Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 4, 2012

2012.03.04 “At The Junction” – Mark 8: 31 – 38

Central United Methodist Church

“At The Junction”

Mark 8: 31 – 38

Sermon preached by Kelly Van

The 2nd Sunday in Lent

March 4th, 2012

          “Jesus warned them to keep it quiet, not to breathe a word of it to anyone. He then began explaining things to them: “It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive.” He said this simply and clearly so they couldn’t miss it.

          But Peter grabbed him in protest. Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. “Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works.”

          Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?

          “If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I’m leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you’ll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels.” – Mark 8: 31 – 38, The Message

Has there ever been a time in your life that you knew what you should do, but you chose to do something else thinking that this would be better? For me — numerous times, not just once.

Last August when we drove one of our twins to Washington DC so she could attend American University.  On the way there, everything was fine.  However, on the way home, my husband was tired and needed to nap, so I took the wheel.  He informed me what route to take and advised me to follow the GPS.  I told him not to worry for everything is under controlled.  So he slept soundly.  I meant snoring…

As I came to a fork, there was construction and many signs were up. The GPS directed a different path than what Christian, my husband, had informed me.  The voice of the GPS was louder since Christian was sound asleep.  I usually trust my husband over relying on technology.  However, I reasoned with myself thinking that the GPS cannot be wrong; it’s a computer with memory that stored its own map.  So I followed the GPS without doubt.

Christian woke up and asked how far we are to getting home? I told him I don’t know and explained to him about the two different paths.  He then told me, “Don’t worry honey, it’ll be okay.”  But as he sat up and saw the road ahead, he said, “This does not look familiar.”  The GPS has taken us to the country road.  There was no gas station and our tank was running low.

The Gospel lesson of Mark today is the center point at which the ministry of Jesus takes a decisive turn toward the cross.  Jesus knows what he is doing and where he is going.  For the disciples, however, this presents a junction in the road.  As they look at the split in the road, they want to take both ways.  They want to stay with Jesus and be his followers, while at the same time they were persuading Jesus to follow them down the path they wanted to take.

Today’s lesson reveals to us something we already know but don’t like to admit:  It is difficult to be a follower.  It’s hard because deep in our hearts each of us desires to be a leader.  Of course, this does not mean that we are never content to be followers.  Most of us, if we feel inspired by a leader, we gladly associate with him or her and go where this person guides us. We know that we cannot all be the CEO of a company or a bishop of our conference, and so we willingly accept our role as followers.

Following is easy if the leader promises that the road we are traveling is leading somewhere good and beautiful.  But what if the leader is up front about the path that he or she must take, which would lead to pain and suffering? That is the spilt in the road the disciples encountered in Scripture today.  They want to follow Jesus.  However, Jesus intends to take on a different path–a path that was going the opposite direction of where the disciples wanted to go. Couldn’t they be disciples, followers, of Jesus Christ and take a different path?

Let’s back up a few verses in the Gospel lesson today.  Jesus and his disciples were walking toward Caesarea Philippi.  As they walked, Jesus asked, “Who do the people say I am?” “Some say ‘John the Baptizer,'” they said. “Others say ‘Elijah.’ Still others say ‘one of the prophets.’  Jesus then asked, “And you—what are you saying about me? Who am I?”  Peter gave the answer: “You are the Christ, the Messiah.”  Jesus warned them to keep it quiet, not to breathe a word of it to anyone.” (Mark 8:27-30 The Message.

However, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus answered Peter, “God bless you, Peter. You did not get that answer out of books or from teachers.  My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am.  And now I’m going to tell you who you are. You are Peter, a rock.  This is the rock on which I will put together my church.” (Mat. 16:17-18, The Message.        Peter correctly identified Jesus as Son of God, the Messiah sent to save the world.  Peter thought that Christ would be an earthly king with political power.  The disciples wanted to follow Jesus.  They were hoping that Jesus would lead them to a throne of a palace somewhere.

As Jesus explains to them that he would suffer, be rejected and killed by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, they were confused.  Jesus also said that after three days, he would rise again from the dead.  But by that time the disciples had tuned out and could not hear what Jesus said anymore.

The disciples panic as they heard Jesus predict about his suffering and death.  Suddenly there were all kinds of voices in their ears—the voices of the people around them, the voices of each other among them, and their own voices inside of them as their hearts and minds resisted against what Jesus was saying.

Since Peter was a kind of a leader among the disciples and Jesus had just blessed him for identifying Jesus as the Son of the living God, Peter thought he could intervene and set thing straight.  Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him.  The Gospel of Mark does not tell us what Peter said, however, Matthew reveals to us that Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him: “God forbid, Lord! This won’t happen to you. (Mat. 16:22, Common English Bible).  Can you imagine?  Peter rebuked Jesus!

Before Jesus tells Peter how wrong he was, we noticed that Jesus turned and looked at the other disciples.  Have you ever wondered why Jesus did that? What did Jesus see when he looked at the other disciples?

Peter suggests to Jesus that there is another way to go.  His way is the way of glory not of the cross.  The way of glory will bring liberation and power, not rejection and suffering as the way of the cross.  What is Peter was right and Jesus considered it for a moment.  The multitude would follow Jesus if he decided to march to Rome and lead a revolution.

