Mark 8:31-38 • February 25, 2018
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
One of the greatest books – my opinion of course – on Christian discipleship over the last century is called The Cost of Discipleship. It’s a book that I’ll pick up periodically as I’m wrestling with my own call as a disciple or when events in the world happen that make me think about discipleship more than usual.
One chapter in this book speaks directly to our gospel reading today from Saint Mark. The chapter’s title Discipleship and the Cross. In this chapter, the books’ author, Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote, “To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us.”
Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor who was a leading figure opposed to the Nazi regime during World War II. He was arrested in 1943 for his opposition to Hitler. He had been linked to a group of conspirators who made a failed assassination attempt on Hitler. In April 1945, he was hanged in a Nazi concentration camp just as the regime was beginning to collapse and the war was coming to an end. Bonhoeffer not only wrote about discipleship and taking up our cross, he lived it to his death.
Our gospel reading today from Mark is the first of 3 predictions Jesus makes about the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Son of Man. In this first prediction, Jesus says that “If you want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
That seems simple enough.
If you want to follow Jesus, you need to take up your cross.
Bonhoeffer referred to this as denying oneself and becoming only aware of Christ and not of anything self-serving. You see, taking up our cross, denying oneself is not simply about putting up with suffering or bad things in life. Taking up our cross is to only focus on Christ and no more on self – in all parts of our life, not just on the parts of our lives that involve suffering.
That seems simple enough.
Focus on Jesus always, nothing else.
At the beginning of our gospel reading today, Peter – one of Jesus closest friends and first disciples – misses this point entirely. Which is the reason why Jesus reminds Peter that he is setting his mind not on divine things but on human things. You see, Peter thinks Jesus needs to be the messiah that is all powerful, all controlling. A king, a president, a warrior who has come to destroy anything that stands in the way of what Peter thinks a messiah should be. A messiah who is the wealthiest, most powerful man to ever live in all of the ways that were important to Peter’s first-century mind. All powerful in human things – Peter’s understanding. Completely oblivious to divine things.
But that’s just a first-century simple-minded man – this Peter – we don’t think like that anymore in 2018, right?
I mean, we don’t set rich people on powerful pedestals in order to bring further oppression upon poor people, right? We don’t look to politicians or government leaders or military power as the all-knowing, all powerful, all controlling and domineering rulers of societies today, right? We don’t live in societies where only the strongest survive and everyone else can just get lost and get out of our way. Right? I mean, our societies are more civilized today than they were in the first-century world under the rule of the oppressive Roman Empire – the world’s first super-power. It’s no longer US vs. THEM like it was in Jesus day.
We have no problem bearing one another’s burdens today, we take up our cross willingly and follow, we deny ourselves always and look only to Christ Jesus. Wealth and power and fame and prestige…those things no longer matter in our society or in communities of Jesus followers.
Well…if you’ve turned on a television or looked online or read a magazine or newspaper lately, you might be joining me and thinking…wow…we haven’t made it very far from the first century, have we? Jesus shouting, “Get behind me, Satan!” still rings in the ears of God’s 21st Century children, just like it did when Jesus first said it to Peter nearly 2,000 years ago.
The cross that Jesus takes up is one of rejection and shame and suffering. We know today that it takes him to the cross of Good Friday. It’s actually a journey that we take every year in the season of Lent. Peter and Jesus’ first disciples weren’t walking through a season called Lent. Peter didn’t know that Easter was coming or what that meant for his life.
We do. Or at least you and I say that we do.
Back to the book The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer wrote, “The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which everyone must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. To go one’s way under the sign of the cross is not misery and desperation, but peace and refreshment for the soul.”
Through the cross of Christ Jesus – a cross that you and I are called to take up each and every day – we discover that there is no place God will refuse to go in order to love us and redeem us and shows us daily that we do not take up our cross alone. Ever.
“We are called to take up our cross,” Pastor David Lose shared in a reflection on today’s gospel reading this week, “expecting that God is most clearly and fully present in the suffering and brokenness of the world. We are called to take up our cross by being honest about our brokenness and thereby demonstrate our willingness to enter into the brokenness of others. We are called to take up our cross because we follow the One who not only took up his cross but also revealed that nothing in this world, not even the hate and darkness and death that seemed so omnipresent on that Friday we dare call good, can defeat the love and light and life of God.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, in this holy season of Lent, and in every other day of the year, set your hearts and minds on divine things, not human things. Take up your cross and follow! In times of suffering and pain. And in times when you are overwhelmed with joy and completely satisfied with life. You’ll find Jesus there. Amen.