Rebuking Jesus – Feb 25, 2018
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
February 25, 2018
Main Idea: Jesus saves us.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
When the music staff and I got together to plan worship for the Season of Lent, we decided that one of our goals was to have folks leave worship feeling better than when they came. We recognized that many of us were tired, stressed, and grieving and so we planned a “Gentle Lent” where we would focus more on preparation for Easter and less on penitence for sin. Then came the tragedy in Parkland, Florida which moved our worship last week away from “Gentle Lent” to a recognition of the sin, evil and fear that torments communities across our nation. This week our “Gentle Lent” is challenged by this Scripture text which is not at all gentle! So what are we to do to feel better? Our first impulse would be to turn our attention to cheerful, peaceful images and kind reassuring words, and to avoid at all costs thinking about conflict, suffering, and grief. But this does not ultimately make us feel better. To really feel better; to be healed of our suffering and empowered to live with joy, we must acknowledge that which is hard. To quote the classic, Going on a Bear Hunt, “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we’ve got to go through it.” Moving together through Lent we can know that Jesus saves us.
Our text for today is known as the hinge of the Gospel of Mark. Before this text, the Gospel told the story of Jesus’ 3 years of ministry; preaching, teaching, and healing people throughout the Galilean countryside. After this, Jesus turns his face toward the cross. To enter into the story we will travel along side Peter, for this beloved disciple of Jesus, thinks and acts like we most likely would. Are you ready?
As Jesus traveled along the way through the countryside, he asked his disciples “Who do people say that I am?” and the disciples answered with all the expected ideas – John the Baptist, Elijah, and one of the prophets. Then Jesus said “Ok, but who do you say that I am?” Peter piped up “You are the Messiah!” expecting Jesus to say “Ding, Ding, Ding, you win!” Peter knew what a Messiah was, and Jesus’ acts of power and healing, his charismatic gathering of people, and his prophetic preaching against the status quo made it clear that Jesus was the one to liberate them from the oppressive power of Rome and the collaborating power of the religious establishment. Peter knew Jesus was the Messiah and he was glad to follow him and to tell everyone about him. But instead of congratulating Peter for his brilliant insight, Jesus responded by rebuking all of them, sternly ordering them to say nothing about him to anyone.
Instead of embracing the title of Messiah, Jesus “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.”(8:31) Whereas before, Jesus had been secretive about his identity, this he said quite openly. Peter was incredulous and horrified. He needed to intervene so that Jesus’ ministry could be saved. “No way” he thought. He grabbed Jesus by the arm and spoke sternly to him. “Knock it off, Jesus. This is not what we signed up for. Nobody wants a leader who will suffer and die. We don’t want you to die. This is no way to win our freedom.” For Mark to use the word rebuke here leads us to remember that Jesus used that term for casting out demons. Peter seriously thought that Jesus might be possessed by a demon or at the very least had taken leave of his senses.
Jesus looked at Peter holding his arm and then turned and looked at the rest of the disciples. He rebuked, he cast out Peter by saying ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ (8:33b). Jesus didn’t think Peter was literally Satan, rather Peter had become an adversary, an impediment to what Jesus had been called to do. I love the detail of Jesus turning his back to Peter before he said “Get behind me”. As long as Peter remained trapped by his own ambitions and view of the world, he had to get out of Jesus’ way.
Then Jesus spoke again, not only to Peter and the disciples, but to the crowds who had gathered around them. What he said was frightening but truthful. “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, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. ” (8:34b-35) To follow Jesus was to let go of all preconceptions, all commitments in order to participate in something completely new. Those who were with Jesus knew the consequences of leaving family and social structure behind; ostracism and loss. But those of Mark’s community who were the first to read this Gospel knew that the consequences of following Jesus could also include severe persecution, suffering, and death. They knew that Peter himself would die on a cross 30 years after Jesus. In the year 64AD Emperor Nero blamed Christians for a fire that destroyed much of Rome and this unleashed horrific violence against the early church throughout the Roman Empire. More violence came in 70AD when Rome destroyed Jerusalem. But this community also knew that Jesus had gone to the cross and had been resurrected on Easter Sunday. They knew that Christ had defeated evil and death. They knew that Jesus saved them.
As we experience this story, we can understand Peter. Who would want someone they loved to suffer, be rejected, and die? Who wants to risk suffering and death? We all would do all that we could to avoid such circumstances. Peter cannot fathom what Jesus is talking about. The idea that the Messiah might suffer is abhorrent to him. He wants to keep everybody safe and happy. He doesn’t want to hear the hard stuff. But ignoring the hard stuff does not make it go away!
We are like Peter when we say “Now wait a minute Jesus, this is too hard, too much, too outrageous, too something.” We don’t like to think of this as rebuking Jesus but that is what it is. “Surely, there must be a more conciliatory and conventional approach.” we think, “Something we can do within the bounds of respectable society, without making a fuss. You can’t really mean that we must take up a cross to follow you.”
Jesus responds, “Sorry, that is exactly what I mean.” Ugh. But this is actually where the Good News comes in. We know that what Jesus says in this text is true. “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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?” (8:35-37) If I care for only my life, my concerns, my possessions; if I am turned completely inward, caring only for myself, ultimately I will be alone, and I will not survive. If I fear my neighbors and the world so much that I fortify myself and my home with weapons, then I have imprisoned myself. But if I am willing to live for others, to live for Jesus, I am connected and supported by the love of my community and the love of God.
When we deny ourselves and take up our cross to follow Jesus we keep our focus and our priorities on loving God and loving our neighbor as Jesus taught us. (Mark 12:28-31). We each make a personal commitment to live out what he taught us, even when it is hard, even when it causes disagreements with our neighbors, even when it put us at odds with our government. “The call to Christian discipleship is a call to follow Christ into the world rather than away from the world.” (Marsha Snulligan Haney, FOTG, Mark, p. 250). For us today this means, to seriously and prayerfully engage with the vital issues facing our communities, our nation, and the world; issues of violence, of inclusion, and of justice for the vulnerable and the stranger. Ignoring these issues will not make them go away. To take up our cross means aligning all aspects of our life with the central truth of God’s love.
We know that on Easter Sunday Christ defeated evil and death. Although we may have difficult days, horrible days, we do not live in fear. In fact, we can face anything secure in the knowledge of the great power of God’s love. We are bound together with each other and with God to live lives of joy and service to others. This is very good news.
Let us pray,
God of the cross, we thank you for the power of your love. Embolden us to serve you at all times and in all circumstances. Amen.