“The Hard Work of Lent”
February 25, 2018
St. Timothy’s UMC- Rev. Mark M. Vickers
Mark 8:31-38 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 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,[a] will save it.
36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words[b] in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
We have before us this morning, one of the most volatile and yet powerful passages of scripture found in the Lenten journey. We have before us a real argument between one of Jesus’ faithful, Peter, and the Messiah himself. Peter and the disciples for that matter were undoubtedly “shocked” at the realization that Jesus was not going to save them from the Roman Empire, it’s incursion and the rule of the world as they know it.
I want you to think back for a moment, what were some of the hardest words that you have heard? I don’t want to illustrate any examples because I want these to be your thoughts, the words that you have heard. I have my set of words that I have worked through all week as I worked on this sermon. But, what were the words that you have heard? Words that changed the way you saw the future?
The words that Jesus shared with Peter and the disciples were words that for lack of a better word, “rocked their world!” It up ended everything that they thought Jesus, the King, the Messiah was coming to do. Sure, they understood that He was to “set them free,” yet the type of freedom Jesus was talking about was not political or governmental freedom, but freedom from personal and spiritual bondage.
We don’t want to hear words that challenge us! We don’t want to hear words that rebuke us! Here, when Jesus explains the unfolding of the future, Peter begins to rebuke him for not doing what Peter thought Jesus should do. In the counter punch to this, Jesus ‘rebukes’ Peter. Not in a way that tells him “to stop his whining,” but by explaining to him (and the disciples) that the way in which Jesus was about to suffer was also going to be their way. Those who would follow him will “deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” This was not what the community nor the disciples wanted to hear.
They were pretty much like us. They wanted someone to do it for them. What Jesus does is remind us that this Kingdom work is our work. Not just the work of Jesus, but the work of the community of faith and those that love their life must lose it for the sake of living a complete and full life in the gospel of Christ.
When we look at this text closely, I would say it is one of the most human texts in the life of the scripture. Human, in that the disciples just don’t get it! Jesus has to say it twice! The second time is found in Mark 9:31. Here again, the disciples were scared to ask in fear of being rebuked, yet again. Mark was adamant about this theme continuing as we hear about it again in the 10th Chapter of Mark. This is the hard work of Lent because we are hearing about it early in our Lenten journey and these are words, at least in the latter part of Mark, we hear as Jesus approaches his last days on earth.
Yet, the text this morning is for us to grasp an early understanding of the meaning of discipleship. When we hear the words, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” As one commentator put it, “It was a bitter pill for the disciples to swallow.” Here the predicament of the gospel comes into play. Those words were necessary for the disciples and us to hear, otherwise they (we) will miss the whole point of Jesus’ ministry. For Jesus came to serve, not to be served.
For us, as well as the disciples, hearing this “theology of the cross” is hard. It challenges us when we hear the “hard words” of life in and with those whom we love, adore, and admire. It is in these words that we understand to follow Jesus is to live lives of service to others, to serve rather than to control and dominate. It means the opposite of being proud of our station and status in our lives at the expense of others. It does not mean a contrived kind of humility. We do not follow Jesus by demeaning ourselves. We are called on to be the best we can be according to our gifts and graces. What the disciples had a difficult time understanding, and what we continue to struggle to understand, is that our goal is to keep one’s priorities in harmony with what Jesus told us in the two “great commandments”— love God and love your neighbor.
The disciples, being human, just like us had trouble hearing ALL of what Jesus had to say! You see, when we hear the “hard words” in our lives it becomes increasingly difficult but absolutely necessary to hear what Jesus said, “I will be killed, but I will also rise again.”
I WILL ALSO RISE AGAIN!
That my friends makes the hearing of the hard words of life and Lent a little more palatable! But, as we move through the season of Lent we must go through hearing the hard words in order to appreciate with the fullness of heart, mind, and soul those words that continue to appear even when we rebuke one another and Jesus himself.
So, as disciples of Jesus, as followers of Jesus, we are called upon to follow him not just for this future, but in this life! We are to follow in order that we have “abundant life.” So, we don't just do this for Lent, or for Easter, but we follow for full and abundant life in all seasons! In all walks of life!
One noted preacher once said, “we follow Jesus not just to be saved or to go to heaven; we follow Jesus because it’s worth it!”
AMEN & AMEN