Mark - whoever Mark was - was probably written a short time after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. It was an account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, probably intended for Christians who came from non-Jewish backgrounds, most likely living north in Galilee or Syria.

With this in mind, I want you to imagine that you are living in Galilee in the year 72 AD. You and your family make a living by working on a farm, sort of as sharecroppers with a wealthy landowner. It is a hard life, but you find joy with your family whenever you can. One of the places you find joy is with those fellow followers of The Way - you have heard the stories of Jesus and his disciples. You have met people who were healed by him. You believe that he not only healed preached and did miracles, but you also believe that three days after they killed him, he rose from the dead. You gather each week on The Son’s Day, as you call it, for a meal together, to hear stories of Jesus’ life, to witness to Jesus’ presence in your daily joys & sorrows, and to share the Lord’s Supper - a Passover remembrance which was transformed by Jesus into the remembrance of his death.
You find comfort in this community because you are in the minority - The Jews hate you because you believe that Jesus is the promised messiah, thus threatening their hopes and beliefs; the Romans want to keep peace, and consider you as an even more radical Jew. Others just think that you are not stable, since you believe someone actually rose from the dead. Because of your deep desire to be Jesus’ follower, there is not much promise for a better life.

On top of that, some of your fellow Christians have lost their lives. Those in power are mentally unstable - between the Judean kings called Herod and the Caesars like Julius, Augustus, Caligula and Nero and future Caesars like Titus (the general who destroyed the temple two years earlier), you live in constant fear. You always wonder if this is really the life you are called to live. Sometimes you even doubt if Jesus is really the Lord of all.

One Son’s Day as you gather, you hear the same story that we heard this morning - only, you are hearing it for the first time. The story as you hear it begins earlier than the version we read - it begins with Jesus and his disciples in Caesarea-Philippi, talking about who Jesus is. Your heart is warmed when Peter’s name is read, and Jesus commends him on his correct assertion that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Peter was from your area of Galilee - Capernaum. You know some of his family. You admired Peter’s faith and zeal for sharing the love of Jesus with everyone. You also remember the day about eight years ago when word came that Peter had been crucified by Nero as the madman blamed the Christians for the devastating fire that damaged much of Rome. Peter had requested to be crucified head downward because he did not feel worthy to be killed in the same way as Jesus. That was Peter, pointing to the Christ until the very end.

You also realize that probably sitting there alongside Peter were the brothers James & John, sons of Zebedee. It was nearly twenty years ago that the last king to call himself Herod - Agrippa - had James beheaded. You just begin to think about how many of these first followers had been killed by crucifixion or other ways, when the one reading the story quotes Jesus’ words, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me…” Oh my - not only has Jesus come to share a divine love so deep that the authorities of the world killed him to protect their own power, privilege, position and wealth, but he also calls his followers to share that same divine love in their lives. Jesus goes on, “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.” These words have two effects on you. The first is a reassurance when you consider that those who have lost their life for Jesus’ sake - Peter, James and all of the rest - have gained their eternal lives through the grace of Jesus. The second is a feeling of foreboding. Much like how Martin Luther felt when he realized that he agreed with the writings and teachings of Jan Huss, who had been burned at the stake for these teachings by the church leaders who wanted to protect their wealth, power, position and privilege. Even as we remember that the Bible encourages us to “fear not,” we cannot help but be afraid when we know that by living a certain way, we risk danger or death. Now, a little fear is a good thing - it keeps me from getting too close to the ledge of the cliffs on hikes in the Hocking Hills, from driving full speed on the freeway like a maniac; it even keeps me from doing the things that might mean that I contract or help the spread of a deadly disease. It is when fear prevents us from loving with the love of Jesus that we may need to prayerfully re-examine our discipleship.
Imagine now another scenario - it is February 28, 2021. You are sitting at home, watching a worship service either on Facebook live or by video. You have been doing this for the better part of a year, and you have seen a lot on that screen over the last year. Not only have you worshiped on that screen, but you have seen scientists debating how this virus is transmitted, how best to stop it and how long it will take. Politicians have argued over how to best encourage the recovery from this global disaster which has devastated people physically, emotionally and financially. You have watched demonstrations and even riots in streets and even in our nation’s capital building. You find comfort and encouragement in the community of believers in Jesus, and you are not sure when your community will return to worship and have fellowship in person. You see other congregations doing it, why not our own? You also see the injustices that have played out and wonder why we cannot all live in peace. And as I said above about your 72 AD self is also true of your 2021 self - you are always expecting the worst. You always wonder if this is really the life you are called to live. Sometimes you even doubt if Jesus is really the Lord of all. It is okay to have those thoughts.

My friends, carrying a cross and following Jesus means living and loving beyond the fear of what the world can do to you. Author and professor Joseph Campbell once said, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.” Carrying a cross is about letting go of the life that we have planned, connecting with Jesus through prayer, conversation and contemplation, and loving in the face of opposition presented by those who are most threatened by the love of Jesus and what it means to their - and our - own status quo.

Our gospel reading today depicts the disciples - especially Peter - coming to grips with the call to let go of the life that he had planned. Your 72 AD self certainly faced many obstacles to loving Jesus and your neighbors - just as you and I and everyone in this day and age do as well. Jesus didn’t say that he “must suffer” these things because God demanded a sacrifice to save the sinful world. Jesus said it because he knew that by living out of pure agape love, to be committed to it beyond fear, he would elicit the antagonism of those who hold the power so much that he would lose his life. Brothers and sisters in Christ, in this Lenten season we primarily are called to give thanks for the immeasurable gift of grace that Jesus showed for all of God’s creation in his suffering and death on the cross; and we are called to pray and consider how we might follow him, live in faith alongside of our fear, carry our crosses, and love all people, especially those who the world has a hard time loving. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.