Year B Proper 19 Mark 8
Why Must We Carry a Cross?
Mark 8:27-38

Mark 8: 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 like Norman Swartscoff. Imagine that your country has been invaded and is being ruled by godless men. Sense, now, that the tension is mounting and you 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 and your General will suffer many things. We are not going to get any help from our Jewish brothers the Elders. Even the Chief Priest and the Saducees 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 posses more power then 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. We must carry a cross to remind us that...

  1. We are not the center of the Universe.
  2. There are others who suffer and we must fight for justice in the lives of others.
  3. We are responsible in part for the cross that Jesus carried.

Putting God to Work in Your Life through Peas, Squash, Lettuce, Thyme
Mark 8:27-38

Day-laborers. You know where they are. You probably don’t know who they are, but you know where you can find them. Every community has them. They gather on a street corner or parking lot before dawn. There they wait, watch, and hope that you will drive by and give them a day’s work.

Can you imagine what it must be life to live like this? Not knowing where you next paycheck is coming from, or if it’s coming at all. These are the earliest risers in any community. By the time the sun is up, so is the chance for earning a daily wage, making enough money to buy food for an evening meal, scratching together some funds to put towards the rent or to send toward the family back home. It is a hand-to-mouth, hardscrapple existence, a morning-to-morning crapshoot. It is a scrape-by living, not a livelihood.

Unemployment numbers are still on the rise. The most recent statistics are the highest they have been in 26 years. People are either moving in with family and forming extended families, or we are leaving dead and dying towns to search out work in some other part of the country . . . leaving behind bad mortgages, good schools, family memories. When you’re unemployed, the goal is not so much a better future; the goal is getting through today and getting to tomorrow.

Some of you here this morning make your living with your hands, your back, your flying fingertips; others of you with your shoe-leather, your gift of gab, or your brain matter. But however you make your living, you have developed key skills. Our work skills give us a sense of pride and purpose. Good skills should lead to a good job, a good paycheck, and a sense of independence and self-satisfaction.

It is precisely when our skills are rewarded and we’re doing well that we are most tempted to pull the old unemployment plug - not on some co-worker, or employee, but on God. This is our biggest, most critical unemployment crisis. An unemployed God, idled by our idol of self-sufficiency and self-help. The unemployment crisis is one we manufacture in our own life - an unemployed or at best a grossly under-employed reliance on God in our lives. When we hit a wall - when our finances fall apart, our family is in crisis, a serious illness develops, a hurricane bears down, a fire roars around - then we are eager to employ God... presents Leonard Sweet