A Sermon For the 2nd Sunday in Lent: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Psalm 22:22-30, Romans 4:13-25, Mark 8:31-38
Ashton is home. It seems as if everything went right; 18 local, county, state, Federal and private agencies all worked together to bring Aston safely home (Courier News). At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School 17 people died and 14 more wounded in a mass shooting. Yes, there were acts of heroism, a coach, some teachers, a janitor, and three Jr. ROTC students all acted to save others, some were injured, and some died because of their actions (Chavez). But overall it seems as if nothing went right. An armed officer on site did not enter the building. Multiple agencies FBI, Sheriff’s office, school officials, and mental health professionals missed opportunities to intervene. Nikolas Cruz’s story looks very different when you have all these stories together. But no one did ahead of time, and we don’t know if there is any way to share information from various sources.
Ashton’s is a story where so much goes right. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting is a story where so much goes wrong. Both call us to John’s Gospel story of the man born blind, in which Jesus says something like No one sinned. This man was born blind. Now is the time to work the work God has given us to work. What is that work? Let’s see what Jesus, through Mark, has to teach us.
This morning we heard a story of Jesus teaching the disciples about him being the Messiah He calls himself ‘the son of man’. Both terms carry significant cultural and religious implications. The vision of Israel’s savior ascending to the divine throne found in Daniel (7:13) provides a framework for understanding Jesus as the son of man, Israel’s messiah (Perkins). While what Jesus says comes to be, he is not predicting the future so much as he is teaching the disciples the hard truth of discipleship, because how elders, the chief priests, and the scribes treat Jesus indicates the challenges Jesus’ disciples will face.
Jesus also teaches the crowd about being a disciple or follower. The suffering involved with carrying their cross is not the consequences of personal tragedy, it the consequences of behaving as Jesus teaches, or the consequences of proclaiming the gospel into the face of empire, in any of its many forms. Carrying our cross also means recognizing Christ crucified in the suffering world around us (Jolly). The disciples do not want to hear this, the crowd does not want to hear this, we do not want to hear this. In Jesus day, honor and shame preoccupy society. Jesus, contrary to anybody would think, is associating honor with faithfulness to God (Gaventa and Petersen). Jesus’ suffering, our suffering, in picking up our cross, comes out of such faithfulness seen in obedience to God’s call. This suffering is necessary, it is grounded in God and cannot be avoided, it is a central teaching, a central characteristic of discipleship. Danger from our testimony to the truth of the gospel is not limited to situations in which witnessing to the gospel brings physical danger. It also includes negative religious, social, political, and economic consequences. None of our social, ethical, philosophical, political, or economic standards can explain the necessity of such a commitment. A commitment to carry our cross can only be grounded in the willingness to trust God, and God alone (Perkins).
This suffering may not belong to us; it may come from be willing to embrace the pain of others. Not to explain it, not to simply seek to comfort it, not to fit it into some larger plan but to embrace it, accept it as our own because we trust that God is in the midst of our and in the midst of our neighbors’ brokenness. Jesus’ healing and feeding miracles and his compassion for individuals and the crowds tells us that human suffering it not a divine desire (Perkins). But we know, in our heads and in our hearts, and in our experience, that everyone knows suffering, brokenness, abandonment, betrayal, loss, death, or oppression (Lose). The biblical call to follow Jesus’ cross is a call to a vocation to a never-ending struggle (Black). Johnny Cash sang it true
Well, there’s things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin’ everywhere you go, (Cash).
Jesus’ disciples expected to follow him to the kingdom, not to martyrdom (Keener and Walton). They are looking for a savvy political – military leader to put the Romans in their place (Jolly). It is not what they are hearing. So, we get why Peter takes Jesus aside. Mark frames it as a bit over the top by using the verb “rebuke” (ἐπιτιμάω epitimaō) which is also used to silence demons (Perkins). Socially, to openly challenge your teacher, as Peter does, is a serious breach of behavior (Keener and Walton). In challenging Jesus, Peter is claiming for himself authority that is not his to use and is, in fact, devilish (Black). His over the top inappropriate behavior comes from Peter’s confusion; how can Jesus make anyone’s life better by having his own life end? It just doesn’t make sense, didn’t then, doesn’t now (Hoezee). In three short verses we see that Peter and the disciples are beginning to understand that the God they want is not the God they are coming to know in Jesus, the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ (Jolly). Peter’s rebuke reflects his and the disciples desire to follow their vision of Israel’s messianic savior, and (perhaps more deeply) their fear of suffering (Perkins).
