2nd Sunday in Lent
March 1, 2015
Mark 8:31- 38
(To read this text, go to bible.oremus.org )
Poor Peter! It’s easy for us to blame him for being so clueless, but stop and think a minute. Up to now, Jesus has been parading through the countryside, healing, feeding, casting out demons and proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is here. He could really be the Messiah they’ve been waiting for. Just look!
Remember that the more restless the Jews have become with their Roman overlords, the more Rome is cracking down on them. We don’t know that fear that comes with living under a foreign government that reigns by terror. Thanks be to God. The Jews of Jesus’ day were a proud people resisting the iron hand of Rome, suffering every day as their heroes are jailed and murdered just for encouraging people to stand up to reclaim their own dignity. They were more than ready to embrace Jesus’ powerful claim that God has come to save you, and the signs and wonders that had accompany his work so far.
So you can imagine what a shock it is to suddenly hear him say that he is not going forward to challenge Rome, and establish that kind of kingdom. He says he will suffer at he hands of their oppressors, and that their church will be in league with them. In fact, he will die at their hands. And then will rise again in three days. It doesn’t make sense.
Jesus doesn’t make being a disciple look very enticing. Denying yourself and what you want is not how I envision a good life. “If any want to be my disciples, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” No thanks, Jesus, I want money in the bank, good health, world travel, and a Tesla electric car.
Even though we have the advantage of the historical view of Jesus’ resurrection, it’s still hard for us to accept this “theology of the cross,” as Luther calls it. We understand the logic of comfort being the sign of God’s favor. We, like disciples, buy into the power and glory part of being God’s people. We expect it all, even to the point of feeling cheated if we don’t get it. “How could God let this happen to ME?” Because we, too, want a God who can work wonders for us.
As part of my College Psychology studies, we were required to visit an AA meeting and read about the tradition and write a report on what we experienced. I chose to visit the AA meeting that met in our church basement on Saturday night. One thing I observed was that the parking lot was filled to overflowing on Saturday, as opposed to the small group on Sunday mornings. We were welcomed so warmly that I felt a little guilty, the well among the sick, the observer among the vulnerable. As the meeting began and the stories began to unfold I realized that I was surrounded by people who knew their need to be there. They had lost their lives, lost everything that meant anything to them, and by sharing their experience with others in the same situation they were able to feel whole and healed. Each day of being sober was celebrated, each realization of new understanding and creating healthier habits was treated as a victory. They knew their brokenness and knew they couldn’t fight it alone. The rawness of their pain and also of their hope was so inspiring. I thought about my Sunday morning community and how well-dressed and well-behaved they seemed. I thought about the losses and aches that were so neatly covered up as they stood to sing and to greet each other. I felt the Gospel alive in the AA meeting in a way that I never did in church. I wondered what it would feel like to greet you by saying “Hi, my name is Barbara, I’ve been a sinner for 72 years.” And you would say, “Hi, Barbara.”
The fact is that with real love comes real vulnerability. God knows all about that, having chosen to become one of us and live in our flesh. And the joy we share comes from learning to be loved into wholeness, no matter what our circumstances. We come before God with nothing, in spite of all the trappings of comfort and ease which usually surround us. All our power, wealth, health, all of it is a blessing, a gift. They are meant to be God’s gift to the world through us. And the promise is that in giving, we begin to understand the true riches of being able to see to God’s heart of love. It’s not the same path we plan for ourselves, but that’s because our values and our hearts desires are bent by our human cravings. The amazing thing is that God forgives our false values and shares with us the power to live a different life.
It is the power of God’s love and forgiveness that raised Jesus from the dead, the same power that turns our hearts to recognize our own brokenness and the brokenness of the world around us. That love changes us, encourages the new life within us, and sends us here to a community of the hopeful to be lifted and loved into new life together. Long before Elsa sang “Let it go….”, Twelve-steppers were saying, “Let go, Let God.” Long before that, Jesus tells us to let go of the props that make us feel good about ourselves and the pressures that come with trying to save face and look good. You are saved for the sake of the world, brought into God’s household to experience the love that never fails. You are now free to go and share the good news of your life in Christ and the new community that embraces you. Amen.