19 Pentecost Proper 21 Yr B Sept 30 2018 Audio
We enter the gospel of Mark today in the middle of this hard teaching about what it means to follow Jesus. This is the bread and butter of the gospel, wrapped around the Transfiguration story. Mark doesn’t waste a single word as he shows us what this life of following Jesus looks like. What matters to Mark is not who is first or who is last. What matters to Mark is not who is casting out demons in anyone’s name. What matters to Mark is that you follow Jesus all the way to the cross and empty tomb, even though the disciples had a lot of trouble doing that themselves. What matters to Mark is that you follow Jesus all the way to the cross and through the resurrection, and that in the doing, Jesus’ love matters, your love matters.
Remember last week we heard the hard teaching about what it means to be great, and that greatness doesn’t look anything like what we think it looks like in our world, or in Jesus’ world. Mark continues to show us, through Jesus’ disciples, that following is hard. It seems like the disciples keep on stumbling. Jesus has to keep on showing them what following looks like. Jesus puts a child on his lap and tells them that following him looks like this. Mark shows us that those who seek out power are not followers, but those like this child and those who serve, are followers. But the disciples are not really getting what Jesus is saying, and as you and I overhear this conversation, we may wonder why Jesus can be so harsh. Jesus told them of the importance of welcoming the little ones; now he warns of what will happen if they act hostilely toward those same little ones. Jesus takes several runs at explaining the perils of acting scandalously. Jesus talks about the cost of harming people with lies and innuendo. Jesus says this over and over and it feels almost like we’re getting hammered just like those who were hearing Jesus for the first time. But the repetition serves to drive home Jesus’ warning vividly.
Jesus states three times that losing a scandalizing member is preferable to gaining a place in the eternal fire. Mark has warned previously that we must lose ourselves in order to find the fullness of our life in God’s love, and that metaphor in Mark becomes very concrete right here. Hands, feet, and eyes are lost so that one’s self is not.
This seems a little exaggerated, a bit like hyperbole, don’t you think? Really Jesus? Cutting off a limb, losing something as important as an eye, is better than losing my self? But the trouble is, it’s a short trip from deciding Jesus really doesn’t mean what he says and that what Jesus says is really to hard to do, to deciding that someone who speaks their truth is just making it up. Or just maybe overstating something that may have happened, possibly, but not really believable. We do it with our children; maybe that’s why Jesus is using a child to teach this to the disciples. We tell them not to exaggerate or we’ll stop believing them, we call that crying wolf. Hyperbole becomes the convenient excuse to stop listening, to stop believing, to question the veracity of the claims, claims that take an extraordinary amount of courage to utter.
Twisting, turning, tying up the truth, happens now as much as it happened with Jesus’ disciples, and this is the truth that Mark is trying to tell us. We don’t want to hear it, Peter never wanted to hear Jesus tell him the truth, every time Jesus told Peter that the son of man would be put to death, Peter said no, no, that could not happen. But this is what is right in front of us.
But there is also so much grace, so much good news in Mark’s gospel. The truth, the grace, is that following Jesus is about love that is brave, and courageous, and fierce. Jesus is brave, and courageous and fierce in Mark’s story. Jesus keeps at the disciples so that they may believe that it is in living in love, it is living in truth, honesty, integrity that matters. And, life is best lived when we fully and completely embrace the truth that love wins. You see, God in Christ came to be with us and for us, to take on our life and our lot that we might not simply persist, but flourish, not simply have life, but have it abundantly, that we might understand that the God who created and still sustains the vast cosmos not only knows that we exist, but cares. Cares about our ups and downs, cares about our hopes and disappointments, cares about our dreams and despair, cares about all the things we care about, promising to be with us, to walk alongside us, to never, ever let us go, and in time to bring us into the company of saints.
It is best, Jesus says, to love and to live fiercely, bravely, and courageously in the company of others who live and speak the truth. Jesus keeps telling the disciples and us, that it is in dying to selfishness, dying to greed, dying to arrogance and boastfulness, that we are raised to abundant life. A life that is connected, a life that is great, a life that is worth living. And that is exactly what Jesus tells the disciples. Live this life, live it fully and completely, and the gospel writer Mark shows us that it won’t be easy, this kind of love, this kind of truth, this kind of courage, comes at a cost, and the cost for Jesus is his life.
Jesus’ love matters, your love matters. And you do it all the time, you followers of Jesus, you disciples, you courageous ones. You take care of each other better than any group of people I’ve ever met. You show up and you stand up for each other. You are so generous with your money and with your love as you support our own families in need. Jesus’ love matters, your love matters, you courageous ones. You love and support one another when babies are born and when loved ones die. You have stood by each other when conversations have been difficult; you love each other even when it is easier to leave. You are rock stars.
And I want to challenge you to even more. I want you to help people who are not here yet, to find what you have found. I want you to courageously carry this love that wins into the difficult conversations that are happening in our families and our community. I want you to speak truth to power and be carriers of justice and mercy. I want you to change the world, or your little corner of it. I want you to follow Jesus into the difficult places, the difficult conversations, and the unfair and unjust systems. Not only do we remove stumbling blocks, but we create safe places, and opportunities for people to know that truth matters, and love wins. Amen.