Text: Mark 8:27-38 Revised Standard Version (RSV)
Peter’s Declaration about Jesus
27 And Jesus went on with his disciples, to the villages of Caesare′a Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Eli′jah; and others one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he charged them to tell no one about him.
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.
Today is another red-letter day in the life of our church: Rally Sunday 2018. The word “rally” kind of sticks in our minds, doesn’t it? It’s a word of commitment, and daring and bravery – we “rally to the cause,” “we rally ‘round the flag,” and so on.
Today we rally around, and in support of, our children, so they may one day fully take their places as leaders of the church of Jesus Christ.
Then there’s that thing we call a “rallying cry.” In battle, that’s the strong voice of a commander calling his troops to gather – rally – around him. You might say that the first few verses of this morning’s Gospel lesson recount Peter’s “rallying cry” – “You are the Christ!” But then, as with all rallies, the hard work now begins. The hard work in today’s rally comes with Jesus telling his disciples just what it means that he is the Christ – that he will suffer many things, be rejected, be killed – but then rise again after three days.
This was too much for Peter to handle. He pulls Jesus aside and probably says something to the effect of “Now wait just a minute here! That’s not the way we thought this all was going to work out! We’re expecting glory and lots of it! Getting killed isn’t part of the plan!” And Jesus calls him “Satan”! (“Satan,” by the way, is not a name, but a sort of title – calling someone a “satan” means calling that person an “adversary.” That’s what’s meant here, too.)
Mark doesn’t tell us what Peter’s reaction was – it wasn’t his focus to delve into the motivations or the emotions of the disciples, except in very specific situations – the motivation for Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, or Peter’s tearful realization of how he’d let Jesus down later on in this account, to mention a couple examples.
But I can imagine that Peter must have been pretty hurt. He was, at least in his own mind, only saying what the other disciples were also thinking. The word Peter used was the Hebrew word מָשִׁ֫יחַ – “mashiach” – which means “anointed one.” As Professor Elisabeth Johnson tells us: “The title “Messiah” in Hebrew or “Christ” in Greek was associated in Jewish tradition with an anointed king, a royal figure from the line of David expected to come and free Israel from their Gentile oppressors, purify the people, and restore Israel’s independence and glory.” So Peter was perfectly within the traditional understanding of what the Christ (the Greek word for “Messiah”) was all about. The Messiah Peter was talking about, the one he and everybody else he knew wanted, and had yearned for these many centuries, was a political and military Messiah, a new David, or a new Judas Maccabaeus, the legendary “Judas the Hammer” who had driven out earlier invaders, the Seleucid Greeks.
But Jesus had come to do a new thing, something which Peter and the other disciples simply could not yet grasp. Peter and the others were at this point in time still stuck in the old way of thinking.
It must have been a crushing blow to Peter and the disciples when Jesus threw cold water on their notions of both who he was and what he meant when he used the word Messiah. Peter got the title of Messiah right, but not the meaning of the title as Jesus understood it.
So Jesus calls the disciples together and sets them all straight: We’ve tried it the old way before, he says, the way of war and conquest, and domination, and look where it got us: Exactly nowhere.
Jesus tells them that God has something else in mind. The Messiah God will send, the Messiah God has sent, is not just another bully, like all those invaders and conquerors before who have come and gone, and left behind barely a trace of their presence.
It’s a new day, he tells them. There’s a new way of living, the one I’m offering you right now. But it requires you to “take up [your] cross and follow me.”
- F. Bruce tells us that “[a]s commonly applied, this is not a very hard saying. As originally intended, it is very hard indeed; no saying could be harder.”
Nowadays we use the phrase in a sort of watered-down way – we might characterize some unpleasantness we have to endure as “the cross I have to bear.” But taking up one’s cross and following Jesus was then literally a deadly serious prospect, and even today following Jesus is not an easy thing. Jesus was under no illusions about what his earthly end was going to be, and he was brutally honest with his followers when he told them that his fate would quite possibly be theirs, too.
Following Jesus sometimes requires us to make tough decisions. But that does not automatically mean that “taking up our cross” means that we are expected to lead lives that are heavy on suffering and light on fun. If it were, Christianity would have died out hundreds of years ago. And certainly none of us would want our children to become a part of something that is burdensome.
What Jesus tells us is that taking up our cross means that we deliberately choose to follow his teachings. We’re either in or we’re out. It’s all about our choices. The “life” we’ve been sold by Madison Avenue and TV isn’t real life at all, and he invites us to set aside those ultimately unsatisfying notions and embrace the full and abundant life God offers us. As Professor David Lose writes, “Here’s the thing: we tend to think that life is something you go out and get, or earn, or buy, or win. But it turns out that life is like love, it can’t be won or earned or bought, only given away. And the more you give it away, the more you have. In fact – and as first time parents experience profoundly – only when you love others do you most understand what love really is. Likewise, only when you give away your life for the sake of others do you discover it. Somehow, in thinking about how to fulfill others’ needs your own deepest needs are met. Call this the mystery of life and the key to the kingdom of God.”
That is the kind of life Jesus is talking about! That is the life he wants us to have! And that is the kind of life we want our children to also have – lives of fulfillment, lives of kindness, lives of love.
Nothing scary in that, is there? In fact, that’s something we do every day. Most of us carry our cross without even thinking about it, because that’s simply “what we do.” The flip side to carrying our crosses is that we think that what we do is not important or significant. I’ve sounded this theme many times before, and the fact that it keeps coming back in one Gospel lesson after another tells me that it’s something we need to bear in mind.
So, let me repeat what Professor Lose wrote: “[O]nly when you give away your life for the sake of others do you discover it.” Jesus tells us that the only things we can really hold on to are exactly the things we give away. A paradox, certainly; and part of the mystery that is faith.
If we place our trust in God, no yoke, no burden, no hardship will crush us. That’s a cross we can bear with a smile on our lips, and a song in our hearts!
On this Rally Sunday, let’s take Peter’s declaration “You are the Christ!” as our rallying cry, too!
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.
 Johnson, Elisabeth, “Commentary on Mark 8:27-38,” https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3778
 Bruce, F. F., Hard Sayings of Jesus, © 1983 by F. F. Bruce, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois
 Lose, David, “Pentecost 16B: Intriguing, Elusive, Captivating, and Crucial,” “In the Meantime,” 07 September 2015, http://www.davidlose.net/2015/09/pentecost-16-b-intriguing-elusive-captivating-and-crucial/