Monday, March 02, 2015

Sermon; Lent 2B; Mark 8:31-38

As usual, there is a lot going on in this gospel.  From Jesus' first Passion prediction, to Peter's rebuke of Jesus and Jesus' rebuke of Peter, to taking up our crosses, to not being ashamed to speak the name of Jesus, not only is there a lot going on, but the question of, “Where do I start?” was staring me in the face on Thursday morning.  I decided to start with last week.

Last week we heard the story of Jesus in the wilderness and the beginning of his public ministry.  After being driven out into the wilderness, he was tempted by Satan for forty days.  Nothing was said of how many temptations he faced, and nothing was said about Satan departing.  And you will remember that I said Jesus was tempted every day and in every way as we are.

Today we get to witness a temptation up close and personal.  Jesus gives the disciples the first of three Passion predictions here.  Peter can't understand how this man whom he just identified as the Messiah could submit to such a horrendous act.  Peter's vision of the Messiah still involves an act of violence in the overthrow of Rome and re-establishment of the kingdom of Israel.  So he takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him.

The temptation is for Peter, us and Jesus to think that he can enter into glory before being rejected, suffering and dying.  The temptation for us is to think that the kingdom of God is power without pain, glory without humiliation, grace without cost.  This is so because the world will not submit without a fight.  This is so because the world will kill those who are opposed to it.  And rather than snap our fingers or twinkle our noses and magically avoid all that, we and Jesus are called to walk through it.

But it's not just the temptation to take the easy way out.  It's also the temptation for us to exert control.  Peter has just proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah; and now, following his Passion prediction, Peter rebukes Jesus for thinking this way.

When Peter rebukes Jesus, imagine a scene in the grocery store or at the mall that we have all experienced or witnessed.  That scene is of a badly behaving child and a parent who takes the child aside and basically rebukes them.  We did it with my daughter on more than one occasion where we said, “If you continue behaving like this, we are going home.”  We left a cartful of groceries in the store at least once.

That scene is really a struggle for control.  The child behaves in a way they think gives them what they want.  The parent (hopefully) behaves in a way that lets the child know who is really in control without resorting to violence, belittling or outright murder.  Peter doesn't like what Jesus has to say, so he attempts to take control.

In short, Peter wants control over the person he just announced as Messiah.  Peter is trying to act as the leader, not as a disciple.  How many times do we fall victim to the temptation of treating Jesus as being submissive to our whims and desires rather than being a disciple of the one we claim to follow?

In response, Jesus rebukes Peter saying, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  There's a traditional interpretation here that essentially says Jesus is putting Satan in his place.  And there's certainly nothing wrong with that interpretation.  But let me give you something else to think about.

Immediately after the confrontation with Peter, Jesus tells the crowd that if any want to be his followers they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him.

If we look at Jesus' rebuke strictly as addressed to Peter and ignore the Satanic name calling, we can see it as defining where disciples belong.  Get behind.  Follow.

Disciples are not the leaders of the pack.  Disciples are followers of Jesus on the way.  Jesus denied himself the temptation to use his power and escape death.  Jesus took up the cross of the world's hate and allowed himself to be crucified.  Jesus followed the will of God into a new way of being.  As disciples, we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross, get behind and follow Jesus.

And remember – taking up our cross has nothing to do with burdens imposed upon us from outside.  It's not an overbearing mother-in-law, it's not obnoxious coworkers or even any number of physical ailments.  It is, instead, voluntary actions we take and perform for the benefit of others.  It is things we do that the world hates us for.  It is that for which we take a beating.

To get behind Jesus and follow is to walk the path of discipleship knowing that discipleship comes at great personal cost.  To get behind Jesus and follow is to resist the temptation to submit to the easy and painless path of leading and controlling the Jesus you desire.

As we travel through our Lenten journeys, Peter and all of us are asked the same question:  Who is really in charge of your life?



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