Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
February 25th, 2018
Mark 8: 31-38
“Hear now these words of scripture taken from the New Testament, the gospel according to Mark, chapter eight, verses thirty-one thru thirty-eight. Listen as Jesus interacts with his disciples. Let your hearts, as-well-as your ears be open to hearing the meaning of this ancient writing,”
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
“Allow yourselves to be willing to consider all that it means to be a follower of Jesus, the crucified and risen Christ, bearing in mind the cost and the rewards of such a relationship.”
“Called to Follow!”
There was a Professor of Christian Theology at Andover Newton Theological School, where I studied and earned my Master of Divinity degree, his name was Rev. Gabe Fackre. I took several courses with Rev. Fackre and my wife and I, Lois, even went to a week-long retreat with him on Cape Cod, long after I had graduated from Seminary. He was a great guy and an excellent professor. He passed from this life to the next on January 31st, of this year. One of the things I will always cherish from his life is a book he wrote on the basics of Christian Theology. He had a way of writing that made the complex seem simple. When it came time to choose a theologian for my Ordination Paper, Gabe was my choice. He followed the line of reasoning that simply puts salvation as a human choice. When we turn toward the light of God human fear and all forms of evil fall away, giving us the opportunity to follow God’s will; thus, we are saved. Conversely, when we choose to turn away from the light of God and face into the darkness, human fear takes over, giving life to the evil that resides within us all: pride, greed, lust, sloth, envy, gluttony and wrath. Professor Fackre did not advocate a belief in the personification of the Devil, rather the outgrowth of human weakness when void of the light of God!
Today, we are challenged by the words of Jesus: “But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” /Mark 8:33/ Jesus had just been admonished by Peter for saying “that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” /Mark 8:31/ Peter’s response to the words of Jesus were quite reasonable, for a human to speak. Yet, Peter had turned away from the truth of whom Jesus was: The Light of God, shining in the darkness. Jesus was quick to take Peter to task for representing the personification of evil itself, “Satan”! In his humanness, Peter was telling Jesus that he certainly could not let himself be put to death, for he was the Messiah! Jesus, born human, knew that he could not entertain this weak human line of thought. Jesus, born in the essence of humankind, had been born to save all people from its sinfulness through his own sacrifice! Therefore, the essence of God that also resided within his human body rejected Peter’s words and pushed him away – calling him Satan himself!
“Jesus’ rebuke acknowledges that it is human, but not helpful, to avoid the cross.” /Peter Woods/
Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm, author of the “Waking Dreamer” challenges all of us to choose a new pathway. “Jesus not only taught us, he showed us that the only way to truly live is to give yourself away for the sake of others. If we have the courage to follow him, then we will find that this path of self-giving is the way to freedom, and true joy, and all the life which God wants to give us each and every day.” Rev. Brehm goes on to give us some practical advice. “We only truly discover the life and love that God has to offer us… when we let go all the things we cling to so tightly in that small place of “I” and open ourselves to the people around us in compassion, understanding, and love.” /Alan Brehm/ In his book the “Waking Dreamer” he clearly speaks of how so many of us whom are caught up in the Twenty-First Century are avoiding life, rather than living it. He speaks of Alcoholism, workaholism, and an over indulgence of avoidance in the “I” focused culture in which we live, to turn aside from the harsh realities of our society; too numerous to name but a few. In his rantings he is clearly pushing us to embrace the self-sacrificial life, which Jesus lived as an example for others to follow.
We all have fallen prey to the vices of our times. We watch too much television and spend not enough time interacting with each other. We avoid getting to know what is happening in the real world, in which we live. Technology, although a tremendous achievement for society, has somehow, all at the same time, put human interaction at odds with love of something called social media. Rather than engage others personally, we find that there are a great multitude of individuals whom use a lifeless form of interaction, like tweeting! Years ago, I was trained as a professional telemarking salesperson. We were taught how to call into a business with the goal of speaking to a decision maker, in order to sell personal computers in the late 1980’s. One of the first things they impressed upon us was the loss of at least 70 percent of the art of personal interaction! When we talk with someone on the phone we lose all the dynamics of a personal one on one conversation. On the phone we must rely fully on words and on our intellect to get our point across. We lose the elements of the rest of our senses. 70 percent of the art of conversation is lost, give or take a few percentages! Good golly, no wonder we are in so much trouble in this country. Through technology, social media, the internet and such, we have given up 70 percent of human contact with each other! That is astonishingly awful and appalling! Yes, I know, many of us here today do not fit into this new technological model, yet, a very high percentage of people do! And for those that do, isolation and loneliness are becoming prevalent issues as therapists and counselors try to figure out what is happening to their clients, their patients!
