Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent – February 25th, 2018

Text: Mark 8:31-38 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

31 And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.”

34 And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? 37 For what can a man give in return for his life? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. AMEN.

And things were going so well! Peter and the rest of the disciples had all their lives thought of the Messiah in terms of unstoppable conquest, of one triumph after another, of putting them and all their countrymen and –women back on top of the heap. That was the universal common conception of the Messiah.

But now their rose-colored glasses had been ripped from their heads, and their world shattered by what Jesus had just said. Jesus was now making statements that to them were both incredible and incomprehensible. They were utterly staggered.

That’s why Peter protested so violently. To him the whole thing was totally impossible. That’s not what he signed up for!

And so Peter, ever the hothead, berates Jesus. It does not go well. Jesus puts him in his place by calling him “Satan” (Σατανᾶ), or “Adversary,” and essentially tells him to get lost, as we might say today.

Just a few moments before this, that very same Peter was extolling Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God”; and now he’s being sent to the back of the class, so to speak.

Why did Peter react that way? Partly it was because, as we just talked about, Jesus was proclaiming a kind of Messiahship that was utterly and totally foreign to his culture and his way of thinking. When we are confronted by new things that call into question everything we know and everything we have ever believed, our natural reaction is just like Peter’s – we resist, we push back, we even get angry. And, to be fair, sometimes we’re absolutely right and justified to be angry and to push back, because sometimes these new things, whatever they might be, are wrong. And eventually, they are proven to be so.

But at other times – like when Jesus told Peter and his disciples that his Messianic mission was not to ride into Jerusalem one fine day on a white warhorse at the head of a conquering army, but rather to be arrested, tried, convicted, and killed – Peter was confronted by a truth that he simply not handle at the moment. Jesus had effectively jerked the rug out from under his feet, and he was in free-fall. He was, quite simply, afraid. Jesus, the Truth with a capital “T”, the one Peter called “the Son of the Living God,” is standing right there – but Peter’s fear, confusion, and anger kept him from fully taking on board the full meaning of what he himself had just said.

That’s what fear does. It prevents us sometimes from seeing a truth that’s staring us right in the face. It keeps us from stepping out into the unknown. It sometimes even keeps us from acting on what we know is right.

Peter is Everyman. Peter is you and I. And the choice Jesus gives Peter – to either get with God’s program or persist in his own ways – is the same choice he gives us every day.

And just what is God’s program? Jesus is very clear on that. In addition to telling us to “repent, and believe the good news,” he tells Peter, the disciples, the crowds, and us today to take up our cross and follow Him.

This is no surprise. If each of us had a dollar for every time we heard that, we might not be living in the snow today. But there’s something we don’t hear as often, and that is: What does that mean?

David Lose, in his blog post for this week, weighs in as follows: “Some will see in this Sunday’s passage a call to be patient and long-suffering in the just cause, and in this sense to take up one’s cross…Others will hear the promise that all things, even something as awful as the cross, work together, in the words of the Apostle, ‘for the good of the one who believes’ (Rom. 8:28) and so invite us to take up our cross trusting that God is in control…Still others will ask what things we’ve used to try to save our lives rather than giving ourselves over to the solitary and difficult work of justice and ask whether we are ashamed of Jesus’ words, and that’s certainly a reading that demands our attention.”[1] That last is certainly a cross of a different sort, it seems to me.

Every one of us has experienced at least one of those versions of “taking up the cross.” “That’s my cross to bear” is a very common saying, after all.

F.F. Bruce writes that “As commonly applied, this is not a very hard saying.” But wait! He goes on to say: “As originally intended, it is very hard indeed; no saying could be harder.”[2]

At the time Jesus spoke those words, brutal public execution for even the slightest infractions was the order of the day; Jesus’ words might have been restated as “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him be prepared to be led out to public execution, following my example.” When Jesus rebukes Peter, and by extension the other disciples, he’s in effect saying, “You still confess me to be the Messiah? Do you really understand – fully understand – what that means? You still want to follow me? If so, be very clear about what you’re asking; be very clear about where I’m going, and above all, understand that, by following me, you will quite likely be going there, too.” Not the kind of statement that makes you want to pop the cork and have a party.

But here we are, two thousand years on, and the very same question Jesus asked then he asks us now: Can we take up our crosses and follow him in this day and age?

Professor Bruce writes: “Denying oneself is not a matter of giving up something, whether for Lent or for the whole of life: it is a decisive saying ‘No’ to oneself, to one’s hopes and plans and ambitions, to one’s likes and dislikes, to one’s nearest and dearest…for the sake of Christ…But if this is how it is to be taken – and this is how it was meant to be taken – it is a hard saying indeed.”[3]

I confess that I have a bit of a problem with the way F.F. Bruce wrote that. It seems too absolute, even a bit harsh, and seems to ignore the efforts that so many of us make to dedicate our talents, plans and ambitions to the cause of the Christ who calls us; to dedicate, paraphrasing slightly the words of Oswald Chambers, “our utmost for His Highest.” More realistically, I think that taking up our crosses today means, first, to put things in a different perspective than the world’s, to say “No” to putting ourselves first in everything, and “Yes” to putting Christ first. Putting Christ first means that we look out for others and consider others’ needs before we consider ours. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as being kind. That sounds easy; it isn’t.

When we think about the crosses we have to bear, it’s typical, even natural, that we always tend to focus on ourselves. After all, when Jesus tells the disciples about what he expects his followers to do, he uses personal pronouns – “let him take up his cross and follow me.” But maybe there’s another dimension to this that we miss. Prof. David Lose writes: “my reading of this passage this week is that we are called to take up our cross expecting that God is most clearly and fully present in the suffering and brokenness of the world. We are called to take up our cross by being honest about our brokenness and thereby demonstrate our willingness to enter into the brokenness of others. We are called to take up our cross because we follow the One who not only took up his cross but also revealed that nothing in this world, not even the hate and darkness and death that seemed so omnipresent on that Friday we dare call good[4], can defeat the love and light and life of God.”[5]

We bear our cross by helping other bear theirs. But we do that by also exposing our own brokenness. This can be quite a risk. Many of us, myself included, hate asking for help – but if we don’t show others that we, too, don’t always “have it all together,” how can we expect others to show us their brokenness? It really is a “quid pro quo.”

But it is worth that risk. The cross is a symbol for the death of self – for Jesus, that was quite literally true. It means the same for us – at least, the cross symbolizes the death of self-centeredness. Modern psychology has taught us a lot about how to live as autonomous beings, and even about the value of a healthy self-love. But the message of Lent is that, when we take up our own crosses, we renounce a life in which we, not Jesus, are the Alpha and Omega. And it is there that we can engage with others.

It doesn’t end there, though. When we lower our guard and embrace the brokenness of others and allow others to see us as we are, warts and all, we experience that God is there with us through the cross; and then we can hear, clearly and plainly, God’s call to us to life and courage in and through the Resurrection. How that “resurrection call” comes to us, and what shape it might take, can’t be predicted, but it will come. But taking up the cross must come first.

Friends, let us in this Lenten season take up our crosses and in so doing engage with others!

In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. AMEN.

[1] Lose, David, “Lent 2B: Take Up Your Cross,” …in the Meantime,

[2] Bruce, F.F., Hard Sayings of Jesus, Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 1983, p. 150

[3] Ibid., p. 152

[4] FYI – “Good Friday” is a corruption of the Middle English term “God’s Friday.” Good Friday is only “good” because it is the second-to-last chapter in God’s plan for the redemption of the world through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.

[5] Lose, David, “Lent 2B: Take Up Your Cross,” …in the Meantime,