2nd Sunday in Lent March 4, 2012 Mark 8: 31-38
In the verses just before our reading today, Jesus has asked his disciples what people are saying about him, and who people think he is. It’s clear that people think he’s something special: John the Baptist, come back to life, or Elijah or one of the other prophets are suggested. “So,” Jesus wants to know, “who do you think I am?”
Peter answers with a ringing affirmation: “You are the Messiah.” Immediately Jesus begins to teach them about what that might mean. He tells them plainly that he will suffer greatly, be persecuted by the religious authorities and be killed, but that he will rise again in three days.
Gosh, everything’s been going so well. “No way,” says Peter, “that’s crazy!” Poor Peter. One right answer, and then one wrong one. Jesus says he’s in league with Satan by denying the true path of God.
In the new “Lutheran” magazine, Peter Marty writes about a Jesus it’s easy to love. That’s the Jesus who creates a picnic for thousands from scraps, who touches the untouchables to heal their hemorrhages and skin diseases, who raises only sons and dear friends from the dead. That miracle-worker, compassionate Jesus is so lovable, we want him to be with us always and work those wonders for us. It is easy to turn to that Jesus when you are in trouble and need something. It’s also easy to not pay attention to that Jesus when everything is humming along and you are doing just fine on your own.
The Jesus who faces off the evils of the world is not so easy to love. Our American standards lift up the successes in life, those who make it through to difficulty to comfort and security, and who are able to battle back against difficulty. We don’t really want a Jesus who is tortured, bleeding, dying gruesomely. What kind of God is that?
As I was reading Novella Hammack’s obituary in the Bend paper, there was also an obituary for William Hamilton, a theologian who was responsible for the 1960’s “God is Dead” movement. According to the paper, he abandoned his trust in God when two of his faithful Christian friends died in an accident and an atheist survived. Hamilton asked with deep anguish how a loving God could let something like that happen. He turned to living out the pattern of life that Jesus laid out in his life and preaching – loving and giving and working for justice – but called himself an atheist.
“If you are going to be my followers,” Jesus says, “you must be prepared to suffer, to give up the life you can control. Get your ego out of the way and look at uncertainty and even danger as the path of God’s people.” This is so hard for us to trust. But isn’t that our experience? And isn’t that what faith, real faith is about? The writer of Hebrews tells us that faith is the conviction of things not seen, the assurance of things hoped for. Last week we talked about Jesus’ time in the wilderness and the wild beasts that surrounded him. The message was that in our time of trial, we can trust that Jesus has been there before us. Nothing that we suffer is ever beyond what God knows through the life of Jesus as one of us.
In the story from the Hebrew Bible, we have Abram (means exalted father) and Sarai, who at 99 years old are the recipients of a new covenant from God. He tells them that they will be the progenitors of a great nation. At 99? Wow! And as a sign of the new relationship they have with God, they receive new names: Abraham (means father of many) and Sarah (mean princess). New names mean new relationship with God and with the world. Paul will tell us in his letter to the Roman Church, that it is Abraham’s faith that makes him the father of a multitude, not just the patriarch of the Jewish people.
And that means us. We are called to be God’s own people. We are blessed and forgiven through God’s grace, not through anything we do or have done. We are given the name of Christian, disciples of Jesus, the Christ. And we are sent out into the world to be Jesus where we are. That means that we will have complications in our lives. Things will happen to us that we don’t understand. We will not always be admired for our faith, or our way of life which has different standards than much of the world. We will smack headlong into pain and tragedy we don’t understand. We will wonder if God could possibly allow such things to happen to us – who have always been so faithful and trusting. And we will know that the way of the cross is the way to see how God loves us so powerfully that God was willing to suffer beyond anything we can even imagine. God could have just snapped his metaphorical fingers and defeated evil forever, and protected us from any cost to be the people of God. But God chose another way. Jesus went through evil himself to win victory over it. He went through death to come out on the other side, overcoming death and evil forever.
Abraham and Sarah waited another 25 years for the child, the one and only child they would ever have, that was the child God promised. Jesus set his face toward the suffering that was required to stare down everything that could ever separate us from God and God’s love for us. In a world of uncertainly, of calamity, of sickness and death, one thing remains the same. God’s love for us never changes. God’s presence with us never fails. The guarantee of that is in the resurrection of Jesus, for after all the suffering and fear, it is God’s own longing to be our God, to be with us always that is stronger than death itself.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.