(Note: Playing catch-up on a Monday morning? Surprising I know. Anyways, here’s day 10, and my sermon from Sunday. Enjoy!)
The more I read the bible, and the more I read the wisdom of Jesus, and the stories of the people who came before us, the more counterintuitive I find the whole thing. Since it’s been rather cold, especially further up north in Dallas, an easy example comes to mind. When you drive and it’s icy out, and you hit a patch of ice, do you hit the brakes, or just do nothing? You do nothing, because if you hit the brakes, you’ll lose control of the car.Another thought: When you ski in the snow, your intuition tells you to lean back to have more control. Rather, you’re supposed to lean forward, with bent knees.The bible often sounds like counter-intuition. Going against what we think might make more sense.
No more is it more evident than in the season of lent. Lent is the season of preparation, fasting, and repentance before Easter. Easter is a joyous celebration of life and rebirth, but all of that means nothing if you don’t lay the groundwork. How can one appreciate a sunrise if all one knows is daytime? Rather, one must contemplate the sacredness of night in order to truly enjoy the brightness of day. One must contemplate the need for salvation if one is to understand salvation. To prepare for the daylight, we are making an expedition in the dark. This is the second week of my sermon series, Getting Lost, in which I explore the ways we get lost in our faith, for better or for worse. This week, we consider the words of Jesus concerning what the messiah is to do, and what that means for us.
There’s plenty to focus on in this passage, but what I want to zero in on is the passage at the end, when he addresses the crowds.Now, what he says is not without context. The book of Mark builds up to this whole scene, smack dab in the middle of the story. This is the major turning point of Mark. Everything, from Jesus arriving from out of nowhere, to his teachings, to his healings, miracles and wonders–everything leads up to this remarkably un-miraculous moment. There is no water into wine, no calming of the storm, no bread and fish multiplication in this story; only a miraculous realization. Jesus asks the disciples who people think he is, and then asks the disciples who they think he is. The answer, that he is the Christ, the anointed one, is the Grand Reveal, that takes a surprise turn.
What Peter expects is the marching orders to take down Rome. He wants a King–and who wouldn’t? If I was following someone today that I believe is some kind of chosen one, an Anointed, a Christ, I would expect some serious action! A grand battle with the forces of Evil! Storm and clangor, fighting and war! The Spiritual forces of Good doing battle with the Devil Himself!
Why wouldn’t I think this? I’ve certainly been conditioned to think this. All of the movies I’ve ever watched , all the books I’ve ever read, would lead me to this conclusion. I want a Luke Skywalker. I want a Harry Potter. A Neo, an Aragorn, a Captain America, an Iron-Man; heck, I’ll even take a Star-Lord. What I’m trying to say is that when we think of Heroes, we want someone who will fight!
However, that’s not what Jesus offers when he is exposed by Peter. No, he says something rather different. He says the Christ, your Hero, your Chosen one–he’s going to suffer. He’s going to die. He’s going to be dead for 3 days. And on the third day, he will rise from the Dead. Peter, in response to this baffling definition of Chosen one, denies that this will happen, that Jesus is wrong.
Here’s a thing: Don’t tell Jesus he’s wrong. He doesn’t like that. You do that, he calls you Satan, and tells you to get out of the way. You’re obviously not picking up what Jesus is laying down. You’re the one who isn’t thinking straight.
“All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 35 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. 36 Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? 37 What will people give in exchange for their lives? 38 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful and sinful generation, the Human One[b] will be ashamed of that person when he comes in the Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
That’s a rather daunting command, isn’t it? A cross, if you will remember, is not like we are familiar with them today. A cross is not simply a piece of jewelry, or a nice wall hanging, or a design for a handbag. A cross is an a electric chair. A cross is a hangman’s noose. A cross is a guillotine. A Cross is a lethal injection. A cross is an implement of torture and death, oppression for those who dared question those who were powerful. A cross is a threat. A cross is a burden far greater than even I can accurately explain to you. It’s a burden that demands something of you: to say no to yourself, to deny yourself.
What does it mean to deny yourself? Lent is a season of figuring that out. We all have a burden we carry all on our own, without adding crosses to that mix. Family, work, health, friendships, our past, our present, our future–we all have burdens. Some of them are lighter than others. Some are quite weighty.
When Jesus made this command, to deny yourself, pick your cross, and follow him, he does not say this lightly. He’s not saying to put down something that is easy. Following Christ is a matter of understanding who you are in the cosmic sense. Where you are is lost. What you are is a human, and following Christ who became human, you need to understand that you are mortal. To live is to know that you will eventually die. Christ is calling us to own our mortality. Own your suffering. Own up to the fact that yeah, we do carry a burden. Life isn’t a walk in the park. Sure you may walk into a park on that journey, but between those parks is wilderness.
In picking up the cross, we also need to put things down. What about yourself is dragging you down? The journey is long, and sometimes, in order to make it, you need to manage what we’re carrying. So what holds you down?Is it material things? Money is no small matter, and it matters quite a bit in this life. Worrying about money is a burden many share. How can you manage that burden? How can Christ help you in that struggle, so that you may make that burden lighter and make room for Jesus?Is it emotional weight? Is it your past actions? Relationships scarred over time? Wounds that haven’t healed yet? Grief that hasn’t yet passed? If so, what can Christ do to ease that burden? What can the church do to ease it? What can your neighbor do to help?
I don’t say any of this flippantly. These are serious things that can weigh us down. Lent is designed to help us draw closer to Christ, to make it so that we can find clarity in the haze life, light in the wilderness.
As we come to the table of grace today, we share in the communion of our Lord. At the table, Christ is really and truly present with us. We partake in the body and the blood, and become united in this moment.When we do this, I want you to think, and to pray: What am I carrying? What is weighing me down? What do I need to manage, and what do I need to let go? What can I do to take up the Cross, and follow Jesus?