Mark, as we have noted before, is impatient.
It feels, as you read this Gospel, that he’s in a HURRY to tell the story
To get it down on paper, to record it so that it can be shared
And read and made a part of the life of the reader, too.
There’s a reason for that.
We think Mark wrote this Gospel during a time of major upheaval
Right around when the Temple was destroyed by the Roman Authorities.
He was the first one to write a Gospel. It hadn’t been done before.
So Mark needed to get the story written down,
Because he was worried that the oral tradition that had been telling that story
Might not make it much longer.
So, for Mark, there are no additional details, no rhetorical flourishes.
Its all plain talk.
And, in a way, his portrayal of Jesus adopts this same urgency.
There’s a gift, in that plain talk.
Sometimes, we use all these extra words to soften a conversation
To make it easier for us to absorb.
If the subject matter is touchy, sometimes those extra words
Are a way to protect us from hurting feelings.
A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
And all that…
But often that’s a luxury that we can’t quite afford.
That flourish allowing us to distract from what is really going on.
The plain talk of Jesus is particularly clear
In today’s text.
It’s a tough text.
Jesus has been healing and teaching, as he and his cohort are
Ministering in the villages of Caesarea Philippi
Walking slowly towards Jerusalem
Listen to this reading from the Gospel According to Mark:
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.
32He said all this quite openly.
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33But 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.
35For 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.
36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world
and forfeit their life?
37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words
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.’
And May God Bless our Reading
And our Understanding
And our Applying of THESE words, to how we live our lives.
Several years ago, I attended a high school play.
It was really well done—the cast was on a roll and had the play down perfectly.
The first act sailed by effortlessly.
It was a comedy—one of those plays where it felt like every line landed.
Lots of laughter.
But, in the middle of the second act…
…one of the actors forgot his lines.
You could see on his face that he knew it was his turn to speak,
but he COULDN’T find the words.
Well…everybody became quite anxious.
…The director was just about the whisper the line to him,
when suddenly, he spoke.
What he said was NOT a line from the script.
In his anxiety, he just made something up–but at least he said SOMETHING.
NOT ONLY that, but what he said, well, happened to be FUNNY—
–and the audience roared with laughter.
Everybody on-stage relaxed–they had gotten past a bad spot.
UNFORTUNATELY, the forgetful actor heard
the laughter of the audience, and he kinda LIKED IT…
…so he made up another line.
This one, too, was funny…NOT as funny as the first line, but the audience chuckled.
Then the actor made up another line,
The other actors were scrambling, trying to respond to him, but they couldn’t.
He was out of control.
spinning off whatever came into his head.
The play was disintegrating…it was lost.
This is a form of Exile.
EXILE takes many forms.
At various times, as we’ve looked through the Bible,
we’ve considered the EXILE
of the Hebrew People in a foreign land,
and Paul’s EXILE from his own TRADITION,
and Martha and Mary’s exile of EXPECTATIONS.
Today, during the season of Lent,
we consider the EXILE that comes as a result of TEMPTATION.
We’re NOT talking about getting punished for falling prey to temptation, we all do that
Eating the whole pint of ice cream.
The whole sleeve of Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies.
This isn’t about our new years resolutions falling by the wayside
Or a vow to give up swearing for Lent
Being thwarted after Eric Hosmer signed with the Padres. Darn it!
Guided by our texts this morning,
this is more about the EXILE of being tempted like that high school theater kid—
–TEMPTED to make up our own lines in life.
It’s the TEMPTATION to ignore God’s story for our lives.
And when we do that…we are utterly LOST…
Jesus was tempted on just this point…
…and those temptations were especially strong—
–clustered around the subject of HIS OWN DEATH.
How early in his life Jesus thought of his DEATH–we do NOT know.
The gospel writers place the thought of his death QUITE early.
BUT that doesn’t mean that HE THOUGHT OF IT that early.
It is the tendency of the Gospel writers
to put the shadow of the cross even over the crib.
You see it in all four of the Gospels:
There is foreshadowing everywhere:
In the Second Chapter of Matthew: there’s Herod the Great’s attempt on Jesus’ life
When he is still an infant,
And though that attempt was foiled–
–the reader knows that SOMEBODY will try again.
[Matthew, chapter 2]
In the Second Chapter of Mark: Jesus is asked:
“Why don’t your disciples fast?”
