Year B Lent 2 Mark 8 2012
Why Must We Carry a Cross?
You might remember comedian Yakov Smirnoff. When he first came to the United States from Russia he was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, "On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk--you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice--you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, "What a country!"
Smirnoff is joking but we make these assumptions about Christian Transformation—that people change instantly at salvation. Some traditions call it repentance and renewal. Some call it Sanctification of the believer. Whatever you call it most traditions expect some quick fix to sin. According to this belief, when someone gives his or her life to Christ, there is an immediate, substantive, in-depth, miraculous change in habits, attitudes, and character. We go to church as if we are going to the grocery store: Powdered Christian. Just add water and disciples are born not made.
Unfortunately, there is no such powder and disciples of Jesus Christ are not instantly born. They are slowly raised through many trials, suffering, and temptations. A study has found that only 11 percent of churchgoing teenagers have a well-developed faith, rising to only 32 percent for churchgoing adults. Why? Because true-life change only begins at salvation, takes more than just time, is about training, trying, suffering, and even dying (adapted from James Emery White, Rethinking the Church, Baker, 1997, p. 55-57).
Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him. Why? Peter believes the kingdom of God can be obtained instantly by force. Peter has a worldly view of the Kingdom and Jesus is speaking about a heavenly kingdom. For a moment I would like you to listen to this story with new ears and see Jesus through the eyes of Peter and the rest of the disciples. Get rid of all your notions about who Jesus is. Take away from your mind Jesus as the Son of God. Strip from your memory that he died on the Cross and that he did that for your sins. Forget that Jesus ever said love your enemies or love your neighbor.
Now I want you to think of Jesus only as a military leader. Imagine that your country has been invaded and is being ruled by godless men. Sense, now, that the tension is mounting and you are about to go into battle. That you are about to conduct a coup d'etat. That you and this band of ruffians are going to attempt to overthrow this government by a sudden violent strike. That the odds are stacked against you but you have a very strong belief that God is on your side despite the overwhelming odds.
Now you are thinking like Peter. Jesus comes before his disciples and lays out his military strategy. Look at verse 31. Jesus says, "We are going to march into Jerusalem you, the soldiers, are going to lose your lives and I, your General, will suffer many things. Furthermore, we are not going to get any help from our Jewish brothers the Elders. Even the Chief Priest and the Sadducees will not join us. Our government, the Sanhedrin, is corrupt and can be of no help to us. We are going it alone and I will die in this battle."
On this day Jesus spoke plainly to his disciples about the events soon to transpire and even though it was plain language it was not plain enough. Peter was not able to shake his understanding of Jesus as his General so he pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him. He says, "Sir, this is not a very good military strategy. You are not going to die, don't say that. It's not good for morale. We are going to be there with you and we will fight to the end and we will throw these godless Romans out of Israel, you will ascend to the throne in place of Herod, and we will be at your right and left hand as the new leaders of Palestine.
It is fascinating to note that just before Jesus rebukes Peter he turns and looks at his disciples. It is as if Jesus is putting two and two together and realizes the disciples have put Peter up to this. It is a perilous moment in the life of Christ. He must dispel this error from their minds and teach them the meaning of his mission. So, he rejects Peter outright calling him a tool of Satan and says, you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.
Jesus is up against a formidable foe. And in the end this foe may possess more power than he. But the foe is not Peter and it's not the Sanhedrin or Pontius Pilate, or Rome. This formidable foe is not even Satan himself. The powerful enemy of Jesus is our quest for positions of rank and status.
To address the confusion Jesus pulls his disciples together and brings them before a crowd. And in front of the crowd he corrects the disciples' aspirations for privilege, rank, and power and he gives them this simple little directive: You must take up your cross and follow me. This morning I would like to ask the question "Why must we carry a cross?" and give three reasons we must do so.
- To remind us that we are not the center of the Universe.
- To remind us that there are others who suffer.
- To remind us that we are responsible in part for the cross that Jesus carried.
Do You Know Your Place?
The world of sled dog racing is famous for a truism: "If you aren't the lead dog, the scenery never changes."
In other words, only the lead dog gets to see what is up ahead. Only the lead dog gets to sniff out new possibilities, gets to choose a new path. For the rest of the pack, there is nothing but a view of bushy backsides. No wonder in life we are all constantly striving to be "lead dogs."
Across the political spectrum, there is one common refrain. As the 2012 political races heat up every candidate, Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal or libertarian, encourages their audiences with calls for America to reclaim her leadership status — in manufacturing, technology, production, influence, economic growth. Whatever the topic, it is being "in the lead position" that is the most important point.
We all want to be "large and in charge." Who doesn't want to chart our own destiny? Who doesn't want to choose our life pathway? Who doesn't want to decide for oneself? The problem for Christians is that Jesus had a rather startling response to that kind of an attitude: "Get behind me, Satan!"
Jesus' harsh "rebuke" of Peter ("rebuke" here is a word used in demonic exorcisms) doesn't sound so bad when it is directed at a dimwit disciple who had the audacity to try and tell Jesus he was wrong. It is another thing to have Jesus' words directed at each one of us, reminding twenty-first century disciples that none of us are "lead dogs," that none of us get to be "large and in charge."
Jesus' disciples are reminded by today's gospel text to "know our place." And where is our "place?"...