Mark Twain worried, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”
Today’s Gospel reading is Hard. Today’s gospel reading even the participants in the reading find it hard to understand. Today’s gospel reading is full of dark clouds and dark corners and creepy music, todays Gospel story is the part where we close our eyes and plug our ears because it’s not the story we want to hear. in…
“Mark 8:29 Simon Peter has tumbled to the truth about his teacher: “You are the Messiah.” Whatever glorious aspirations the Twelve associated with that honorific, Jesus shuts them down (8:30): epitemesen, a verb used elsewhere in Mark for silencing unclean spirits and savage forces (1:23; 3:12; 4:39). In 8:31 Jesus shifts to what the Son of the Man must endure by the hands “the elders” (senior lay leaders), “the chief priests” (cultic officials), and “the scribes” (authorities on scriptural tradition). Their modern counterparts are the church’s own lay leaders, tall-steeple preachers, and biblical scholars. To what will the establishment subject Jesus? Rejection, suffering, and death. After the full measure of this fatal disgrace has been exacted, he will rise again after three days. None of this is accidental: The Son of Man must (dei) undergo it by God’s design.”
I love this, here is what is happening just before this reading Jesus asks, “but who do you say I am?’ and Peter blurts out “you are the Messiah” and Jesus says Shut up! Shut up your going to spoil the ending! Now Jesus doesn’t just say Shut up! but he says it with all the Authority vested in him that causes the very demons to be quiet. He then goes on to tell them where he is headed and exactly what he is headed for. Yikes!, we do not want to hear that. Our fingers go in our ears and we start to sing nana nana na.
Peter takes Jesus aside and tells him to Shut up! The exact words Jesus just used on him for announcing the game plan before the game is finished. Then Jesus not only tells him to shut up but names Peters voice as the voice of the dissenter, the Voice of the denier, the voice one could even say of the rational. And names it Satan and tells him to step back!
C. Clifton Black states; “The stakes are so high that he addresses Peter as “Satan,” the tempter (1:12) and thief of the preached word (4:15). Peter is the only figure in Mark whom Jesus addresses so vehemently. Why? “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (8:33b). Peter has arrogated to himself an authority that is not his to wield and is, in fact, devilish. This is no gentlemanly disagreement. Mark dramatizes a life-and-death clash between the divine and the diabolical.”
Then Jesus says to all who are around his disciples and followers come on gather round I have something to say…Now if you want to follow me… Stop giving yourself anything and everything you want or believe you need and take up your cross…. Wait what??? I can honestly say that I am sure no one here understands or comprehends the imagery being evoked here. The Harper Collins study bible has one note here… “Cross, an instrument of torturous execution” (page 1739) You can believe everyone there knew exactly how the cross worked, what happened to someone before they picked one up and what was waiting for them at the end of their destination. No one wants to take up a cross! The idea is horrific. If a cross looked more like the terrifying machine on the cover of our bulletins perhaps then this passage would not pass before us so easily…so quickly.
The commentator states “Then Jesus opens his teaching beyond the Twelve to the overhearing crowd (including us): “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (8:34). Self-denial implies taking one’s stand “on the side of God, [not] of men” (Revised Standard Version [RSV]). To take up the cross is neither pious sentiment nor temporary disappointment. Crucifixion was the most humiliating, torturous execution the Romans could devise. Cicero decried it: “There is no fitting word that can possibly describe a deed so horrible” (Against Verres). The cross is Jesus’ destination (15:12-39). There his followers must follow him.”
Self-denial implies taking ones stand “on the side of God.” This means taking the focus ourselves. This means going deep within ourselves and stepping out of the way to let Jesus in, to make Jesus the center of ourselves. No need to worry about tomorrow, no need to worry about yesterday. We need to be present to God with us, Emmanuel, and how we are called to answer that spirit in our lives. How are we called to get beyond ourselves and live as Christ is calling us to live?
To give one’s life up for the sake of the Gospel…for the sake of the good news is to surrender to the concept that Gods kingdom is at hand here and now and we can either do our best to participate in it or go without. Actually, in this Gospel reading Jesus is saying you can have the big house, the fancy car, you can have everything you want but where does that leave you … Just wanting more and in the end what have you gained…Jesus asks what it gains a person to… to have everything yet in the end it is really nothing.
