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!
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)