St. John's, Centreville
February 25. 2018
2 Lent B
"God of compassion, the way of the cross is as much a mystery to us as it was to the immediate followers of Jesus. But we have heard how your grace is exercised in the journey of suffering and rejection experienced by Jesus. Help us to hear with ears inspired, to see with eyes opened to your ways, and to respond with lives committed to your service. Amen" *
In our gospel lesson this morning, we hear the first Passion prediction. Jesus is telling his disciples that he must suffer and be killed and three days later he will rise again. I think it is interesting to note that it is the first part of the statement, that Jesus must suffer and die, and not the last part, that after three days he will rise again, that catches the disciples attention. They do not ask him what he means by saying that after three days he will rise from the dead. That is not what they focus on. What they focus on is the fact that Jesus is saying that he will suffer and die. That is something they can relate to, that they can understand.
But the Messiah they were hoping for was to overcome the enemies of the nation, enlarge the borders of Israel and establish justice for God's people. The Messiah they envisioned would be a powerful king who would overthrow the Romans and make life better for everyone. But Jesus tells them he is going to be killed, that he will not be the earthly king they had hoped for.
Peter does not want to hear anything about Jesus' suffering and death. It is Peter, who in the verse prior to this one has answered Jesus' question of "Who do you say that I am?" with the answer, "You are the Christ, the Son of God." Peter knows who Jesus is. And yet as Jesus tries to tell the disciples about his death and resurrection, it is Peter who takes Jesus aside and tells him that this can't happen. Peter does not want anything to do with dying. We can almost hear the fear behind the anger. "What do you mean you are going to die?" Peter surely asks. What would the disciples do without Jesus? Who would lead them? Would their ministry even be able to continue? Jesus suffer and die? This was not the way Peter had envisioned things. The crowds following Jesus were getting larger, his support was getting stronger. In just a few years, Jesus could overthrow the Romans and life would be good. Wasn't that the plan?
A thousand thoughts must have been running through Peter's mind. Peter needed to try to talk Jesus out of this hairbrained scheme. The disciples could hide Jesus from the authorities. They could keep him safe from those who wanted to kill him. Jesus wouldn't have to die. They could just move on and things could get back to normal. There....Peter had solved the whole problem.
We can be sure that what also scared Peter was the thought that if Jesus had to undergo suffering and death, then so might Peter and the rest of the disciples. And that was something that was too difficult to even think about. This wasn't what he signed on for when he left his fishing nets to follow Jesus.
Peter's mindset, much like ours, is to avoid suffering and death at all costs. But Jesus is quite firm with Peter. "Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." We know that Jesus does not WANT to suffer and die. He would rather avoid it if he could. But Jesus is here to do the will of God and if that means to submit to suffering and death, he will do it.
Remember when Jesus was in the desert for 40 days being tempted by Satan? At the end, it says that Satan left him "until an opportune time." I think that Satan may have been testing Jesus again, by setting Peter up to try to convince Jesus that he didn't have to do this, that they could find an easier way, that they didn't have to stay on this path to the cross. Jesus calls Peter on it, and rebukes him. Jesus' focus is not on this world and our worldly standards but on God and the work God has given him to do. Peter is setting his mind on human things, not eternal things.
Then Jesus calls the disciples and the crowds that have been following them and explains the cost of discipleship, the cost of being a follower of Christ. Those who want to follow Jesus must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him.
So what is our cross? What are we called to do to be followers of Jesus Christ? To take care of others, and not just ourselves; to listen when we would rather talk; to go the extra mile for someone in need; to give of ourselves - our time, money and talent - to help others; to find peaceful ways to end conflict; to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
I, like all of you, I am sure, have been distraught by yet another mass shooting at a high school in Florida a week ago. However, I have been inspired by the witness of thousands of high school students who are calling for an end to gun violence. It's a complicated problem and there are no easy answers. But these young people, and many others, are willing to take up the cross of trying to do something so this doesn't happen to someone else. They and others are insisting on being heard. The violence must stop. And the only way it can stop is by all of us coming together, getting involved, speaking up, and insisting on being heard; whether it's by writing to your local or state representatives or joining a march against violence, or praying daily for those making these difficult decisions. Too much is at stake. Some children now live in fear of going to school, a place that should be safe for learning and growing. Too many lives are being cut short in movie theaters and restaurants and shopping malls and schools. This is a cross all of us need to bear at this time, doing what each of us can to put an end to this senseless violence.
God's love calls us to action. Deciding to live a Christian life is not a decision that will make life easy. We will be called by God to do some hard things, to do some things we would rather not do, to speak up when we would rather be silent, to become involved when we would rather remain invisible. Jesus calls us to take up our cross, whatever that might be in our individual and corporate lives, and to follow Christ. That is our call as Christians.
"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." Amen.
*Telmor Sartison - Prayers for our Church - Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada