The Second Sunday in Lent (3/8/2009)

Lessons:    Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16     Psalm 22:23-31     Romans 4:13-25     St. Mark 8:31-38

Prayer of the Day:     O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life. Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

8:31 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."

St. Mark 8:31-38 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Simon Peter shares a name with our congregation, so it is natural that when we hear stories like the one in this week's Gospel lesson, we find ourselves identifying with him. It is often with a sympathetic ear that we listen to accounts of his words and actions, and this text is no exception to that rule. In the passage immediately preceding our Gospel lesson, Peter finds himself at center stage. Asked by Jesus what the crowds are saying about him, the disciples quickly offer up a summary of the speculation they are hearing on the street. "I think Jesus is John the Baptist come back to life." "Maybe he is Elijah, returned to God's people." "Perhaps he is one of the prophets." But asked by Jesus what they think of him, the disciples become strangely quiet. Nobody quite knows how to answer. Mark's Gospel is half over; the disciples have had plenty of time to size him up; yet they seem to have nothing to say.

That is, until Peter jumps to his feet, and blurts out: "You are the Messiah!" For once, he appears to be right. He has it figured out. Jesus is the Messiah - the promised one of God. It is as if the cat is finally and fully out of the bag. It might even be that Peter said out loud what the others hardly dared to dream. And not only is Peter's proclamation a high point for him, it becomes the main turning point in Mark's Gospel. From this point on, Jesus begins to speak clearly and bluntly about what awaits him in Jerusalem. We want to congratulate Peter. To thank him for being so insightful and faithful. (And perhaps to congratulate ourselves for connecting with a congregation that bears his name...)

But it doesn't last long, because in this week's Gospel lesson, as Peter begins to see how Jesus understands the role of the Messiah, he finds it appalling. Rejection? Suffering? Death? How can these be? God's Messiah was expected to come in power and might. God's Messiah would set the people free - much as Moses did in Egypt so many years earlier. God's Messiah would institute a reign of righteousness where oppression would end, where suffering would cease, where the hungry would find food, where the thirsty would find drink, where the sick would be healed, and where the grieving would jump for joy. Peter's mind was filled with these kinds of images, having just proclaimed the Messiahship of Jesus. But Jesus had come to be a different kind of Messiah than Peter or any of the others expected. Peter would get it right eventually. But first he had a lot to learn. Today's lesson leaves him confused, and frustrated, and wondering how to put it all together in his mind.

Peter's dilemma is ours, of course. We too desire to understand our Lord's ministry and presence among us. But we too are prejudiced by our own preconceived notions of who Jesus is, and how his life will touch ours. We expect him to fit this mold or that. We expect him to act in this manner or that. We expect his Word to touch us just as it did five years ago or ten years ago or fifteen. However, the presence of our Lord is more dynamic, more mysterious, than that. He comes to us in ways that we could never anticipate. He graces our lives in ways that constantly surprise and delight us. He challenges our actions and intentions in ways that regularly draw us back to God.

We desire to understand our Lord's ministry, and our only hope is to continue in his word: to search the Scriptures daily for glimpses of what was important to him; to probe God's word for insights that reveal his heart to us; to pray that the Spirit will leave us open to those surprising insights that can redirect our faith, that can deepen our understanding, and that can empower us for lives of following his example.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. What were Peter and the others expecting from Jesus?
  2. How did the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) shape their expectations of the Messiah?
  3. Why were Jesus' words about rejection and suffering and death so hard for Peter to embrace?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. What notions have I previously held about God, that I no longer embrace?
  2. How has God enlightened me to a deeper understanding about faith, life, and the presence of Jesus?
  3. Were do I go to have my assumptions challenged, and to understand more clearly what I believe?