“Oh, you don’t fast at a party, but the time will come
when the bridegroom is taken away from them…”
Jesus said. Foreshadowing…
[Mark, chapter 2]
In the Second Chapter of Luke, you read:
“Old Simeon took the baby [Jesus],
held him in his arms, and said to Mary his mother—
“Because of this child, a sword will pierce your heart.”
[Luke, chapter 2]
And as early as the Second chapter of John:
“Destroy this temple [Jesus says] and I’ll build it again in three days.
He spoke of the temple of his body…”
[John, chapter 2]
So quite early in the GOSPELS, we see this discussion of Jesus’ death…
…but how early was it felt in Jesus’ own life?
How soon did Jesus think about his own death?
Lots of Christian voices get this wrong:
There is NO evidence that he had a death wish,
that he went IN SEARCH of a cross.
We don’t have here some brooding Hamlet—
–always looking for the tomb.
In fact, the gospels give every indication
that Jesus tried to avoid death.
Someone tell Mel Gibson: Suffering and death are not glorified in the bible.
EVEN in the Gospel of JOHN, whose Jesus is almost untouchable, it says:
“And Jesus withdrew, for his hour had not yet come…”
Jesus TRIED to hold onto his life—
–but the time came when he accepted what lay before him..”[i]
However he came to it–sooner, later–
the thought of giving his life in an effective way impressed itself upon Jesus–
–but he found it very difficult to talk about with his friends.
In today’s text, Mark says Jesus withdrew from the crowds, sought a quiet moment
–when he FIRST brought up the subject.
Now, for us, when a family member, or a friend, wants to talk about their dying
We unfortunately tend to try to avoid that discussion at all costs.
Its too hard. Even though it can be so helpful, so affirming of life and of living.
Someone suggests making a will, or writing their own obituary….
and too often silence falls over the house:
“Oh no, no, DON’T talk of that…”
But when Jesus mentions his death–
–he did NOT meet silence,
INSTEAD, Peter REVOLTED:
“NO! This will never happen to you!
You are not going to die!
We will SURVIVE!
There is a way to survive–you will survive!”
Jesus touches a nerve, it seems.
They were SCREAMING–Jesus screaming at Peter,
and Peter screaming at Jesus.
They screamed at each other as though they were trying to cast out demons.
Of course Peter screamed!
You can’t accept the fact of death like that, Jesus.
What good is a dead leader? Stop that.
LIFE is the thing–the tenacity of life.
When Jesus said, “I will be killed,”
NO WONDER Peter screamed in his face
“NO! We can survive!”
But, in Peter’s justifiable, understandable,
Peter’s “conventional wisdom”
set a course…AWAY from the true depth and cost of God’s love.
In that bitter exchange, Jesus FINALLY said,
“Hush–no more of this.
You represent the tempter.
Get behind me…
…this voice that insists on survival above EVERYTHING!
“In fact, you’re WRONG about me, Simon Peter.
In fact, you’re WRONG about yourself–
–because the church that follows me
must ALSO take up the cross…”
…With one hand, Jesus took his own cross,
with the OTHER–he handed a cross to the church,
and followers of Jesus, you and I, have said with Peter ever since–
“No, no–we can survive!
We know ways to survive–we can survive!
We are always TEMPTED to make Jesus into something he is NOT.
Jesus is NOT…a therapist;
He is NOT…a project manager,
or a life coach,
or a cheerleader,
or an information specialist, or a guru.
Jesus is who Peter said he was:
“He is the Messiah, God’s chosen one.
Jesus is the HOPE of the world.”
And that HOPE comes at great cost—God’s love is a love borne of sacrifice.
And THAT is the problem for Peter—NO ONE wants to get to HOPE that way!
–No one wants to hear about SIN and SACRIFICE,
about the DEMANDS of the Gospel,
about LOVING the UNLOVELY.
About putting JESUS above principles,
even above religion—
Why talk of a CROSS, when we can fix up everything in the church
to make things look nice?
Why talk about Risk-taking when we can concentrate on
actualizing your potential through positive thinking?
I was astonished to read about a church in Pennsylvania
That plans a blessing ceremony for their parishioners’ AR-15 semi-automatic rifles.
It reminded me of another story, just a year or two ago
Of a church in Kentucky
That began giving away free steak dinners…and guns…
…to encourage “un-churched young [men]”
to come to church and accept Jesus.