If you have had a chance to listen to or speak with those who survived the recent fires or any recent tragedy. The immediate reaction is we have our lives we have our family and our friends. The things do not matter so much and often what people grieve losing are the photos. Those evidence of life lived, and people loved. Our lives our not the old game of he with the most toys wins no it is how we love that matters and with Christ as our center how we love guides us to live in that kingdom of God that is at hand.
Another commentator puts it this way Jesus is comparing God values with human values ; “According to human values, one's own life comes first. We might be kind and generous and thoughtful toward others, yet cultural norms dictate the priority of our own safety or privilege or physical comfort. Jesus advocates risking your life for the sake of another. In other words, be willing to lose your life for the sake of the Gospel in order to save it.
According to Mark's gospel, the disciples represent human values.2 They aspire to power and greatness and assume that Jesus shares these values. Jesus represents God's values, best summed up by the willingness to risk one's own life for the sake of others. Jesus does not encourage suffering for its own sake, nor does he recommend acceptance of forced servitude. 3 The key to meaning here is "for the sake of the gospel" and Jesus is the exemplary model. Jesus invites his disciples to follow his example, to be willing to risk our lives for the sake of others.”
I can’t help but think of the events in florid last week. “Football coach Aaron Feis threw himself in front of students as bullets hailed down Wednesday at his alma mater, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida…."He died the same way he lived -- he put himself second," Lehtio said. "He was a very kind soul, a very nice man. He died a hero."
When you hear his students talk it wasn’t just about this one act this man always put others first. He helped kids stay in school he would listen and counsel he would go out of his way to defend a kid in trouble and help them find their way to graduation. I don’t know what this man’s faith was and it doesn’t matter for I see in him the example Jesus is asking of his followers. One person said of the coach “He was fond of the sports saying that “the last play is the best play,” … “And that’s exactly what he did. He made his last play his best play.”
Can you imagine what this world would be like if we all lived as such. What if we could imagine a world that was better because we, the humans, were no longer the center of our own individual attention?
Jesus puts out in front of us and the disciples the great master plan. One of pain and suffering and one of Resurrection. A miracle where death is conquered, and life is sustained a new and miraculous life. Here we are called to move away from our self-centeredness and reach beyond our selves.
Today’s accompanying reading from the old testament is the story of Abraham and Sarah the reason I mention this is that last week we spoke of our God of Covenant and the old testament carries on that promise of a covenanted God that mirrors Jesus’ foretelling, today both events seem impossible and yet.
“as the story goes, God has more faith, more resilience, more confidence in a possible future than does Abraham or Sarah. Then, inexplicably, this yearned-for, unexpected, desperately wanted baby is born, not of normal human circumstance, but of the power and the fidelity of God. This birth is an event defying explanation, resisting reason. Abraham, Sarah and all of us are thrown back from reason and understanding to the more elemental response of wonder, astonishment, amazement, gratitude, praise, and laughter.”
The old testament reading kind of brings up almost the Christmas story. Our reaction is the same and yet now this is juxtaposed against the prediction of the ultimate miracle, the resurrection, and what is the reaction to that…Shut up!
Walter Brueggemann explains this event eloquently as is sets up a history of covenant and miracles that is truly cultural to Israel… “From that moment on, Israel lives by the inexplicable that evokes gratitude. What Israel sees of God’s oddness is not craziness, but powerful faithfulness which can keep promises against all odds. Biblical faith is grounded in Gods capacity to keep promises. In that moment Israel comes to know everything that needs to be known about God and about the world around us. We live in a world of surplus surprises that out run our capacity to control or predict or explain.”
Yet in a moment before our Gospel reading Peter has a glimpse, or should we say he remembers the world in which Israel lives as he proclaims Jesus the messiah. Shut up! And yet he seems to forget it just as quickly as he said it for in one moment he is living in the promise to Israel and in the next moment he is living in his self-centered humanness.
Paul in his letter to the Romans recalls todays stories and Proclaims a God who “Gives life to the dead. Calls into existence into existence things that do not exist.” Romans 4:17” Through the infant born in the old testament to Jesus born in Bethlehem to todays Gospel we know a God who has made outrageous promises of well-being for all time to come. It is Israel, Peter and the disciples and the whole Church who own that. Who are called to live into this! And yet so many times we break down to our human centeredness and become Peter pulling God aside and saying, “hold on now!” Shut up!
