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Message for the Second Sunday in Lent

Note this sermon can be heard by clicking the embedded player below.

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In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

At the beginning of Mark’s Gospel we read this is a gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  And here in chapter 8, is the first time one of the Twelve recognizes Jesus, confesses Jesus, to be God’s anointed one, his Christ.  We might think how dull could they be?  But really the mirror reflects back to us, how dull is our response to the truth of Jesus as God’s Christ.  If Jesus is God’s Christ it should be the catalyst to reorganize, re-categorize, everything, every aspect of our life.

crossBut it doesn’t because following after Jesus in our culture is too easy.

In the centuries of the Early Church the stories of the martyrs fueled much of the rapid growth of the church, not just numerically but they fed the spiritual growth of those who followed after Jesus.  Of the Eleven, all but John were killed for the faith.  Some famously, like Peter who sentenced to crucifixion, deemed himself unworthy to die in the manner of His Lord and so asked to be crucified upside down.  A request the Romans were only too happy to oblige.  James famously was sawn in two.  Andrew, too, was crucified.  Thomas was stabbed to death.  What could take men from cowering in the upper room with the door locked for fear of the Jews to being willing to die for Jesus?  They believed the truth that Jesus was God’s Christ.  Later as the persecutions of the Church waxed and waned, more were willing to suffer death as witnesses to the truth about Jesus.  That’s what martyr means actually, “witness.”   That they were willing to lay down their lives in the way that Jesus did led the second century Church father, Tertullian, to say “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”[1]  And there were far more witnesses to come.  Leading throughout the centuries all the way up to the last century where it is credibly estimated that more Christians died as martyrs, as witnesses for the faith, than in the previous 19 centuries combined.[2]

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus foretold precisely what would happen to him in Jerusalem.  “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed.”  Mark further clarifies that Jesus was “speaking plainly.”  There was no doubt that the disciples understood Jesus to be the Son of Man.

How then did Peter get it so wrong?  Jesus was speaking plainly enough for even Peter to understand and so Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to correct him.  “You must have misheard me, Lord.  I said, ‘You are the Christ.’  Don’t you understand?”  Jesus’ plain teaching here was kind of like the locker room speech of coach at half-time.  We know what happened in the first half.  Oh, man!  Jesus was baptized into his ministry of healing, casting out demons, and teaching.  Things were going amazingly well.  Even the Twelve were sent out and they did the same things.  They “went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.   (Mk 6:12–13)  Miracles were performed.  Jesus walked on the water.  Thousands of hungry people have been fed.   The blind saw.  It was a veritable tour de force for the kingdom of God.  Combined with the revelation of the Father by the Holy Spirit and Peter boldly confesses “You are the Christ!”

And then then Jesus began to teach—that’s what the text says—“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…”  (v 31)  I said, Jesus is like the coach in the locker room at half-time.  Except he’s announcing that the plan is to lose in the second half.  It just doesn’t make any sense.  So, Peter pulls Jesus aside and says, “Ah, ehem.  This is awkward.  I said you were the Lord’s Messiah.  You’ve got it all wrong.  Suffering and dying is not what were after here.”

And Jesus, rebukes Peter and calls him and his plan out for what it is, not the plan of God but the plan of Satan.  That’s not maybe as clear to us if we were to read just this passage all by itself.  But in the context of last Sunday’s Gospel with Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness it becomes all the clearer for us.  Jesus was tempted by Satan to make stones into loaves of bread, cast himself from the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem and gain for himself all the world’s wealth by worshiping Satan.  These were very real temptations for Jesus.  They are the same temptations that trip us up.  Who among us wants to be hungry, in danger, and without any wealth in this world?  Israel failed each of these temptations when they were tempted in the wilderness.  Even Adam and Eve were tempted to disobey the Word of God in the perfect ease of Paradise.  But when Jesus was tempted, he did not give in.  He said that the way of God was through the hunger, through the danger, and without a global empire.  The plan of God is the way of the cross.  The coach is telling the team that the only way is to lose.  And worse yet, Jesus is essentially inviting them to come along and lose with him.

As if to amplify his point, Mark tells us that Jesus called the crowd to him with the disciples and said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  (Mk 8:34)  I’m certain that what Jesus is describing is not the quick and easy way to church membership, that what is happening here is something far deeper than attending an informational meeting about the church, going to the pastor’s class for new members and then after we swear you get you wet you’re a new Christian.  Oh, if you’re young we’ll make you go to two years of classes with pastor and memorize a 500 year-old book.  Don’t worry, it’s a small book.  I don’t think that’s what sustains our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria and Indonesia and Nigeria in the face of murderous gangs intent on terrifying the Christians away from the their property.  They are our brothers and sisters precisely because they believe what we do about Jesus.  Jesus is the Christ, as Peter said it.  But they are willing to die for it, to watch their children be crucified for it, as the reports out of Syria this month indicate.  And they join the many martyrs, the many witnesses of the truth of Jesus Christ.

I am humbled by their witness.  My witness pales in comparison and mine is in the relative “paradise” of the United States.  Don’t fall for media hype.  Not saying “Merry Christmas” is light years away from being forced to watch our children being crucified for the faith.  There, they may be tempted to recant the truth of Christ.  Here our sin too often is falling for the original temptation, “Did God really say?”

You shall have no other Gods.  Don’t use the God’s name in vain.  Honor the Sabbath day.  Honor father and mother, including our authorities.  No more hateful killing.  No more adultery.  No more stealing.  No more lying.  No more thinking God loves someone else more because they have what you don’t.  God really did say it.  Stop trying to presume to know more than God.  Repent.  Deny yourself.

See the witness of your fellow Christians around the world in the one who came to do what we could not, to be tempted and remain faithful, to suffer and die for our sins.  See your brothers and sisters witness even unto death to the one who came to lose even to the cross that we might win.  See them, like their Lord before them, take up their cross, sadly, these days, often literally.  Take up your cross.

Following after our Lord in the Western world is certainly more ambiguous than it is in the Middle East right now.  But Jesus is not just asking the disciples the question, “But you, who do you say that I am?”  “It doesn’t matter right now who the guy on the talk show say I am, much less your neighbor or your parents.  Who do you say that I am?”  Be careful, because this answer has some rather intense implications.  If you mean to say that Jesus is God’s Christ, that changes everything doesn’t it?  Shouldn’t that change how you treat others?  Shouldn’t that even change what you do not just on Sunday mornings and maybe even Wednesday evenings, but all the other days of the week?  Shouldn’t that change what you deem truly important?  Shouldn’t it change how you spend your money, how you view where everything you have came from?  Shouldn’t that change now only how you live life but even see suffering and death?

Jesus did not just go to Jerusalem to suffer and die but to be raised on the third day.  Jesus was raised.  After Good Friday, there was Easter Sunday.  After the Good Fridays of all our brothers and sisters in Christ, there is the Easter of Resurrection for them.  And as we, along with them, deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow after Jesus we too follow him to the Day of Resurrection.   Amen.

[1] http://www.tertullian.org/works/apologeticum.htm

[2] http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/20th-century-saw-65-of-christian-martyrs-says-author

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