Peter rebuked his Master and pointed to the path that led to power and away from the cross.  Some scholars suggested Jesus turned and looked over at the other disciples almost as though he was considering Peter’s proposal.  It was very tempting even for Jesus.  I’ve heard that where temptation lurks, the devil is at work prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (I Peter 5:8 Common English Bible)

Jesus saw that the disciples were wavering and wondering what to believe.  Jesus also recognized the work of Satan and cast them out saying, “Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works.”(Mark 8:33The Message)

Barbara Brown Taylor, an American Episcopal priest, professor, and theologian and is a well-known author.  She writes “Peter the Rock became Satan-the-stumbling block, because he got his own voice confused with the voice of God.” [1] Barbara Taylor explains that it was just a little slip which can happen to the best of us.  Please notice that Jesus did not take the keys away from Peter or change his name to “Pebble” or “Little Rock.” Peter continued to be in the inner circle along with James and John—one of the three people who Jesus took with him in Gethsemane when things got intense.  Peter was only Satan for a second, when he forgot the sound of God.

After casting Satan away, Jesus then invites the crowds to join his disciples.  Jesus says, “Whoever desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35 New King James).  “What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?” (Mark 8:36-37 The Message).

What Jesus conveys in the Scripture is not what a motivated speaker would say to win the hearts of the crowd so that they would follow him. Quite the opposite: Jesus expresses the purpose of God and speaks unpopular words about bearing the cross by turning away from temptation of the flesh in order to embrace something that is going to involve denying of self, uphill struggle, and could lead to death.

To follow Jesus involves this choice as we stand at the junction in the road.  It seems that there are two ways:  the divided life or the life of wholeness.  The divided life comes in many and varied forms.  To cite just a few examples of Parker J. Palmer an author, educator, and activist who focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, and spirituality.

He writes, “We lead a divided life when:
1.   We refuse to invest ourselves in our work, diminishing its quality and distancing ourselves from those it is meant to serve.
2.   We remain in settings or relationships that steadily kill off our spirits.
3.   We harbor secret to achieve personal gain at the expense of other people.
4.   We hide our belief from those who disagree with us to avoid conflict, challenge and change.
5.   We conceal our true identities for fear of being criticized shunned or attacked.”[2]
Palmer explains that “the ultimate irony of the divided life is that when
we live behind a wall long enough and the true self we tried to hide from the world disappears from our own view! The wall itself and the world outside it become all that we know.  Eventually, we even forget that the wall is there and that hidden behind it is someone called ‘you’.”[3]

Palmer continues, “Our inner light cannot illuminate the work we do in the world… our inner darkness cannot be penetrated by the light that is in the world…  In fact all we can see out there is darkness not realizing how much of it is of our own making … People close to us become wary of the gap between our onstage performance and backstage reality.  Distrusting our duplicity and seeking to protect themselves, they hold us at arm’s length: relationships in which we might have a chance to see ourselves more clearly disappear from our lives.”[4]

Thomas Merton claims that “there is in all things… a hidden wholeness.”[5]  Palmer expresses, “sometimes afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other.  In the process we become separated from our own souls.”[6]

I have not finish the book therefore cannot tell you what Palmer think wholeness is.  Please ask me when the semester is over.  Nevertheless, I believe that a life of wholeness is a life of Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Jesus incarnated to be with us and live an exemplar life of ministry for us to follow.  We are created in God’s image with the purpose to love God, love our neighbor and participate with God to redeem all of God’s creation.

As we stand at the fork of the road we must be our true self, listen to God’s voice and we can find hope in God and become healers in a wounded world in our family, neighborhood, workplace, political life and the world.  We can then call back to our hidden wholeness amid the violence of the storm.

Let me ease your suspense about my adventure with the GPS.  I was still behind the wheel looking for a store or someone along the road to ask for direction. My husband, Christian, a wise and experienced man, did not bring up any discussion about whether I should ask for direction or not.  I was praying for gas and a map as I drove on the open road.  God answered my prayer and suddenly a native came along the road to our rescue.  He directed us to the nearest gas station where we were able to fill up our gas tank.

To our joyous anticipation, there was a map on the rack next to all the magazines.  That map, I believed, was dropped from heaven just for us since maps, telephone booths, and yellow pages are extinct now-a-days.

We got in the car, full of hope, thanksgivings, and excitement.  God, once again, had delivered me from my bad choice at the crossroad.  Christian threw the GPS in the back-seat, took out his new map and directed my path to our home sweet home.

During Lent we are reminded that the Christian life is an encounter with a junction in the road.  Life is about making choices, and we, each of us sooner or later reveal ourselves as the sum of our choices.

In Lent we reflect on the choice Jesus made.  If we want to follow Christ we need to be quite intentional in traveling the path he marks out for us. What does it means to be a people who live under the sign of the cross. “Bearing your cross” does not refer to putting up with people you don’t get along with, or living with illnesses, or even all the things people refer to when they say “Well, that’s the cross God gives me to bear in life.” We do not have individual crosses to bear, but instead, we all bear the same customized cross of Jesus.  And his cross is this: dying to self so that we can live life with a basic way toward others, toward service, toward living out and proclaiming the better path of the gospel in every way we can.  Amen.
[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, Awakened to a Calling (Abingdon Press 2005), p. 32.

[1] Parker J. Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward and Undivided Life (John Wiley & Son Inc. 2004) p. 6.

[1] Ibid., p. 43-44.

[1] Ibid., p. 44.

[1] Ibid., p. 4.

[1] Ibid.


[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, Awakened to a Calling (Abingdon Press 2005), p. 32.

[2] Parker J. Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward and Undivided Life (John Wiley & Son Inc. 2004) p. 6.

[3] Ibid., p. 43-44.

[4] Ibid., p. 44.

[5] Ibid., p. 4.

[6] Ibid.

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