Walter Bruggeman explains it this way;
“There is thus a dialogue set up in our faith. One voice says, "Can you imagine!" The other voice answers, "Yes, but." Abraham, old, almost cynical Abraham was filled with "Yes, but." Yes, but I am very old. Yes, but she is not pregnant. Yes, but we only have Ishmael. It is the naked voice of the gospel that counters his tiredness. Can you imagine a new son born right then? Can you imagine a covenant kept to countless generations to come? Can you imagine land given to landless people? Not: can you implement it, can you plan it, can you achieve it? -only: can you entrust possibilities to God that go beyond your own capacity for control and fabrication?”
Can you let go of your self-centeredness, can you deny yourself to allow The Possibilities of a God who can raise the dead and call into existence what has never existed. This is the God of Israel. This is God manifest here on earth and yet…?
“The New Testament is not different. The people around Jesus are filled with the grudging hesitance of "yes, but." Jesus comes and says; can you imagine a dinner for all? Can you imagine a blind boy to see? Can you imagine a prodigal welcomed home? Can you imagine a Pharisee reborn into childlike Innocence? Can you imagine lepers healed, widows cared for, poor made first-class citizens? Of course, it was judged impossible, but Jesus ran powerfully ahead of such fear.”
Isn’t that what Jesus was asking the disciples to do, asking Peter to do? Aren’t we being asked to get beyond our human centeredness where fear and doubt take root and run ahead of that fear?
“In our day, today, "Yes, but" is powerful and usually wins. "Yes, but" makes sober, prudent, competent. But it can also drive us to despair, fatigue, Cynicism, and even brutality. If you can imagine a baby born to such a failed family,”
Can you imagine a world of Old people fully cared for? Yes, but, consider the costs and the overwhelming statistics?
Can you imagine a Latin America unencumbered by imperial domination? Yes, but don’t we know what’s best for the world?
Can you imagine a nuclear free world? Yes, but they must disarm first!
Can you Imagine a new world of food for all? Yes, but that means we might have to give more than others!
Can you imagine a world of true equality? Yes but…
“The list goes on, because Israel's lyrical imagination is free and unquenchable. God brings into existence that which does not exist. Did you know that the word create is never used with a human subject? We may "make" or “Form” or “fabricate," but only God creates, only God works a genuine new possibility, a thing beyond our expectations and our extrapolations. It belongs to the mystery and holiness of God to call to be that which is not yet, because this is God's world, the world is not, (controlled) either by our hopes or our fears.”
Todays gospel and the stories that accompany it are powerful for they contain all the Possibilities of God. Within us we contain all the possibilities of God. It is all about moving beyond the Yes but, its all about moving beyond the Shut up! Its all about getting past our self-centeredness. “if someone wants to follow me let them deny themselves…”
It reminds me of a hymn I have heard and every now and then pull up on you tube it’s called Trading my sorrow by Darrell Evans
“I'm trading my sorrow
I'm trading my shame
I'm laying them down for the joy of the Lord
I'm trading my sickness
I'm trading my pain
I'm laying them down for the joy of the Lord
And we say yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord
Though the sorrow may last for the night
His joy comes with the morning”
If we can get past all our yes buts, deny ourselves and just say yes lord this world would become Gods Kingdom…
We do all of this through continuing our Lenten practices building our relationship with God so we know and recognize when God calls and through prayer we can drop the yes but, we can leave behind the shut up, and we never need ask who me?? And just say yes! I can go where you lead, I can answer your call, I can deny myself and make you lord the center. Amen!
 C. Clifton Black, Commentary on Mark 8:31-38, February 25, 2018, accessed February 24, 2018, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3568.
 Marilyn Salmon, Commentary 8:30-38, March 4, 2012, accessed February 24, 2018, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1248.
 Amir Vera, A football coach who shielded students from the Florida shooter died as he lived -- by putting himself second, February 15, 2018, accessed February 24, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/15/us/football-coach-florida-school-shooting-trnd/index.html.
 willa Frej, Cherished Football Coach Died Shielding Students From Bullets In Florida Shooting, February 15, 2018, accessed February 24, 2018, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/aaron-feis-florida-shooting_us_5a858154e4b0ab6daf465bbd.
 Walter Brueggemann, The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 10.
 Ibid., 11.
 Ibid., 11.