Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cross Shaped Living

Here is the sermon I'm preaching this morning at Rural Lutheran on the gospel text Mark 8:31-38.

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In the book The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning describes a common myth that flourishes today. It goes something like this: “Once I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, an irreversible, sinless future beckons. Discipleship will be an untarnished success story; life will be an unbroken upward spiral toward holiness.” This myth has done great harm because it misrepresents the way Christian life is really live

The problem is, our daily experiences fly in the face of this idea. Some say it’s simply because we don’t have enough faith. If we only said and did the right things, we could have, as one televangelist suggests, our “Best Life Now.”

In today’s gospel, we find ourselves arriving seemingly in the midst of an already unfolding drama. Today we are at the turning point of Mark’s gospel between Jesus’ Galilean ministry and Jesus’ road to Jerusalem and the cross; right after Peter has confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. Here Jesus makes the first of 3 predictions about his coming death and resurrection. He is telling them he will suffer, be rejected, killed, and will rise again. Jesus speaks plainly about this. He’s not talking in parables or riddles. Do we find it difficult to understand what Jesus is saying about his death and resurrection?

Jesus’ words may not shock us from our side of the cross and resurrection. However, Peter knew Jesus was the Messiah. For the Jews, the messiah would lead them to triumphant victory over their oppressors, who at this time were the Romans. It was inconceivable that he should suffer in any way. Peter may have thought:

I said the most natural thing there was to say.

Well, my feelings were so hurt by Jesus words. Be killed? Was this the gloomy thing he’d been thinking about all the time?

I grabbed his wrist and shouted, “No!” …”No, God won’t allow it!” I cried.

…I blustered on. Surely he knew that I was arguing out of love for him! “O Lord,” I said, “this can never happen to you!” (Wangerin, The Book of God).

Those things happen to losers, not winners, especially not messiahs! Will the last 3 years be for nothing?

Why was Peter so wrong??? Wasn’t Jesus overreacting a bit? Peter was “setting [his] mind not on divine things but on human things” (v. 33). It’s not just that Peter wasn’t considering or thinking about God’s ways. It’s much more serious than that. The Greek emphasizes an underlying disposition or attitude and could be rephrased, “…you are setting your mind on, being intent on not divine things but on human things.” It’s a matter of focus. What are we concentrating on, focusing on, setting our minds on?

We are called to choose between 2 options: allow the Cross to shape our lives and our way of thinking, or continue to rationalize that God’s greatest desire for all His children is that they be free from all suffering. As Luther described it, we either choose a theology of the Cross or a theology of glory.

The… [Christian] life called for is not a reflection of, let alone the …blessing of [our] egocentric culture, but its polar opposite. Self-denial is not part of our culture’s image of the ‘good life’…Just as [our] call to discipleship is not a joining in the cultural infatuation with self-esteem, neither is it the opposite… Just giving up things will not make one Christian [even if it is Lent!]; it will only make one empty. What is difficult for our culture to understand, indeed what it cannot understand … is an orientation to…life that is not focused on self at all…” (New Interpreters Bible, p. 352).

Jesus calls us to, a way of life that turns everything upside down: denial of self (a good Lenten theme), taking up our crosses, and following Jesus. Denying one’s self concerns the will, that one’s own will should not be the controlling factor in one’s life. “Let them” deny themselves—could indicate permission. However, this phrase is much stronger and could be translated, “he must deny himself...”

The cross was an instrument of torture that led to a painful death. It was also a sign of ridicule as the criminal was forced to carry it through the town while people laughed and hurled insults at the condemned. It was a public display of guilt.

The cross life is a strange and foreign place. This part of the passage is full of opposites: if we SAVE our lives, we LOSE them, if we LOSE our lives, we SAVE them, if we GAIN the world, we FORFEIT our lives, and ultimately SHAME versus GLORY. There’s no resurrection without the cross. Allowing the reign of God to break into our lives and world, even in the small things is countercultural and hard.

Obedience in walking this way though isn’t simply a matter of our own efforts. God does in us what we cannot do in ourselves. In today’s lesson from Romans, I am struck by the passage, “…the God in whom [Abraham] believed who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom 4:17). In us, there doesn’t exist the kind of love for God or neighbor, the kind of obedience we need to faithfully follow and please God, but God almighty calls it into existence in our lives. The work is his and so the glory is his.

As we are made God’s in baptism and nourished at the table, LET US PRAY:

O God, in your love you have given the people of this land gifts of
abundance beyond what our forebears knew or could imagine. Mercifully grant that we may not be so occupied with material things that we forget spiritual gifts, and thus, even though we have gained the whole world, lose our souls; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.


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4 comments:

Mark Daniels said...

Good job, Ivy. I really like this sermon. Thanks for sharing it.

Ivy said...

Mark, what an encouragement. Thank you. My teaching parish pastor had a hard time following it as far as the main point I was trying to make. So...I needed your encouraging words. I had thought it went well. Oh well... Blessings.

Maggie said...

That part of the Gospel of Mark is one of my favorite parts of Mark, so it was wonderful to read your sermon on it.

Mark 8:35 is one of the Biblical quotes I like to meditate on when I feel like I'm trying to control my own life...and that certainly happens a lot...

Ivy said...

Meditating on scripture is a great discipline to develop--and that's certainly a good verse to meditate on. Blessings.