OK, OK, so the problems surrounding effective communication skills didn’t start with the technologies of the Twenty-First Century! But, it is not helping to fix the problem. And it is a problem! If it were not, why would Jesus have brought it up way back in the time period of the gospels. Rev. Dr. David Lose puts this into easy to understand language. “And although [the disciples] weren’t bombarded with 5000 advertising images each day as we are, yet they still imagined that the secret to life was strength and power rather than vulnerability and love. And so, they interpreted Jesus’ miraculous acts as demonstrations of power rather than manifestations of love. And when Jesus describes the greatest act of love – giving his life for them and the world – they can only object.” The disciples were consumed with their desire to see Jesus become the Messiah as they had wrongly believed he would be. They strongly believed, as did most of the oppressed people of Israel, in that time-period, they believed the Messiah would free them from their bondage under the oppression of the Roman’s. They were wrong, Jesus was not going to be the knight in shining armor they were looking for.
What does it mean to take up our cross and follow Jesus? First, it means we must stop thinking only of our needs and strive to consider the needs of others. It is saying to us that our grip on power and influence within our own sphere is not the central focus of the needs for humanity! Nor, for that matter, those whom may be closest to us. High level executives, managers and professionals in every field know, or ought to know, that to reach the highest level, one must often sacrifice their closest relationships in order to achieve the impossible dream! They teach that very detail in several Master of Business Administration classes around the country. It has been quoted to me how professors have taught that if you want to make it to the top… you will need to discard some of the “baggage” one accumulates along the way. By baggage, they explicitly detail that spouses and families are baggage! Oh sure, they can provide for them, big pay checks and big homes, but they will need to curtail the personal time they spend with these loved ones. Taking up our crosses and following Jesus is more about personal relationships than about power and prominence in society!
Janet H. Hunt, a Lutheran pastor shares an opinion on this subject at hand. “How often is it necessary to make a concerted effort to pay attention to the person, the matter, the situation right in front of me – which may be calling me to ‘take up my cross’ – and not already be thinking ahead to whatever it is that is waiting on my to do list?” We do not need to be a professional or a manger to identify with this thought. I was at a pastor’s training class, for Interim ministry, where I observed a pastor talking with someone he did not know before that very moment. This younger pastor walked over to him and asked him a question about something that was on her mind. I have no idea what they talked about. We had just gone on lunch break. Surely, he, like myself, wanted to go freshen up and perhaps have a bite of lunch. Yet, I observed several things. He turned all his energy and attention to responding to her need, right there and then! He put aside whatever plans he had for lunch and such. They chatted for a good long time. Clearly, that must have taken a real effort to show that level of personal attention. I can only conclude, that somewhere along his journey this pastor had learned to respond to the needs of others around him, in a focused way, at ‘a drop of the hat’ rather than checking off that list of things he knew he must get done in any given day. What a gift! Yet, it is more than that, as it appears from our reading that Jesus would expect his disciples to focus more on the needs of others, than on their own personal needs. This pastor was simply being a good example of what it means to pick up the cross and follow Jesus.
Following Jesus, does not always mean that we must stand up and take a bullet to save another. Yet, we know that sometimes this is literally true. It happens in times of war, and sadly we know that the coach at the Parkland Florida, High School, did exactly that to save countless lives as he stood in front of them, in between the shooter and the students around him, and died for the sake of another. Before anyone of us could follow in his footsteps, we would at least need to embrace the habit of turning aside to help another, just as that pastor turned aside to respond to the need of another pastor, when she needed to talk – at that Interim training class I attended years ago. One pastor wrote that we need to be about “following Jesus one step at a time!” /Kyle Childress/ “Following Jesus and the way of the cross begins with small steps. Later, we’ll look up and discover where he’s led us.” Hero’s, are not driven by their need for recognition and it is not their pride nor their ego which pulls them out into harm’s way… for the sake of another. No, heroes go quietly into the night believing they are following the example of Jesus. Selflessly, they live out their day to day life, doing what they need to do, yet always conscious of the needs of others around them. It takes practice and it takes faith.
Be in relationship with God through Christ. Be in relationship with those around you. Their burdens, their needs, may be the cross you are called to carry today! Amen.