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Lent 2 Year B RCL March 4, 2012

 Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22: 22-30
Mark 8: 31-38 

This morning we start out with the great man of faith, Abram. He is 99 years old. God appears to him and tells him that he is going to be the “ancestor of a multitude of nations.” The only problem with this is that Abram and his wife have not been able to have any children. But God tells Abram that they will have a son. God also says that Abram’s name will become Abraham and Sarai’s name will become Sarah. There will be a change of identity for each of them.

 In our epistle for today, Paul builds on this image of Abraham as the major example of the faithful person. Paul tells us that, “hoping against hope,” Abraham did not doubt God’s word to him. And we all know what happened. God was faithful.

I want to focus on today’s gospel because it has so much in it. Jesus has alluded to it before, but now he is trying to help the disciples to understand the nature of his ministry. He spells it right out for them: he is going to be rejected by all the important authorities and he is going to be killed.

Peter can’t stand this. He takes Jesus aside and begins to scold him for saying such awful things. I think he does this for several reasons. The first is that he loves Jesus and he doesn’t want Jesus to die. The other is that he has the idea of a messiah as a liberating king who comes in and sets up his reign by force. It’s going to take a long time before Peter gets this idea out of his head. The idea of the suffering servant as presented by Isaiah and other prophets was not as popular and easy as the idea of the conquering hero, but that’s the messiah God was sending.

But then we have this painful, dramatic moment. Jesus snarls to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Ouch! How this must have stung Peter. How it must have shocked him to have Jesus call him this name. Satan is the ultimate tempter, and Jesus is calling Peter this terrible name.

I believe that Jesus uses this wording because he is indeed tempted. He doesn’t want to suffer. Later in the garden he asks that, if this cup may pass from his lips, let it happen, but, if not, he will go through with it. I wonder if Jesus was shocked after saying these words. I wonder if he wanted to take them back. But there they were, hanging in the air.

Then Jesus gathers the crowd along with the disciples and he says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 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.”

What does this mean? On the most simple level, it means that, if we are focused only on ourselves, on what we need and what we want, we are going to miss the point of life. In Twelve Step programs, there is a saying that EGO means Ease God Out. There is much truth in that. On the other hand, Jesus is not calling us to destroy ourselves by taking on too much or to sacrifice ourselves by taking care of others and never taking care of our own needs. We are called to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In order to do this, we need to realize that God loves us and we need to love ourselves. So, there is a fine balance here.

I believe that Jesus is calling us to make our major commitment to him   and to his shalom. He is calling us to give ourselves to something larger than ourselves which will give meaning to our lives and will bring us true joy. But life in him is not trouble free. We may have to make difficult sacrifices, hard choices.  Some folks seem to believe that if we follow Jesus, our lives will be all peaches and cream; we will be protected from all pain and problems, and we will live happily ever after. All we have to do is to look at the lives of a few saints to realize that that is not true. When we look at the life of Jesus, we know it isn’t true.

On Ash Wednesday we said that Jesus is calling us to take up our cross and he also said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. We talked about each yoke for each individual ox was carved specifically to match every bump and lump on that ox’s neck and shoulders. To take up our cross is to walk our Lenten journey knowing that our yoke is  especially fitted to us. There is a certain lightness of being associated with taking the focus off self and throwing ourselves in with the work of God’s shalom.

One of my favorite followers of Jesus, Barbara Brown Taylor, talks about taking up our cross in terms of facing our worst fear. She says that the reason Peter said what he said was that, when Jesus told them he was going to die, that raised the specter of Peter’s worst fear: death. Peter had to face the fact that Jesus was going to die and he, Peter was going to die.

Whatever our worst fear may be, she says, we need to look it in the face. It may be fear of a diagnosis of some dread disease, or it may be fear of not measuring up, or it may be fear of death. But, whatever it is, that fear holds us in bondage. That fear is running our lives.

Taylor writes, “Whatever it is that scares you to death, so that you start offering to do anything, anything at all, if it will just go away, that is your cross, and, if you leave it lying there, it will kill you. If you turn away from it, (God forbid it, Lord!) with the excuse that this should never have happened to you, then you deny God the chance to show you the greatest mystery of all: that there, right there in the dark fist of your worst fear, is the door to abundant life.

Taylor continues. “I cannot say more than that. I don’t dare, or God might test me on it, but Jesus does dare. Stop running from your cross, he says. Reach down and pick it up. It isn’t nearly as scary once you get your hands on it, and no one is asking you to handle it alone. All you have to do is believe in God more than you believe in your fear. Then pick it up, come on with me, and I will show you the way to the door.”

May we walk the way of the cross. May we pick up the cross of our worst fear and let our Lord transform it into new life.  Amen.

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