Crosses

This is the sermon from yesterday, the Second Sunday in Lent (more or less, because I preach from the aisle without a manuscript) .  I preached on Mark’s Gospel (8:31-38).  You can find the lectionary here.

Today’s Gospel is another one of those in which I think, “poor Peter.”  Peter, who is eager to show that he knows who Jesus is, that he knows that Jesus is the Messiah.  Peter, who seems to believe full on that times have changed, that nothing is or ever will be the same because Jesus has come to fulfill the prophecy, gets it wrong yet again.  And we know that he continues to get it wrong, right up until the time he denies Jesus three times at Calvary.  Is this really the guy, the rock upon which Jesus built his church?

Can you imagine being Peter, sitting with the other disciples, listening to Jesus say that there is a whole lot worse to come?  Being so eager to show Jesus you know who he is, that you get what his being with you means, that you take him aside for a little pep talk?   “Hey, dude, whaddaya mean with all this talk of bad things happening?  Did you forget that you’re the Messiah? No one can mess with you!  You’re just having a bad day.”  Your heart is in the right place, right?  And then to have Jesus call you on your naivete?  And in such a way: “Get behind me, Satan!”…Get behind me… Satan?

I imagine Peter made the mistake so many of us who are followers of Jesus make: he believed the presence of the Messiah would mean no more cares, no more troubles, no more problems.  Everything would be rosy, a road paved with gold kind of life.  Peter’s image of the Messiah was the king with the crown and the fancy vestments, the unlimited resources, and the power and authority to make everyone behave well or else.

But what Jesus was telling Peter and the others is that he was not and is not that kind of king.  The incarnate God whose inbreaking into the world as the son of a laborer and his wife, was not and is not a fancy king focused on making things easy, but rather showing real people -us -how to make things right, to show us that we are the ones to help make it right. He entered the world as it was, full of broken people, willing to be with us as we are, and to teach us what it means to live humbly with one another, focused on God and God’s dream for the world.

And that means holding onto faith, trusting in God through the wilderness times, as we heard in last week’s Gospel. That means carrying whatever crosses we have to bear, as we continue to journey deeper into the heart of God.

The presence of God and crosses are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, it is only by the grace of God that we are able to carry the crosses we collect in this human life.  God really does give us what we need: courage, strength, wisdom, perseverance, good humor, companionship, you-name-it, to handle all that being human throws at us, piles on us.

Some crosses are big, heavy, like the literal cross Jesus carried to his death.  There are still places in the world where being Christian is tantamount to a death sentence. There are crosses of significant illness, of fractured relationships, of lost jobs and money problems.  There are the crosses of injustice and oppression, of othering and exclusion. Last week I talked about the human-made wilderness of gun violence, which means so many families and communities bear the cross of lives lost, of dreams shattered, such as in Parkland, Florida.  The list is probably as long and relentless as the ways in which we make life harder for ourselves and each other, as we live in ways that are contrary to God’s dream and to Jesus’ example.

We all have crosses and, if we are lucky, they are smaller, lighter, easier to bear, but most often we have crosses of various sizes and weights, some harder to bear than others.  As followers of Jesus, as disciples of Christ, we are called to make our way through the wilderness, carrying our crosses, knowing that Jesus is present with us in and through all things, and that we will come through to the other side.  Jesus never promised it would be easy, only that it would be worth it.  And, as Paul reminds us often in his letters, the promise is of the life eternal when the kingdom of God is fully realized, not of a particular, easy life in this day and age.  Sometimes that truth feels a bit like a cross, doesn’t it?

So, here we are, on the second Sunday in Lent some 2000 years after the first Easter.  We are carrying our crosses, whatever they are, as we are reminded that Jesus himself carried the cross of our salvation, however it is we understand that.  In some ways it seems that we have not moved any further along in the journey deeper into the heart of God than Peter and the first disciples.  In some ways it feels like we have gotten further behind.

As disciples today it seems important to remember we have knowledge and experience that Peter and the others did not have: we have the first Easter and the Resurrection. We know that Jesus lives in spite of an execution, in spite of all the ways we continue to deny him, in spite of all the crosses we continue to create.  Today, in this place, we have a visual reminder of the extent to which the incarnate God will go for us and with us: we have the cross with the crucified Jesus on the wall above the pulpit, which is appropriate to the season of Lent.

We also have the visual reminder of the fulfillment of promise from God, made possible through Jesus the Christ: we have the beautiful cross above the altar, above God’s Table, with the Christus Rex.  This is appropriate for an Easter people. We are reminded that Jesus triumphed over the cross and lives.  We are reminded that Jesus is present with us, now and for all time.  May this give us all that we need to continue our Lenten journey of repentance and prayerful reflection as we prepare to meet the Risen Christ again as if for the first time.

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