This Lent we have the opportunity to hear the amazing story of God’s love of creation. Last week we heard from Noah, we heard God’s promise to Noah and to all of creation and were reminded of the sign of God’s blessing, the rainbow in the sky. Today we hear through Abraham and Sarah of the promise of blessing through them of their son Isaac, and to all of Abraham and Sarah’s descendants. We hear of God’s relentless pursuit of a relationship with all of creation, with you and me. And at the same time that we hear this amazing story of God’s creation and our blessing, we hear the story of God in our midst, of Jesus Christ the Good News.
The particular part of the story we hear today is the Good News about following Jesus’ way of the cross. Peter, my friend, is in disbelief about the truth Jesus speaks. Peter cannot believe that his friend Jesus will be rejected and be killed. By this time in the story Jesus’ teaching has reached the ears of those who would be threatened by his message of reversal and empowerment and has become explosive. I think Peter wants Jesus just to keep it quiet, Peter knows that Jesus’ message will get him in trouble, and would rather that Jesus keep it under the radar of those in power. But Jesus’ response to Peter, get behind me Satan, shows us two things. First, a “Satan” is a tester of loyalties. Remember after Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, he was immediately driven out into the wilderness, tempted by Satan. Jesus’ loyalty to God was tested in the wilderness. In this story Peter‘s loyalty is questioned, and Jesus really tells Peter to get behind him, to follow him. Second, Jesus describes what getting behind him, what following him, really looks like. Jesus says to Peter, and to all who are in earshot, including you and me, if you want to follow me, you need to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow. Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of the good news, will save it.
This is where we find ourselves today, the 2nd Sunday of Lent. As people who claim to be followers of Christ, what does it mean to take up our cross, and to loose our lives for the sake of the gospel, especially as we understand this work as a journey? As we discover this in the light of God’s relentless pursuit of relationship, as we discover this in the light of God’s amazing and abundant love as evidenced in the rainbow, as evidenced in the promise of life.
What, then, might it mean for us to take up our Cross and follow Jesus? What does it mean for us to be followers of Christ? It's not a call to martyrdom -- if nothing else, the teaching that Jesus' blood shed on the Cross was a perfect, full, and sufficient sacrifice for sin, it ought to tell us that Jesus' blood was the LAST blood to be shed because of sin. God does not need or want bloodshed. Not another drop. God does not call us to be a herd of lemmings. God calls us to be the Body of Christ, praying as Jesus taught us that God's kingdom would come and God's will done on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus taught us to seek God's kingdom and to seek it first -- to look for and journey toward God's dream given flesh in the world, in communities of justice and peace and hope and abundant, vibrant life.
Taking up our cross as followers of Jesus is about how we live our lives as people who are loved abundantly by the God that Jesus shows us. Taking up our cross is about empowerment, about Jesus empowering us, like Jesus empowered Peter and the first followers to drop the masks of status and honor and instead to take on our true selves. When we think about this language of taking up our cross, we need to remember that the cross in 1st century Mediterranean Roman occupation was a means of terror, the cross was a means of keeping people in their place. Jesus wouldn’t be kept in his place, Jesus claimed a status of beloved of God, and Jesus ascribed that same status to all who would follow him. Not only would Jesus not be kept in his place, those who follow him are empowered to confront the social structures of their time and advocate for those who have no power. In Mark, following Jesus is not just serving your neighbor, following Jesus is confronting the structures that keep people from being the blessed creations that God intended. This is not easy work; this is work that makes people uncomfortable, maybe nervous and anxious. This is work that will cost everything we have, but the value of this work is priceless.
The truth of the cross and of Jesus’ exchange with Peter is that Jesus is completely committed to us, and the expectation is that we will be completely committed to Jesus. This idea of total, radical commitment is somewhat foreign to 21st century thought. We have no problem with the concept of “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours,” at least as long as we come out on the upside of the equation. But with Jesus, the stakes are much higher. This whole idea of cross bearing or denying oneself might fly for the season of Lent, but every day—that’s a tall order! It makes discipleship sound as achievable as that infamous small print often included in contests: many will enter but few will win.
And the good news in this is that we don’t walk this journey alone. We have the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit every step of the way. And, we have the benefit of our sisters and brothers, of community in Christ. And finally, and most importantly, we have the knowledge of God’s amazing and abundant love. Our response to God’s amazing love is to take up our cross, to give over everything in the form of a radical and total commitment to the one who sees in us worth beyond compare.
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore him.
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