Mark 8:31-38 • March 1, 2015
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
How many of us in worship today are trying to give something up for Lent this year? Or maybe you are trying to add a new spiritual discipline to your life? Anybody. I heard someone say this week that they don’t give anything up for Lent anymore and they had a better idea for this longstanding practice. Their thought was that we should be able to decide what someone else should have to give up for Lent. We could have some sort of a secret Santa drawing in our congregation before Lent and decide for someone else what they would be giving up for Lent. I don’t know, that might be kind of fun some year.
I enjoy the wisdom of the great Yogi Berra – the hall of fame baseball player and manager, not the cartoon bear of Jellystone Park fame. Yogi once said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
We are about three months into the liturgical year of the Christian church. A year that focuses on the gospel of Mark. In case you haven’t realized by now, Mark moves quickly. And Mark 8 is a bit of a theological fork in the road. This chapter is the hinge chapter in this gospel. Not only is it the middle of the gospel in terms of verse and chapter numbers, it is also the central point theologically. In chapter eight, Jesus takes a decisive turn toward the cross. Jesus seems to know what he is doing and where he is going, or rather where he must go whether he wants to go there or not. For the disciples, this encounter with Jesus is a fork in the road. And like Yogi Berra, they simply want to take it. They want it both ways. They want to stick with Jesus and be his followers while at the same time insisting that Jesus follow them down the path that they want to take. (The above reference is inspired by the writing of Scott Hoezee in The Lenten Fork.)
As a congregation, this year in Lent we are exploring what it means to be a steward of God, a disciple of Jesus. And as we grow in our understanding of being a steward of God, a disciple of Jesus, I hope and pray that we are becoming more active in the mission that we are being called to live out each day in our life together in Christ – to go, to suffer, to die, and to be raised.
The challenge that I think we run up against, which in many ways is the same challenge that the first disciples of Jesus face directly in today’s gospel reading, is that of all the things we are called to do in our life of faith – to go, to suffer, to die, to be raised – the only thing that any of us are really interested in being part of is being raised.
Bishop N.T. Wright offers a wonderful insight on this, especially as it relates to the gospel reading before us today from Saint Mark. The Bishop writes, “Following Jesus is, more or less, Mark’s definition of what being a Christian means; and Jesus is not leading us on a pleasant afternoon hike, but on a walk into danger and risk. Or did we suppose that the kingdom of God would mean merely a few minor adjustments in our ordinary lives?” (Mark for Everyone, p. 112)
One of the shifts we are being invited into during our Wednesday worship series in Lent this year relates well to what is happening to the disciples during this exchange with Jesus. The disciples are being confronted with the reality that following Jesus is far different than they first thought it would be. It’s very similar to what we are hearing in our Lent worship series “Stewards of God’s Love: The Down, In, and Out of Being a Disciple of Jesus.” You and I, who claim to be followers of the savior Jesus in 2015, answer the question, “How much of what is mine should I give away?” in a way that looks a lot more like something of our own choosing in ways that have little to do with following Jesus.
In today’s gospel, Jesus addresses this question to the first disciples, and to you and me today, by stating, “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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (vs. 35) The disciples think they have this all figured out and that everything is theirs and they don’t have to give any of it away. That following Jesus is easy. But Jesus invites them into an entirely new reality and relationship with God and with each other. After all, being a steward of God, a disciple of Jesus is about realizing that everything we are, ever have been, or ever will be is God’s first. And that everything we have, or ever have had, or ever will have is God’s first.
Taking up your cross and following Jesus means that everything you and I have ever known – our relationships, our career, our health, our stuff, our money, is God’s. So…the call to take up your cross and follow quickly reframes the question of how much of what I think is mine should I give away into how much of what is God’s should I keep for myself?
There’s an old saying that – “half of our problems come from wanting our own way. The other half come from getting it!”
Let me leave you with this thought. “Let’s just admit it,” says Pastor Michael Coffey. “It’s really only the hard things in this life that end up telling us who we are, what we are made of, and what really matters. It is only the struggle we work through, successfully or not, that teach us the limits and the grandeur of being human. It is only the acceptance of suffering as a necessary part of the human condition that draws us together and unites us as one in our fragile, bodily, humble reality. It is only in confronting our death and placing our lives wholly in the fatherly arms, the motherly embrace of God, that we can finally and truly live.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as you and I continue our journey together this week to the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter Sunday, remember that when you come to a fork in the road of your life as a steward of God, a disciple of Jesus – take it. Take it and go. But don’t just take the easy road and go where you want to go. Go where Jesus wants you to go. And in doing that, live a life that even the darkness of death cannot destroy. Amen.