Lent 2b, February 25, 2018

February 26, 2018


Do What !!??

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. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But 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. 35 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. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those 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.”


I didn’t really intend to get caught up in Olympic Fever this year, and I didn’t get all wrapped up in it, but I had a few feverish moments. I have mixed emotions about the Olympics. I love seeing the amazing things these athletes can do, but it’s a high anxiety experience for me. The Olympics are painful to watch and they are irresistible. But I can’t not watch it if I’m within sight of it, and I find myself making myself available to watch it. The extent of ability and commitment that these athletes exhibit is off the scale. I know it’s an honor to simply be in the Olympics, and on some level I don’t want any of them to lose. But I choose my favorites and I can feel pretty devastated when they lose.


Maddie Bowman was the defending Gold Medalist in the women’s half-pipe competition and she fell near the end of each of her three attempts. I had never even watched the women’s half-pipe competition before, but I got pulled in to her story and I felt so bad for her. I’ve been haunted by the image of her laying on the ground after her third crash. She wasn’t physically injured, but you could tell she was experiencing some deep pain. The line between greatness and devastation is so narrow and the consequences are so dramatic. I enjoy it when my chosen team or competitor wins, but I feel for the losers, and I think I spend more time thinking about what it feels like to finish off the podium.


Head to head competition in pursuit of gold medals isn’t exactly the thing Jesus directed us to practice, but I think there’s a lot for us Christians to learn from these world-class athletes. They are people who fully understand how narrow the path can be that leads to greatness. And Jesus did want us to find our way in to greatness. He wanted us to be world-class children of God.


You don’t arrive at the Olympics by coasting along with the crowd. You’ve also got to go out of your way to be a disciple of Christ, and in that sense there’s a strong parallel between becoming an Olympic athlete and a follower of Jesus Christ. And it may be that those athletes who make it all the way to the pinnacle of their sport – and then lose, are the people who can provide us with the greatest lessons about the value of loss.


But they don’t focus much attention on the stories of losers on television. They do tell some good comeback stories – stories of people who lose and then come back four years later to redeem themselves, but this is where the pursuit of greatness as Jesus described it and the pursuit of gold medals diverge. On the most visceral level, Jesus wanted us to be willing to lose.


You might say Jesus was in his peak performance condition when he told his disciples that the time had come for him to go to Jerusalem, where he would be arrested and executed by a group of men the disciples would have considered to be the biggest losers.


I don’t think any of us have a hard time understanding why Peter reacted the way he did to what Jesus was saying. In fact it’s so much easier to understand where Peter was coming from than to get what Jesus was saying.


We get where Peter was coming from. It’s easy to get in to the mind of Peter. The mind of Jesus is something else, but we get Peter. Peter had his own plans – he thought he could see where this thing with Jesus was going and he liked it. They were headed to the top! Things were falling in to place. People were talking about Jesus. People were looking for Jesus. People were getting excited about Jesus. Things were about to start happening in Israel.


It had become clear to Peter that Jesus was the real deal. He trusted that Jesus had come from God to be the savior of the nation. In fact Peter had just made that pronouncement. He had just finished professing his belief that Jesus was the messiah. And that was no small deal because such a belief had profound implications! Unfortunately Peter didn’t understand what those implications really were.


Actually, Peter’s plans made a lot of sense – in a human sense. It makes sense to want to replace terroristic systems with more humane systems. And it’s not that Peter’s plans were poorly motivated. The way the nation of Israel was being run was horrible. The Roman installed governor had no concern for the wellbeing of the people of Israel. The system was designed to keep Roman rule in place at all costs, and it was a very costly system. The people were heavily taxed and the policies were violently enforced. The Jewish collaborators substituted allegiance to God for job security and material comforts, and you can’t blame Peter for wanting this ungodly arrangement to go down in defeat by the hand of this man of God.


What made sense to Peter was for Jesus to fix their broken nation. Peter expected Jesus to somehow assemble an army that God would somehow empower to overthrow those dirty collaborators and their godless government. This is the kind of plan good people generally develop, but it’s not what Jesus had in mind.


It’s not easy to get in the mind of Jesus, but he gave Peter and the other disciples a piece of his mind, and we need to hear what he had to say. Because what he had to say is informative of how we are to operate as well. Our challenge is not to operate with human sense, but with divine sense.


