To Be a Disciple

A sermon, based on Mark 8.31-38, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 2nd Sunday in Lent, February 25, 2018

Jesus journeys to Jerusalem. His ministry of preaching and teaching and healing draws to a close. For the kingdom of God, its nearness in presence and power, that he has proclaimed in his words and has demonstrated in his deeds has been rejected by a growing, clamorous chorus of antagonists, including the religious leaders who perceive Jesus as a threat to the status quo of their privilege and prestige as God’s representatives. To go to Jerusalem is to cross the Rubicon, the line in the sand, the burning bridge. Whatever the fitting metaphor, Jesus steps beyond which there is no return; his final showdown with his adversaries, an unavoidable confrontation that he has to know may, will hasten his death.

At this crucial moment in his ministry, in his life, Jesus turns to his disciples, those he has called and taught and commissioned to bear his word and work in the world, asking, pleading, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus breathes a sigh of relief. One. For he knows the popular opinion about the Messiah is illumined by the light of a triumphal vision of liberation from the oppressive Roman Empire and the restoration of Israel to her former glory during the reign of King David. Therefore, he must tell his disciples that he is a Messiah who will suffer and die and rise.

That last is lost on Peter and his fellow disciples who reject the possibility, let alone a prophecy that the Messiah could die. Yet Jesus, clear about his destination and committed to his God-given destiny, brooks no challenge; calling, condemning Peter with that dreadful, diabolical name that is below all names: Satan!

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan (Rétire-toi, Satan) (1886-1896), James Tissot (1836-1902)

It gets worse! For as the Messiah, so the disciples, indeed, anyone in the crowd to whom Jesus speaks. All who dare follow him are called into a life of self-denying, cross-bearing, life-losing sacrifice.

In two millennia, the movement founded on Jesus’ ministry has become that institution called the Christian Church in all of its denominations and factions; many adorned with the trappings of worldly glory and operating with a mindset of earthly privilege and prestige. Thus, Jesus’ message, if rightly read, hasn’t gotten any easier to hear or to bear. As Peter and his companions didn’t like cross-bearing self-sacrifice, if we’re truthful, neither do we.

It’s no surprise, as we read on in Mark’s gospel, that Jesus repeated again and again his prophecy of his coming death and his proclamation of the necessity of service. And no surprise, his disciples did not (and did not desire to) understand.

This day, a question for us: Do we, will we understand, sacrificing our lives for the sake of Jesus and his gospel? In the concrete circumstances of our daily living our sacrifices will take varying and individual shapes and forms. Still, our Baptismal Covenant gives us fair and faithful guidance. Therefore, I ask, do we, will we proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, seek and serve Christ in all persons, love our neighbors as ourselves, strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

When you and I answer, “Yes,” we declare that we are disciples of Jesus. For two millennia unto this day, it’s been that simple and that hard.


Illustration: Get Thee Behind Me, Satan (Rétire-toi, Satan) (1886-1896), James Tissot (1836-1902)

(1) Mark 8.27-30
(2) See Mark 9.31, 10.33-34
(3) See Mark 9.35-37, 10.42-45
(4) See Mark 9.32, 10.35-37
(5) The Baptismal Covenant, The Book of Common Prayer, page 305 (my emphases)

3 thoughts on “To Be a Disciple

  1. I never knew about this story! Great way to summarize it for us–even the footnotes! Really shows your integrity as a blogger to get the citations in.


  2. Paul,

    Yep it’s that simple and that hard!! Being a disciple is so hard! What gets me is the word ALL…. it’s easy to be nice to people you love and who love you!! What’s much more difficult about being a disciple is being accepting of and loving to those with whom we disagree. Jesus died because some people didn’t like him and what he stood for so they killed him. So much has been made of late about what we are willing to give our lives for after several law enforcement folks in Florida didn’t run inside when they arrived at the high school as they heard the shooting going on inside. So many people have been critical of them, but asking what we are willing to die for is such a great question!!! None of us actually know how many (or if any) lives could have been saved if those officers had entered the school early on. I’ve often asked myself what I’m willing to die for, particularly after you began asking the question after your sabbatical. I believe most people would say their families…and friends and maybe even the cause they are most passionate about. My faith is very deep and I know I’m supposed to love everyone equally, but the crazier this world gets, the more difficult it becomes to do so. That said, I’m sure Jesus is aware we are trying our best to follow his lead! Love this sermon!!

    Much love!


  3. Loretta, sometimes I think (and the more I consider it, the more I am convinced of its truth) that it is impossible for me to keep Jesus’ command to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow him (unless, of course, I modify what it means and how it looks to suit or to fit within my abilities!). In my failure, I am comforted in believing, in knowing of Jesus’ never-failing, unconditional love. In this, the words of that great hymn (one of my favorites) keep arising in my consciousness: “Just as I am without one plea…O Lamb of God, I come.”

    In this trust, let us carry on!



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