One commentator summed it up then:
“Can you picture Jesus giving away guns?”[ii]
We are always TEMPTED to make Jesus into something he is NOT.
Peter’s temptation was to put SURVIVAL above all,
even above the call and purpose of Jesus.
Peter’s temptation is apt to be ours as well:
–to avoid the hard road when an easier road looks so enticing;
–to settle for the tepid IMITATION of hope,
when REAL HOPE is just too costly…
It was the hardest thing in the world for Peter to say to Jesus: “you will die.”
Some followers of Jesus have NEVER been able to pronounce that: “Jesus is dead!”
Even on that awful Saturday,
They could not say, “Jesus is dead.”
They thought up all these imaginative stories:
“You know, the one they REALLY crucified was the one
CARRYING the cross–Simon of Cyrene–
–that’s the one they REALLY crucified.”
“Do you know that sponge they passed to Jesus on the cross?
It was a plan.
It had a drug in it.
Jesus would pass out–he would SEEM to die—but he wouldn’t–
–and then they would take him down and revive him.
Jesus didn’t die!
No, Jesus! Survival is the word!”
What I do know is—
–at every place, in most every church–large and small—
–pressure is put on you and me—
–to have NUMBER ONE on the agenda–SURVIVAL at any cost.
It is the TEMPTATION of survival, at any cost
that ROBS disciples like Peter, back then,
and you and me, this very day
of the possibility of REAL HOPE,
grounded in God’s costly love.
When this happens to us—when we hear the cries for survival,
the pressure to fit in and go along,
the pressure to think that by GRINNING
you can make it EASTER,
this insistence that we not take
this whole thing TOO seriously…
…but rather BE just another fine cultural institution—
–like a service club or a fine arts association
or even a political action committee–
–WHEN you feel those pressures,
I hope we will hear Jesus’ voice:
“Get behind me tempter.
Take up your cross.
You must give your life.”
What does THAT mean–“GIVE YOUR LIFE?”
I think it means to be willing to empty our pockets
for somebody else’s children.
I think it means to treat as mother and father those
who are NOT really our mother and father.
I think it means to claim as a sister
those who you do not know, who are not “your kin.”
I think it means to call as a brother those who you don’t even recognize.
I think it means to reach out and TOUCH untouchable people—
–as far as our society is concerned.
I think it means to sit at table with people who live far outside
the tight social circle of some of our friends.
Break bread together.
I think it means to stand up for peace
In a land awash with guns.
To witness to the humanity of the foreigner in the land
Who doesn’t look or talk or worship the same way we do.
It means to witness for Jesus Christ
even though such action can cause awkward silence
and embarrassed glances around the room at a party…
It means NOT to follow the SACRED claims of flag or job,
politics or culture or expectations or
safety or EVEN FAMILY—
–NONE of those are objects of religious faith!
Jesus Christ ALONE is the object of sacred devotion!
What does it mean to “GIVE YOUR LIFE?”
I think it means being willing to let our loved ones die
Never proud of death, never seeking it out
But knowing that death is not the final word
That love is more powerful than death
And that even though all mortals shall die
There shall be new life tomorrow…
I think it means being willing to risk our survival
So that others might know love
Might be fed with good food
Might be given water to drink
Might have life in abundance.
That was Jesus’ role, in God’s great play.
And Jesus never lost his lines. Not once.
May we stay true to the script, also.
And focus not on survival, but on Jesus Christ, and him alone:
So that we can be God’s people
Confident that the love of God will see us through.
That play, my friends, has such a wonderful ending.
May we live to see it all the way through.
May it be so…
[i] Poem cited in a sermon by Fred Craddock entitled “The Announcement” from The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox, 2011) p 107. The theme and flow of parts of this sermon is indebted to Fred Craddock’s work in many places, including to a sermon he preached to Princeton Theological Seminary in 1989 entitled “The Last Temptation of the Church”.
[ii] As described in “Pa. Church Plans Blessing Ceremony for AR-15s” found at http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/375075-pa-church-invites-couples-to-bring-ar-15s-to-church-for (Accessed February 24, 2018) and The Week. “Good Week, Bad Week” for March 6, 2014. Found at http://theweek.com/articles/449767/good-week-bad-week (accessed February 24, 2018).
Image Credit: “Path, Santiago, Sunflower, Magic” by sandropasini at pixabay, seen here https://pixabay.com/en/path-santiago-sunflower-magic-2400885/