This is hard logic to embrace. We like to do whatever we can to win the gold and have a medal to prove it, and Jesus seems to want us to embrace the wisdom of losing. This isn’t exactly what Jesus is teaching, but it’s exactly what it feels like on some level. I believe Jesus wants us to excel, but excelling in the enterprise of discipleship is so different from being a winner in almost every other field.


I think I’ve probably talked about Dietrich Bonhoeffer before, but you might say he was a gold-medal winning disciple. He wasn’t out to be noted in that way, but he truly excelled in following Christ at a crucial moment in world history. Bonhoeffer was born in to a very prominent family in Germany. Both of his parents descended from notable artists, teachers, theologians, and politicians. One of the things his family was known for was their idealism, and on more than one occasion this characteristic was very costly for them. His great grandfather and great uncles were all imprisoned for periods of time for their political convictions. So it’s not surprising that Bonheoffer would be arrested during World War II for his work to undermine the Nazi agenda. Nor is it a surprise that he would be executed a short time before the war came to an end.


Like Jesus, Bonhoeffer had friends who begged him to pursue a less dangerous path. Bonhoeffer was in the United States when war broke out in Europe, and he made the decision to return to his home to help steer things in a better way. His friends told him how effective he could be as a teacher in this country, and they weren’t wrong about that, but Bonhoeffer seemed to have his mind on divine things and not on human things. It was a logic that caused him to literally lose his life, and it’s the kind of logic that Jesus said would make him proud and not ashamed.


I wish I could say that Jesus was being very metaphorical when he talked about losing our lives in order to gain real life – and I wish I could find some way to make the metaphor easy to accept. But I think Jesus was being both literal and metaphorical, and both directives are hard to hear.


Honestly, these words of Jesus scare me. I don’t want life to be so hard. I don’t want Christianity to be so costly. But I do want what Jesus offers. I want real community. I want eternal peace. I want true joy. And Jesus offers all of these things, but the way to obtain them is costly. Jesus didn’t just say he was going to Jerusalem to die a miserable death. I think this is all that Peter and the disciples heard, but Jesus didn’t fail to add that after three days he would be raised from the dead. Jesus wasn’t just inviting us to go down a road of difficulty and pain. Jesus wants us to follow him down the road that leads to abundant life.


Following Jesus is not just difficult. We’re called to follow Jesus if we want to find life. I don’t speak as one who knows this road well, but I trust that Jesus is right about this. I’m grateful to say that I haven’t heard a clear call to risk everything I hold dear in order to follow Christ, but I also know it can happen. It has happened to people like ourselves throughout history, and it can happen to us.


Like Peter, I don’t think any of us really want to hear what Jesus had to say about where he intended to go and what he intended to do to reveal the saving grace of God, but to ignore this truth is to ignore the presence of God. Jesus wanted us to understand that true comfort comes through acts of sacrificial love, real security comes through intentional vulnerability, and genuine happiness comes to us when we become less attached to the treasures of this world.


I don’t like being the bearer of this really tough news. I don’t like being called upon to remind you of how difficult this calling of Christ really is. I don’t enjoy pointing out that the positions we struggle to carve out for ourselves are often at odds with the logic that Jesus called us to embrace. I don’t know what you were hoping to hear this morning, but since this is the season of Lent and this is the heart of what Jesus taught I thought I should go ahead and deal with it for a little while.


As Peter and the rest of us have come to realize, things aren’t always going to go the way we want them to, and that’s a painful truth, but we are involved in a design of life that’s a lot larger than we can imagine. And sometimes those things that feel like terrible failures become the very things that enable us to draw closer to God.


I know we all hate to lose, but Jesus wanted us to hate our fear of losing. Jesus wanted us to love God regardless of what we may encounter in life, and if we can do that we will never lose.


Thanks be to God for the access we have to the eternal love of God regardless of what may be happening in the moment. This is the good news that God has provided for us and the source of hope that never fails.


Thanks be to God.




One Response to “Lent 2b, February 25, 2018”

  1. Earl Says:

    This sermon was a bit discouraging for me with the caveat of hope and encouragement. Thank you

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