The Second Sunday in Lent (3/4/2012)

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.

Accusation… or Invitation?

Suffering, rejection, death and new life. That is what Jesus walks this earth to accomplish. Peter, the hard-working, common-sense-driven, practical thinker, can’t stand the thought of it, but this is how Jesus understands his mission. And what’s more, if you want to become one of Jesus’ followers, you need to: (1) deny yourself, (2) take up your cross, (3) follow him, and (4) be willing to lose your life. How would you like to have that for a job description? What do you suppose your annual review would be like?

Our national church organization used to come up with an annual theme every year. It was always something bright and inviting. “The Welcome Place.” “Come Grow with Us.” “Your Neighborhood Church.” We would produce shiny brochures, and hang colorful banners on the outside of our buildings. I used to wonder what would happen if we built an annual theme out of this week’s Gospel lesson. We could print four-color brochures, and hang a huge banner out in the front yard that says, “Come Die with Us.” Do you suppose that would bring newcomers in by the dozens?

These are hard words from Jesus; words that create discomfort. They draw a strong contrast between what Martin Luther and his colleagues called, “The Theology of Glory” and “The Theology of the Cross.” A theology of glory assumes that our faith will make our lives prosperous and successful. With God on our side, life just keeps getting better and better. On the other hand, a theology of the cross insists that the life to which Jesus calls us is no easy one. We’ll not be immune from the brokenness of this world. Our efforts, even our simple efforts to alleviate the pain of others, will be opposed and rejected. Yet in the midst of the anguish and disappointment, will be the presence and promise of God. The cross becomes our comfort and joy.

“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.”

How do we hear these words? Do they sound more like an accusation, or an invitation? The answer to that question may actually have more to do with us than it has to do with the question. I posted an article here last weekend about writing sermons. It is occasionally the case that I will preach a sermon and someone will feel like I’m speaking directly to their heart, or their situation. Problem is: sometimes it is a message that is welcomed (“Pastor, I felt like you were speaking right to me!”), and sometimes it is a message that is less than enthusiastically received (“Preacher, who do you have in mind with that sermon?”).

When we consider the text at hand, do the words of Jesus, commending to us a sacrificial life of discipleship, shaped by the image of the cross, seem more like an accusation or an invitation? There are times when our self-centered and indulgent lifestyles cause us to hear these words of Jesus, and think of them as an accusation. There are other times when we catch a vision for what God can accomplish through our best efforts, and these words sound more like an invitation.

Taking up crosses. Denying self. Following Jesus. Risking life. This, indeed, is the invitation of Jesus. The invitation that leads to life. “Lord, I believe. Help, thou, my unbelief.” (St. Mark 9:24)


Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why does Peter feel the need to rebuke (to speak against) Jesus?
  2. What does it mean that Jesus turns and looks at his disciples before rebuking Peter?
  3. Is there a difference between “a cross we bear” and the normal difficulties of life?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When has following Jesus seemed too hard — too costly — for me?
  2. What could I deny myself during this season of Lent, in order to more actively follow Jesus?
  3. When have I experienced that there is life in making sacrifices for my faith?