If we can step back, just a bit, we might honestly see how we respond to Jesus’ teaching with similar shock and denial. First of all, there is no way our convention leaders, or bishops, or vestry would betray, torment, reject, and kill Jesus. Right? And there is no way, just no way, that our social, political, or business leaders would either; couldn’t be. But a way we might, no a way we have, is to take Jesus’ suffering out of its biblical context, cast it on to some others’ suffering, call it God’s will, and then say that they should not work against their oppression, and we are not called to stand with them in opposition to their behavior. This has been and continues to be damaging to women, LGBTQ persons, immigrants, and third world populations (Harrelson). “In our ‘pain-killer’ culture, a balanced understanding of suffering is difficult to achieve” (Perkins). We continue to rebuke the call of the cross and refuse to enter into the suffering of others. We are still confused; we know that God/Jesus can control cosmic forces. It continually confounds us that Jesus’ permits the enemies who wish to destroy him to succeed (Perkins). Like Peter, part of our confusion and reluctance to follow as called is grounded in our fear of suffering.
The version of lentil soup and what are we selling our Christian birthright for this week are found within the realm of ethics. We tend to think of ethics as making the right decision and taking the right action. It is as this level that the difference between Aston’s and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting stories are so very different. Aston’s story where so many right decisions and right actions result in a happy ending as opposed to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where so many wrong decisions and wrong actions resulted in horrific tragedy are contrasting stories of good and poor ethics; good and poor decision making, good and poor actions.
However, there is more to ethics than front line decision making. There is the need to examine the background to understand what allowed the event to occur and make the faith, religious, social, political, and economic changes necessary to ensure that it will not happened again. Or as Johnny Cash sings But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right. The backgrounds to both stories require close examination. Ashton’s might include to learn how a bad actor half way across the country can make contact with a vulnerable teen / young adult and lure them into danger and put a stop to it. This could very well include changes to the freewheeling nature of social media. We think healthcare is hard to change, try that one. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting back ground appears to already be fiercely underway, in the debates of tighter gun sales regulations and examinations and treatment of those with mental illness. Both are complicated by themselves, but they are more complicated by not impinging on the freedom of many for the dangers caused by the actions of a few. They are worthy and necessary debates. However, both debates have deeper back stories that need examination, and corrective decisions made. I suspect they will be far more difficult because I am seeing how they involve the challenge the disciples and Peter face with Jesus’ revelation of his betrayal, suffering, rejection, and death which results from placing human things above divine things, such as valuing money more than each other as images of God.
If we insist on holding onto this life, of seeking solutions to life’s difficulties by grabbing still more of that same life, then Johnny Cash will forever be the Man in Black. But if we are willing to let go, to release our fierce grip on our own egos – and on the life we hope will boost and bolster that ego; if we can just die along with Jesus, then we can get behind Jesus as a disciple and then with Johnny don that rainbowed suit of white that tells the world that everything’s OK (Cash).
Black, C. Clifton. Commentary on Mark 7:24-37. 25 2 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
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Chavez, Nicole. “These are the heroes of the Florida school shooting.” 17 2 2018. CNN.com. < https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/17/us/florida-school-shooting-heroes/index.html)>.
Courier News. “Talley found safe in Washington; two in custody.” 23 2 2018. http://www.blythevillecourier.com. <https://www.blythevillecourier.com/story/2487905.html>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 25 2 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 8:31-38. 25 2 2018.
Jolly, Marshall A. “More Than Fixing, Lent 2.” 25 2 2018. Sermons that Work.
Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.
Lose, David. Lent 2 B: Take Up Your Cross. 25 2 2018.
Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
The Living Church. Abraham’s Faith. 25 2 2018. <livingchurch.org>.
Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.